The title sounds weird? Well, that’s exactly what I did.
“IdeaFlask” was started by Vinayak Talukar back in April 2011 in Belagavi and with just 2 Lakhs & absolutely zero business knowledge the Vinayak wanted to develop the education system. Revenues grew to little less than 1 Crore a year in 3 years and one day this man wrote a long post “How I built a “1 crore a year” company and led it to bankruptcy”
IdeaFlask was majorly a UI design company in which they built 3 products, 1 dead and 2 just launched.
The team at IdeaFlask was striving hard to create some amazing products but Vinayak had to call it a day, as he says “My entry was wrong but atleast my exit should be proper.”
Speaking to AAB, Vinayak said, “ with 3 of my roommates started dreaming of a software development company. But no capital hence we all decided to work for another 6 months. One evening I left Chicago and decided to come back to India and start up with someone or all alone.”
He started a User Experience design studio called IdeaFlask in Belagavi, with just 2 lakhs but had no idea how to get clients and also acquiring talent.
Vinayak says “I felt like a Rambo, a one man army 😛 The guy, who can get it done single-handedly. I did What I loved.”
They began with 2 freshers and also got a huge opportunity, thanks to an earlier employer, we were told design a pharmacy application for a country-wide government hospital network. They worked day and night with all the passion, And then came the paycheck, $50,000. With that money new computers, a Nano and a hike to the employees and a dream to do something Big in the education field.
Their mission was to enter the market with Engineering education. Create this beautiful platform for colleges to enroll and all their students would get access to the courses. It was also a social platform for students and teachers to interact.
By the end of 2012, they started feeling financial pressure and thought of raising some angel money. They cleared investors camp and in the final round due ti sales cycle with educational institutes was very long and only had a conversion rate of less than 4%, and as this required very skilled people, they were heartbroken as their plan had filed.
Vinayak told, “That was the biggest heart breaking event for me, could not sleep and my bank acocunt had just Rs.12.”
In 2013 another health care project came their way but this time, there was a condition. They were supposed to work out of the client’s location at Bangalore for tighter coordination.
The team at Belagavi almost all novices needed guidance and mentor-ship, but Vinayak was not there. A lot of valuable time was wasted.
IdeaFlask had partnered with a reputed auditor who specializes in ISO certification and they were his technology partners. We were supposed to build him the ERP at a low cost, however the customizations of individual clients requested and support, were on our billing. That was a good deal. More people were hired the absence of a mentor was killing the team.
Vinayak clearly states, “If you are supposed to choose between money and ethics, choose ethics.”
Nothing was working in Bengaluru either, most of the projects rejected, deisgns unapproved they were headed into the wrong direction and this made him quit the assignment.
Vinayak got back to Belagavi and commenced training the team on UX and executing some really cool Enterprise Apps.
Running services and building products at the same time, is a recipe for disaster. Even this time the client wanted work to be done onsite in Bengaluru. A new designer was hired, project executed, client happy. Revenues came in and they were a happy lot.
The same year Vinyal did an amazing 6800 KMs drive to Nepal from Bengaluru. And while traveling he got an idea about Firaa.me, a travel blog with ease. 6-8 months on this but nothing materialized.
“Either my death or Niravana, had to happen in 2015.” Vinayak was never a services guy, he always wanted to build products, but he was in the rat race to earn money for survival.
In May 2015, Ideaflask started building the Usability Analytics tool that I had thought of 1.5 years ago, Uxgage, moved some of my team members to Bengaluru, so that they could coordinate tightly with the clients. Spent quite a bit of money on the office and hiking my guys salaries according to Bengaluru standards. They had enough buffer money with me to survive for 6 months.
But in June of 2015, Vinayak canceled the contract of the big project that kept feeding for over 2 years. It was just killing too much of my time and none of my team was able to carry it forward on their own.
Usabilty Analytics tool were showcased in many startup events and Sandbox. And then they realised that Firaa.me the travel blog app was performing well.
The team failed to execute even a single design project.
Finally in October when all the buffer money was over and it was time to die. This time he wanted to avoid the trap of being in services vicious cycle. I wanted to only focus on building products.
