We recently had an opportunity to share our entrepreneurial experiences & learnings, with young aspiring entrepreneurs from National Institute of Technology, Trichy. We got to delve deeper into how to look at extreme highs and lows, addressed questions on how to respond to adversity. Below is a excerpt from the panel discussion.
Student: Do you go by the saying, “Failure is the stepping stone to success”?
Codewave: Yes, Failing or asking what can be done differently, is the only way to make progress.
Student: One piece of statistic says that 93-95% of startups tend to fail. With all that negativity, would you encourage youngsters to follow their passion and enter into the field?
Codewave: Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-transformation and accelerated learning. Passion isn’t enough, resilience matters in sustaining this journey. It takes serious commitment – Can you wake up every single day for the next 5 years, with the same intent, same purpose and stay focused on growth – without chasing money or fame or without doubting the journey?
Student: If you do suggest youngsters trying to venture out, would you rather have them jump into starting their own businesses, or work elsewhere or study some more and then step into the startup world?
Codewave: Before starting, it’s helpful to do a crash course on basics of small business administration – to be aware of the various wheels that keep a business running. Marketing, Sales, HR, Finance, Legal, Services / Products etc. Things like taxes, company registration and other compliances – you can always get help from other entrepreneurs. Work experience could give you a valuable opportunity to learn practicing empathy at work, observe how business works, observe how technology acts as an enabler of business growth.
Student: Can you tell us about the most impactful transformational failure you’ve had? A failure that has shaped your MO in some way?
Codewave: In 2017, our business hit an all time low – an economic crisis. Demand for some of our services dropped dramatically, and we had supply capacity in surplus. Cost cutting and lay-offs seemed inevitable, but we decided not to lay-off, instead invest on reskilling our workforce to meet changed market demand. Debts were increasing, month on month and this resulted in “no pay hikes” for a year, for all employees.
This lead to lower motivation levels internally, which further delayed our projects and this further amplified our losses. Key employees exited during this period. But, In scarcity comes clarity. It’s very hard to think of spends when you see debts all around. We decided to shift our focus from trying to minimize debts to giving away more money. We announced pay hikes for people who stayed back along with an additional monthly bonus for timely delivery. That worked, in about 8 months time we recouped and we’re are already 80% debt free. That one mindset shift changed the destiny of the business.
Student: When your first failure came your way, how did you handle it bravely, if at all. Because for all the learning it gives, it’s still painful. In this context, would you rather have colleagues and equals by your side, or go through it all alone. What was your case?
Codewave: (Abhijith, founder) In my case, I am lucky to have my wife who’s also a co-founder on the journey and we complement each other well during stressful times. It takes effort to overcome emotional attachments and our own cognitive biases / blindspots, I believe over time you learn to respond to pain more objectively & neutrally.
Student: Age is just a number, but if you had to give the most appropriate age to start a business, which number would you say, and why, considering factors such as risks taken, decision making, maturity to withstand failure and so on.
Codewave: (Abhijith, founder) In my case, I started my venture at the age 24. There is no right age or background for entrepreneurship. If you’re self aware, you’d be able to intuitively feel this is the path for you and you’re willing to experiment. You learn with experiences, an adventurous attitude to life and being a generous human being is all it takes to start.
Student: Have the lack of challenges or failures in your stream ever led you to craving them? And have any similar thoughts jinxed a good run?
Codewave: There’s nothing called lack of challenges, in life. There’s only lack of awareness. If you’re not feeling challenged on the journey, you’re mostly living the Groundhog day – missing to notice something.
Student: There is a quote that reads, “Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world.” How important to you think, it is, for a company to keep innovating and adapt to new technology?
Codewave: The real test of intelligence is in our ability to adapt to change, not be so fixated on our beliefs/ideas we started with. Specially being in the digital transformation space, we’re always learning, benchmarking – evolving our design & development practices every 6 months. We’d be out of business if we don’t stay on top of new technology trends & emerging business problems.
Student: Which kind of start-ups would you venture into? What kind of barriers could come in the way of developing these start-ups?
Codewave: I’d pick up one industry, one pain-point and specialize in solving that problem. As a startup you may face barriers to accessing capital, barriers to accessing market and barriers to expansion in different geographies.
Student: What percentage of failures arise due to error in people management? Compared to other factors in play, do you think this is an easier thing to manage?
Codewave: People leadership & empathy is fundamental affecting over 80% decisions we take on a daily basis in business and is the hardest thing to manage. In the last 5 years, Codewave’s strength was high levels of employee engagement and customer engagement; I believe our biggest disruption was in the way we approached people, human empathy & transformation was always at the core of what we did.
Student: In the case where a person has failed (with the pressure of investors looming) how do you think the dilemma should be handled? Should they try and convince the board to let them do what they want, or should they sacrifice their dream for the greater good? Have you happened to face anything similar in your lives?
Codewave (Abhijith): As an entrepreneur, I’d suggest always be open to new possibilities. Opportunities come at unlikely moments in unlikely ways. Maybe the VC intervention you’re resisting could turn out to be a strategic pivot your business needs at the moment. Also, do not compromise on who you are. If there’s an altruistic perspective, good to be open for it.
Student: Considering that a lot of companies are running in deficit presently, how far do you think they should go in keeping the company running? In other words, where would you draw the line for expenses when a company is running in liability?
Codewave: It all depends on shifting the perspective from deficit to spends. How can my business give more to people – is a good question to ask when debts are mounting, as it shifts your focus from lack to progress. I’d say cut costs, be frugal about your spends, stop borrowing, identify what’s going wrong & what needs fixing – set monthly targets and march forward to make progress.
Student: The reception of failures in our country is quite different from that in others. How detrimental do you think such a negative reception is, to the growth of start-ups? How can we change this scenario?
Codewave (Abhijith): I think extreme glorification of fundraising / scale & extreme criticism of deficit is not necessary. Even if they happen – paying attention to them or taking them personally is not necessary. It’s in these distracting moments, if we can shift focus from negativity to progress – we’ve succeeded. Staying focused on the goal, with all self-belief, external support, unflinchingly is everything.
Student: It is said that early success often leads to future failure. And that quick expansion is not a healthy thing to do, when the start-up is in its infancy. Do you agree with the statement or no? Can you tell us why that is your stand?
Codewave (Abhijith): I’d say, it takes a good 5 years to lay the foundation, establish your roots firm on the ground so you can grow tall and branch out. If the roots are not strong, the tree may not be able to sustain the storms. Organizational values and culture, business ethics and integrity are nourished in the first 5 years of your business.
Student: Is there any additional message you’d like to give all the future entrepreneurs in the crowd?
Codewave (Abhijith): I’d suggest asking yourself, can you wake up everyday for the next 5000 days, to pursue the idea you believed in, be willing to persevere against all odds? Try creating a self-sustaining business – figure out ways to generate revenues from real customers and then go for raising capital (if needed) for replicating a model that’s proven to work.