Before You Start Up (Book Excerpt) by Pankaj Goel

As Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, once said about start-ups, “You jump off a cliff and you assemble an airplane on the way down”. An excellent addition to the world of start-up literature, Before you Start Up is intended to help one prepare for that very jump. To help one learn what are the different parts of the plane, how much time it will take for one to touch the ground, what the cloud conditions are, which tools one will need, how to switch paths, how to keep cool, etc.

Written keeping the school- and college-going students and the young professionals in mind, Before you Start Up is easy to understand and offers deep insights into what to be cognizant of and what to prepare for before launching your start-up.

About the Author: Pankaj Goyal is an IIT Kanpur graduate and has an MBA from IIM Bangalore. He started his company in 2008 and ran it for three years. His work is now focused on applying Artificial Intelligence for the benefit of companies. He continues to be involved in the world of entrepreneurship as an angel investor and as an advisor to startups in the Silicon Valley and India. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Before You start Up. Courtesy: Fingerprint Publishing.

An Excerpt from Before You Start Up

I am not a successful entrepreneur. Else, you would have known me. You would have bought this book just by looking at the author’s name. You would not be reading the first few pages as you are probably doing right now, contemplating whether the book is worth buying.

Then, who am I to give you advice about starting up and why should you buy this book?

I will answer this question first. If you are convinced, proceed to reading the rest of this book. If not, do not waste your time and money. Keep the book back on the shelf or just close your browser window.

My story

I am an ex-entrepreneur. I started a company in 2008 and quit after three years. I shut down the company. In diplomatic words, I was not-so-successful as an entrepreneur. In honest words, I failed.

I believe I had all the ingredients to succeed. Born into a middle class family in a tier-2 city (Jaipur), I had the hunger to be successful, rich, and famous. I had been preparing for it since my school days, following the “standard path” and succeeding at each step. I went to the best schools (IIT Kanpur and IIM Bangalore), got excellent grades, and got the perfect job in a top tier management consulting firm (McKinsey & Company).

I underwent training on running a business. I worked hard, put in long hours, and gave it my absolute best. I chased my dream relentlessly.

However, I did not succeed in my venture.

I had an excellent start. Year one was fantastic. We built the product prototype in two months, got our first customer in nine months, grew to about fifty thousand customers, and became cash positive in fifteen months.

And then it all stagnated and went downhill.

In Year two, we failed to scale up the product. Sales stagnated. I failed to build my team. No new products.

No pivot. No growth. I had differences with my co-founder on the future of the company. I could not fix these issues. After battling for over a year, I decided to quit.

So, where did I go wrong? Was it in Year two?

On the surface, yes. But on further reflection I realised that the real mistakes happened before I even started up. I messed up the preparation before starting up. The chaos in year two was the result of poor preparation before day One. There was no way to build a strong building over a shaky foundation.

Who should read this book?

You should read this book if you are a . . .

“Wannabe” entrepreneur in school or college

Are you a starry-eyed high school or college kid, who idolises Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or Bill Gates or a successful entrepreneur from your college? Have you memorised the names of founders of all the hot startups in India and the Silicon Valley? Do you regularly read TechCrunch and YourStory, and attend all the talks by a VC or an entrepreneur? Do you plan on participating in all the possible business plan competitions and dream about “the dropout who ruled the world” stories? Do you plan to start up someday?

This book is for you. It can take you from your fantasy dream world to reality. It can help you be realistic and prepare better.

“Friday-night-after-two-drinks” reluctant entrepreneur in your 20s/30s

Are you two years into your first job, someone who finds it boring and hates your boss? Do you plan to do an MBA but are too lazy to prepare? Are you someone who has no big mortgages and no family responsibilities and knows one person who left your company and became an entrepreneur? Do you want to start up to reset your career, or because you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? Do you have a new business plan every month, but nothing happens, ever?

Or maybe you are in your thirties with more than ten years of professional life with good savings, a house, and car(s); you have family responsibilities; you are facing the mid-life crisis and looking for a new adventure in life; you are thinking about a startup as a channel to break the monotony of life.

This book is for you.

It can help you decide whether a startup is your destiny and help you systematically plan to start up within a timeframe instead of just dream about it.

“Ready to go” soon-to-be entrepreneur

Are you someone who has finalised a business plan and done some basic homework? Are you raring to go and start a company?

This book is for you.

It can help you assess whether you are ready to go or not, identify the gaps, and learn how to fill these gaps.

“Already on the train, but less than 12 months” entrepreneur

Are you someone who started up recently? Have you gone through one or two cycles of ups and downs? Are you stabilising further or struggling more?

This book is for you.

It can help you understand the issues, pinpoint the most important ones, and solve them.

Loved ones of any of the above (boyfriend, girlfriend, parents, etc.)

Are you the loved one of any of the above? Have you no idea exactly what is going through your mind? Are you concerned out of ignorance or with reason?

This book is for you.

It can help you understand the daily life of entrepreneurs, the situations they face, and how you can support (or stop) them.

A real/aspiring VC/angel investor who has never built a business

Are you an aspiring or current VC/investor, who has never started anything? Are you someone who can paint the big macro picture, but does not know how to start a business and run it? Are you an expert at making “observations” on startup pitches but do not how to evaluate them properly?

This book is for you.

It can help you get into the mind of an entrepreneur, empathise with them, and make better judgement calls.

In Closing

I am not a star entrepreneur trying to sell my story. I am not a VC telling you to “think big and change the world” so he can have that one blockbuster to compensate for his ninety-nine failed ventures. I am not trying to be the new “visionary” thinker.

I am just one of you. I have been “you” at some point in my life. I understand your dreams, your ambitions, your anxieties, and your fears and I want to help you by sharing my experiences and those of others in my network, along with the life-lessons I have learned.

I will tell you the truth like it is. I will show you the reality behind starting up. I will bust many myths. You might not like the truth and that’s OKAY. I am not here to massage your ego. I will tell you if a startup is NOT for you. I am here to help you ask the right questions and make the right decisions.

I believe failure teaches you far more than success does. Failure is not easy. It hurts. It is one of life’s harshest teachers. And the one thing I have learnt is this: what NOT to do is as important as knowing what to do. This book can help you because it will tell you what NOT to do. Most success stories will not tell you this.

You will also gain insights about the psychological aspects of running a startup: you might have the best idea in the world, but you need a healthy mind to follow through on it. There is no dearth of advice on ideas, business cases, product development, marketing, customer acquisition cost, and other aspects of running a startup, but seldom do we discuss the mind of the entrepreneur.

This book might come out as biased towards “internet entrepreneurship,” or “online entrepreneurship.” I do not blame you if you think so. Most of the people I talked to, and the examples I will draw, belong to this domain of entrepreneurship. However, these principles are valid regardless of the type of entrepreneurship. Whether you are planning to set up a manufacturing unit, or a fast food franchise, or a brick and mortar retail store—the preparation is similar. The questions are still the same—the absolute answer will vary by industry or type of business, or size of company.


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