Saturday 31 December 2022

Do these 10 things to make your startup successful

My startup got acquired for a multi-million dollar transaction last year (at age 26). Here are the 10 things to focus on to succeed:

1. Learn to Sell/Convince. You have to sell to customers, you have to convince (sell) talented employees to join you, convince advisors, channel partners, investors, and everybody else who works with you. So best that you learn to sell NOW.

2. Stop chasing Investors, Awards, Events, and Hackathons and start chasing paying customers. ICICI Bank is one of our old customers. I went there so often that their Security Guard had memorized my Laptop Serial Number which is to be provided during entry.

3. Stop thinking and dreaming and start executing. Too many founders waste their time thinking of a perfect startup idea. Start with whatever small you can and then gradually expand to adjacent product lines and adjacent markets. Think big, Act small. Don't get into analysis paralysis.

4. Keep an eye on companies that can help you distribute your products. We worked with Cloud Telephony Providers and WhatsApp API Providers to distribute our products to their customers. One such Provider (Exotel) ended up acquiring us. Channel Partnerships may turn into a life-changing acquisition for you. So build a network of Channel Partners.

5. Build a Culture of Experimentation that accepts failures. To succeed, you need to innovate. To innovate, you need to experiment. To experiment, you need to have a culture that embraces failure because experiments, by definition can fail.

6. Work hard. That's the only parameter you can control in your life. Everything else is out of your control. You can't control how much your customer pays you. But you can control how much you work hard and help them. Go and do that. You can't control how much your employees deliver for you. But you can control how much you take care of them. Go and do that.

7. Track the right metrics. Understand the difference between EBITDA, Cash flow, and Profits vs money in the bank. Money in the Bank is the most important metric. You may have an EBITDA of a million dollars. But if your customer pays you after a year, you'd be out of business soon!

8. Stop chasing competitors. Here is an analogy - if you like a girl, would you focus on what the girl wants or would you spend time thinking about what other boys are doing for her? The same is the case with business. Focus on what your customer wants. Don't waste too much time chasing competitors.

9. Learn to learn. Spend a lot of time reading books, listening to podcasts, talking to other entrepreneurs, and reading articles and blogs that teach you specific skills that you don't know. As an entrepreneur, you have to be a learning machine.

10. Learn to think big. You can't get to the stars if you keep thinking about the moon. If you have aspirations of becoming a millionaire, think big. Don't chase your next increment. Chase the industry. Chase the customers. Chase your BIG dreams.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Friday 30 December 2022

Business Lessons from TVF Pitchers

[SPOILER ALERT]: Contains possible spoilers for TVF Pitchers Season 2.

TVF Pitchers Season 2 has become one of the highest-rated shows with a rating of 9.1 on IMDB. It is one of the best shows to watch to learn the realities of how difficult it is to run a startup.

Here are some of the learnings from the show:

1. Sales is difficult. Learn it as soon as possible because as a founder, most of your time would be spent just convincing people. Sales is not just about convincing the customer to purchase your product. Sales is also about convincing investors, convincing team members, and convincing advisors.

2. Cofounder issues are tough. Best to have a cofounding team that is committed for at least 3 - 4 years. Best if 5 years.

3. Don't celebrate too early. Verbal commitments do not mean anything. Termsheet does not mean anything. Best to celebrate only when the formal closure is done.

4. Keep an eye on your bank balance. Many entrepreneurs chase top-of-the-funnel metrics like DAUs, MAUs, Impressions, etc. The best metric is the bank balance. Keep an eye on it and work towards growing it. Cash in business is like Oxygen.

5. Don't chase valuations too much. Yes, valuations are important, but then cash in the bank is more important. You cannot negotiate valuation when you have just 15 days of money left in the bank.

6. Don't betray people who have been by your side during your difficult times. Prachi could have dumped Pragati AI when things got tough for them. But she still supported them. Of course, she couldn't get them the funding because no investor would invest in such a situation. But she provided all the support she could, including referring a great candidate for the CTO position.

7. Hiring the right people is important. Right people can make or break your game. There were some team members who agreed to stay with Pragati AI even when Mandal formally announced that they have just 15 days of runway left. You want such supporters in your team. Needless to say, they got the benefit when Pragati AI got the contract from KC Desai.

8. Great Customer Experience is important. Else you will lose the customer. Alpha 1 had $40M in funding, but they still lost KC Desai to a small player purely because they could not provide the right experience to them.

Overall the show was great and it has very well showcased the reality of how difficult it is to take a startup off the ground than what the media portrays by publishing the shiny millions of dollars of funding articles. Every entrepreneur has to take extremely difficult decisions every single day to keep the ship afloat.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Thursday 29 December 2022

How to avoid Cofounder conflicts?

