/If a startup is a dish, the spicier the ingredients, the tastier it gets

If a startup is a dish, the spicier the ingredients, the tastier it gets

By Pankaj Vermani

I graduated from Indian institute of technology (IIT) Delhi in 2002. Like a regular graduate (of that time) the only thing critical in life then was getting a good job. A Very myopic, very constrained thought process, but that’s how the majority of generation was.

What happened over the next 14 years was something I could never have envisioned. I got to start my career as an initial employee of one of the fastest growing technology services company. Got to learn from the best. Moved on quickly to do two startups with some of the best and toughest times to follow. Went through successful acquisitions, failed strategies, accolades like the Red Herring Asia’s and the Deloitte Fast 50’s multiple times, stint as an investor and of-course now being part of the Clovia lingerie success story – one of the fastest growing and most followed lingerie brands in India today.

I have seen times change where you had to painfully explain how you have decided to take up entrepreneurship and its not because you could not get a job! To current times, when its “cool” to be an entrepreneur. The Last 14 years have taught me things no formal education could prepare me for. And here’s an attempt to share a select few here:

Is your idea worth giving up the golden years of your life for?

While a lot of us want to jump the “entrepreneurial band wagon”, it’s super critical to do it for the right reasons. Peer-pressure today is one of the top reasons for entrepreneurship – the worst reason one can have to take this tough road.

And once you have taken this road for the right options, it’s critical to understand and validate (with effort bordering obsession) the problem you are trying to solve. History suggests that more than 90 per cent of startups fail within the first 120 days. A CB Insights survey states the number one reason for this failure is lack of market need for a product.

Your plan on that excel spreadsheet may have all the numbers in place, but if you are not solving something ‘real’, it ends up being just another vitamin. And the only way to find out is – do the MVP, learn from the customer – day in and day out. Today at Clovia, we take over 500 feedbacks everyday one-on-one just to understand the customer’s need.

Often, even companies that start out rather quickly lose momentum, because their idea doesn’t address real needs. They may last through the initial days of euphoria, fuelled by easy funding and publicity, but find it hard to sustain in the long haul. The reason is not difficult to comprehend, good-to-haves are a dime a dozen, and are the first to fall by the wayside when the going gets tough.

Failures are good

Celebrate your failures. I once met a kick-ass guy in Germany who started with “Hi I’m a failed entrepreneur”. It was literally a cultural shock for me as an Indian where failures are shrouded in clever ways. You fail, you learn, you get one step closer to success. Enjoy the process. Learn from it. Some get lucky quick (or are smarter), others take time.

It’s an individual journey. The more you are plugged to your process and journey, the more you’ll enjoy. The more you enjoy, the more you’ll excel. Failures are expensive learnings. If you come out learning depression and dejection from your failures (instead of what you should do right the next time), think of it like spending a fortune on some rotten clothes when you could’ve got the entire wardrobe of stellar items!

‘Invest’ in the right people. That’s the only investment worth making

The more you stick to long term investments in people – internal (employees) and external (vendors?), the better your chances for building a real business. Build your business around people and you’ll see immediate impact. Business (specially startup) is all about people. Plans change, but it’s the executors that are constant.

Also try not to hire replicas of yourself (a common mistake). The diverse the group, the better the strategy and execution. The core values should be common not the thought process. If startup is a dish, the spicier the ingredients, the tastier it gets!

When to reach out for investment?

You need to raise money to build your business. NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND. Raising money is a means to an end. Fund-raise has become so cool (and ingrained with the media circus), that people have stopped differentiating between success of business and a successful fund raise.

Now even with so many stories around, sometimes I see people thinking around “fundable ideas” rather than “problems worth solving”. It’s sometimes very sad to see awesome people completely distracted. Once you know what you need to do, getting money to do it should be evaluated (a letter for another time).

The list of learnings of long journey is endless. But for now, as sheryl crow says…

Jump in, let’s go… Lay back, enjoy the show.


This article, entitled “If a startup is a dish, the spicier the ingredients, the tastier it gets” was originally published on e27.

e27 is a tech media outlet with a primary focus on Asia. With e27 you will be plugged into a community of people who can become mentors, partners, investors, colleagues, and customers. Now you can come to a place where you find news, community events, talent, and funding! Basically everything you need to build a billion-dollar company.