Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Retrospective from a first-time entreprenure

It's been almost three and a half years since I started my "entrepreneurial" journey. I did not blog about my experiences so far. Everything has been written about the topic. I feel that I have nothing new to add to these shared experiences. Well, reinforcement is always good, even though everything has been told before. So, here it goes.

Getting used to no-paycheck is difficult. I quit my fulltime job to focus on my startup, Code71, (IT outsourcing services) in early 2006. I was too excited the first few months to notice that paychecks stopped coming. When I first noticed, the reality of entrepreneurship hit me. I must admit that I was a little uncomfortable in thoughts that it could take a while before I would see any paycheck again. As I had become self aware, I began to notice that I would look at interesting job posts from time to time and would toy with the idea of applying. It took me a good 6-9 months to actually stop looking at job postings (which I call a symptom of withdrawal from not receiving regular paychecks).

Brother and wife as co-founders. I started my business with my brother and my wife. Yes I know, you might be thinking what are you crazy? In my defense though, I involved them not because my relationship with them, but purely based on what they brought to the table. However, it has not been easy, I must admit. With my brother, we gradually started to step on each other's toes. He would complain that I do not treat him as a partner like I would have if he weren't my brother. And I would say the same. It got to a point where we decided to end our business relationship to save our personal. As for my wife, we are still in the business together and married...:-) But, it constantly add spice- good and bad to already eventful days of a startup business.

Emotional roller-coaster. I was aware (from other entrepreneurs) of the stress that comes with starting and running a business, yet I did not realize the extent of it until I experienced it firsthand. It is almost like mood swing. At times, I would mistake it for a split personality disorder. One day I feel I am at the top of the world, everything is looking great. The next day it would be completely opposite so much so that I would be thinking what have I gotten myself into? The worst thing was that it would spill over and impact my team. It was particularly difficult when the team is half way around the world and missing the context.

Clients amplify emotional roller-coaster effect. We work with startups and small businesses. As a result, they experience the same emotional roller-coaster themselves. This has "amplifier effect" on my emotional state- good and bad. When they are feeling great, I am doubly happy. When things are not so good for them, things are even worse for me.

Saying "No" is difficult. I would say "Yes" to any opportunity (even it did not fit with our long-term goal- technology or industry that we want to focus on, or agree to terms that we would not usually agree to) that come my way. How could I say "No" to a "potential revenue source," right? I always thought I could minimize the undesirable aspects of an opportunity while making the most out of it including short-term revenue. Sometimes we will sacrifice in the sort-term for a long-term benefit (the proverbial "carrot"), which never materializes. This got us into some situations that would leave a bad taste in our mouth. Even worse, it jeopardized our relationship with clients. I plan to say more "No" than "Yes" in 2010.

Product vs Service. When we started, we only focused on providing custom software development services. I did not plan to get into building a product ourselves. Things change. Business model evolves. We found ourselves building a SaaS agile project management software called ScrumPad in a year and half into our business. Having a taste of both service and product businesses now, I could say I like product more than service business. It is not so much because one is easier than the other. Both pose their own challenges. But, with service, it always feels like I am at the mercy of my clients, which is not a great feeling to have all the time. Whereas with a product, I feel that I have the freedom to pursue my vision and hence control my destiny. Now we are at a cross-road in our business. It remains to be seen that in 2010 how well we could make a successful transition to a product company following  lean startup framework (thanks to Eric Ries). However, I feel that we should continue with our service business in some form and fashion just because it helps us learn certain aspects of the business that could be applied to our product business. This should work to our advantage over our competitors who are pure product companies. After all, products are packaged as services (SaaS) now-a-days. I know this is contrary to popular belief, and investors would not like us for this.

It's not a sale until you get paid. I come from a technical background. Sales is something I am still trying hard to learn. It is still a work in progress. In the beginning, when I would have a conversation with any potential client, I would take any positive conversation as a sign for a sure sale (closed deal). After many disappointments, now I am aware of the complex dance that goes on during a sales process. I learned it is not a sale until you actually sign the contract. In fact, I do not even consider that a sale until I get paid.

Client feedback can be harsh. We ask our users to provide feedback every chance we get. I did not realize that it would be difficult to handle harsh feedbacks though. Fortunately, we get more positive than negative feedbacks. However, it made me realize that there exists a symbiotic relationship between entrepreneurs and their products. Every entrepreneur put hearts and souls into their products that is probably we as users are not always mindful of. Yes, some products are better than others. But all of them get the same love and care from their creators. I am now more respectful in giving feedback about any product that I use. You should be too.

Are you an entrepreneur too? Please drop a few lines to compare notes.