Saturday 7 May 2022

What is the biggest hurdle in becoming a successful startup company?

Founders giving up

The biggest hurdle in a startup becoming successful is “founder burn-out”.

Creating a startup is difficult. Let’s accept it. You need to look at Sales, Customer Support, Operations, Product, Engineering, HR, Recruitment, Marketing, Branding, and whatnot. Goof-up at one place and you’re doomed.

Many founders give up because of this. And that’s what differentiates a successful startup from a startup that isn’t successful.

When I started Cogno AI in 2017, we faced a lot of hurdles:

  1. My parents did not agree to me leaving my Tower Research and Rubrik Job offers to start Cogno. It was quite difficult for me to convince them that a startup is not a gamble, but rather a calculated risk with a high reward. My parents did not agree. To sort this, I helped Rubrik India Head hire a bunch of people from IIT Bombay, Delhi, and Kanpur. In return, he assured me that if in the future my startup didn’t work out, Rubrik’s door will remain open for me. I showed that to my parents and they were happy that now there is a backup.
  2. Due to GST being rolled out on 1st July 2017, our first large client was not able to pay us timely. This was because they could not make changes to their Vendor Payment system so fast. We were running out of funds. To solve this, we invested some of our own money into the company to let it run. Mind you, at that time, we had started to incur expenses - rent, food, travel, etc.
  3. My co-founder quit in just 1.5 years. At that time, I was in deep shit. We had less than Rs. 5 lakhs in the Bank. I was left with 1 intern and 1 full-time Engineer. It was a bad situation. I had no clue what to do. I called up my college friend Harshita and explained the situation. I further showed her the vision of how big this could become. She left her job and joined me as the Co-founder. Today we are a 100+ member team.
  4. In 2019, we had a lot of difficult situations - a friend who I got onboard at Cogno for a senior role, back-stabbed us by using our developers to work on his independent project. It was a tough situation because he was managing one of our large clients. Cleaning the mess and ending the whole episode gracefully was a big challenge, but we did it.
  5. In September 2019, an Engineer from a reputed tech firm picked up a few words from one of my LinkedIn posts and created chaos around it to gain popularity. He wanted to ride on the name of IIT Bombay and defame me to get “likes, comments, and shares”. He raised allegations that at Cogno, we were mistreating our employees, specifically freshers. He wrote about it on LinkedIn in highly negative sentiment. I am not taking any names here because doing that will not leave any difference between me and him. All of my team members were shocked and in despair. Today, we are proud to say that not only do we have a 4.4/5 rating on Glassdoor but also most of the reviews are around Freshers praising the Company culture that has helped them learn and grow fast in their career.
  6. In April 2020, our invoicing suddenly went down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a tough situation for us. Money inflow went down overnight. However, we took this as a challenge and emerged successfully. We went from ~18 members to 100+ members in 18 months. We did salary increments and appraisals for all our eligible team members. We did not do any salary cuts or any structural changes. In fact, I was clear that if a tough situation arises, I will put my personal funds into the company to ensure that all the team members are paid their exact salaries timely.

If you see the pattern, you will realize that there is 1 thing that we did - we continued executing relentlessly irrespective of the situation. We never gave up. If we had given up at any of the above points, Cogno would have shut down. We were clear that we need to grow this into a big business.

Don’t give up and you’d emerge successfully.

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