Some more questions

After I came to the conclusion that I don’t need to quit my job. I had loads of other questions and doubts.

One of them was I was trying to speak about the idea with friends and family but I wanted them to sign an NDA before I do so. This was because as every other entrepreneur I thought I had the best idea in the world. In hindsight this might have been a bit excessive as I think as a majority of people are conservative and are not driven/crazy enough to start any project on their own idea let alone on others ideas. So this paranoia is not necessary in most of the cases. If they’re that interested in what you say, they give clues that they’re interested and even better you can ask them to join you if not now may be in future if you think they will add value.

The next question I had was how do you divide stakes, how much of the company do I give away to who’re investing in the future. I got this advice from a mentor that be as generous as you can,relative to the investment they make with your firends and family as they’re showing faith in you and your ideas when you’re starting out. I really liked the idea as I thought if my idea will be as big as I think it will be everyone will be well off. But he also added fight tooth and nail with VCs and other institutional investors, which I will bear in mind when I get to that stage.

The next question was when should I go for getting an investment from VCs? Ideally you should delay this as much as possible as the more you have under your belt the more value you get. For my idea which is essentially a social media app I’ve decided to do this only after I develop a minimum viable product (MVP) which is an iOS with an engaged user base. But in other fields would suggest considering the other relevant key metrics and see if you can demonstrate them positively at a smaller scale so the investors will see the value and make their investment based on scaling this idea to a bigger reach. Also everyone likes to invest with someone who actually start do things than people with just ideas.

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Do I need to quit my job to start working on my own?

The first question I had initially before I started to work on my start up idea was should I leave my work to pursue it as I needed to work on the idea as I believed in it and wanted to dedicate time to develop it?

On a working day if you remove the lunch break , the coffee breaks, the small talk around the water cooler, the chats with the people around you about your and their life outside work, sports, politics, the times you join avoidable calls and meetings, the time you read news or check email over and over again you are left with about 3-4 hours where you’re actually working. A person working full time actually spends 15-20 hours doing meaningful work. So if you can find about 1.5 – 2 hours a day outside work you’re actually working at half an employee time which is usually enough for the initial days of development. Since you’re passionate about your work.You can always find a couple of hours a day over the weekend that will give you more time.

There was still a question that where do I find the additional 2 hours a day from as I already have a busy lifestyle? I live in London and my commute every day is about 45 mins each way, I considered using this time but that is my time for my vice so decided not to use that time. I decided to move a few things around to find the additional time, I could go to the gym in the morning before work without actually changing my waking up time by a massive amount. I also changed some other habits after work like reducing the time on social media, watching pointless evening TV.

I could find enough time to work on my idea with a clean conscience of not working during my job. In summary, you absolutely don’t need to quit your job to start your side hustle!

It’s okay to ask for help

Now that I got a business partner who was willing to work with me on the idea I started to do some research on how do I visualise this idea? I realised I needed some mentors to guide through this. I wanted to speak to people who’ve done similar things in the past and/or can advise based on their experiences.

At that point I thought I didn’t know a lot of people with the background. But I went through my list of contacts, shortlisted a few people and started to speaking to see if they will be kind enough talk to me about my idea.

Voila! Everyone I spoke to were more than happy to speak to me about my idea. I magically found enough people in my social circle who gave me invaluable advice and answer the questions I had. It is amazing how people and situations open up if you put some thought into it and just ask?

The experiences of people I spoke to ranged from being an ex vice-president of a global conglomerate to someone who tried to build an app themselves with limited success and a lot of other people in the middle and all the chats were extremely useful. These people I spoke to range from a distant relative I met for the first time at my wedding (it’s very common in Indian wedding :)) to some of very close friends

A lot of the questions were also answered in the blogs, podcasts and books, I would recommend James Altucher and Tim Ferris shows to follow. I will touch on some of the questions and some answers I found I had in the next post.

Believe in people not products!

Now that I knew I found a gap in the market, this was also something I believe in, this meant that I can put my heart and soul into this idea.

However I just got married and we had massive celebrations around that time which means I had zero savings. But I started putting together the document with what the app was about, my plan to monetise it and how to take it to the market?
I also settled down on a name that is best suited for the app. The app idea for me is a community where people can unite based on their common interest for food, so all my plans were around this core idea.

