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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 was helluva year. Excited about possibilities future can bring.

Looking back into one year could be daunting, more so if it threatens to expose own vulnerability. During my long walk with close friends, I have shared with them about my progress report… which has often triggered constructive discussions and ideas. Sharing with you could just stimulate further ideas...

When we started Shoutout, there were many assumptions. that people would complain… that India has enormous number of people who complain on regular basis… that we will evolve a business model after gathering a critical mass of consumer complaints… that we will magically weave an SEO band to attract consumers in hoards… that somebody will invest in us once consumers start pouring in… that we can draw living expenses to sustain and grow. When we launched, consumers came in good numbers to vent out complaints. Bloggers wrote about the exciting new story and companies started resolving complaints based on complaints. So far so good… till we started to define all foundational assumptions in numbers. We found from Flipkart’s yearly report that they received 1M active users during the year. This number was startling! much lower than any of own estimates. It does give a ballpark on number of active internet users in India. My folks at home use Gmail, Facebook and Youtube to consume information. However are they so active on the internet to transact (Flipkart, ICICI bank etc…) and contribute content (shoutout and the likes)? Probably not right away. They will, like millions of other internet users in India… take few more years to become really active. However we didn’t have financial muscle to sustain that long. A respected investor in town showed interest but perhaps found us wanting on techie skills. We had to move on… ShoutOut was exciting and will still be exciting. Opportunity still exists for somebody to grab this market, perhaps for those who can sustain for a longer timeframe.

Pushed to the corner drawing board, we had to find another opportunity to build a business. 2 of my well meaning advisors pointed to my past experience in B2B markets… they wondered why I wasn’t playing to our strengths. And that tipped us over to mold ShoutOut into an enterprise business. And then started a fresh set of assumptions… that businesses would like to hear feedback from their customers… that there are lot of such businesses in India (to start with) whom we can sell… that decision makers in service organizations would like to analyze consumer voice to make decisions on a ongoing basis. But now we were wiser than before. We realized it’s better to start small, make note of all assumptions and validate before drawing grand plans (these are established startup virtues made popular as lean startup principles). We also had learnt few other facts… that we had to learn coding to remain lean… that we had to build a product and prove market acceptance before seeking out for funding. After few weeks, we had learnt CSS, Javascript, SQL and RubyOnRails. Keen to follow lean principles, we had to now build a product with minimal features… which could still solve somebody’s pain point resulting in revenue. Our product is now ready… absolutely proud to have built it ourselves. Spencers retail and CafĂ© Coffee Day have agreed to pilot the product and we are on way to validate its viability in market. I like to believe we have setup ourselves to fail fast. If it has to succeed, it will by validating our assumptions. Else we will move on again… Market will finally have final say in validating my startup’s den of gambling assumptions. Although we know by facts that most startups fail… fight we will, hope we will.

My closest of friends have often challenged my wisdom of not having an easier life with a cushy corporate job. The journey to hang on and discover new inroad to what we believe makes it exciting lends a sense of purpose to every new day. The satisfaction of trying than wishing makes the effort worthwhile. As they say, startups are not for weak hearted… certainly not for those who are not prepared to fail. What do you think?

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Santosh is eager to know what you think.