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Doubt, Optimism, Energy...Go!
Q: Can you use action to bolster conviction?
As I mentioned in our post on the Power of Possibilities, I have been exploring different business ideas trying to find one that I am deeply passionate about. But alongside trying to identify a problem that I am energized about solving, I am also grappling with new questions that keep popping up in my head.
What type of business do I want to start? Being based in Silicon Valley and having worked for a tech company, I am surrounded by examples of tech startups funded by VCs chasing big impact and big numbers. However over the past year I have also engaged in conversations with friends to learn about different business models including self funded, B-Corp and non profit businesses. Given so many possibilities, I find myself constantly evaluating the pros and cons of the different business models and haven’t landed on one yet.
Does my idea provide a unique solution to the problem? I find myself shooting down my ideas because… “this idea already exists”... “there are too many competitors in this space”... “no one is going to pay for this”... “This isn't a big enough opportunity for VCs to fund". I know I want to build products that are useful to people but I let the doubts cloud my mind - using them as an excuse to stop before even starting.
I need to keep reminding myself of what I learnt from my time at Google - find problems that make me feel uncomfortably excited and build awesome user experiences. I have to stop worrying so much and instead focus on solving real user needs that I believe in. Trust that the choices I make to get a product off the ground will define the business model eventually.
Can my idea scale? How do I get from 0 to 100 users? This week I had to go back and read Paul Graham’s essay on “Do Things That Don't Scale” again to remind myself that I don’t need to be thinking about a scalable product idea on day one. I should just test out something clunky and assess if there is a need.
“...Another reason founders don't focus enough on individual customers is that they worry it won't scale. But when founders of larval startups worry about this, I point out that in their current state they have nothing to lose. Maybe if they go out of their way to make existing users super happy, they'll one day have too many to do so much for. That would be a great problem to have. See if you can make it happen.
Being in this “analysis-paralysis” mode where my rational logical mind takes over instead of just trusting my gut has slowed down my ability to start building something that I believe is needed in the world today.
So instead I tell myself - Just start Mitali, open the door and see where the rabbithole takes you.
PS: I got curious about this term “down the rabbithole” and came across this article describing how this idiom only became popular in the internet era. It’s all about following your curiosity :)
I've been in Bombay (yes it's still Bombay to me) for about ten days. Apart from spending time with my parents, I’ve prioritized reconnecting with friends that have been pursuing interesting projects through the pandemic. Over coffee chats and drinks, I’ve peppered them with questions learning about how their passion drives their daily grind.
The breadth of projects that people are involved in has been surprising, the energy amidst the chaos palpable. In a country of a billion people, there is an innate bias to action - one must act to survive. I find my friends here open to taking a lot more risks than me or my peers back in California. I wasn’t in San Francisco during the internet boom of the nineties - is this what it felt like back then? Endless possibilities, unwavering optimism and unprecedented access to capital.
“...The Indian version of the Shark Tank ended the first season with 67 businesses that received deals on the show, 59 had one founder under the age of 25, and 29 had at least one female co-founder… Writer and entrepreneur Rashmi Bansal says the Indian middle class earlier believed that a professional degree leading to a steady job was better than running a business. "That has changed - the idea of 'doing your own thing' has moved from the fringes to the mainstream." - Shark Tank: India TV show proves entrepreneurship isn’t just for the rich
Over drinks one night, a friend that currently works for one of the biggest global media companies told me he was planning to quit in a couple months to start his own shop to produce content - "Now is the time. I'm 42 and want to have more of a say in what creative projects I get involved in". Two other friends, Ruchika and Shruti, who started collaborating on a gender equality project ended up starting a branding and social media agency last year. They both raved about the creative freedom they were enjoying running their own business and the energy they were getting from having multiple projects brewing - "It's now or never Kin. Time to make it."
One day when little A was bored of sitting around at home, a close friend, Ninad suggested I bring her over to the Hamley's play area - a project he had brought to life. Later in the week little A got to drop in for a speech & drama class taught by Tina, one of my closest childhood friends who’s been doing this for over 20 years. As a mother of a toddler, I was finally able to be an enthusiastic customer of projects that my friends had started.
And of course the startup/tech scene in India has been alive and kicking for many years. Some of you are probably familiar with the Indian unicorns and the VC capital flowing into India. But it was inspiring to learn about my friend Mazher's plans about tapping into founders in mid-tier cities and building a platform to connect them with new angel investors. There seems to be no limit to the conviction and aspirations shown by my peers here.
My time in Bombay is many things - fun, full-on, fantastic, frustrating and never relaxing. My grounding routines - journaling, exercise etc have not happened because there's always something to do or someone to see or it's too damn hot and noisy to get motivated to get out of the house. The traffic is worse, every other street is dug up - on the surface one wonders how things keep moving.
But listening to my friends talk about their own projects has been invigorating. A few years ago it felt like so many of them were struggling and now it feels like they’re on the runway, about to take off! Things are still risky, financial stability is not guaranteed but it hasn’t stopped them from jumping in.