I showed my wife and a couple of friends with the finished document and the feedback was very positive. However I didn’t have an idea on where to start for the app development or the next steps and where I would the get the money from?

I spoke to a lot of people about my idea about starting my own company and the idea. Surprisingly a couple of people wanted to be a part of it depending on what I was offering in return for their investment. However I wanted to work with right people who will actually add value to the process rather than just making a monetary investment. So I continue speaking to other people. As part of that I mentioned this to a friend from work about my idea, this person was in a similar but more senior role and whom I rate highly immediately said I want to be a part of this without actually listening to what the idea was. I was taken aback and asked you should probably listen to the idea before committing, his response was I don’t put my money in a product, I put my money on the person behind the product!

Food for thought

I got to a point where I started to strongly believe that doing something on my own will be better for me as I will work to my full potential and produce something that is great for customers.

I could not see any obvious gaps in the market that I could tap into. But this thought about becoming an entrepreneur was still bubbling in the background. In the summer I had a wedding to plan that kept me distracted for sometime.

However after the wedding, the thought of becoming an entrepreneur came back into the forefront of my mind.

At that time a couple of things caught my attention. My wife became really good friends with a girl who started at her work recently and the only thing they bonded over was food! I myself was also part of a food based Facebook group for my hometown. I found myself going to that page and looking at different food pics that very often reminded me of different food related experiences I shared with my friends and family before I moved to the UK. I have also observed that talking about food is a great icebreaker in any social situation in anywhere in the world. People are very emotional and passionate about the food they like, the food they make and the places they eat etc… I also have my brother and a couple of others who like to post a lot of they eat on Instagram, they do take a lot more pictures than they post but don’t post everything as they’re a bit embarrassed to spam peoples social media feed with their food posts.

All of these observations contributed to that decision I made on August 13th that I am going to start my own food based social networking app that is for food experience sharing with the motto food unites all.

Seeds of becoming an entrepreneur

I started my new role last November, my responsibilities were broadly highlighted to me. Very early probably a month in the role, a senior manager left the team. He was managing a product that was most complex and had a lot things that were wrong with it.

As logic suggests this product was assigned to the newest member of the team, that is yours truly. This also probably showed they think I am capable to manage this even though I am new to the team and not a senior manager. I thought it was great challenge as the only way was up for this product similar to a few I managed in the past. I had to go through some painful excel spreasheets and sort sometime thousands of line manually when I am fixing a few customer issues. In fact I was doing that last night until midnight for a new issue.

At this time, I also started a book reading challenge for the year, this was reading 25 books. I wasn’t a massive reader as such. But I am proper old school with books, I have membership to two libraries in London. I think this was one of the key factors of how thinking and perspecyive expanded and which lead to this journey of becoming an entrepreneur.

As a part of releasing a new version of the product. I was making a lot changes to make it simpler and i also wanted to make a changes to the product that will make customer experience 10 times better. In my mind this would mean we will have more customer loyalty and they will probably end up spending more. However this meant we lose some revenues in the short term. The management declined this due to this risk involved.

I personally think customer experience should over ride anythings in the business within reason. Probably reading Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson(highly recommend it) as a part of the reading challenege had a strong influence on me. This was affecting me and I thought if only I owned my company I would never let something like this happen…

Be where you’re appreciated

In this role, I had figured out a way that I could digitise all our products and receive orders from very large government customers.

However my manager at that time (who I get along with very well even now) didn’t believe in this vision. This was after multiple attempts of me trying to explain him. His main objection was from the fact that our company in 2015 ?! we didn’t have a proper online ordering system for simple small business customers. Doing this for complex public sector customers was something he couldn’t get his head around so I struggled to get any traction or financial backing for this.

I managed to switch suppliers for one of our product catalogues and negotiate with the new supplier to develop a functional prototype shop within in the same budget as were spending previously for the same catalogue.

I had to develop all the logic for the website and design of it on an Excel and PowerPoint. This was going way above and beyond the boundaries of my role.

I showed this to my boss and he was slowly coming around but I had to jump through loads of hoops, some of it was not his fault as we were bought by a large company which is very bureaucratic.

