It’s an hour long podcast interview going through all ups and downs of my entrepreneurial journey so far. It was a fun experience going through memory lanes of 7 years and sharing it under 70 minutes.
Hope you will find it useful, inspirational and might also get some tactical insights about starting a startup on H1B visa, validating your idea, being brutally honest about your progress, growing your customer base, etc.
A couple of days ago, a senior leader at my company gave me really good feedback on what I need to do to make sure other people continue to look up to me as a leader. I took his feedback positively and started following it right away in my day to day routine and instantly saw the difference between my actions and results. So I thought I should share his advice with a larger audience as it might help people who want to become a leader too.
Before I share the advice, let’s understand the context.
I was in a sandwich situation – on one hand, I was managing one of our strategic client’s stringent requirements and on the other hand, I was dealing with the constraints provided by one of our big technology partners. We had reached some deadlock situation on 3-4 items where the client wanted specific functionalities that the partner was not agreeing to support.
I couldn’t resolve that deadlock situation, so I bought some additional time. I then scheduled an internal meeting with few executives to get their advice. In that meeting, one of the leaders listened to all pending items and instantly shared his point of view and gave his final decisions on how to resolve these situations. Everybody in the meeting agreed with his decisions, so the meeting got wrapped up quickly.
After the meeting was over, he asked me to wait. He said he was surprised to see that we had to schedule a meeting for this, especially when I was handling this situation. He mentioned that he had normally seen me handling these kinds of situations on my own, but was surprised to see why I failed at it that time.
And then he shared some insights with me –
People will start looking up to you as a leader when you take a decision and own that decision.
It doesn’t matter if the decision taken is right or wrong as long as you take the decision. Generally, management expects you take more right decisions as you get more experienced, but it’s completely acceptable if you take a few wrong decisions too. What’s not acceptable from leaders is – not taking any decisions.
His feedback was spot on to me. Normally I’m good at it, but for that instance, I had missed it. I didn’t need management’s advice or permission. I could have just taken the decision and informed the management about it later on. And if they would have thought I took the wrong approach, then I would have sought for the forgiveness.
After that meeting, I already faced with new situations where I had to take decisions. My default urge was to go and ask upper management’s feedback on what is the right thing to do. But then I paused every single time thinking about – what decision I would take if I’m the ultimate decision maker in the company. So I started taking the decisions and owning it. This had helped me tremendously in last few days to make faster progress.
Again, if you’re a leader, there are a lot more other attributes you will have practice in your day to day life. But if you are getting started and want other people to start looking up to you as a leader, then the first thing you’ll need to do is to start taking the decisions and own them. It is the most important attribute you will have to practice to become a leader.
For the last few years that I’ve been blogging, I struggled about one thing – what should I call my blog? What should be its title? What should be its theme?
After thinking for a while, I realized what I really enjoy doing and want to do with my life – to make an impact in other people’s life.
Thus, I have a theme and the name for my blog – The Pursuit of Impact!
That’s how I want to live my life. I want to leave a legacy. I want to make some dent in the Universe. And since making an impact is not a one-time accomplishment, but rather is a continuous journey, it will be my an ongoing mission to make bigger and better impact in other people’s lives. And that’s the pursuit of impact!
To make an impact, I don’t need to be financially very wealthy or some kind of celebrity. The impact also need not be very large scale either. It could simply start making the slightest impact in just one person’s life. It also doesn’t mean that I need to give up my current life and be a full-time social activist or devote myself to a non-profit organization. I will continue to live my current life, it’s just that I’ll have a better purpose and goal for everything I’ll be doing.
The way I believe anyone can start making a disciplined impact in other people’s life is you start working with your circle of influence. Essentially the way circle of influence works is – the people you have the most influence on are at the center of the circle and the people you have the least influence on are at the periphery of the circle. So you start from the center and then start expanding outwards.
To begin with, I will simply start with my core family – my wife, kid, and parents. Giving them a better life from social and financial perspective is my responsibility. I don’t necessarily consider that as making any impact. But if I could influence and inspire my kids or wife with my thoughts, actions, and behavior, and if they could imbibe some of those lessons in their life for good, and achieve greater things, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.
