We are based out of Ahmedabad-Gujarat, running the web and mobile-based book exchange platform, StudentDesk.in, where readers can buy, sell, exchange their Textbooks, Novels or any other reading material within their Institute/City.
Here is what I learned from Ups & Downs of my Journey as an engineering student to Starting a Startup:
Lesson 1: No matter if it is MNC or startup, get detailed information about the company and your job profile.
I completed my Diploma Computer Engineering from Nirma University, Ahmedabad in May 2011. If you want to get a job and having reputed college name in your degree then you will easily get a job in MNC. I was not good at programming but was very good at computer networks. During my final year, TCS came the first time to recruit Diploma Students. Me and My friend Amit got selected in TCS – IT Infrastructure Services Department with a package of Rs. 1.8lac per annum. Our Initial Learning / Training Program (ILP) was started on 25th July 2011 at Bangalore. We both decided to grab that opportunity and not to go for Bachelor degree. On very first day of training HR told us about our role in service desk (Technical support call center), which was not mentioned during the pre-placement talk. After arguing with HR about our work profile, finally, we told him that we are not going to work in Call center. We and many others took their 2 years service agreement back and leave the job on the 2nd day. Both of us got admission for Bachelors Computer Engineering in different colleges.
Lesson 2: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” – Albert Einstein
Never compare yourself with others, keep on learning, put your 100%, by the time you will become an expert in what you are doing.
[Image source: Nateleung.com]
3 Ideas are common which every student will think of to start during his/her studies:
1) Good Tiffin service for students 2) Website to find Hostel/PG Services and 3) Website to sell Used Books.
September 30, 2012, During 4th Semester I started learning Web development to build a platform to sell used books named “Bookbazaar”. My roommate Binit Thacker (Founder www.YellowMediaLabs.com) just started his career in graphic designing and branding, he made a logo for “Bookbazaar”.
I worked on “Bookbazaar” for one week and when I compared my HTML design with other professional websites then came to realize that programming is not my cup of tea and that I should only focus on computer networks. Finally, I gave up on the 10th day and stopped working on my idea “Bookbazaar”. I still regret my decision of leaving programming just because I had compared my User Interface design with websites of well known eCommerce companies.
Lesson 3: Are you a student? don’t wait for your final year project, don’t go with academics only, no matter you are in a 1st year or 2nd year do focus on practical learning, try to solve real time problems and always consider your academic “project” as “product”.
[Image source: Edubilla.com]
October 2013, during my 7th Semester I went to sell my used books to one of bookstore nearest to my hostel and he offered me 20-30Rs for my book by giving excuses that“These books are outdated because your syllabus has been changed.” Our syllabus was not changed so I kept those books in my bookshelf. After few days, I came to know about Business BootCamp at Gujarat Technological University. I and my other two friends Pradeep and Kishan applied with 2 ideas i.e 1) Bemysearch.com website to find Hostel/PG, Tiffin service 2) Used book selling portal. We got first prize for Used selling portal in that Boot Camp.
I decided to implement that idea and started learning to program. This time, my friend Akshar Patel showed me designs of Flipkart, Google, Facebook when they just started (https://web.archive.org/web/20071020025307/http://flipkart.com/) and told me to not to leave this time like I did in 4th sem.
We Started StudentDesk as our 8th-semester project and Launched simple website on 2nd January 2014.
[Yes it was inspired by the Google’s design.]
I called all of my friends to post their book. I posted my book for which bookstore had just offered me Rs. 20-30 and I sold it at Rs. 100 to another college student through StudentDesk. I knew this portal will be useful to students but still something can be done other than selling used books. My roommate Kewal started preparing for CAT after seeing that he reads a new novel every week, I thought what if we start Institute wise book exchange in StudentDesk. As there are average 3000 to 5000 students studies in every Institute in a different stream like MBA, Engineering, Pharmacy etc. so if any reader is having one novel, then they can read as many books they want by exchanging it with other readers of an institute. Because neither they have to pay for library subscription nor they have to pay for new books.
From used book selling portal, it became institute wise book exchange portal.
4) Lesson: “Mentors Are The Secret Weapons Of Successful Startups” – Techcrunch
While you are looking for funding, you should take the advice of an experienced person who knows everything about how to approach investors, how to make financial projections, term sheet etc.
During these days, I was in constant touch with IIM Kozhikode alumni. On 3rd February I got a call from him: “We liked your idea and we want to know your future plans for StudentDesk”“Are you sure you will continue working on StudentDesk and will not go for placements?” I told him that I am sure about full time working on StudentDesk after my engineering and I am not considering campus placements. He gave me some good tips on how set milestones to acquire users, spread the word through colleges etc. and at last he told me that “Please make sure if you are looking for funding, we will be the first investors you will approach” and I didn’t know anything about these terms “Equity/Venture Capital/Angel Investors/funding.etc” to be honest, I was engineering student who was totally unaware of business terms. At the end of that call, I decided to skip my college lectures and started learning more about Investments/Venture Capital etc. from Yourstory,Nextbigwhat and started attending events/demo days of eChai (One of the largest community of entrepreneurs).
I had a bad experience of Job after my diploma so, after completion of my B.E Computer engineering in 2015, I choose full time working for my startup rather than doing a job in MNC. Hiranmay Mahanta, Head of GTU Innovation Council and Ateet Bajaj Founder of Start51.com encouraged me to join Crowdfunding Initiator program to raise initial money needed to sustain StudentDesk and I successfully raised Rs. 1.44K from crowdfunding campaign.(www.start51.com/project/technology/studentdesk-book-exchange-portal)
5) Lesson: Focus on minute details and suggestion for your product.