Accidentall at an afterwork drinks session I explained this website to my director and he asked me to present the concept to him at work shortly. After the presentation about the concept he said these exact words ‘how many millions do you want to develop this?’ and when I informed I probably needed none as I’ve already developed a working prototype with existing budget, he was blown away.

At the same time I got a call from an old contact who I regarded highly, in the same company from a different area that he just had a promotion and would love to have me on the team.

I decide to move on even though my current team offered me the same promotion. I felt it was a bit late as it was offered as a counter offer rather than a natural promotion. I thought I would rather work in a team where my ideas will be considered more seriously!

Vision is not just what you see

In the new role, I learned a lot. The role was building products for Government and Public Sector, it was interesting and challenging as the price was almost the most important decision but we were trying to get more value out. I also had to manage a product catalogue which was just a 100 odd pagedocument that has everything that our customer can buy from us.

I did a complete rehaul of the products we sell. Release about 200 odd plans into the market in about nine months.

I also digitised the product document so the sales people can send parts of the documents to customers, that they’re interested rather than full document. This was a massive step in the right direction especially now that we were in 2015 and sending a 100 page document was not acceptable at all. This was totally my initiative rather than someone asking me to do it.

With this and a lot of other changes I managed to improve all the metrics we had for performance. Revenue and profit growth in what was a declining market, customer service improvements etc.

I got highest performance rating I could, but was some how ignored for incentive trips that are for high performance in the area conveniently for three times in a row, but may be it was that I forgot I had to work twice as hard to get the same recognition. However this was definitely not the reason I decided to move from this area after nearly two years into the role!

Getting short changed!

I had another placement remaining in the scheme, I was looking for a permanent role as I didn’t wanted to leave it till the last minute. I applied for two roles in the teams that I worked in the first two placements thinking I will at least get one of them. But fortunately or not, I got offered both the roles, this made it very tricky as I had to refuse one of them. I choose the first team as the role had more to it and suited what I wanted to do. It was developing mobile products for public sector organisations. The boss of the area that I refused didn’t take this too well as I was close to him but I was certain that this was the right role for me.

I accepted the role, but they reduced the grade from a manager to a senior executive. This was because I got the role from a graduate scheme and regardless of the title I will still be doing the same job with same responsibilities at a lower grade and lower salary. This left a very sour taste in my mouth. However I started the role as I thought it’s not the end of the world and I can work my way up. However after I started, they only paid me the full salary after the six months as I was technically still on the scheme, this was after reassurances from the people high up that it would not be the case.

However regardless of the circumstances I like to give anything a best shot, be it washing dishes in Pizza hut or doing a job which was on the pretext of some false promises and I did exactly that!

Don’t do anything you don’t believe in!

Now that first two placements were successful, I began to feel confident in my abilities. I started working in an area that specialised in colloborating with other smaller companies and taking new products to the market. I was worked on releasing a collaboration messaging app for business. Looking back at it now, this is where I began to find pleasure in working on new ideas and building it into a product. The placement was easier than the first two placements, six months is a little time to take ideas for market in a big company like ours but I managed to find two large organisations who were willing to trial the product which was a win in itself. I also developed a 5 year strategy for a bulk SMS product that was of high value to the company.

While I was working here, a start up company approached me through a contact offering to pay me double the current salary for their Head of Proposition role,  I was very flattered and tempted to take that role as the salary I was getting paid was very little in London standards. I was living in a shithole which I was sharing about 9 people, we had rat infestation and bed bugs during my stay in that house. However after the initial chat I didn’t believe in the product and didn’t take that role. The company predictably folded up in less than six months. I also spoke about this opportunity to a senior person in the company  who had his own start up in the past. His advice was working for a start up is very risky unless it’s your own idea and if you want to start your own company do it before you’re 35. This advice stayed in my mind. 

Even though I had another placement remaining in the scheme, I was looking to find a permanent role as I didn’t wanted to leave it till the last minute. I applied for two roles in the teams with whom I worked in the first two placements thinking I will at least get one of them. But I got offered both the roles which made it very tricky as I had to refuse one of them. I choose the first team as the role had more to it and suited what I wanted to do? It was developing mobile products for public sector organisations. The head of the area that I had to refused didn’t take this too well as I was very close to him. More on this later..