2017 was the first year where I transitioned from a full time job to being an entrepreneur. It has been a pretty intense ride so far (though not an easy one). In this blog post, I want to share my journey of going from an employee to an entrepreneur and all the challenges I faced along the way.
Though this was the first year I transitioned from being an employee to running a full-fledged business, I have been an entrepreneur before. I was running my own projects from 2008-2012 after my college graduation, but I would call it being a Beta entrepreneur.
I was living with my parents, had no living expenses and my business projects started more like a hobby than a serious income generating machine. That 4 years gave me a lot of experience being an entrepreneur which I am using to the fullest extent now. But those 4 years were also an incubation period for me being an entrepreneur, because I was able to operate without too much worries about personal finance.
I think everyone should try beta entrepreneurship. Stay with your parents after college and try a few startup projects. You will get a LOT more experience than working as an employee somewhere or doing an MBA. Just in case, if you feel like you want to jump to a job with the help of your university or college, do 2 years of Beta entrepreneurship, do MBA, join a job, work for a few years, and come out to become an (alpha) entrepreneur again.
Since 2012, I have moved from Salem to Bangalore and did my job stints at various companies for the primary purpose of learning the corporate side of things.
Things Learned While Working for Others
My first job was at Theorem India Pvt. Ltd. an international digital marketing agency with more than 2,000 employees and offices in 5 countries. That helped me learn how really big companies work with each other, how they close sales and how they deliver the projects. I got this job because I was able to show my experience as a digital marketer through my motorcycle blog. The blog had good numbers to go with it and it was a solid proof that I knew what I was talking about. I did not have an MBA, I am a Civil Engineer by graduation, didn’t have a certificate in Digital Marketing, but I got the job for more than 10 Lakh CTC per annum.
Since I was working as a digital marketer for their clients, there was little I could do to help them scale up with digital marketing. There was just not enough leverage. Then I decided that I should work as a digital marketing head inside a startup company than working as an expert for an agency. If I work inside a startup company, I would be able to move things faster, that company would be my only client and there is a lot that could be done.
I started looking for jobs and found a position at Exotel as a digital marketing manager. Since then I have worked at Practo, Instamojo, JustDoc, Razorpay and MoEngage as digital marketing manager. Though I hardly worked for a year in all these companies, I had learned a ton of things, not just about digital marketing but about all the challenges involved in running a startup.
Can You Stay Afloat?
One of the biggest challenges in starting up once you are a bit old is how much you end up costing for your own startup. By 2016, I had a wife, a 3 year old kid and my lifestyle expenses had gone up. Because you grow up, you work hard and then you feel like you have to reward yourself. Before coming to Bangalore, I used to be like “whaaaat…” when I got a bill for more than ₹1,000 in a restaurant, but now it has become commonplace.
I was making more than 1.5 Lakh a month as a digital marketing manager in my last job. My biggest question, was: Can I make the same amount of money as an entrepreneur? Or what is the minimum monthly income I need to survive entrepreneurship and still don’t feel too bad about myself. My target income was 1 lakh a month. At 1 lakh a month, even if I try to startup for a few years and if things don’t work out, I wouldn’t have sacrificed too much and I can always join another company with the experience I have gained so far. (This number will be different for different people based on their belief systems and their consumption habits.)
Starting Up While Working on my Job
I needed something to be going on when I quit my job, so I started working on the side. During evenings, during weekends. Having a family and convincing them to let you work on weekends is a challenge in itself. It is still a challenge!
Towards end of August 2016, I launched my first course on my blog DigitalDeepak.com. I learned that Google AdWords is what my audience wanted to learn the most. By that time, I already had a few thousand members on my Facebook Group “Learn Digital Marketing”. Having a focus group where I could learn what my potential customers would want was (and is) a great asset to have.
But I was still not sure about the amount of traction this course would get. I was not motivated enough to sit and create the course. So I got this idea of doing a pre-launch. I would set the release date for the course 10 days later, but I would launch it with a 50% OFF right away to my list and see how the sales go.