Then the next set of people will be my extended family – my sisters, cousins, and their families. If I could inspire their kids to get higher education and achieve even higher heights through my blog, or if I could just help them in any ways to achieve their dreams – like providing tactical advice or financial help, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.
Then the next set of people will be my very close friends. If I could help them when they need it, support them in their endeavors, or push them to reach their full potential, or provide them honest feedback about their endeavors, or simply spending a good time with them to add some happy moments in their life, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.
Then it will start expanding to my larger friend circle, colleagues and acquaintances. If I could help them in their career aspirations by providing any specific advice, or get them better at what they do by sharing my experiences and learnings through this blog, or inspiring them through my actions, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.
Then it will be expanded to even larger reach – communities that I’m part of like the city where I live or the educational institutes I attended, etc. If I could give back to those communities in some way – either financially or through volunteering, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.
Lastly, it will be expanded to people that I don’t know today. If I could build a product or business that will provide tremendous value to thousands or millions of businesses or people and allows them to achieve something bigger, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.
Now I’m not saying anything here that’s new. Millions of people are already leading their life this way. They’re already making a tremendous impact in other people’s life. By writing these thoughts down, it’s just helping me to appreciate and recognize what others are doing, but it’s also reiterating what’s important to me and how I should spend my time and energy.
Today, I don’t do a lot of these things that I mentioned above. But it’s my wish to do as many things as possible. And I will continue to share my learnings and thoughts on this blog which essentially is also contributing in my pursuit of impact!
P.S.: Now I own the thepursuitofimpact.com domain name, which isn’t functional yet, but I might have this blog transferred to it to better suit its focus and content.
I try to read a lot – mostly blog articles, books, and even e-books. There is no doubt that reading helps you get smarter, improve your vocabulary, explore new ideas, etc. I mostly read about topics which are relevant to my personal and professional development and articles that add positive impact in my life, stories that inspire and motivate me to do something great. I avoid reading daily news about politics, entertainment, etc. unless it’s a really critical news. But since last year or two, in addition to reading, I’ve been addicted to listening podcasts too for my personal and professional development.
Podcasts are mainstream now
While podcasts have been around for about a decade, I personally experienced that they’re getting mainstream since last few years since they’re getting extremely convenient to consume. Podcasts are to the radio industry as blogs are to the mainstream media. Anyone who is expert and passionate about any topic can create a regularly updated content and publish a podcast. You can find thousands of podcasts which are well produced, inspirational, educational, and entertaining.
Unlike reading blog posts or watching videos, which require someone’s full attention, podcasts give listeners a flexibility of multi-tasking. Listeners can subscribe to specific podcasts, auto-download new episodes, and listen whenever it’s convenient for them on their smartphones while doing some other mundane chores. Every day, I listen to somewhere between 30-90 minutes podcasts while commuting to the office (25-35 minutes each way) and exercising (30-40 minutes).
The one overarching reason I listen to podcasts is I learn stuff. As they say, we’re influenced by what we see and hear. It’s a way of exposing myself to the influences of people who are smart and successful. I’ve found them highly inspirational and educational. I’ve learned how to form healthy habits, how to be more productive and efficient, how to start, run and grow a business, how to manage relationships, how to write better content, etc.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying podcasts are a substitute for reading books or blogs. It’s just a different mode of consumption for a different kind of content. Podcasts don’t give visually rich experience if you want to put the faces in front of names, or see things in picture or action. So there are some things which I still prefer to read at my desk while some things which are better to consume while I’m driving.
Podcasts I listen to
So here are few podcasts that I listen to actively. These are my interests of topics, which are skewed to Entrepreneurship, Startups, Product Management, Part-time Businesses, etc. But you will find podcasts on pretty much any topic that interests you.
Hosted by Jason Calacanis, an entrepreneur turned investor interviews some of the most influential names in the entrepreneur and startup communities in order to provide inspiration and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to grow their startup.
Every week this podcast chats with successful entrepreneurs on how to grow a startup – topics include self-funding, raising capital, product development, and customer acquisition. These podcasts are packed with informative content that every startup founder needs.
Unfiltered insights and actionable advice straight from the trenches of startup and business life. The show hosts, Steli Efti and Hiten Shah, are both serial entrepreneurs who have founded multi-million dollar SaaS startups.