One of the most common reasons why startups die is a conflict between the cofounders. Many times, startups are founded by college friends who start on a highly positive note and then realize later that they've teamed up with the wrong person.

I have also burnt my fingers and had a cofounder exit back in August 2018. Here are a few ways to avoid conflicts between cofounders:

1. Divide work areas. Figure out who is good at what, and then let them take responsibility for that portion of the work. They may take opinions from other cofounders but they would be the final decision-maker for that piece of work and everyone else should agree to it. At Cogno, Harshita and I have divided the work clearly. I look at Sales, Project Delivery, Support, and Customer Success. She looks at Product Management, Engineering, and Information Security. HR is handled jointly on a case-to-case basis.

2. Complementary skillset. This point is related to the first point. If you look at Harshita's work, it is detail-oriented, while all of my work is mainly high-level. It is because I am better at looking at the larger picture, while she is better at the details and the micro-level picture. Also, I am generally good at communicating with others and so, naturally, all the customer-facing activities are best done by me. Best to have founders who carry complementary skillsets so that they can take up different roles.

3. Trust each other. Either work with your cofounder with complete trust. Or part ways. Don't create a half-hearted situation where you're working with your cofounder but you don't trust each other. If you hit a situation where you're not able to trust your cofounder for something, talk to each other and clarify it. A lot of problems are solved simply by communicating rather than "giving vibes". That brings me to my next point.

4. Communicate with each other. Set clear expectations of what you can offer on the table, what you cannot offer on the table, and which part you expect your cofounder to bring to the table. Don't make silent assumptions. Making silent assumptions and not communicating and then fighting, is the easiest recipe for disaster.

5. Don't fight. When a problem happens and you end up in a conflict, just remember this one simple statement - it's not you vs your cofounder, it's you two vs the problem. Pick the right fight. Fight with the problem and not with your cofounder.

6. Ensure sufficient skin in the game. Sign founder agreements with at least 4 - 5 year long vesting periods with no less than 3 - 4 years of lock-in. This means that if some cofounder quits before 3 - 4 years, they get nothing. Startups are hard and if you or your cofounder don't agree to commit for a certain period, there is no chance you are going to get successful. Make sure that you and your cofounder understand this well.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Your startup idea isn't worth anything at all.

I see so many founders obsessing about their *billion-dollar* startup idea. The reality is, without proper execution, your startup idea is, well... just a startup idea and not an actual business. So what's the point? Instead, focus on executing that first step.

How do you climb up to the 3rd floor of your building? You take the first step. How do you create a popular YouTube channel? You start by publishing one video today. How do you lose 20 kgs? By not eating that ice cream tonight. How does a baby learn to walk? By taking the first step.

As you can see, every big thing starts by taking the first step, NOW.

No point in overthinking your startup idea. No point in hiding it in Stealth Mode. No point in talking to a dozen VCs to get their opinion. No point in discussing with your friends every single day.

The only and only right step is to go and meet 5 prospects. Talk to them, get their feedback and work backward and start building. That's all that matters. You're not building your Product for the investors and so, no point in talking to them about their opinions. Sure, you can talk to them for feedback. Best, you ask them to introduce you to 5 prospective customers. But then that's about it. You're not building for the VCs. You're building for the customers. The customer is your main stakeholder. Not the VC.

One of my advisors said a really strong statement that I carry with me even today - "think big, act small"

Think of reaching the top of the mountain. But also take that first step to start climbing it. Only thinking about the mountain and talking to others won't take you to the summit. You need to get up and start climbing it. Step by step. Every single day. Without stopping. Until you reach the top. The boring and unsexy method is the only sustainable and repeatable method to win.

That's the only way to achieve success. There are no shortcuts and so, stop looking for shortcuts.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Tuesday 27 December 2022

How to raise funds for your early stage Startup?

You've started your own startup? Congratulations! The hardest part is to take a decision to begin. Most people fail at this step itself and so, you definitely deserve appreciation.

So what next? Are you looking to raise capital? Here is a guide.

Why do you need to raise Capital?

This is the most important question to ask yourself because when you raise capital, you are inviting external investors to own a part of your company. Which means that you're losing a part of your control. Are you ok with that? Your investors will have their own opinions, thought processes, and ideas for the business. Are you open to hearing them? What if your thought process doesn't align with theirs. How will you handle conflicts?

These are people-related questions that you should ask yourself before you raise funds. Apart from that, there are business-related questions that you should ask. For instance, why can't your business be profitable? Why does it need a capital infusion? What other options do you have apart from raising capital from investors? If it's just a small amount of money, can you put in some money from your savings? Do you have friends and family members who would be willing to invest? Can you take a loan? Basically, what other alternative options do you have to raise funds without giving away ownership of your business.