He made skype call to the team in Belagavi And told them, I am shutting this company down and letting everyone go. There were tears in the room. People could not believe we were in such a situation. And then, I heard something, that was worth more than anything money can buy. The team said they were ready to work without salary for 6 months and see if there can be a turnaround. Risking their careers was not a right option. And then there were friends to his rescue. His friends bailed him out
and in no time his account was showing a balance of over 5 lakhs. That ERP client still owes them Rs. 10,00,000/-
On the last day at office, the team spent time trying to analyze what the hell happened and we realized our top mistakes:
We built a bad team that was not self sustaining.
We lacked discipline.
We never exchanged knowledge. We never helped our teammates improve.
We were not focused. We did too many things at a time.
Wrong billing process. Many clients didn’t pay us.
We did not have a skill development program.
We took too many projects and at the end we could not handle them.
We wasted building this travel blogging app that was never even intended to bring any money.
Our attitude was bad, we never were hungry.
We wrote bad code.
It was heartbreaking to leave the office and pack-up, I was not prepared for this but I had to.
Vinayak Talukar shared some his learnings from his journey:
Never start alone – One of the biggest mistakes was to start alone. I was just juggling between a lot of things and could not spend quality time with any one thing. Remember, at a startup the most valuable and the most volatile resource you have is TIME. Make use of it with utmost care.
Work on a niche – I never ran out of projects. And never had to make a single marketing / sales call. Not even once. That is because of the niche we had found for ourselves. Clients wanted us. Businesses that are niche are easy to grow and sustain. If you build another company that everybody else is doing, then you will start playing the price game. It won’t work at all.
Stay Focused – Even if you are a team and starting off, be focused on one thing. Do not do too many things at a time. Believe in one thing and give your 100% to it.
Build a great team – Though you are the vision for your product, it has to be executed by an army of great people. You should hire people who are better than you. Who can help you rather than you keep helping them.
Be disciplined – Discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want the most. Keep working hard.
Train you team – If you are good at doing something, if you are a master, now is the right time to stop doing it and teach others how to do it.
Build Meaningful partnerships – We built really bad partnerships. Remember that ERP guy I talked about earlier? Well, I had built a 6 member team just for that project and was counting a lot on it. The client just absconded after the first release and we did not even get paid. The burden of paying those 6 employees was a pain and a deep hole in my pocket.
Geography – Since I started off in a second tier city, I could not hire well talented people. No techies lived here. And also, my client base was in Bengaluru. So I had to make frequent travels between places. Killed my time.
Build businesses that scale – I had built a highly non-scalable business. Enterprise User Experience was a niche. Remember, Enterprise design is different than Consumer design. There were not many designers in this area. The clients could not hire such designers is the first reason why they outsourced all of their work to me. When large corporations could not hire, hiring for me would be tougher. And sure it was tough. I never could find good people to work with. We simply could not scale our team.
Die, sooner the better – I never realized how un-scalable this business was. You cannot really make millions by running this show. I decided to kill it this year. I wish I had done the same 2 to 3 years ago. I would have got time to execute something else rather than running a rat race for survival.
Don’t spend too soon – Back in 2014, when we were at the peak of our journey, I bought another car. A bigger one this time. But today, that EMI is hurting me the most. So when you have money flowing in, better save it for the future. Do not spend too soon. Do not get complacent. The race is still on.
Plan your growth – A big mistake at the later part was we grew too fast. By August 2015, we had 3 offices. Bengaluru, Belgaum and Hubli. Running these operations was a headache. We got tons of projects, we executed none.
You should build a business, not a product – We built 3 kick-ass products that our users loved to use. The pilots were awesome. Yet, I could never sell them. I never understood marketing and sales.
Hang in there – Times will be tough. This is exactly the time, when you should not give up. Hold on to it. Remember what Rocky said, It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.
Right now, it’s just me and my current co-founder Siddharth. Yes, I have a co-founder now. We are trying to figure out the future. We are thinking of continuing working on UXgage.com and Firaa.me. Let’s see where the boat sails. Adventure 2 begins 🙂
We wish Vinayak a bright future ahead and that the ‘Rambo’ within himself; be with him always.