Hosted by Nick Loper, this podcast is for part-time entrepreneurs who are looking for business ideas, actionable tips to start a business, and killer strategies on how to turn their side hustle dreams into a growing business.
On the Inside Intercom podcast, you will hear the team from Intercom interview makers and do-ers from the worlds of product management, design, startups, and marketing.
I hope you will find this resource useful.
Of course, I’ll continue to add more podcasts to my list as I discover interesting podcasts. If you have been listening to any great podcasts recently, and would like to recommend to me or my audience, then please share it in the comments area.
It’s so sad to see that nowadays we care more about making sure the smartphones and wearables we use get required attention and care instead of just being happy that we achieved our true goal for which those devices are designed in the first place.
A few days ago a friend of mine shared a below update –
Instead of congratulating him for 2.5 hours of exercise and burning roughly 350 calories, one of his colleagues asked if he had Fitbit on and did he capture those steps?
Who’s controlling who?
Somewhere in this age of smartphones and wearables, we forgot that these devices and things around us are designed for us and not the other way around.
Shouldn’t it be perfectly fine if we forgot our phone at home for a day? Why do we get restless about it?
Shouldn’t it be okay if our Fitbit is not charged right when we really wanted to go for a run? Why do we cancel our exercise plans just because we can’t capture those steps?
We get stressed if our phones are not charged before we head out. We get restless if we don’t get any new notification from our favorite apps in the span of 5 minutes. We feel frustrated if we can’t capture our 30-minutes run in Fitbit.
But we don’t need to.
Our addiction to smartphones & wearables
I don’t think there is any doubt in our mind that we are addicted to these smartphones and wearables. When you think of the last time you were in the same position, it may be just a few minutes ago. From catching up with friends over the dinner table to watching our kids play in the park, we miss out life’s simple joys when our attention is turned to these little devices that we carry everywhere. We pretend to be still paying attention, but the truth is we can’t really multitask the way we think we do.
I remember a short film titled “I Forgot My Phone – Video” suggests just that. That video has already been viewed nearly 50 million times, which suggests that it hit the cord of many people’s current situation.
While the video is supposed to be a lighthearted take on our smartphone-obsessed culture, it opens our eyes about our smartphone addiction and what we need to do about it.
We can do something about it
Instead of succumbing ourselves into this sensory overload, if we unplug ourselves for several brief moments during the day and looked up, we would experience a whole new world exists beyond that little screen. Specially wearables invading our lives from fitness to glasses to watches, I questioned are they just a fad or a real necessity. I believe it’s a fad – and that’s my opinion, but I also read stories about many people who found it to be life-changing.
For me, Fitbit was valuable in the early days to learn my initial benchmarks. After initial few months of its usage, I learned on average how many steps I walk in a typical workday. How many minutes I need to run or walk to achieve my 10K steps goal for a day. But once I learned my patterns, that novelty wore off after few months. Eventually, I stopped using Fitbit and just started making sure that I exercise minimum 4 days a week. I don’t need to be accurate about how many steps or miles I ran. All I need to do is be in the ballpark. But now the benefit is, I don’t have to worry about charging it every 4-5 days, or making sure I’m always wearing it, etc. Life is slightly simpler :).
But the point is not just about Fitbit or any specific device. In general, I think we can do a better job in being mindful of giving just enough attention to these devices or things, and not at the cost of missing the joy of real life interactions and experiences.
For the last 2 months, I deleted the Facebook app on my iPhone as a part of a casual experiment. Sounds crazy, right? Well, probably not to sane ones, but definitely to addicted ones.
Let me explain in detail.
Being mindful about my time
In general, I’m very observant and mindful about how I use my time. But there was one behavior of a mine I wanted to make sure I’m controlling it rather than it controlling me – the smartphone addiction.
Overall I believe I’m mindful of how I spend my time on my iPhone (my wife may disagree ;)), but still one fine day, I questioned the time I spend on some of the apps I use every day and the value I receive from each one of them.
I use Twitter, Nuzzel, and LinkedIn apps most actively to discover inspirational or actionable articles about startup and product management (the topics I’m passionate about). I also use Quora and Medium once in a while for interesting articles on varied topics. I use Pocket app to save all these articles and read it later when I’ve leisure time on weekends. Apart from these content-specific apps, I use WhatsApp and Facebook pretty actively for messaging and keeping a tap on friends’ activity respectively.
