A voice for startups

Startups Club – The journey from a Brand to a Private Limited – Part 2

So, here we are; received around 45+ requests from the readers of Part 1 to release the Part 2, from messages on WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn and even calls, requesting to proceed with the journey.. so, here we are.

Whats are the take aways we collected from the journey so far..

  1. Passion always works better than a Plan
  2. Co-founder play a key role to keep going
  3. Co-founders come from the journey you take forward, not from looking out for them.
  4. The Happy You Story is what you have to remember as an entrepreneur to keep yourself going
  5. A team that dreams along with you, that owns the brand as much and more than you at times, is what you need to build

Around May 2015; a couple of months after our tech co-founder gave us a nod, to join in, that we approached a good friend and a business partner, Ravindra Bhatnagar. He has been working in the area of financial services for a long time and he had helped raise funds for a couple of member startups. After an early morning meeting in his office, 40 minutes into the discussions, he asked a very random and out of the context question to me; “What about StartupsClub?” It was a casual question and got a casual answer. It was a simple liner from me, as that is how we had believed it to be till then; “What about it, its a brand under my firm, we have members and we hand hold them”.

This further led to him literally getting after us to send him the numbers, which we put together that very night after meeting with Ravi. Within 15 days from that day, we successfully had three rounds of meetings, Ravi had collected some of his close three more Investors and Startups Club was a funded startup, being incorporated into an LLP. But the most amazing part of this sudden turn of events, was the people who got associated as investors; some amazing leaders, having an eye to see a crazy vision of three founders, of being able to understand the value of what is and what can be. Today, almost 18 months of bringing these very dynamic individuals on board, all I can say is; Thank you Ravi, for twisting our arms to seeing this brand as a business, seeing this possibility of making a dream into a reality through the role you played that time. As for you, entrepreneurs, the take-away here; do not fear talking about your idea, your plans, your dreams to any one, do not fear sharing your story to people around you, do not fear to project your goals in the most brightest form, because you just have no clue who would turn out to be your provider for the best turn of your entrepreneurship journey. Believe in the unknown…

The community all along had been growing stronger, bigger and most importantly, passionate about each other’s startups and mainly Startups Club. We had touched 5000+ registered entrepreneurs, 2000+ student entrepreneurs and 5 cities with adding Mumbai to our Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Coimbatore. The most special part was the community stood by the founders, when we said we were nervous of this becoming an LLP, the community of entrepreneurs shared with us their stories on how they had come out of their comfort zones and how they needed a platform with experienced founders who understands an entrepreneurs journey. It is always believed to have loyal customers / users but it is now that we realised that it is your trusted and loving users, who push us to become great, who trust us to giving them the right support, the right offering and who will stand by us. So, build your users, with love and trust, who trusts you just as they would trust themselves.

Welcome business structures, processes, goals, targets and everything that a startup needs to build on to grow. We, the founders, were at a cross roads, we, either stand our ground with our mindset and see the investors as an opposite party or open our thoughts to their views, brainstorm with them to get a better approach, accept them with the same trust and hope with which they have accepted us and invested on us. We did that, we started taking valuable inputs and accepting the change in approach to execute. I remember getting worked up if the numbers would not match up as per the expected excel sheet; the lump in our throat to say the same in the board meeting. What encouraged us was when it was said, the board understood and insisted that we do not push any kind of our offerings to our community, that the community must realise the need of it to accept it. Every single step forward, we founders would feel like the new brides, always nervous and scared of what we would have faulted on and then relieved to see that the board members were not just okay with our set backs. We were also excited about the things we were doing, just clearing out the approach and motivating us, made us focus on our strengths and work on our weaknesses. A very very important take away for you entrepreneurs, keep your communications always openly and clearly. Talk to them about your challenges and short comings, remember, they will have a better way forward for you, as they are not that close to the problem as you are. You are the founders and they are the investors, but the top level view from an experienced set of people, will always show you a better way. It did for us.

“Investors look for a scalable model” and Startups Club was anything but scalable. Vivek and I were traveling to each city to conduct meetings, mentoring was done by us, in one-on-one sessions, we were connecting the members to the investors, members would reach us to become pioneer members, we were the core of the universe.

I remember, I would spend nights, staring at the ceiling fan, I as one of the founders knew the board was right; I as the founder knew, that this cannot be done this way; I as a founder knew, this had to change. HOW? was the BIG questions. We were given few months to figure it out, but we, the founders were just not getting it, not to forget, we were having difference of opinions and approaches. The shit was beginning to hit the roof. Both of us were slowly loosing it, we kept a composed, “all is good” look in our board meetings. I remember, on the way to the meetings, Vivek would tell me to say it out in the meeting, of the problems we are facing in regards to a scalable model and I would tell him, that it was our problem to solve, we could not dump our issues on to the board. This continued for couple of months, then, it happened, one of the key member of the board, challenged us.