Always be a student, if you don’t know something then start learning, age/school/college doesn’t matter. What matters is your attitude and your desire to learn.
[Image source: fat-cow.net]
July 30, 2014, during crowdfunding campaign, I was changing UI of the website and posted a question on Quora asking for reviews of StudentDesk.in, I read one of the article of Gaurav Munjal, Founder Flatchat (flat.to) on Yourstory, he was having good experience in Startup ecosystem so I invited him to answer my question (A2A) in quora. Quora content policy doesn’t allow any questions that look like marketing activity. So moderators might have changed few words from the original question i.e from“Review/suggestion for StudentDesk.in” to “What is a critical review of StudentDesk.In? so when Gaurav saw that question, for him it was “Critical review of StudentDesk” Not the one which I asked. Next day When I opened my quora feed. I got an answer from Gaurav Munjal. He made a detailed video on his “critical review” of StudentDesk.in. There were so many silly spelling mistakes in different sections of a website. I was intense by seeing that video on youtube, thoughts of “what if this will go viral?” “What if users will not use our website after seeing this video?” were killing me. I decided to correct all those mistakes and changed new UI as soon as possible, from that day I started working hard to improve my language skills by reading blogs, started writing about my daily experiences in a personal diary.
I spent all the money from crowdfunding in next 8 months. I failed to properly utilize Rs.144k of crowdfunding. After that, things became worse as I started taking debt from friends and sometimes from home. To sustain StudentDesk and to do spread the word about it, I started giving seminars in engineering institutes on different topics like WordPress, blogging, SEO, cloud computing etc. again I was earning good from seminars but ended up with no money as I have to return the money which I borrowed from friends. I ended up in an infinite loop of earning money for my personal expenditure & debt.
6) Lesson: Ask yourself. Do you really need funding? Convince yourself before convincing Investors.
Always be selective with investors. Do raise smart money from experienced investors, in a particular, domain.
[Image source: Yourstory.com]
In Mumbai, I met one of well-known media personality through one of our mutual contacts. He told me that He was interested in my idea and also said It can be executed efficiently in global market too, He told me to send him details about how much money I will need for product development, marketing, team building etc. Finally, we decided to register a Private Limited company so he can become a shareholder. He gave me surety that he will guide me if needed, otherwise, he will be an independent director and will not interfere in my daily operations. I was happy and made a detailed planning with estimation of Rs 30 lacs for next 12 to 15 months. At that time, 2 friends started helping me in website backend/API for mobile application. I couldn’t hire them so gave them surety to pay as per work.
I Took Rs.1 lac from one of my relatives to register StudentDesk as a part of Pvt. Ltd. Company. (Rs. 1 Lac paid up capital is compulsory to register Pvt. Ltd. Company) but when I sent that pitch deck to an investor, I didn’t get any reply/not a single comment from him. So ended up with a Question marks of “30 Lacs were too much for 12 to 15 months? Is it about a team? Is there any other mistake in Pitch Deck?”
7) lesson: Value of Idea without execution is worth zero. Every idea needs good team and execution.
When you start, Use your savings/Borrow money from friends/ take debt or figure out any other source but you must have at least 6 months cash flow so that you can fully focus on Business Development. Otherwise, every month you will end up wasting your valuable time in getting money to pay bills and salaries of next month.
Like a salesman, I started approaching different offices in the corporate area “Sir I am from Creative Cube Info web, we are providing IT service.”(CreativeCube.co.in)some of them gave me a decent response. But some were quite rude. During all these, 3 students were doing an internship at StudentDesk. They just started learning to code. But helped me in managing different task other than coding too. Mobile apps were getting more popularity than websites. Companies like Redbus, Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and others were giving huge cashback, coupons and discount offers to install and buy from their mobile application. People from different cities and colleges were posting their books and liked our website without any of our paid marketing efforts. Through users review, we figured out that mobile application is much needed. At that time It was not possible for me to hire Android developer. I met 3rd year engineering Student Prashant Patel in one of Microsoft Azure event, He was good Android developer and told me that he is willing to do an internship at StudentDesk and will develop Android application.
After lots struggle, we launched Android application for StudentDesk (www.studentdesk.in/android) on 17th January 2016.
8) Lesson: Don’t be greedy to become rich overnight with investor’s money.
Raising money is a full-time job, run behind money only when there is an actual need, otherwise, focus on your product no need to waste yours and investor’s time.
After crowdfunding campaign, I realized that one man army will work only in moviesbut to build a successful company you always need a passionate team. I started looking for Co-founder. Finding good Co-founder is difficult than finding a life partner. don’t be in a hurry, solo founder is better than having bad Co-founder.
I went to CIIE – IIMA in one of an event of: “how to approach investors”. I met one guy and we were having a conversation about a team, co-founder.etc. I was surprised after what he said:
He: “I have one idea but I need good team members to get investment“.
I: “Yes I agree with you, but you can start working on your idea and by the time you will find if someone is interested to work on your idea.”
He: “Yes but One of my friend is in IITD and I told him that I will use his name as Co-founder to approach Investors“.
I: “So is he interested in your idea and will join after his Bachelors?”
He: “No as of now I will just use his name to convince investors. Later on, we will figure out rest of things.”
I was speechless, people want to build a team just to raise money or to build a successful company? IIT/IIM=Funding? Funding = Success?”
Here is a list of companies that are running their companies successfully without raising any money.
I would be happy to have your insights about our Startup. You can reach me viahttps://in.linkedin.com/in/karanpujara or Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.!! Good Luck.!