After ranking these apps based on its value I receive, WhatsApp and Facebook ranked last.
I felt WhatsApp is still valuable to communicate with close friends and family with the condition that I opt-out from all groups where sending forwards and jokes was a prominent activity than actual communication.
The value of Facebook
But for Facebook, I couldn’t convince myself that I was being “connected” with my friends the way it’s being advertised. I thought it was happening on WhatsApp on a more intimate level. My Facebook newsfeed is primarily a source for entertaining and political videos, photos of friends’ vacations and parties, and once in a while educational and informative articles/videos. Overall I felt, I’m not getting enough value from Facebook compared to the time I was spending on it.
Having that little Facebook app icon available to tap at your finger tip was a clear invitation to waste 10-15 minutes of your day every single time you open that app.
So I thought – what if I could just get rid of the Facebook app from my iPhone and see how it affects my life?
It sounded like a good idea – and boom, just like that, the app was gone!
And nothing happened in last 2 months. I didn’t miss the Facebook app at all.
Having said that, I’m not saying I didn’t access the Facebook website at all in those 2 months. Once or twice in a week, I would take an effort to open the Facebook.com in the browser on my iPhone. Since the experience is not very great on the mobile web browser, I wasn’t spending a lot of time on it. And I felt that was good enough Facebook consumption for me.
Every time I would access Facebook through the browser, I would encounter few updates from Mark Zuckerberg as I’m following him. And most often, I would be inspired by his thoughts, actions, and resolutions. And apparently I’m not the only one. There’re many men who find him as a lifestyle guru.
While I admire his posts about how a farmer in India benefited using Internet.org, I don’t agree that’s how most of the India or even the World is using Facebook. It’s a great story to tell for marketing purposes, but I’m concerned that most of the World use Facebook for passing their time.
Again, I do believe in Facebook’s network effect but realized that it’s better to put that network effect into a positive change than just for entertainment purposes. That’s when I realized, I have a choice to decide how do I want to use Facebook. And there are 2 aspects to it – i) what I should share on Facebook that will be valuable to my friends and ii) what my friends will share that will be valuable to me. While I can’t change my friends’ behavior, but, at least, I can start with me, and hope that it will inspire a few of them to do something similar.
What I plan to do
I plan to share more inspirational and informational videos of all kinds that I personally discover. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a serious person ;). Once in a while, I’ll share entertaining videos too :), but my focus will be on educating and motiving others.
In addition to that, I will share various problems that I observe, and possible ideas and solutions that could solve them. They may be half-baked, but I’ll share it anyways so that conversations will happen and those ideas might get baked by collaborative inputs and wisdom.
I also want to share some of the things that I’m working on and the lessons I’m learning – my day job, my part-time projects, my hobbies, resolutions, etc. I will not just share my success stories or accomplishments only, but will also share my struggles and failures.
What I hope others will do
While I make this my habit, which will take a while, I also hope other people also share similar things so that I and others can also learn from them.
While I’m very proud of people’s achievements when they share them, I’m more interested in hearing about their journey how they got there – including their ups and downs.
While I’m very happy to see photos of their vacation, I would love to read more about how did they plan it, what was their experience like or unique perspective they developed about that location, etc.
Anyways, you got the point. Let’s make Facebook informative, inspirational and personal.
We need to leverage Facebook’s massive reach to make a positive impact in the World rather than wasting people’s most precious resource – time, which many of them don’t realize it.
So I’ll be using Facebook actively again – just with a positive twist. And yes, I’ve downloaded back the Facebook app on my iPhone :).
In the last few months, I have had many friends reached out to me to share their interest of starting a software startup or getting specific feedback on the app they’re building. Every single time I ended up asking them less about their product or app, but more about how they plan to reach out to their customers. Very rarely I see people have thought about it well, so I ended up emphasizing to focus on that activity a lot more than getting too excited about amazing things their product or app can do.
After sharing similar feedback a couple of times, finally I decided to jot down my thoughts. Most of these thoughts are pretty obvious for second-time founders, and most of the first-time founders must have also read these thoughts somewhere else, but I still think it’s critical to emphasize it again.
Trends in software product development
Over the past 5 years that I’ve been building software products, I have seen these two trends –
The speed of building a software product is getting faster and the cost of building it is getting cheaper.
