This is not a post on investing or human behaviour.
It’s on starting up, which has helped me become a better behaved investor.
I recently shared on Twitter a few lessons on starting up from my personal experience of the last ten years. Here is a slightly detailed version of the same –
- When you start up, say yes to everything that comes your way. Opening your doors means the world will come to you. Over time, you will get to choose which door you enter, so you then need to learn to say no. When I started in 2011 as a content writer, I said yes to writing stuff that I did not like and that paid peanuts. But that helped me run my house partly, while I was building something I could be proud of (Safal Niveshak). Over time, I learned to say no to a lot of things that could have helped me earned more money but would have led me to the slippery slope of unhappiness.
- Try as much NOT to have a Plan B that you can go to if Plan A fails. With no Plan B to fall back upon, I had just one path to walk upon, and I am still walking on that very path. All you need to not have a Plan B is a Plan A that you believe in completely. It’s like your backbone. You’re willing to fight for it.
- Sometimes you might have a solution that people want, but you need to stick it out long enough so that people come to trust you. So, once you have taken the plunge, DO NOT give up. Things get scary at times but persist for the time you’ve pre-decided upon. And it should not be a few weeks or months. I gave myself two years’ time to see the fruits of my work show up. Good things take time. But if you keep working on things that you believe in, and what many people will pay you for, keep at it. It took me more than 15 months to move up from the bottom of the curve, but it was worth the wait.
- Even when you have decided to persist, set a timeline to accept that things may not work out the way you expected. Try multiple ideas, and learn from what did not work for you and what did. Kill what doesn’t work, and get better at what does. Writing for others didn’t keep me happy for long. Writing for myself did. And that’s what I worked on, and on, and on.
- Start small. People try to build their new business into a massive launch, but this is a mistake. Start as small as possible, giving a minimum viable product to a few friends, and let them test it out. Better, take a leaf out of Seth Godin’s book, The Purple Cow, and build a ‘minimum remarkable product’. I started very small in 2011, with just one idea, a blog, and have remained small ever since. To my distracted mind, that gives the ability to focus hard on what matters. Being small hasn’t just been a stepping stone for me, it’s been my journey, my destination, everything.
- You would be more than lucky to execute on just one simple idea or revenue stream, let alone three or four. So, focus on just one idea to start, and give your heart and soul to it. Like Charlie Munger said, “Take a simple idea and take it seriously.”
- Experiment as much as you want, just ensure that none of the experiments must burn you out or kill you financially. No one knows you at the start, so experimenting and then failing should not worry you anyways. Despite no steady revenue stream, and uncertainty about the future, my first revenue generating model of conducting workshops was open-priced. People could pay anything, whatever they wanted to pay after the workshop. Some paid nothing, some paid next to nothing, but thanks to a few kind souls, I always covered my expenses and kept some tiny amount back. I did that for almost two years, and that’s the most memorable model I’ve worked upon since then.
- Aim to be truly loved by a few you serve than be liked by thousands. True love is rare, so even if you can find just people 100 people who love your work so they will talk about it with their friends, you’ve hit the ball out of the park. This is also what I learned from my father. He always said that the best life one could live was not one in which a person did big, great things that influenced the lives of millions, but one in which you made a difference in the part of the world you touched, no matter how small. He said that a life in which you helped only one person because that was the only opportunity you had to help someone else was just as great a life as that of someone who changed the lives of millions. Safal Niveshak had very few readers by the end of six months, the first of them being my father. But I wrote almost daily. And he loved what I wrote. And so I tried to write more and better for him, and he became that person whom I had in my mind whenever I sat down to write my posts. He’s no more, but that’s the plan I still follow.
- Don’t spend on SEO or social media marketing. These are bottomless money pits, and don’t add any value for your customers. Let your work – your blog, product, service – speak for you and bring in people. I’ve done basic SEO work on my site, and on my own, and that has worked well so far for 10 years. By the way, as I type this, there are 1,774,777,646 websites online right now in the world, many vying for the same audience. That’s the competition and everyone wants to be ranked #1. No SEO can take you there. Only your work can. Like if you search for “value investing course”, Safal Niveshak is the first non-advertised website on Google. For “value investing”, Safal Niveshak is on page one. All this without spending a single rupee on SEO or online marketing over the past ten years. By the way, these ranks mean nothing to me, but I just shared to show why your work matters more than any marketing.