Here are some guidelines while you think:

  1. Are you someone who doesn't like to listen to others too much? Your investors will surely want you to listen to them.
  2. Are you someone who doesn't have a proper business plan in place? Your investors would want to see it. No one wants to spray and pray.
  3. Is your vision centered around building a Rs. 30 crores revenue and Rs. 5 crores profit business? It might be a large amount of money for you, but for investors, it's not an attractive proposition.
  4. Does your business require a relatively smaller amount of capital like a few tens of lakhs of rupees? You may consider putting some savings of yours and raising the rest of it from friends and family.
Basically, understand that by raising capital, you will lose a part of the ownership of the company which you should be fine with. Also, understand that investor money is not free money given to you to build your dreams. It's an obligation that you've taken on yourself and at some point in time, you'd have to return the money to your investors.

Assuming that you've thought through all of this and finally decided that you indeed want to raise money for your early-stage startup, here are 2 options.

Raising money from Angel Investors

Angel investors are high-net-worth individuals who have funds to invest in startups. Angel investors invest in startups for multiple reasons:
  1. Wanting to give back to the ecosystem. For instance, Founders like me who have created wealth via an acquisition, have spare money to invest. A lot of people from the ecosystem helped me in building Cogno. So now, I want to pay it forward by helping other founders.
  2. Understanding new trends in the market. A lot of Founders use Angel Investment as a tool to learn more about the new startups, and technologies active in the market.
  3. Making returns on their investment. Needless to say, all investors eventually are looking to grow their capital.
The biggest benefit of raising money from Angel investors is that they will be easy to convince and will invest mainly in you rather than in your business. A typical Angel investor will invest around Rs. 5 - 10 lakhs per startup and so, it is not worth it for them to spend a lot of time evaluating you. Therefore, the process of raising money from Angel investors would be much faster.

However, there is a major downside to this. Let's say you want to raise Rs. 5 crores of capital. One Angel Investor will typically put in Rs. 5 - 10 lakhs. So, you need some 50 - 100 such Angel Investors to be able to raise the total capital that you require. This becomes tricky because finding so many people and then managing them on your cap table is not easy. There are operational hassles, legal agreements, etc., to be managed.

So there are two main problems with raising money from Angel Investors:
  1. You need to spend time finding so many people.
  2. You need to manage so many people on your cap table
To solve this, there are a few Angel investor syndicates that you can find on platforms like AngelList. There also are some other Angel investor groups like IP Ventures, Dexter Angels, etc., which have pre-onboarded Angel Investors. They will help you organize a pitch to all of these investors at once and save you time. They will also take care of documentation, paperwork and the best part is that a single entity will come on your cap table and so, it becomes much easier to manage.

Apart from Angel Investors, there is an option of

Raising money from Venture Capitalists

Venture Capitalists or VCs are structured institutional investors. They are in the business of making money by investing in companies with high growth potential. There are many well-known VCs in India. Some notable names are Accel, Sequoia, Blume, Matrix, Nexus, Elevation, etc. Many of them invest at stages as early as pre-product, and pre-revenue depending on their comfort with the founder's capabilities.

Apart from the usual business plan and other stuff, VCs want 2 main things:
  1. They'd want to get about 20 - 25% of the company, irrespective of the amount of capital you want to raise. Smaller percentages are not worth it for them in terms of their time and efforts. So, if you want to raise capital from VCs, be mentally prepared for giving away at least a fifth of your company.
  2. They'd want a 5 - 7 year plan of how you'd take your business to $100M in revenues and $1B in valuation. VCs don't like the story of small profitable businesses. They make money via capital appreciation and not via profits. So, they want a $100M revenue story or they won't be interested.
For every 10 investments that a VC firm makes, 5 - 7 will go bust, 2 will just return the capital or give small returns, and 1 will give 10x - 50x returns. This 1 startup that gives 10x - 50x returns will cover up for the losses they incur in the 5 - 7 startups that will go bust. So, VCs are always on the lookout for this one startup that can give mega returns. If they don't see that in you, they won't invest.

For many early-stage founders who have a high-level idea of what they want to do, it might get quite difficult to raise money from the VCs because crafting a $100M revenue story on day one is quite difficult. That's why, most founders raise their seed round from Angel Investors, get some traction, and then go to VC firms for Series A and later rounds.

Having said that, the good thing about VCs is that most of them are quite hands-on. If an Associate or VP-level person from a VC fund likes you as a founder, they would be happy to invest time with you in building your $100M business plan. It requires a lot of big thinking and storytelling, which the Associate/VP can help you with, and then jointly take your case to the Partners to consider your case.

Let's take the example of BharatPe. Let's say you figure out the idea of QR code-based payments in your college and now you want to create a business out of this. You are a techie and you figured out the tech behind QR code-based payments. But here is a small problem, forget about a $100M revenue business plan, you don't even have an idea how you will monetize the QR code. A VC can help you here. They can sit with you and craft a business plan on how you will start doing transaction-based lending because you get the payment data via the QR code.

