My next interview was certainly an eye opener. Before I begin articulating the same, I must warn you of the following: firstly, this article is on the lengthier side, as it would be unfair to ‘edit’ the learning I received; and second, read this only if you are willing to ask yourself the tough questions that every entrepreneur is faced with at some point in their journey.
If you see the Linkedin profile of Mr. Amit Sengupta, you would notice quite a magnitude of experience in the fields of sales and strategy. He has experienced working at large, established companies that stood the test of time, as well as younger start-ups. At the age of 40, Mr. Sengupta noticed that in his life, like many of his friends and colleagues, a certain amount of redundancy had set in. He wished to rectify the same and this was when he decided to take the plunge and set up Arohan Inc.
With about 3.5 years working in start-ups, he did understand how they are different, and the amount of vigour needed in each member of the team in order to keep it alive. He started off doing what came naturally to him – sales. The problem was that their first small venture was in the tech space, and while they managed to generate leads, they didn’t quite have the product ready yet. Lesson learnt: While understanding the market is important, and leads are very promising, the product should be able to ‘hit the iron when it is hot’.
Learning fast, Mr. Sengupta was on the lookout for a new idea when he noticed an opportunity in the education sector in India. He mentioned to me that the UGC required that 25% of teaching faculty in universities should be visiting faculty. This would enable the students to get a real understanding of the industry instead of only focusing on academics. That’s when TRGX.biz was born.
The idea sounded fairly simple – TRGX, which stands for ‘Training Exchange’ would be the connect between a host of qualified industry experts to colleges and other educational institutes who wished to increase the level of industry awareness of their students. Institutes who sometimes may not be able to find the right visiting faculty from an industry their students wanted to know about. Sounds simple, right? ‘Marketplace’ may not be the best word, but a ‘platform’ where educational institutes who wish to enhance their course offering could get their students some valuable insight from the industry.
Mr. Sengupta and team spoke to a variety of universities and colleges who seemed to like the idea – research is important – and the initial capital to build the product was invested. They also managed to raise capital from their batchmates and some investors in order to get the venture up and running.
This is where Mr. Sengupta says that his second big learning came from. After raising the capital, they decided to increase the size of the venture. You would wonder why this is a problem, and so did I. But Mr.Sengupta explained – the problem arose from the fact that they had a venture which would spend money to stay afloat, but hadn’t made any revenue to sustain itself. By the time they did get revenue generating opportunities, there was not enough capital to sustain the venture. The large team that had been hired was reduced soon after, but this was not the end.
Lesson learnt the hard way – many people who come from the corporate world often fail to pay heed to the importance of counting the money from day one – where it comes from and where it goes. Without this, you are literally flying blindfolded.
TRGX ran with a few clients in schools and colleges, and continues to operate – but not to its full potential. Mr. Sengupta believes that this idea, even though it may be a little ahead of its time, does have a bigger scope in the future, as the factor of industry awareness and experience gains importance in the hiring scenario over time.
With this venture, Mr. Sengupta had tasted the excitement of entrepreneurship, and had learnt a lot of diverse skillsets on his journey so far – Product development, marketing, human resource management and legal, among other things. He didn’t wish to let all this learning go to waste, and allowed his entrepreneurial spirit to prevail over these setbacks.
This spirit is what enabled him to set up two other ventures in a short span of time. The first, again, in the education sector is called Hola notice board. A web and android based app which allows for schools to issue notices to their students and inform a large populous of students and parents about important notices and events. This was adopted in several schools as it allowed a large set of people to be reached out with the dependency of an internet connection. This platform would send notifications in the form of email, SMS and inside the app.
The other venture Mr. Sengupta set up was called ‘Mekanic’ – which as the name suggests, allowed you to find your nearest mechanic whenever needed. This too operated without being dependent on internet service. This ensured that the nearest mechanic wouldn’t need a feature phone to be listed as a service provider.
According to Mr. Sengupta, the most important part of figuring out a business is to go to your target market and just listen – to understand their thought process, experiences and the problems they face. This is a non-intrusive method to understand the real scope of what a venture can do to serve this market. That being said, while research is important, you cannot always count on their feedback.
Here’s why – There are two big variables that come in when you present your idea and ask for feedback – one, that some people like the ‘idea’ and will always give positive feedback, if any – the other, that people who ‘like’ the idea will not be interested in buying the product. So, if your research isn’t thorough enough, all you can end up with sometimes is a boosted ego and many false positives.
Lesson learnt – don’t rely solely on market research before investing huge amounts on your product. Build a basic model which runs with a few clients who pay for it and then test its viability based on real feedback. A person who is paying, even a small amount, for your service is a lot more likely to give you the feedback you need, not the feedback you want. Learning to say no to the idea is also important at this stage, otherwise your research was an attempt in futility.
Another lesson learnt – Counting eggs… A lead is a client only after the cheque clears. The hardest part for an entrepreneur with a big dream is to not fall in love with the idea. Self-scrutiny is essential in order to be sure the idea is viable. Asking people for their opinion does help you validate the idea, but counting an opinion to be a lead gives you a bloated estimate of revenue which is (for the lack of a better word) dangerous for a young venture. Be hard on your projected income and easy on your expenses, because more often than not, your market doesn’t pay you from day one.
Patience has shifted from being a virtue to a necessity, and Mr. Sengupta has been a prime example of that. It takes a great amount of patience and sacrifice to stick with an idea when things don’t go according to plan. To keep going with the same enthusiasm and being open to new ideas while learning from old ones is the mark of a person with immense drive. I do wish the very best for Mr. Sengupta in all his endeavors.