Yes, I failed

N-Tayal

I share today a GUEST POST by Nikhilesh, founder of Stagephod, where he describes his inspirational entrepreneurial story.

“Failure teaches you more than success.”

Every entrepreneur realises the above quote in due time and I am no exception. In order to celebrate ‘failure’ and break its taboo, I am sharing my first startup’s failure story with you.

Startup idea

From my childhood, I have been a quitter. I used to quit doing anything I didn’t like. This bad habit continues in my adulthood and has led me to become an entrepreneur!

Back in 2010, I wasn’t satisfied with my job and wanted to start something of my own, be independent and live life on my own terms. Though I wasn’t rich and had no clue what to start, I had a few ideas related to the education space.

I came back to my native place Udaipur and started working on these. After meeting many people, I got the following insights:

  • In India, no one wants to study but everyone wants a job!
  • All education institutes eventually become job agents.
  • A huge segment of society is still dependent on newspapers and aren’t using any kind of technology for recruitment (15 crore and growing).
  • To become a true entrepreneur, you should try to solve a bigger/ complex problem.

These things rang a bell and I decided to start a regional/ local job portal – CvBhejo.com, a platform for the segment of Indians dependent on newspapers for finding jobs.

Initial phase

First thing I did was to rent a small 120 sq ft office for Rs. 2500. It was just a room with nothing else, and I still remember that it took one full day to fix all the electrical items!

For getting the website done, I contacted a developer who was a common friend. We launched our portal in April 2011 and alongside, I started the typical placement agency work – contacting local coaching institutes and colleges, asking them to promote our website among their students and attending job fairs. Within a few months, we built a database of 5,000 candidates.

It was now time to get jobs for them. I approached companies who had placed their ads in newspapers and asked them to allow me to post their jobs on CvBhejo. After posting, I sent job alerts to relevant candidates through emails and SMS and this set the ball rolling. Monetization of current system was difficult, as not all employers wanted to try any other medium even for free because of their past bad experiences with recruitment agencies. So I decided to make it free for all.

Evolution of the idea

By Jan 2012, I had figured out that we needed an entirely different business model than a regular job portal, and introduced offline channels and mobile.

I hired 2 people – one for inside sales and another for relationship building with colleges. We changed the model to pre–paid pay as you choose from post-paid success based fee.

We started getting customers and revenues. At that time, we got our first press coverage and many people started recognizing Cvbhejo. We used the press release in authenticating ourselves and started sending it along with our profile, stating that no placement agency had got such media coverage till date. This campaign worked and for the next 6 months we had an increasing curve of clients.

Growth

In July 2012, the entrepreneur development community The Morpheus Gang selected and advised us on how to increase revenues. Based on these discussions, we introduced the pre-paid success based fee concept, which got a good response. We scaled up our team to 6 people. We started getting feedback from many senior entrepreneurs/ investors that:

  • We should use mobile more
  • Make things simpler for both job seekers and employers
  • Should go hyper local

The idea then actually became ‘JustDial for recruitment’.

Attempt to replicate

In Jan 2013, we launched in Jaipur and introduced mobile based registration and a dedicated job help line. We caught lots of media attention, almost all major newspapers covered us – Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Bhaskar etc., which helped in getting more visibility hence more traction.

In Jaipur, we started generating revenue from the first month itself. In June 2013, we crossed 100 paying clients and 50,000 registered job seekers. We thought that at this rate, we would break-even in the next couple of months.

We were wrong – by concentrating too much on growth, we had put our survival on stake. In July we ran out of funds and had to scale down operations.

Shutting down

Post scaling down, I began looking for funding. There were some interests materializing, but at the same time, I made the big mistake of not motivating my team enough. Within 2 months, all of them left and operations stopped completely.

My efforts paid off in Nov 2013 and CvBhejo got a strong funding interest from a super angel group. But when they heard that we weren’t operational for the last 2 months, they backed off.

Few months later, we got a call from another group. There was a ray of hope, but the terms weren’t acceptable to me. I didn’t want to become desperate and run a startup as the whole purpose of my becoming an entrepreneur would have been lost. So I finally decided to close the venture and move on.

Learnings

Cliché though it may sound, I didn’t earn anything monetarily from CVBhejo, but earned a lot in terms of learnings, these being:

  • A lot can go wrong in a startup, but the only thing you can do right and which is in your control is to survive – you have to hang in there long enough to crack the problem.
  • You don’t have to start with a scalable model from day 1. I started with a non-scalable idea but then the right people came into my life and they slowly perfected the model.
  • No model is perfect from day 1. As an entrepreneur you are solving a problem and it exists because no one knows the solution till date.
  • Never let your team believe that you as an entrepreneur are losing it.
  • Fund-raising takes time and if you want to raise on your terms, you should plan accordingly.
  • You have to figure out a way to bring money before you run out of it!
  • Patience and humility are among the most important personal lessons one can learn.
  • Last but not the least, never regret your decisions.

Final thoughts

There were many problems in my venture, but overall I would say it helped me in becoming a good human being. It was a great experience and I like to believe that the story has just begun.

Currently I am running my second startup – Stagephod.com which is a market place to find and hire a video maker. Within 1 year, the portal has become the most popular video creation platform among startups.

I want to give credit for this success to my past failures. Though it may look like I am working on Stagephod for one year, in reality it took me 5 years to reach here! I would like to sign off saying that I enjoyed my failure and would like to fail again and fail frequently.

You can read the original article along with other interesting and inspirational pieces on Nikhilesh’s blog.

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