Valuable lessons for your first year in business. ASPIRE shares its experience

As Aspire completes a year, we give you our learnings as a start-up and sum up the learnings of a few of our inspirational featured entrepreneurs

We’re inundated with success stories of legendary businesses that had humble origins – how Google’s Sergey brin and Larry Page set up shop in Susan Wojcicki’s garage (who is also the CEO of YouTube), or how Elon Musk coded through the night and slept on a couch in his office during his early years of business. First years in business are messy, tumultuous, exciting, crushing – in a word, unforgettable.

The difference between a successful business and one that goes belly-up or sold for parts, more often than not, is the plan and execution of the very first year. Intent, vision, mission, plan, execution, and uncountable miscellany all come together to create a recipe that can set up that strong foundation on which your business builds up and thrives, or the loose, sparking wire that causes it to metaphorically go up in flames.

As ASPIRE wraps up one year in circulation, we’re proud to have been illuminated by steadfast, pioneering dreamers, creators, and risk-takers who have graced the pages of our magazine, making it brighter with their stories of struggle, grit, and triumph. Here are some of the lessons that have made us wiser, and we’re happy to share our pearls of wisdom with you, our reader.

YOU’RE GOING TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF... A LOT

When people don’t know you, they have nothing to go on to trust you, be it buying from you or soliciting your service. So with every potential customer, you have to start from the start – the name of your business and what it does, why you think you’re the best bet for your client even though you are less than a year old. You have to believe in yourself and your enterprise before anyone else does.

Raj Bhatt, the founder of the Hozpitality Group, who graced our cover for the November edition last year, turned introducing himself into an art form – which helped him foray into Hotel Management, secure a job in Mumbai, and even set up his online job board Hozpitality.com, that has helped exclusive brands from Hilton to Hyatt over 12 years. The takeaway is simple – know your stuff, know your worth and the value you bring, and you will soon command an audience.

When the client knows nothing about you, the clean slate is a blessing – one chance to make a great, lasting impression. So, don’t patter out a rehearsed, robotic pitch, but cover all bases. Simple rule – Know it, don’t by heart it.

THE MATH WILL BREAK YOUR HEART

This is especially true for passion projects, small businesses, and artistic endeavors. Your skill set and interest might actually seem incongruent with what fledgling businesses demand – finances, economics, and multiple strategies to keep a profitable bottom line and stay out of the red.

Nothing tanks a business faster than not knowing where your money will come from and where and how you will put it back into the business and keep a cut for yourself. What’s more, investors won’t be impressed by someone with a lot of passion but befuddled by money.

Bitcoin mogul Carl Runefelt, our April 2021 cover star, risked the same fate when he decided to pursue his fascination with finance. His biggest hiccup – he worked in a grocery store and had no formal financial training. Undeterred, he hit the internet for ideas to make more money, where after a few hits and misses, he explored alternatives to paper money and hit the Bitcoin mine (no pun intended). In fact, through his journey, he has given back to those trawling online looking for sound financial gyaan, with his own YouTube channel called ‘The Moon’.

So, if you are doing it all on your own (major props to that!), you will find yourself googling the mundanest of money questions like a double-edged game of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. So go forth, and remember that as the business expands, delegation will be the smarter game rather than pretending you’re a lone wolf, and getting a financial advisor might be on the cards.

UNCERTAINTY WILL BE YOUR BUNKMATE

In the beginning, your enthusiasm for business might be so high it likely unsettles a feebler human, but in the upcoming weeks, you will second guess everything. From your business model to your marketing plan, from your luck to your finances, maybe even your core idea itself, nothing may seem right as you put your business into action and start seeing results, which may not be all good.

This uncertainty is why many startups tank in the first year – not because of the failure of the business, but because the treacherous path causes the entrepreneur to lose faith in themselves. For Hiral and Deepanshu, who talked about their financial advisory firm Richelieu financial in the September 2021 edition, uncertainty is all in a day’s work. Whether it is knowing the stocks themselves or convincing their clients to take calculated risks, they’ve found that extensive research, domain expertise, and reducing the variables with hard work and discipline is the only way to beat uncertainty.