Lending is a massive industry and so, if you are able to scale the QR code business to a lot of merchants, you can easily build a loan book of $1B. With 12% interest and 2% NPA, that's a $100M revenue business. As a techie, you may not have any idea of all of this. But a good VC can sit with you, guide you on this and work on a business plan so that you can present this to their partners. Remember, as much as founders want VCs, VCs also want to bet their money on great founders.

Apart from this, VCs also have a support system in place. Most VC firms will help you with CA, a Lawyer, and in many cases, even an HR who will help you build a leadership team once you've raised capital. So that's a big benefit because they'd have seen hiring mistakes across multiple of their portfolio startups and so, they can help you increase the odds of avoiding the same mistake again.

So, to summarize:
  • For small amounts of capital, it's best to go to Angel investors. Much more convenient.
  • For relatively larger amounts of capital, it's worth investing time talking to VCs.
What's your take on this? Do share in the comments below.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Build a culture that accepts failure and experimentation

One thing that every entrepreneur should do is to build a culture that accepts experimentation and the associated failures.

To succeed, one has to innovate. To innovate, one has to experiment. To experiment, one has to learn to embrace the fact that experiments oftentimes fail. And so, every founder should learn to accept failures.

What type of failures?

Failures, which if would have succeeded, would have led to a substantial upside in the Business.

For instance, a team member of yours spends 2 months chasing a customer in the US market but didn't get a deal. Now, this team member should absolutely not be penalized. Instead, they should be rewarded for their effort because if they'd have ended up cracking this customer, it would have opened up a completely new market for your business - a sizeable upside!

What type of failures should be penalized?

- Ignorance
- Carelessness
- Misbehaving with other team members or customers
- Irresponsible behavior
- Indisciplined behavior
- Not taking responsibility for customers
- Lying
- Hiding data


Founders must know when to penalize for failures and when not. Failures due to failed experiments should be rewarded.

Do you have a culture of experimentation in your organization?

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Monday 26 December 2022

Don't make the TVF Pitcher's Naveen Pitch

You'd be kicked out instantly if you try giving the pitch that Naveen did to KC Desai in TVF Pitchers S2E1.

Because that's not how Enterprise Sales works. Saying it from my 5.5 years of selling to giants like SBI, Kotak, ICICI, etc.

Here is how it actually works. A large Institution doesn't work basis a decision of an individual even if that person is the MD/CEO. There are multiple stakeholders and so, for any purchase, there is a process in place. Here are the 7 stakeholders you need to convince: Business: They're the ones who understand your product proposition. They get the benefit from your product - increased revenues, more leads, reduced costs, happier customers, etc. IT: If you're selling a Software product, you need to pitch to an IT team from the perspective of deployment, integration, architecture, data flow, etc. They don't care about the business benefit of your product. They only talk tech. InfoSec: For a software product like Pragati AI, the Information Security team has to be convinced that the Product is safe. A large enterprise like KC Enterprises might be generating a ton of data. The last thing they want is a data breach because of you. Legal: A legal team gets involved for an NDA and an SLA. They protect the downside of the enterprise in case your software goofs up because the Business loss could be quite high. You mean nothing to the enterprise till you have an agreement signed. Compliance: In case the enterprise is a regulated entity, the compliance team needs to be convinced that your software complies with the regulatory guidelines. For instance, if you're selling a SaaS to a bank, customer data shouldn't go outside India as per RBI guidelines. Procurement: They'll negotiate the lowest price from you. Business + IT + InfoSec will shortlist ~3 capable providers for the project and pass it on to procurement. Procurement will negotiate the lowest quote from all 3. Finance: They'll issue the purchase order and will make the payments when you raise an invoice. They don't care about your product's benefit or security. They care about your company's financial stability. Tomorrow you shouldn't go bust. So, Naveen making an 'emotional' pitch to KC Desai and getting a contract (eventually not!) is absolutely not how an Enterprise Sales works. And I'd highly recommend not trying such a method either. Even if Desai agrees, there are 6 others who can block the sale. Rather, follow the structured process that I mentioned above. Align all the 7 stakeholders, and explain to them specifically about the piece that they evaluate. Don't talk about product benefits with the InfoSec person. Don't talk about your AI to the Business person. They just don't care! Anyway, let's take a TV Series with a pinch of salt. TV Series is for fun and entertainment. Overall, I absolutely love the concept of TVF Pitchers given that it's inspiring many entrepreneurs to start! PS: I stay in Hiranandani Powai where Pitchers has been shot 😉

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Sunday 25 December 2022

Invest in this to get the highest result

More people should focus on investing in themselves rather than in the stock market. No stock market return can beat the returns that one gets by investing in themselves.

