When we launched our startup in 2021, among the four cofounders, two of them were keen to get involved on the technology side of things. Henri Bernard, one of the cofounders, and I were keen to take care of the business, sales, and marketing. You might be wondering that after working on the technological side of things for a decade and a half, why did I choose business. As we were preparing ourselves for launching a startup, I was attracted more towards the business side of things. I also wanted to challenge myself by taking on responsibilities about which I truly have little or no idea.
Over the next ten months in 2021, we worked crazily hard on product, generating leads, refining our go-to-market strategy, partnerships, customer satisfaction, seeking funds etc. During this time, we also had to learn a lot at a faster pace and apply it immediately. It was like constructing a railway track as you drive the train.
Venture Capital Learning:
To equip myself for raising funds for my startup, I registered for Venture Deals program by Techstars-Kauffman fellows and successfully completed it. This experiential course focused on all aspects of venture capital financing from the perspective of both entrepreneurs and investors. It taught me the technical nuances of financing by creating term sheets, and making decisions about liquidation preferences, warrants, and option pools. If you think these words sound Greek and Latin to you, do not worry, you can grab a book by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson and read it. They simplified these concepts and explained them lucidly. The course is a practical version of the book. I highly recommend budding entrepreneurs to either attend this course or read the book.
In this six-week course, you must work in a team. During the first three weeks, you learn the basics of venture financing by working on term sheets. In week four, one half of the team functioned as entrepreneurs and the other half as venture capitalists. In week five, the roles were swapped. During week six, it is a consolidation of important aspects of VC financing. I learnt not only about various aspects of venture financing but acquired some good friends on this course. Many of them went on to secure venture funding and they were well prepared to negotiate the term sheets.
Probability & Statistics – Business and Machine Learning
In the business world or otherwise, we are constantly faced with uncertainty. We must analyze the situation and take decisions fast. If you can think in terms of probability and expectation, you can gauge the situation better than most of the people and be a good decision maker. For some, it comes naturally and for others, you might have to nurture this skill. I fall into the latter category and decided to upskill myself. I worked on two courses – one from Stanford on Statistics and one from MIT on Probability. If you have time, please take both. They are fantastic. Out of these two, If I were to suggest one, it would be the MIT course on Probability. It starts with basic coin toss, counting and builds on advanced concepts till Markov chain. Of all the MOOCs I have done in the past, the probability course is by far the best. It challenged and taught me about many nuanced concepts. It gave me a mental framework to analyze my business decisions.
On the product side, we all were working on how to use machine learning(ML) techniques in our path planning. As a seller whose product involves ML, I wanted to have a bit more than cursory understanding of ML terms and techniques, so I decided to pursue a course from MIT on Machine Learning. It helped me to understand the algorithms behind ML, where do you apply them and their limitations. I was simply amazed by reinforcement learning and Bellman’s equations. The concept is that you take an action where there is a cost and reward/penalty associated with it. You try to maximize the reward and minimize the cost and penalty. You regularly update your actions based on this feedback. Does it sound like how babies or adults learn uncertainty? This is what fascinated me, and I enjoyed learning this concept. By no means, I understand the nuances of reinforcement learning, but is a joy to experience and program the algorithm.
Business Mentors & Successful Fund Raising
My cofounders and I had many business mentors who shaped our thinking during the formative years of ADAXIS. The mock due-diligence exercise conducted by these mentors polished our thinking. Many times, you feel how stupid you are and why didn’t you think about it in advance? Fortunately, all these happened in private with our well wishing and brutally honest business mentors. The more we sweat in private, the less we bleed in public. There are too many to mention and we are grateful for their time. I learnt about an important lesson – Choose your mentors wisely.
As an entrepreneur, you should be surrounded by mentors who are knowledgeable, caring and brutally honest. It is difficult to find these mentors but if you find them, please engage with them as much as possible. At first, it will be scary but believe me it will make you better in the due course. I suggest you often talk to people who are highly skeptical of your idea.
After 10 months of demanding work and going through an emotional rollercoaster which includes excitement, disappointment, uncertainty, and epiphany, finally, in November 2021, we received our first million. I cannot describe the happiness when my cofounders and I signed the term sheet.
Now that we have secured funding, we regrouped and started thinking about our strategy in terms of product and sales, the two most critical components of any startup. Overall, 2021 is a year of transformative learning for me. In the next post, I will talk about my learning in 2022 and the move to India.