Angad Nadkarni from the class of 2015, a new addition to the alumnus family, is one of the first two authors to write about his achievements for The Daily Bitsian. There's a good reason why. He can boast of having made his first webpage at 11, and getting his first pay check at 13. He has founded and worked with more than a few start-ups - you must know Examify - and has been named as an Under 25 innovator from India.
Starting a company is signing up for mental contortion and physical neglect. What’s worse is statistically, the odds are against you; but some time in the last few years, things changed for engineers. At one point, you needed game to raise money; you needed to be smooth at selling. Now, anybody who can manage to compile some code and say he’s from IIT or BITS gets that cheque to clear. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t last- now you have something to talk about when you apply for an MBA!
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with exploiting a hot market but that’s not what this writeup is about. This writeup is for you if:
1. You don’t want to lie to yourself
2. You invest in yourself instead of complaining about college placements 4 years later
3. You have balls
I started freelancing for internet technology when I was 13 – it’s my life’s calling. The only 2 years of my life I wasn’t working online, were when I was studying for my BITSAT. In the summer after my BITSAT, I started my first company. We raised money right after I turned 18, and went on to innovate a new kind of edtech – personalised mentorship. We’ve been featured for our work by some fab folks such as TEDxGateway, HindustanTimes, DeccanChronicle, Forbes, etc., and are now in the revenue-growth stage.
In my firstyear, I worked remotely with my mentors in Mumbai from campus. I spent most of my time holed up in my room punching out code. BITS was great because compared to Mumbai, everybody was far more motivated and uninterested (it takes a while for people to open up!) the perfect concoction to get some great work through. Besides, I learned very soon that it made literally no sense whatsoever to waste time attending most lectures. While some faculty made it truly worth the experience in-classroom, I didn’t let myself be baited by promises of ‘round-ups of grades’ for stellar attendance.
By second-year, I’d be having to fly out to Mumbai at least once a month to syncup with my team. It was fun, tiring, as well as expensive (more because of taxi money to the airport from campus than anything else!). By third-year, I’d realised that while the hostel at BITS had given me tremendous life-lessons, very little contributions had been made by professors. At the risk of sounding snooty - I’m a firm believer in Mark Twain’s “Anything that can be taught isn’t worth learning”. Compared to most colleges in India, professors were fantastic. Every lecture had a nugget or two of information I didn’t know earlier; but I’d spent enough time working on real-world projects to know that at best, college would be giving me sound engineering philosophy and an overview of outdated tools, as opposed to readying me for the workplace.
I exploited most holes in the wall BITS was kind enough to give me – registering 3-credit courses, my own company for PS, etc. By the end of fourth-year, I’d not attended a lecture in an entire year. My last semester was a complete party. There wasn’t a single day we weren’t out of campus raving it up (I was only on campus for exams, since I’d be at Mumbai working - so exams became partytime). We’d even rented a small dump-hole in the nearby village, which was appropriately baptised as ‘The THC House’. It was however, also the most productive semester I’d seen at BITS it ended with what would soon become a fresh company by itself (Hullo, a side-project at my previous company had gone viral and had a full-BITS team with fantastic engineering potential). We would literally be sleeping at the Technology Business Incubator, working a minimum of 15 hours daily. We’d be sleeping after seeing 2x growth in users, and waking up to calls of servers going down.
As we raise money for my next venture, there’s a whole lot I wish I’d known the first time around (but c’est la vie).
Rule #1: Build an uncompromisingly rock-solid team
There’s one thing you can’t afford to lean-startup your way out of, and that is building a team of people who give a shit, and push themselves harder every single day. Here’s the number one problem with campus startups: nobody really gives a shit (Hyderabad has some mad grass!). Unfortunately, it takes a few months of intellectual masturbation for most to come to this conclusion.
With most startups, there’s almost certainty of failure (or falling short of expected successes). The only goal you can strive towards with certainty, is building a company of committed people who’re going to be jumping to the next curve in their life within months technically, professionally, and emotionally. And considering human-relationships are the most unreliable thing in the universe (other than Android & Open-source-software documentation), this is an honourable enough goal to drive towards!
Rule #2: Sell first, build later
There’s a lot of literature on this ideology and I’d recommend every engineer read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries before starting a company. However, what I’d like to mention as my $0.02, would be to be uncompromising on quality engineering. Don’t forget that this is your forte. Perfect every detail, but limit the number of details.
Selling, or rather, discovering what sells, is a journey that forces you to build tremendous ancillary skill-sets and helps you evade what I like to call The Engineer’s Fallacy - “Everything that isn’t engineering is easy”. I think eventually we end up compromising with - “Everything can be like engineering”
Rule #3: Know thyself
Like all journeys truly worth having, entrepreneurship is more inwards than outwards. Entrepreneurship teaches you both, your strengths, as well as the humility to admit you desperately need to hire somebody to cover for one of your weaknesses. You can’t do it all. Also, your reasons for taking this career choice better hold up when the proverbial poopie hits the fan. Making peace with yourself is key to not going insane.
Which brings us to…
50% of the battle in life is to know where you are (Point A), and knowing where you want to be (Point B). And for the journey from Point A to Point B, it’s good to have a lifeboat (Plan Z). Your lifeboat is your backup, worst case scenario plan. It could be doing an MBA, or it could be freelancing. Your plan Z is what keeps you moving forward fearlessly, instead of hesitantly.
In conclusion, perhaps the most important thing for early-stage startups (or for that matter, careers), is to focus not on the golden eggs, but to breed the goose that lays them. While the temptation for quick-PR, running after incubators, etc. may be all fun and games it is important to analyse the cause more than the effect. While products are darn-easy to clone, cultures and processes are nearly invisible to the outsiders.
We’re building an incredible team for what could potentially disrupt the phonecall. If this excites you, do write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May the force be with you.