And by a software product, I mean – an iPhone or Android mobile app, or any SaaS or consumer web app, etc.
Development is easy
The availability of languages and frameworks has sped up the development and made it easy for non-technical folks to learn how to code. The advent of step-by-step tutorials, video courses make it even easier to just follow these courses every day and make concrete progress in building a real software.
The cost of hosting is going down. You no longer need to purchase any servers. You can leverage managed hosting services like AWS and Digital Ocean, and spin up few instances of different services as you go. All you need is a development machine.
The cost of building core technology is going down. You no longer need to build every single functionality required for your product in-house from scratch. You can leverage platform services who provide sophisticated APIs for pretty much any kind of functionality – starting from Payments, Email, Telecommunication, Analytics to Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, etc. There is even a term for this – The No Stack Startup.
Processes like agile coupled with continuous integration and deployment have reduced iteration cycles, encouraging to ship smaller features on an incremental basis.
In a very generic sense, it is getting a lot easier to build a software product. All you need is an idea to solve a problem, a laptop to build the software and willingness to build it.
While this is all true, during the same time, building a business around your product has become harder. And by building a business, I mean – marketing, sales, support, etc. And by harder I don’t mean the “discouraging” harder, but “noisy” harder.
The hardest part nowadays is getting an attention of your target customers for your software.
Distribution is hard
Simply put there are a lot of products out there, which create a lot of noise in the market. In order for people to find your product, you have to have a clear value proposition and find the right channels to broadcast the message of what you do!
Now broadcasting your message has become easier with the advent of Social Media tools, but in general, Marketing has become very noisy. There is a plethora of marketing techniques including SEO, Content Marketing, SMM, etc. Everybody is creating so much of content every day to increase their SEO, drive leads to their marketing pages, etc., it’s getting harder to make your voice stand out.
While Marketing has become harder, on the other hand, selling has become comparatively easier with the advent of so many CRM, inside-Sales tools, cold emailing softwares and techniques. Now that’s a good news for you, but then that’s a good news for your competitor too. So it’s getting comparatively harder to make your cold email compelling to act compared to your competitor’s cold email. So in the end, even selling seems become harder.
Product and distribution need to go hand in hand
To build a truly successful company, either you build a remarkable product that sells itself or have a good enough product with remarkable distribution channels. But if you’re starting a company for the first time, then the odds of having a remarkable product hit are quite low. On the other hand, it’s lot easier to build a good enough product as explained above, but without great distribution channels, it wouldn’t matter.
It’s very critical to have a strong focus on distribution channels from the day one of your execution. The way you keep getting excited about your product every day, you need someone in your team who gets equally excited about different distribution channels and need to come up with lots of ideas to get your product in your target customer’s hands.
I was having a conversation with my friend, who had joined a new company as a Product Manager around 6 months ago. He was sharing his frustration of how his engineering team does not gel and work with him well yet. I will write a separate post on how to handle these situations from a Product Manager’s perspective, but one thing that struck me was – he had pretty much given up hopes on if things will ever improve with his engineering team after multiple tries.
I shared with him my perspective on how would I handle these things tactically, but the most important piece of feedback I shared with him was – “Don’t give up! Every day is a new beginning. Start fresh, start again.”
I said that and realized how powerful this mantra is to live our life –
“Every day is a new beginning”.
Just because we failed in something yesterday, doesn’t mean we have to fail today. Just because we felt sad yesterday, doesn’t mean we have to feel the same way today.
Every day, we can restate our goals, retake our decisions, rethink our approach, rebuild our relationships – for a new, happy and successful life with a smile, hope, and expectations, irrespective of how was our yesterday.
Every day we have some plans, some To-Do list, some goals, but some days we fail to achieve them. If this pattern repeats again and again for few days or weeks, then that creates a feeling of frustration, unhappiness, and failure. And we start believing that we can’t achieve those things anymore. And we eventually give up.
Every once in a while we lose our motivation, persistence, willpower, and self-discipline. But that doesn’t mean that’s how we will have to be tomorrow.
Who cares if we failed yesterday?
Every day is a fresh new day with a blank slate to rewrite those goals and start achieving those again. If you believe in yourself and stay persistent, you will most definitely find the inner strength, wisdom, and confidence to achieve your dreams and create the meaningful life you want to live.