I still remember his line “You guys are great in what you do, but we think you can do better, so, lets push this one event, DemoDay to 10 cities across India” That moment, for us as founders, was THE MOMENT, our test for the trust. I said YES, Vivek said NO… Quickly, as the most intelligent guy between us, Vivek came up with reasoning, he said we had not even touched many of those cities, we had no clue of those 5 more cities and going with a mega event will be tough, the board just sat quietly. They let us founders take a call and come back to them. I looked back at Vivek and said, we can pull this off, we always have pulled it off.

That moment, we took it up, both scared like hell, both fearing that this would make or break the whole system, we went ahead. But something magical happened… rather, the old formula worked for us as well. We always throw the kids in the pool and they learn to swim, the same way, the board had literally dumped us founders into the 10 city Demo Day mode and we struggled, we sunk lows, we splashed around and slowly and steadily started to swim. To pull of a 10 city Demo Day with a INR15 Lakhs prize money; we started taking this one step at a time, one city at a time.

Faraz & Khuzema stepped up from their allocated responsibilities, every one started adding more, something even more great happened, one of the key investor started interacting, mentoring and supporting us so that, we actually realised how important it was to have a mentor and Vivek, Faraz, Avirath, Ratul & team got on to executing Demo Days, Khuzema started pumping in more effort and hours on tech plus joining me to aggressivly building our reach, community through these new cities. Every DemoDay, we would celebrate the next morning, the toast would always be; “We did it”.

But something more amazing happened, to put our efforts for this, we started putting processes, structures and team members for what we were doing before. Now, we had a community manager, who would help members become Pioneer Members, we had a department for Alliances and Partners, for Social Media Marketing all being run and managed by our in-house team members, about whom we spoke in Part 1. Today, they make a very large part of Startups Club.

The Student Community was growing fast, the leaders there were now On-Campus Consultants for Startups Club, they were working closely with Faraz for the execution of DemoDay. More we did, more we realised, Vivek and I were getting our hands freed up from the ground level work. We hardly realised it, but one year down the line, we notice that a whole system was put, a whole business was set and ready to move ahead on the path of growth. Take away for you; if you think you can come up with a scalable model from the day 1 and you actually do it, then you are one of the very lucky few, there are many out there like us who could not come up with a scalable model and we had to find our way towards it. So set out there to do something great and do not stop, keep pushing till you get your scalable model.

As it may happen, our happy board started taking about us with their friends and connects, they showed interest, we accepted their interest, things looked really great, but as founders, something kept bothering us. We always wanted this community, our users, our people, our entrepreneurs to be a part of every thing we do or become. There was something missing, we founders have this habit of driving off to our favourite place (Cafe Noir in UB City earlier and now VR Mall) sit there, just thinking what is that, that is missing, that needs our attention, that we might be over seeing. Finally, one day, it came up, we felt that like many others, when they initiate communities, say, it is a community, it is for the entrepreneurs and then the moment they get funded, they start the journey upwards, leaving the members to be a mail ID, Number and head counts in events, we would end up becoming something similar, we had to do something, something which will break the norms, be accepted by the board and be fair to our company.

Those hours were the tough ones, some really silly ideas came about, which would have been unfair to the company, the club, and finally, we found the approach in some random discussion, we took the most daring decision. We, the founders of Startups Club decided to propose to the board that we will, in the upcoming Private Limited, open a small pool of shares for our Pioneer Members, giving them a chance to be a part of this growth path Startups Club was in, keeping the promise that Startups Club was and is for its members. We feared that the board would not see it this way, but it was our responsibility to make the board understand. The determination was clear, the intention was clear and that was recognised by the board and as soon as the board approved the move, we announced unofficially, we had our Pioneers ready to be on boarded. This was the biggest testimony for us as founders by our community, on our team, the board and the Club. The perfect ingredients for super successful journey in the making. Take away, never forget or move away from the true real value you set out to achieve, it gives you so much more clarity for the way forward.

Coming to this last part of these two part story of mine, I would like to end it up with just one very special moment of Startups Club. Something in one line tells the story of a grand to a private limited. Arnab, who was one of the first entrepreneurs, who had started to build this brand Startups Club with Vivek and me. Who had after a year or so, wanted to step away due to his personal reasons, walked into the Startups Club’s HQ in Bangalore, a friend who was always connected through these years, who has always motivated us on our achievements, who would always share a beer with me for being happy and lend his tee collar to pull on, if I am piss drunk and angry, walked in last week and said he missed the complete craziness, the community, the reach and the memories and started his journey with us, once again, as our Pioneer Member. Love you Arnab and you my dear friend, showed me that we are out in the right direction. Having you back in this community, in our journey is the best way to end this story saying..

DONT BUILD A BUSINESS…. BUILD RELATIONSHIP…

Salma Moosa

Founder at Startups Club Networks LLP, Startup Mentor, Growth Hacker, Travel Freak and a passionate entrepreneur