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When you run out of money (and ideas)

Source | LinkedIn : By Kashyap Deorah

I was 20 when I started my first company. I responded to fellow IIT alumnus Rakesh Mathur’s challenge to a hall full of students on campus to come up with a startup idea and prototype that he would fund if he liked. A competitive IITian, I teamed up with two of my classmates to race to the finish and win that challenge. It was 1999, and college kids around the world were starting up and getting funded. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride that wave. It was the cool new career alternative. Why follow the traditional route when you can be different, I thought?

A few months into the startup, the tech bubble burst. It took us a few months to learn that it did. We had no idea how we were going to make money. We had focussed instead on getting lots of users. When Rakesh started asking us about revenues rather than eyeballs, we conveniently thought it was his responsibility to tell us how. After all, he invested in the idea and said we should focus on getting a million users before thinking about the revenue model. We were just students who had given up big jobs because of him, right?

It was easy for me to shrug my shoulders and say oops! I had my life in front of me. Rakesh had a crore to lose. While we kids could not reach a consensus about the way forward, he parented us and suggested an exit strategy. After only a year into the startup, we returned whatever money we had left in the bank (roughly half what we had raised) to Rakesh, took back the initial capital we had invested as students, and sold the company for stock in the acquiring company in Silicon Valley looking to hire in their Indian office. It was a face-saving acquisition of my startup, once on the front page of New York Times and the cover of Business World. I had to swallow my ego and deal with failure.

In hindsight, it would be fair to say that the entry and exit were driven by the investor. Not because he wanted to but because we were young and stupid and did not take responsibility. However, the lack of closure and not being able to return money or get anywhere near our dreams kept nagging me like a bad rash that does not stop itching.

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