SUCCESS MIGHT LOOK A LOT LIKE FAILURE

The beginning is a frenzy of activities, with things happening at breakneck speed, and with an exponential learning curve. It is also a time that is perhaps filled with the highest amount of effort with little to no rewards. Going from unknown to familiar is perhaps the hardest thing to achieve as a brand, business, service, or even a magazine.

So you have rejections. Emails unreturned. Business cards which seem squandered on people who do not match your client profile. Deals dropped at the last minute. Pitches that miss the mark despite your rehearsal. The odds seem stacked higher than the tower of Babel against you.

It’s hard to look at the bright side or even believe it exists. But what looks like your business faltering are actually disguised hints of success. Yes, there are rejections, but they’re helping you sculpt your next pitch. Business cards travel from those who don’t need your services to those who do. Pitches get naturally refined by showing to actual clients.

The first attempts are you making a bid at getting your business into high gear. To falter is inevitable, and you will learn that the less you treat it like a shock, the faster you can recover from it and move on to the next thing.

The same is true for Faisal Ibrahim. Before the success of Brainciti, he experienced losses in a coffee shop venture. To gain better experience, he launched three more companies with various degrees of success. The lessons he learned from these ventures paved the way for his online learning platform Brainciti, which has now grown to over 100,000 minutes of informative content and more than 200 people tuning in each day

YOU’LL HAVE A DIFFERENT JOB... EVERY DAY

Some say having your business is like being your own boss. Well, sure, but it hardly ends there. Before you become a full-fledged businessperson, you will be a quarter of a businessperson and three-quarters of everything else – assistant, proofreader, coffee person, HR, manager, accountant, analyst, the list goes on. Your first year will be chaotic as your roles bleed into each other – strap in and enjoy the ride. As your business grows, you will branch into a team that takes these responsibilities off your hands and turns them into well-organized departments of its own.

While it may seem overwhelming, this is the period that proves make or break for both an entrepreneur and their business. The upskilling that takes place in this period is a business school on steroids, and entrepreneurs who can weather the shifts while moving ahead are already setting themselves apart from those who crumble in the storm.

Proving this theory right is Sanjay Vazirani, who had to earn his badges as a restaurateur by displaying his skills at everything else first – kitchen design, menu design, staffing, training and pre-opening, customer satisfaction, and good food service. Even when reviving a sick unit restaurant, what turned it around was Sanjay’s hands-on approach to the gig – be it taking orders or serving patrons. It is no surprise that with such skill and patience, his enterprise ‘Foodlink’ has left a global imprint, and Sanjay is fast expanding with ‘Art of Dum’, India Bistro, China Bistro, and Glocal Junction.

YOU WILL FORM RELATIONSHIPS FOR LIFE

In a period that will test you and hold you witness to great highs and lows, in the crucible of hardships, you will find your tribe. Be it a mentor who shines a light on the right path or a teammate that goes from just an employee to an instrumental leader, this is a period that will unveil the potential of those around you in more ways than one.

For Nuseir Hussain of NAS Daily, whose life has subverted expectation, his entire instinct centered around making connections with people across the world, he revealed when he featured on our June 2021 cover. Today his wish has come beyond true with 20 million strong followers, an admirer in Mark Zuckerberg, and most importantly, the daring to challenge perspectives with his work.

A DIFFERENT PERSON STANDS IN THE MIRROR

Before a business starts, you’re the most common of humans – a person with a dream. After starting your business, you’re one of the rarest – a person who took steps towards realizing that dream. Yet, with every passing day of that first year, you will find your excuses turn to dust as you try to meet every commitment, every meeting, every deadline. In its place rises a motivation to stretch your 24 hours to pack in the work of 36, and a desire to do everything it takes to make your output perfect – be it your product, your service, your content deck, and in our case, every edition of ASPIRE.

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