So when the time comes for you to contact Comcast’s Customer Service, you are already not looking forward to the call, and also have very low expectations for getting your issue resolved in a timely manner. But when you receive a totally unexpected “wow” and pleasant experience, you can’t resist but to share that experience and give credits to those have worked hard on changing a demoter like most of us to a promoter. And since I work at a company who provides software to large enterprises to deliver similar “wow” experiences to their customers, I had a special appreciation by being on the other side of the fence.
So here’s my experience –
A few days ago, we had an outage in our area for the Internet connection. Well, I didn’t know it was an area wide outage before I called Comcast Customer support. All I knew was – my internet connection wasn’t working after a couple of reboot cycles of the modem, router, etc. So eventually I called the 1-800-Comcast number.
Instantly after few rings, it detected me based on my phone number, and I didn’t have to go through the series of authentication and identification steps. I was ready to get served.
Proactive reminder of a pending task
The moment I was authenticated, the automated IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system proactively reminded me that I need to upgrade my modem. All I need to do is to visit the nearest Comcast location and receive a newer modem.
Natural language interaction
After that reminder, the next prompt was – “How can I help you?”. It didn’t ask me to listen to all menu options, and then let me figure out in which category of their menus does my problem fit, and then keep pressing respective numbers to traverse through menu tree to reach to the destination option I need! There was no such crap! It was a free flow open interface – just talk what your problem is in natural language – the way you would normally talk with a human agent.
I said that “my internet is not working”. That’s it. And it figured out what my intent was, and offered me the right treatment.
Once their automated IVR system understood what my intent of call was, then it immediately prompted my address and zip code and asked me to confirm if I’m calling about that region. I confirmed “Yes”.
Then it informed me that there is a known outage in that area, and their technicians are looking into it. They expect to resolve the issue very soon.
Empathic user experience
While they explained to me that the technicians are working on resolving an outage, I was still wondering, but how long shall I wait? While I was just thinking about it, the automated IVR system asked me – if I would like to receive an SMS update on my phone about when the outage will be resolved? I confirmed “Yes”.
Then it prompted my mobile number and asked to confirm if it should send me an update on that number. I confirmed “Yes”. That’s it. In the end, it greeted me well and said it would update me as soon as the issue is resolved.
Roughly about 30 minutes, I received a text from Comcast that the outage issue is resolved and I should have my internet connectivity back. And sure it was! No refreshing of web pages in browser to see if the internet is back. The automated system informed me as soon it was available.
And I was a delighted customer! It was a complete self-service experience across many different topics, and I did not have to talk to a human agent once. I certainly had many “wow” moments during the entire interaction and post interaction. Obviously you can see that as I wrote a whole blog post about it!
I wish they continue to bring this kind of experience to other common issues their customers are facing, and I’m sure one by one these disgruntled customers would turn into their promoters!
As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was on a hiatus for more than two years, and didn’t update the world what I was up to in that period. A week ago, I met my school friends after a long time and they also didn’t know about my whereabouts. I shared some of the details with them but thought I should share it with the larger audience – specifically not only what happened, but also how it happened and what lessons I learned from that experience.
Two years ago, in March 2013, my co-founder Manish and I sold our two years old startup Shopalize, Inc to 7 Inc. It took four months to sell a two people company with a series of activities like talking on hour-long phone calls with advisors and lawyers, writing carefully worded emails, passing technical due-diligence hurdles, and negotiating tedious legal terms.
Every time someone learns that we sold our startup, the first question they ask is – “how did that happen?”. And most of the times, my answer is – “I got lucky!”.
Shopalize was started four years ago as a Social Marketing platform for eCommerce retailers. For the first year, I self-financed the company using my savings and working out of my home. I didn’t have the proper experience of building Web software applications, so learned it on the go while building it. Few friends helped me in the part-time, but it took me almost 9 months to launch the beta version of the product. My plan was to launch it in 6 months.
Once I had the beta version to show to people, I started getting more interest from potential co-founders, advisors, potential customers, etc. As they say – a picture is worth a thousand words, and a prototype is worth a thousand pictures. With the beta version ready, I was still searching for co-founders who could join me full-time. I met Kris (now a friend) in a startup meetup, who joined me full-time as a co-founder to help on the sales side. He helped to get the first customer and taught me how to run sales operations. With that first customer, we were officially launched.