Here are the best investments that I've done for myself:

1. Books: I read a lot of self-improvement books. For instance, books on selling, strategy, product, running a business, mindset, and money management. I think learning, in general, is the biggest investment which I personally spend my most time on. I also have Amazon Audible and Medium subscriptions.

2. Wealth Manager: I've taken services from a reputed Wealth Management firm that helps me manage my money. Be it stock market Investments, Mutual funds, property, US Stocks, and FDs - they take care of it so that I don't have to spend my time on that. Of course, I keep an eye on everything because, at the end of the day, it's my hard-earned money.

3. Food: I used to eat a lot of outside food in my college days. Now, I have hired a professional cook at my home who prepares the meals of my choice with all homemade items customized as per my requirements and taste - less oil, less butter, less sugar, etc. This way, my outside food consumption has significantly gone down and now I eat more healthy food.

4. Fitness: I walk at least 8,000 steps on a daily basis. I'm not a big fan of gymming because I find it a little boring and so, I am learning to swim so that sufficient physical activity happens regularly. I think I need to invest more time in my Physical fitness.

5. Parents: my parents have moved with me to Mumbai and they stay with me. With them around, I feel a lot happier. Also, my father is retired and has some time, so he takes care of a lot of my administrative work like documents, paperwork, utility bills, etc. While the work isn't that big, the time I save from all of this is quite big. Plus the happiness of staying with parents cannot be described in words.

6. House: most large cities lack greenery because of a shortage of space. I'm fortunate to be staying in a house in one of the greenest localities of Mumbai - Hiranandani Gardens. It has a lot of Gardens and trees. Other than that, it has many amenities like Forest Club, Gym, Swimming Pool, Hospital, Shopping center, etc., so, my parents are also able to spend their time in a new place.

7. Monitor: I've bought an awesome 32-inch monitor that helps me to be more productive. A large screen helps me navigate easily. Also, the overall work experience becomes much better with less strain on my eyes. My work setup is next to a window and so, I make sure that every once in a while, I look outside the window to reduce the strain on my eyes.

8. Chair: I've got a Greensoul Monster chair that helps me keep my posture straight. The chair is extremely comfortable. In spite of a good quality chair, I make sure that every once in a while, I walk a bit even if it's within the room.

What have been your best Investments?

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Saturday 24 December 2022

Learnings in bootstrapping to acquisition

My startup reached over a million dollars in revenue before it got acquired in a multi-million dollar transaction last year. I was just 21 years old when I started it. 

Here are my learnings in bootstrapping to acquisition:

1. Start early. Being young has a lot of benefits. You don't carry the baggage of biases. Your responsibilities are negligible and so, your risk appetite is high. Because you're young, people will also support you more.

2. Focus more on execution than the idea. Don't obsess over the idea. Ideas change because markets change. Focus on execution. Decide your larger 1-year goal and break it down into smaller milestones and keep executing. Think big, act small.

3. Learn to sell. The earlier the better. You'd be selling to customers, advisors, team members and investors. You have to sell your vision to everyone. In return, some will give you money (customers, investors). Others will give you time (team members, advisors). So its a skill that will be applicable everywhere and not just in selling your product.

4. Learn to hire talent. Ask yourself - why would a smart person work with you? Build a brand on Social media. Tap your alumni network. Ask your advisors for help. Do whatever it takes to hire smart people in your team.

5. Focus on efforts more than on outcomes. The only lever that you can control in your life is how hard you work. So, quantify the hard work and make it repeatable, so that your team members can also replicate it. If you do the right things, results in the form of revenues and profits will follow.

6. Chase customers rather than investors. Media has hyped funding with all those fancy articles of millions of dollars in funding being raised by startups. Real money is customer money. Remember, you have the responsibility of returning back the investor money with additional returns. Customer won't ask for their money. They want your product. Focus on that.

7. Build an experimentation culture. Let people be appreciated for trying out new things even if they fail. It's the easiest way to build a culture of innovation. Innovation leads to iteration in Product. Iteration in Product leads to a Product/Market fit (PMF). PMF leads to success. So experiments lead to success.

8. Learn to track metrics. The best metric to track is the cash in the Bank (apart from the Investor money). Don't waste time tracking vanity top-of-the-funnel metrics because the primary purpose of any business is to generate profits/cash.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Sunday 4 December 2022

5 skills to learn to become a Millionaire

To earn money, you have to create value for people. To earn more money, you have to create more value for more people. So, the skills required to become a millionaire, are essentially the skills that one requires to add a lot of value to the lives of a lot of people.