The First Big Revenue
My goal was to make at least 50,000 INR in sales, that’s 50 customers. If I didn’t even get that much, I would cancel the project and refund all the customers. If I made more, I would sit and create the course. I put up a blog post with all the lessons and then added an instamojo payment link to the post. I also sent an email to all my 28,000 blog subscribers at that time. Surprisingly I got 2.5 Lakh in sales. I was pumped.
I sat and created the entire course in a weekend and then released it. At that time I did not have an LMS (Learning management system). So I just uploaded the videos as unlisted videos on YouTube and sent all the materials to my paid students on an email. This was an MVP (minimum viable product). All this was possible because I built a community and a following first. I have been blogging since 2013 and I started building my email list towards end of 2015.
This income gave me confidence that I might be able to do courses full time and can quit my job. Just in case, I wanted to try this one more time before I could take the leap. So launched my Facebook Ads course to my list and made another 3.5 Lakh in total sales for the course. Now I knew it was working and I should quit my jobs to focus on this full time. I was also continuously investing money into list building during this time.
SEO Mastery Course was my 3rd launch and I made around 8 Lakh in revenue when I launched it. I also reduced the price so that I can accommodate more students into my courses. By the time I launched SEO Mastery Course, I had quit my job completely and decided that I wouldn’t need to go a full time job again. (If you are one of my early customers, and if you are reading this, a BIG THANKS to you, without you, this journey might not have been possible).
Lessons Learned in 2017 as an Entrepreneur
Since then, I have a full fledged office, started 3 companies, travelled abroad, bought some boy’s toys, got a new co-founder, hired more employees and learned a TON on what to do and what not to do.
Here’s are some of the best lessons I learned in this year:
1. Hire When it Pains
When you start a business and the revenue scales up, the biggest mistake that one can do is to hire new people without having a concrete plan on what the new hire will be doing. If you have problems in your business and if you hire people without a clear plan, your problems will get complicated instead of getting solved.
Expanding your team just because your revenue goes up is a mistake all entrepreneur make in the beginning. And I did that mistake in spite of learning about this from other entrepreneur friends. This is also bad for the employee because he / she will be excited to join you but when the nature of the work is not clear and if you give them a bunch of random things to work on, they will not stay motivated, The vibe of your organization will take a hit.
The best way (and probably the only way) to hire is to hire when it pains. When you have to take care of certain things, you work on it yourself. If the task goes beyond 2-3 hours per day, then you hire someone that can help you with the work. This also means that as a business owner you will be working a lot but there is no other way. If you hire someone to do a work that you have never done before, it will give you more problems than solutions.
2. Learn to Say NO
It is so easy to say yes to a request. It takes willpower and discipline to say NO. As you grow as an entrepreneur, you will see that more people need your time and this leads to biting more than you can chew. By saying yes to every request, you will end up disappointing a lot of people that would be worse than disappointing them early on by saying NO. Because there is no way to can fulfill all the requests and if you try to, your health and relationships will pay a price for it. No business project is more important than your physical and mental health, so be careful before you slip down that path!
3. Stay Away from Bad Habits
It is easy to slip into bad habits when you are an entrepreneur. The daily stress might lead you to try substances. Trying them is completely fine, but if you become dependent on it, more than affecting your health, you will be in constant guilt that will drain you down.
There are a very few startup founders than I know who do not smoke. And none of them are like “I enjoy smoking and I am ok with it”. Everyone is trying to quit but not getting around to that, and it is a clear indication that it is creating friction in their lives.
4. Understand the Monetary Value of Your Time
Free time is a Luxury for entrepreneurs. And many tasks that normal people do during their “free time” like washing clothes, planning a vacation, cleaning the room or just organizing stuff around is something that startup entrepreneurs can never get around to.