Post launch, we got a dozen customers in the first couple months, but we still had not proved the product actually works and delivers the value as promised. The product lacked many things from the functionality, stability, and capability perspective. In fact, it was broken for a large set of users. There were many incidents where I was embarrassed as I didn’t know how to fix those issues and had to figure it out on the go.
Then almost a year into the business, Manish joined us as a third co-founder to accelerate the product development efforts so that Kris can focus on sales activities and I can focus on both customer success and product development activities.
With the team of 3 people, product in the beta stage, and few customers on board, we decided to raise an angel round. Our advisors invested some money and kicked off our fundraising. With that little financial help, we hired few contractors in India to help us accelerate the product development efforts.
Over the next few months, the product started getting better, we started showing results and ROI to our customers, and we started getting confidence in our product. Kris and I started closing more partnership opportunities, Sales leads, and overall we started seeing our customer base was growing. We had started making some revenue to cover our operations and contractors costs, but we were still not paying ourselves.
Meanwhile, we started seeing many competitors popped up in that space with seed funding raised. We were worried about growing competition and were struggling to get good attention for our fundraising efforts. We believed in what we were doing, but we didn’t have strong growth or product market fit yet, or substantial revenue to prove that we were onto something big that was in high demand.
We discussed other options and decided to halt the fundraising efforts and continue building the business by being scrappy and nimble. We decided to grow monthly revenue to $10K-$15K before raising a seed round. We knew that achieving that kind of revenue with small size customers was a long grind, so we decided to focus on mid-sized enterprises with the bigger deal size. We started getting good interest from few mid-size companies. We thought if we could get few such customers then we could bootstrap our business and could survive for some time.
But selling to mid-large enterprises means you have to invest more in product and technology from functionality, scalability, stability, and security perspective. We thought it was the right thing to do and worked even harder to make our product and platform better. On the other hand, it was taking a lot longer to close the enterprise deals and we were getting impatient as we were running out of money.
Meanwhile, Kris decided to pursue some other opportunity. It was a big loss both mentally and physically. We struggled for some time but eventually managed to get back on the track. I took the responsibility for sales and Manish took the responsibility for product development.
Sometime in November 2012, I received an email from our legal counsel that he wanted to meet me. He tried to understand what our business do in detail and then he suggested to introduce me to a CEO of 7 Inc to discuss some strategic opportunity. Apparently our legal counsel was also a legal counsel of 7 as well and he thought we could be a good fit into 7’s vision.
In general strategic opportunity always sounds exciting as it could be an acquisition offer or a partnership opportunity. But since I had not heard about this company before, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this meeting. I looked at their website, read press releases and tried to understand what they do. I did not think that it could be an acquisition opportunity so ruled out that option. Now for partnership opportunities, in theory, a successful partnership with a larger company could help your company get more customers, but in reality, partnerships are rarely a real thing as either large company is buying your technology to sell to their customers or you are buying their distribution channel. But more importantly, in early days of startup, these things eat up your time and energy. So I wasn’t really sure what would be the outcome of that meeting, but I was looking forward to meeting and learning.
I met with the CEO and after quick initial introductions, the first thing he asked me was – “Do you know <one of our competitor’s name>?”. I said – “Yes”. Then he asked me – “How are you different?”. Normally, if this would have been a potential customer, I would have answered with my typical differentiation points, but I somehow I didn’t think this was about them buying our solution for their usage, so I responded – “Product wise, we’ve pretty much very similar offering. Company wise, they’re much larger, and we’re just 2 people company.”. He responded – “Ok, if you have a similar offering, then we would like to acquire you.”.
I was shocked. I wasn’t prepared for him to let the cat out of the bag so quickly. He hadn’t even looked at our product demo. On the other hand, I was impressed with the fact that he didn’t waste anytime in any irrelevant discussions and jumped on the main point straight away. He asked if we would be interested in selling the company. I said we would be open to offers but weren’t not actively looking to sell the company. Given that we were just getting started with the enterprise customers, we thought we had a revenue making potential ahead of us and there was no need to sell.