Here are the most important skills that you need to learn today to become a millionaire:

  1. Sales: You need to learn to convince people to buy from you. You should be able to talk to people, identify their pain points, offer a solution, and convince them that your solution will help them solve their problems. It is quite straightforward to understand that the more you sell your solution, the more money will you make.
  2. Recruitment: You only have 10 working hours a day. If you are a workaholic like me, you might stretch to 12 or maybe even 14 hours a day. Going beyond that is quite impossible and might lead to burnout. So, if you take 1 hour to sell a unit of your product, you'll be restricted to 14 - 15 sales a day. How do you sell 150 units a day? Hire 9 others like you and so, now you have 10x the capacity. Learning to recruit is one of the highest-leverage activities that you can do to earn more money.
  3. Technology: Technology helps you scale faster in those areas where hiring will take time. Basically, technology will help you achieve your million-dollar goal faster. You don't have time to track your work? Get a Todolist App. You don't have time to make notes? Get a Note-taking App. Don't have time/money to hire a Personal Secretary? Use Google Calendar. Use Technology to solve 50% of your problem at 5% of the time and cost. Sure, a smart Personal Secretary can do a lot more than a Google Calendar. But then you can start using Google Calendar today, but it will take you a month to get a Personal Secretary onboard.
  4. Investing Time: You can spend time searching for that Rs. 200 discount coupon for your flight ticket. Or you can invest your time in your next sale. If you earn Rs. 1 lakh a month and you waste 30 minutes searching for Rs. 200 discount coupons, you effectively lost Rs. 50 because your 30 minutes were worth Rs. 250. Start understanding the value of your time and utilize it in learning skills, hiring people, leveraging technology, educating yourself, building products, etc. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  5. Investing Money: The best-earned money is passive money. If you have Rs. 20 lakhs sitting in your bank and you invest it in a Mutual Fund that grows at 15% a year, you will earn Rs. 3 lakhs a year, or Rs. 25k a month. That's roughly Rs. 1,000 per working-day worth of passive money. Who doesn't like that?
I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

How to stay motivated as an Entrepreneur?

It’s not easy being an entrepreneur. You have to be motivated to keep going, especially when things get tough. Here are some ways to stay motivated as an entrepreneur:

1. Set goals and work towards them: Having goals gives you something to work towards and something to strive for. Make sure your goals are realistic and attainable, and then do whatever it takes to reach them.

2. Be passionate about your work: If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it’ll be easier to stay motivated. Do something you love and believe in, and it won’t feel like work.

3. Be persistent: Don’t give up, even when things get tough. Remember why you started your business in the first place and keep going.

4. Surround yourself with positive people: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your business. These people will help keep you motivated and inspired.

5. Take care of yourself: Don’t forget to take care of yourself physically and mentally. Entrepreneurship can be stressful, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, and exercise.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated?

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Build Solutions, not Technologies

One mistake that I see many founders making is that they first build technology and then look for problems that can be solved using the tech. This is definitely one of the worst ways to build a startup.

The right approach is the opposite - start with a problem statement and then work backward to build the tech. Go and talk to the customers and understand their pain points or unmet needs. Then go home and build a technology that can solve these needs.

Go back to the customer and show them what you built and take their feedback. Based on their feedback, improve the product and repeat this until the customer says - "Wow! This is amazing! How much does this cost?"

Voila! You got a paying customer! You just built a Product that a customer wants to pay for!

The next step is to convert this Product into an actual business. How do you do that? Find a way to get more such customers who have that same problem statement. This is where Sales and Marketing come into the picture. Here are some ways to get more customers:

- Share about your product and its utility on Social Media
- Reach out to the prospects via email or LinkedIn messages
- Reach out via your networks. Could be a College network or an investor/advisor network
- Be a part of the Social Media groups where your customers hang out

Remember - the Business is about your customers and not about you. So solve the customer problem and reach out to more customers to solve a 'larger amount' of the problem and you'd have a business in place.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

How learning to sell helped me get my startup acquired for millions of dollars?

At the age of 21, I started Cogno AI which got acquired in a multi-million dollar transaction in just 4 years. What was the key element to success? Learning how to sell.

I did my B. Tech in CS and so, it took me a lot of time to learn to sell. Here are my learnings on Sales (B2B SaaS):

1. In the initial days, your customer's office should be your place of work. Find a couple of early prospects and work from their office. The more time you spend with the customer, the more feedback you'd get and the faster you can iterate and build your Product.

2. During the early days of Cogno AI, I used to go to the ICICI Bank office every day. I went there so often that the Security Guard had memorized my laptop's serial number during the security checks. No wonder ICICI Bank is among our largest customers.

3. Sell solutions to pain points. Don't sell features. I have seen so many startups selling tech and features like 'our Product is AI enabled'. The customer doesn't care whether your Product has AI or AR or Blockchain or whatever. They care only and only about whether it solves their problem or not.