- While you don’t need to spend money on marketing, you must still learn to sell, that is to positively convince, influence, inspire people to buy what you are building. If you can build but cannot sell, you won’t get much done. Your work should be your best salesperson. All I have done over the past 10 years is work (write). No advertising, no networking, nothing. Just plain simple work. And it seems to have paid fine. By the way, one of the best ways to sell well is to write well, clearly and simply…as if you’re talking to your friend. Clear writing also helps in clarifying the thought process. So, learn to write.
- Do your best work, and forget about numbers, especially targets like page views, subscribers, revenues, etc. Those are meaningless, especially when you are starting out. Instead, worry about how much you’re helping people. You can’t put numbers on those things. All I have tried to do all these years at Safal Niveshak is create an abundance of confidence by giving away a large amount of value for free so people trust me in return. And, in my work, there is nothing more precious to me that that trust. I hold as tight to it as I do to my integrity and reputation.
- Get ready to be alone and lose friends. While family and close friends will always be supportive, most others may not understand the work it takes to build something from scratch. I lived such a life after starting up. Looking back, I do not regret any moment of it.
- Practice lean living at least a year before you start out. Instant compromises are heart breaking! Save money to use as initial capital, and keep expenses low. Bootstrap as much as possible. Don’t borrow money till you aren’t generating cash. Try not to borrow at all. Spending other people’s money may sound great, but there’s a noose attached. You give up control. When you turn to outsiders for funding, you have to answer to them too. That’s fine at first, when everyone agrees. But what happens down the road? Well, often, it’s not a happy question to answer. Also, not having enough money of your own is a way of not having a Plan B, because that will lead you to work harder on building something so great that people will pay for it in advance, that they’ll eagerly sign up to use what you’re making.
- If you believe in your work and the ways of doing it, ignore the critics, keep your head down, and quietly do your work. People ready to pull you down are everywhere. Remember Theodore Roosevelt’s famous ‘The Man in the Arena’ talk wherein he said – “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” This talk has been one of my saviors all these years.
- Don’t believe people who tell you – “How I started up on my own, doubled my income and cut my hours in half”…or something like this. They will not help you if you reach a point of no return. Learn from others, but believe in just yourself and your work.
- Build your work around the life you want to have. Avoid being a workaholic and make time for family, leisure, and self-care. Don’t forgo sleep. It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges of starting up. But it’s also easy to fall into the habit of making it your only priority.
- Celebrate little wins. I clapped for myself every time someone subscribed to my free newsletter in those early days. And mostly one person subscribed on most days. Initially, the wins are slow and infrequent. But celebrating in your own little ways will keep you charged up.
- Never compromise on what you set out to do, and the way you set out to do it. Never walk the path that may lead you to regrets. Hold tight on integrity. Avoid short cuts. Say no to what would not let you sleep peacefully at night, even if that seems lucrative financially.
- Learn to be okay with NOT knowing. You will not know what will happen with your business. World is changing. Your business will change. You will change. You don’t know anything, really, and that’s fine. Just keep working on what keeps you happy when you wake up everyday.
- Enjoy the journey, with all its speed breakers and potholes. Avoid getting caught up in the black and white of success and failure. Don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing. Forget about success and failure. They are just two imposters. Stay the course. Enjoy the scenery.
That’s all I have to share as of now.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
If you have been waiting to start out for long, know that there will never be a perfect time to do anything. Do something and stick to it. And yes, you don’t have to quit your day job to start something, just as you don’t have to drop out of college to do so. You have weekends and evenings and all that time you’re online.
A Few Resources on Starting Up:
- Seth Godin’s Blog
- How to Get Rich: Naval Ravikant
- Paul Graham’s Essays
- Rework by Jason Fried
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel
- The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
- Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
- The Hard Thing about Hard Thing by Ben Horowitz
- Talk to business owners who have survived 10+ years 🙂
That’s about it from me for today.