But I tried to understand in detail why they wanted to acquire us, what exactly they wanted to do with our product & technology, how did they see we fit into their company, etc. He explained everything and I was impressed with their vision and plans for using our technology. He also asked me about our future product plans, fundraising plans, etc. and asked us to demo the product to their larger team in the following week.
We were invited to demo our product to key execs from Product, Engineering, and Data Sciences departments. By this time in our business, I had given many product demos to potential customers, but this time though, it wasn’t only about selling the product, but it was also about selling the company, the people, the vision – pretty much everything.
Meanwhile, our advisors and investors coached and mentored me on how to present, what to emphasize, how to connect with executives, etc. It was a huge help. This shows the importance of having the right advisors on your board.
When we walked into the room, there were around 10 execs to hear it. A 30-minute demo turned into an hour or two hours discussion. During discussion, I kept questioning myself why the heck a 500+ people company wanted to acquire a 2 people company, and why they couldn’t build what we built in-house.
But based on their questions during the product demo, I realized that we were experts in our domain. We had data about our product, our customer engagement, what had worked, why it had worked, etc. They didn’t know all of that. And they didn’t want to waste their time in learning that from scratch.
In the end, I thought they were impressed with our product, our knowledge, and realized that we were also impressed with what they do and were excited about the future.
Post successful demo, I was invited in a following week to hear the financial details of an offer. The first offer was extremely low, so I pretty much declined right there without taking it to discuss with my advisors or co-founder. I had a certain range in my mind, so was not ready to sell Shopalize anything below that range.
After a few days, we got another revised offer, but it still wasn’t in the expected range, plus it also had some clauses. After few back and forth negotiations, we agreed on the financial terms and signed what’s known as a term sheet with the intent to purchase. Once a term sheet is signed, a deal is happening unless something horrible happens during due diligence.
The due diligence
7’s team sent over a list of hundreds of technical, legal, and business questions that we needed to answer for the deal to go through. What type of technology, libraries, database had we used? Had we used any open source softwares? Did we have IP assignments from every contractor who touched our code? How did our billing system work? How did we make money?
Tracking down document after document was really tedious work. And during this time, we had to keep our business running as normal, and keep the whole thing a secret from our contractors, friends, etc.
On the technology due diligence side, we had to integrate our product with their technology stack to prove that it could be easily integrated and deployed to their clients as it is with minimal changes once we come onboard. So we had to make quite a few changes on our side to make that happen. Luckily, we were smart enough to do only changes that we thought were anyways needed for us to make our product ready for the enterprise-grade customers, and we pushed back on all the changes that we thought were custom requirements for 7’s specific environment.
On the legal due diligence side, we had to do lot of negotiations on various different clauses, but after series of negotiations, heated exchanges, and counters, 7’s team was satisfied with our asks and we were satisfied with the terms of the deal and their plans post-acquisition.
In the end, our lawyers conferred with their lawyers. It was agreed that after months of due diligence, we had signed all required documents and all closing conditions had finally been met. Then money was officially transferred to our accounts and we were part of 7 Inc.
Overall, it was actually a great outcome for all of us involved in Shopalize. Specially for my co-founder and me it was a life-changing event. The financial rewards were great, and if I ever want to start another company, every piece of that process will be easier. Also, we had received a jump in our professional career in terms of roles and responsibilities. If we would have continued the same employment path instead of taking the leap in entrepreneurial journey, we would have never achieved what we’ve achieved today. My co-founder joined 7 as a Director of Engineering and I joined as a Director of Product Management.
Post acquisition, the one thing that I’d been planning for more than few weeks was how to announce the acquisition on Facebook with my friends and family members. I wanted to share with them that there is a hope in taking this crazy entrepreneurship route if you work hard (and get lucky), you can make your mark in the Silicon Valley’s startup stories. While writing it, more than announcing the outcome, I ended up thanking every single person who helped me in this journey starting from wife, co-founder, part-time helpers, advisors, etc. Without their support, guidance and trust, we would have not accomplished this outcome.
By no means, we had the greatest outcome compared to other Silicon Valley’s success stories. But my hope in sharing this story is that at least people who know me and follow my blog can relate themselves with me personally, and can believe that if I can do this, then they certainly can. With that belief, I hope more people will take the leap of faith to start more great companies and in the process they’ll become great leaders.