4. Learn to make follow-ups your best friend. You have to show up every single day. Many people will get bored and frustrated after 3 follow-ups. The magic happens right after that. Your customer has bigger problems than buying your Product. To get their attention, follow up.

5. If your model is Sales-led rather than Product or Marketing-led, it's better to focus on a few large customers rather than many small customers. Larger customers generally provide a higher ticket size and they also pay in advance. That helps in building cashflows.

6. Learn to be patient. In a typical Enterprise Saas deal, you'd have to deal with a lot of stakeholders - Business, IT, InfoSec, Legal, Compliance, Finance and Procurement. One person liking anything doesn't mean anything till you have a contract on the table. You have to convince all 7 stakeholders.

7. One of the most important things that help customers take decisions faster is case studies. If you have a proven track record of implementing at their competitor with successful outcomes, it drastically helps move the deal faster. Keep the case study documents handy.

8. Don't showcase study documents to IT or InfoSec. They care about the architecture and security of your product. The case study is relevant only for the Business side stakeholder and not for others. Make sure to give each stakeholder exactly what they want.

9. Keep your ego in your pocket. You'd be frustrated. People will ask you to build a POC and then they'd not buy. After 6 months of efforts, customers will shift companies, halting your Sales. All of this is a part and parcel of being in Sales. Learn to live with it.

10. Sales is a numbers game. Reach out to 100 prospects, and 10 will reply back. 5 will give a meeting. 1 will purchase. Don't give up till you've reached out to a hundred prospects. Be impatient with efforts, and patient with results.

I have shared a lot of my learnings about Business and Entrepreneurship on my YouTube Channel. Please check it here:

Focus on the Efforts and the results will follow

"Efforts are the only parameter that you can control in your life to achieve success"

I read this somewhere and I got quite intrigued by this statement. Basically what it says is that in the journey to success, the outcomes are totally not in our control. But what is in our control are the efforts we put in. Eventually, the efforts lead to the outcomes.

I tried to think deeper about my own journey where I achieved (small) success events. And then I realized the depth of the sentence.

During my JEE preparation days, the JEE rank I got wasn't in my control. But studying 8 - 10 hours a day, consistently, was in my control.

During my college days, my CGPA wasn't in my control. But attending the lectures regularly and solving the tutorial problems, were in my control.

Currently, in my entrepreneurial journey at Cogno AI, revenues are not in my control. But making sure that we meet our customers regularly, solve their problems/pain points, and create value for them, is in my control.

Outcomes are not in our control. Efforts are. Focus on the efforts and the outcomes will eventually follow.

The interesting realization to me after thinking of all of this was that all I had done was discovered what was mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita thousands of years ago - "Karam kiya ja, fal ki chinta na kar" (focus on the efforts, don't worry about the results).

Are you a starting up from college? Read this first

"Get a 5-year job experience and then get into your own startup"

This is what I was told when I wanted to start Cogno AI right out of college. Everyone was against my decision.

Today, 5 years later, we are a strong team of 150+ members with 175+ Enterprise clients and have been successfully acquired in a multi-million dollar transaction.

Here are my suggestions for those who want to start up right from college:

1. Don't listen to people who are stopping you from achieving your dreams. Many of them would give you suggestions that are applicable to them, but not to you. Others would have never started a business of their own. The rest of them would be jealous of you and so, they don't want you to succeed. In either case, don't listen to negative advice.

2. Learn Sales. This is more important for Engineers who know how to build and so, they spend all of their time building things that nobody needs. Learn to sell by a presentation. Learn to sell by showing a video. Learn to sell without building a Product. Then build what you just sold.

3. Read a lot of books on Entrepreneurship. The Lean Startup, The Hard Things About The Hard Things, Atomic Habits, Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People. These books will teach you invaluable skills of goal setting, collaboration, hard work, and discipline which are all extremely important for any entrepreneur.

4. Contrary to what you'd have heard, success in business is about discipline rather than intelligence. You have to do the same thing every single day - meet customers and tell them about your product so that they buy from you, and meet employees and tell them about your vision so that they join you. Every single day.

5. Learn to focus. When we are young, we have that urge to do anything and everything and solve all the problems of the world. As Kunal Shah says - you got to be something for someone before being everything for everyone else you'll be nothing for everyone. Solve 1 problem for 1 customer. Don't do everything.

6. Don't underestimate the power of agreements and contracts. Early on, all of your friends would be excited to become your Co-founder because hey, startups are cool! Remember, many of them will walk away during placements or conflicts. Cofounder Agreements will save you at that time.

7. Get the right set of mentors to help you. I was fortunate to get some great people to mentor me. One of my mentors was so kind that he met my parents during my convocation to assure them that my decision of starting up was the right decision and that he was there to guide me. Another of my mentors helped us acquire multiple major clients via his connects.

