The very first thing I heard about ‘entrepreneurship’ was “It’s a huge risk”. For me the words fear and risk became as synonymous with ‘Entrepreneurship’ as the words passion and hard work. The traditional outlook was to focus on stability. And until recently, career was about stability. Stability meant staying with one company and/or one industry. Quitting stability and starting something from ground up was a thing that was left to ‘others’. So naturally, when I started talking to Shiv I was expecting to hear a story filled with obstacles and how heroically these obstacles were overcome. A part of the reason is also that as humans we like to hear stories of how someone had everything going against him/her and yet he/she succeeded. As a result, we expect every entrepreneurial story to be like that. But the truth is that for many entrepreneurs it’s a mix of luck and careful decision-making. One such entrepreneur is Shiv Gupta, CEO of IESoftek, creator of www.pricejugaad.com.
A Conventional Career Start
My conversation with Shiv started with him talking about choices he made in college. Shiv has an engineering degree in ECE from Punjab Engineering College. Having secured a good rank in his entrance exam, he was in a position to choose any field of engineering specialization. He chose ECE because it was the number one choice at the time, and you could move into either electronics or computers after graduation. In this regard Shiv made a very valid point. How much does a kid of 17/18 years know about any of these specializations? As Shiv said, to them ECE means gadgets and software means apps. Fortunately, halfway through his college life he discovered his passion for software and took his first job in this field.
Shiv had 12-13 years of experience working on technology in both established and startup companies before he started IESoftek. In his decade long experience he’s seen a startup grow rapidly from 30 people to 500 people, worked with latest technology; he had even built products end-to-end. He found that he loved working in a great environment and building successful products using technology. Even though he enjoyed the work he was doing in his last company, he knew that it was the right time to venture out on his own.
Fear Is Overrated
My obvious question was “weren’t you afraid?” I know that fear can be the biggest deterrent and also the biggest motivator.
Shiv said that fear is overrated; it is about the unknown. It’s valid, but we give it too much importance. It’s important to acknowledge fear and plan for alternatives but not let fear drive you. He looked at it as opportunity rather than risk. During Shiv’s decision making process, he asked himself a set of questions:
- Do I have enough financial savings to sustain myself for a few years? – Yes
- Do I have any liabilities that might be directly impacted by this? – No
- If this doesn’t take off, is there an alternative? – Yes
Shiv was very clear about the fact that his survival needs had to be secured in order to truly give himself to his venture. And asking these questions was crucial as it showed him a clear picture of reality. The added advantage for Shiv was that his family was very supportive about this. In fact, there were times when they pushed him to do his own thing. Of course Shiv knew that he was not going to be successful overnight and that it might take a few years even. He knew he had to exercise resilience. Even if the first thing doesn’t work, he had to keep trying.
The Right Start
Financial constraint is one of the most common constraints. It is a very real constraint and also a mental one. Once you know that the financial situation is stable, it’s almost as if the flood gates of your mind opens up. It’s only when you’re not worrying about your survival can you truly let yourself take creative risks. And that’s exactly what Shiv focused on – eliminating financial constraints.
Shiv and his partner Partha both worked in Motorola and were well respected software engineers. Their strong credibility and goodwill helped them secure a software project for IESoftek. It was a great financial boost as they didn’t have to worry about cash flow on a month to month basis. With the help of couple of other service projects, they could build a corpus which could help them bootstrap their product business and that’s when pricejugaad was born.
360 Degree Learning
While you’re in employment, especially with an established company, your interaction is limited to people and functions that are related to your job. But when you’re an entrepreneur, you get to work with many different people across many functions. Shiv gave the example of how he had to talk to furniture vendors to pick out chairs for the office, something he had never done before. When you run your own business you feel independent and have limitless opportunities. It is full 360 degree learning in a startup.
For Shiv, entrepreneurship wasn’t just responsibility of his self. He was also responsible for his employees. After all, taking on a full time role in a startup is just as much of a risk for an employee. The uncertainty of regular income and the startup’s future keeps many people away from startups. That’s how startups also sometimes lose out on high quality talents. Shiv knew that income was crucial not only to build Pricejugaad but also to attract/retain talents. So the company took on service projects to bring in the income.
Challenges & Solutions
The time they entered the market, e-commerce started booming. Price comparison sites were few but it was more or less a discovered problem. By entering the market a bit late, Pricejugaad was at a slight disadvantage. Hence the first challenge was to build a product with a strong USP. So Shiv and team studied user behavior and found that users were evolving. It was no longer just about comparing prices or same/similar products across e-commerce sites. Users were asking specific questions like what the price would be in the future, what the battery was like, etc. Here was a problem that needed to be solved and Pricejugaad did just that. They incorporated powerful sentiment analysis in their product which significantly enhanced the experience of an online buyer. Pricejugaad evolved from a simple price comparison tool, to a much broader assistance to the users in selecting products of their choice based on parameters they care.
Building a product is relatively easy for an engineer like Shiv. The real challenge is to get customers to use the product. They started with a small set of customers but they needed more. They tried various marketing tactics- some worked, some didn’t. Unlike established companies and startups with a lot of funding, Shiv didn’t have a huge marketing budget. So there was some constraint there. It was very much a learn-by-trial experience for them. What worked best for them was leveraging the existing buyer community to expand the community. They listened to their customers, listened to what they were asking for explicitly and implicitly, and enhanced their product based on that. Getting the right product to fit the market was important. During this time, Shiv believed that getting funding would speed up things so he interacted with many people and eventually got funding. That was a huge step forward.
So that’s the thing about entrepreneurship. Challenges are aplenty and being afraid of challenges will only cripple you. Of course there will be things that you would look back at and wish you had done differently. Like for Shiv, he thought he should have focused on investment and marketing a little early on. But that’s a learning he’s got from his own experience. Some things you learn from your own experience, some things you learn from other’s experiences. On that note, I will leave you with some lessons that I drew from Shiv’s journey:
- You can have a very conventional start in your career, but you can make a transition whenever you feel ready
- Entrepreneurship is not only for people in their 20s; one can start their entrepreneurial journey at late 30s, 40s or even 50s but it’s worth at least working in a startup
- Bootstrapping is possible when you have skills
- You don’t have to have an MBA to build a company or business
- Fear is over rated
From a discussion between Mr. Shiv Gupta and Sunayana Sen
Article Tags: business · career · Career Choices · career decisions · Career Development · Career Options · career path · Career Transition · CareerStories · ceo · Entrepreneurship · job · Start-Ups · Starting a Business · startup · technology