Fortunately, if you are living in a city like Bangalore or any Tier 1 city in India, there are a lot of app based services that can take care of you. You can get clothes washed, get things picked up from someplace, get your house cleaned, order healthy food, and rent furniture for temporary use. I use Bro4u.com, Dunzo, Furlenco, Swiggy to the fullest extent. Sometimes when I am alone, I don’t cook for myself, I don’t run around doing tasks, I don’t wash my own clothes.
One hour of doing any of the above is a time that could otherwise be spent in creating courses or writing a blog post. If I can write a 1000 word blog post in 1 hour for which I would pay ₹2,000 for a freelance writer, I am spending ₹2,000 per hour washing clothes. That’s something I cannot afford. I have limited time and I better spend it on things that help me move the needle forward than anything else. If it is going to cost me less to outsource it, I would happily do it.
5. Do Fun Stuff & Take Breaks
There was a time when I used to work for weeks including weekends until I burnt out. If you burn out, it takes longer to recover. It is better to have breaks in between and do things that nourish your soul, even if ultra important things are waiting to be done in your business.
It’s just like you can’t drive a car for 50,000 KMs without servicing. It might go that far, but you will end up damaging the machine. If your car needs servicing every 10,000 KMs, you better get it done if you want a long life out of your car.
Remember, entrepreneurship is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You need consistent efforts over a long period of time to make a dent in what you are doing. If you do not take breaks, and if you try to sprint your way through it, then you will burn out, no exceptions. I have tried it too many times and I failed. Now I take a 4 day vacation every 3 months and every Sunday is strictly spent AFK (away from keyboard).
6. Your Fitness Is an Asset to Your Business
Fitness is not about staying away from bad habits. One of the biggest strikes is taken by our health in the initial few years of entrepreneurship. I know people who have overworked on their startup and had a heart attack. Especially if you are starting up a little bit late, you are going to have a lot of restrictions on time and your body’s capability to support you.
If you are in your 20s, feel free to pull in all nighters and coding sprints if you want. However, if you are in your 30s, then you must have a strong routine. Your routine will keep you in peak health and your health will keep our business in peak shape.
Though I am guilty of letting a few bad habits slip in and not taking too good care of my health for a few months, I believe I am back on track with good habits and having a close eye on my routine.
Staying fit takes a lot of willpower and we have limit resources of will power per day. Using the willpower to stay fit is a loser’s game. It is better to put that into a routine and a habit that consume your limited willpower everyday. As the saying goes: “If you don’t have it in your habits, you don’t have it.”
7. Always think – Will this Scale?
There are plenty of people in this world who work hard. But unless you combine it with something that scales, you are not going to make a business out of it. In this context, I want to talk about a story I heard long back.
There was a village who was giving out contracts to anyone who can bring water from a well that was 5 kms away from the village. Because many families found it too difficult to bring water from the well. Two people won the contract.
The first one brought water from the well using buckets and he started making money instantly. Soon he employed a few more assistants who could help him with this process. His profits went up, but he was always busy, always working hard and beyond a certain point he was not able to scale his business.
The other person who won the contract did not do anything for the first 3 months, people thought he disappeared. But he had grand plans. He planned out a piping system that can take water from the well to the village.
He got some investors, bought pipes, the pumps and everything else required to make the system work. It took him another 3 months to finish the entire work, but in the end, his hard work started paying off. He was able to sell water much cheaper than the first person who won the contract. Because he has automated the process.
Now he can even increase the supply without any additional cost. He built a system that can scale value creation. He is now on his way to other similar villages to help them with water problems.
Both worked hard, but the amount of results that the second one achieved will be 100x of the first person. Because he built something that can scale.
To scale things, you need 3 types of leverage. Time leverage, Money leverage and People leverage. You should try to use all the 3 as much as possible. Else you will not be able to scale up your business.
I hope you liked my thoughts on this topic. Wish you a Happy New Year 2018! May the new year bring you health, wealth and fame that you have always deserved.