8. Lastly, learn to be humble. Like most college kids, I was that 'angry young man' during my college days. But business taught me how to be humble. College is all about individual performance. Business is all about team performance and collaboration. Big difference between the two.

Cross the Valley of Disappointment to Succeed

'Your business grew fast overnight and became successful. Not everyone is that lucky' - a relative recently told me.

'No. You have no idea how difficult it was for us to cross the Valley of disappointment to build that luck', I said.

'What's that?', he asked.

In the pursuit of success, one of the toughest barriers to cross is the valley of disappointment. It's basically the period of the time lag between the outcome and the efforts. Essentially it's the time period when you have started putting in the effort, but the outcome/success is yet to show up.

Let's take a few examples:

1. You want to lose weight and you started doing intermittent fasting or exercise. But it's been 10 days and your weight hasn't moved by a gram. And now you're getting impatient that the weight loss not happening and you decide to give up.

2. You left your job to start your own business. It's been 6 months and you don't have a single paying customer. You get tired and you decide to give up.

3. You start preparing for IIT and you work hard for 6 months only to realize that the exam/rank you've been dreaming of is still 1.5 years away. You get exhausted and you decide to give up.

Most people during this time, lose motivation and that's exactly what differentiates a successful person from an unsuccessful person. Successful people believe in the journey/process and not just the outcome and hence they are able to cross the valley and win.

Let me explain further.

In the example of weight loss above, if one decides to continue to do intermittent fasting and exercise for 30 continuous days without worrying about what the weight scale shows, one will eventually see a loss in weight. 10 days is too short a time to see results.

Same way, in the entrepreneurship journey, one has to be patient for no less than 2 - 3 years to start seeing the outcomes. For IIT preparation, it's a journey of at least 2 years.

Essentially, the way to cross the valley of disappointment is to keep walking and not stop for a certain reasonable time frame. The whole game of crossing the valley is to not get bogged down by the fact that you're taking the effort to walk and still not rising up, but rather, might be going down the V shape of the valley. Eventually, the 'luck' (outcome) will show up.

Another interesting point to note is that the valley might be wider for some people, which means that some folks might start losing weight on the 11th day, while for others it may take 20 days. That's why it's best to take a safe cutoff of 30 days to cover all the cases. For 30 straight days, keep exercising and fasting without worrying about the weight scale.

Believe in the process and keep putting in the effort. The outcomes will eventually come. Be impatient with efforts and patient with the outcomes.

How to sell to really large Enterprises?

I've sold millions of dollars worth of SaaS to some of the largest brands. Think of brands as big as ICICI Bank - more than $50B in market cap.

Here are the 7 stakeholders that you need to align in order to crack a deal with a large enterprise:

1. Business: they're the main buyer. They are the ones who get the benefit of your product via improvement in one of the metrics. Could be more lead generation, higher Sales, reduced costs, improved conversion rates, etc. They're the most important stakeholder.

2. IT: they evaluate your product from a technology perspective. They don't care about the core utility or ROI of your product. What matters more to them is if your product is compliant with the brand's architectural guidelines. Like, do you segregate the Web, App, and DB? Do you use the standard DB prescribed by the guidelines?

3. InfoSec: they evaluate your product purely from a Security perspective. Is your product vulnerable? Can a hacker get unauthorized access? Is your Product collecting the personal data of customers? The InfoSec team doesn't care about the utility of your product. They only care about Security.

4. Legal: does working with you pose any legal risks to the company? What if you take away advance payment and then don't deliver? What if your product has a long downtime, impacting the Business? This is what legal takes care of.

5. Compliance: is your product as per the regulatory and internal compliance guidelines? What if tomorrow the Reserve Bank of India says that this product violates their guidelines and slaps a penalty on your Banking client? The compliance team protects that.

6. Procurement: they try to negotiate so as to get the best deal for the enterprise. They're usually given a ballpark range in which the Business case makes sense. Their job is to get your product at the price that's at the bottom of the range so that the ROI is highest.

7. Finance: they issue you the purchase order and take care of your invoice payments. They also do vendor registration to check if your startup is in a good position financially or not.

Each stakeholder is a specialist in their domain and is not a specialist in other domains. So, don't waste your time explaining the ROI of your product to an InfoSec person. They just don't care. It's not a part of their job description. It's the job of the Business person to establish ROI.

The Business person is your main stakeholder along with IT. If any stakeholder is creating a roadblock for you, go to the Business and ask for help. They are convinced of the benefit of your product and so, will push the blocking stakeholder to move things fast.


1. Don't ignore any stakeholder
2. Sell the right thing to the right stakeholder
3. Be patient. Enterprise Sales is slow

Which stakeholder is your current deal stuck at?