21 Feb

72 hours that killed me 72 times as a founder

Every breath I take seems so much lighter, so special, so real and so complete. If you had passed through the last 72 hours, as I did, at any point of your journey as a Startup Founder, then you would know what it feels to die 72 times, at least once every hour. This read for you is my way of locking every single feel at this point, till the final moment and maybe for all those who come across this after I have passed on.

This story started few months back, to be exact, soon after our annual mega event, Demo Day in Dec 2017, the board of Startups Club went for an off-site one-day session to brainstorm and bring a plan that defines the next 12 months for the company. It was at this off-site meeting, when the discussions started. We as a company driven by its community of Pioneers & regular Members had successfully pulled off a super impactful event/year. It was time to bring more value to our members, our Pioneers. So there started talks of launching a subscription model for our members that will enable us to offer a more complete package; a well curated end-to-end solution kit for our 0 to 3 year old entrepreneurs.

Initially, I was excited, super excited are the words. I took up the ownership of creating this model and launching it by 1st of April with guidance and close support from our mentor/advisor/investor. So began the journey. By the time we had got the 5th iteration of the offerings, we had literally got the sun, skies, moon, stars and every thing around it on paper, trying to create the best of it all. We had floated forms to members, we did a quick study with the community, in the process, we already had some signed up members, with no clear offering, the pressure was building up. Add to it, as if I had less things going on in my thoughts, our mentor, decides to prepone the launch date, it was now 1st March instead of 1st April..

So, here we were, just 1 week away from the launch date, all backend process and structures in place, team training initiated, resources being picked, the stage is getting ready; and here I am... The founder, the community builder, the people's person, totally down and unhappy. The more I looked at the offerings and the excel sheet, I got even more low... Something was happening inside me... I had no clue what it was. I kept asking myself, I am the one who is kicked about things, I am the motivator for myself and for the community, the team, the management and to every entrepreneur, who comes within 3 steps of me. Why is it that I was not able to motivate myself here. What the hell was missing???

With that started the dreadful but the most defining 72 hours. It was decided last week, that our mentor would sit with me and the whole team for one last time before we officially launch the plan. The date was fixed. I suddenly froze. That was the moment, I knew it was no more planning. I had no more reasons to give for my, not so good feeling within. It was like, you have had symptoms, you have your doubts, you go test yourself and you wait for the report to arrive. It is when you have that report in your hand, you know you have to open it. You already know that all your symptoms point towards cancer. But all this time, it was just a doubt but in this next minute, it will be for real. That minute, it hits you, what it feels to see death in the face. Exactly that way, the moment the date of launch to the team was fixed, I knew it was time, there was no more space left for hope or doubt. It was to face the death of something that you believed in so much; that you lived your last decade for; something you succeeded with so beautifully over the last 5 years; that you were to play a key role in seeing it die. I stopped breathing normally, and the countdown clock showed 72 hours.

As a Startup Founder, as a leader, your life becomes less yours and more your company's, your team's, your member's, your user's. So when the sun rises, you become a machine. The day starts pulling you forward, your targets and deadlines start ruling your hours; your challenges start capturing every thought. You are no more you. You are a founder of a startup. This is exactly what happened to me. But I was not normal. My closest team members noticed it. I would loose my shit without reasons, I would be on the edge all the time, I would laugh and have fun at times and be a totally unrealistic nasty boss at others. They were at a loss of words and reasons. The feeling within me was as if I was about to loose every single thing I had collected as precious to me. But Why??? What was so wrong about this situation, was something I was not able to put my finger on??

Night 1: I realised that now, it had gone too far. I had a responsibility towards my team and my company, I could not become what I was becoming. Especially not now. So I decided to question myself. The one things that I have always told our members and I have followed myself religiously (thanks again to my mentor) is NUMBERS DON'T LIE TO YOU, EVER... So, I opened my excel sheet, which stated the offerings, costs and the full year projections of the same. It was around 10 pm when I started. The first few hours, I kept staring at it, did not know what I was looking for. I just knew there was something I was missing.. The first night, totally 6 hours of staring at the sheet, playing with numbers, increasing the targets, reducing them and every thing around it. Yet, the feeling was not going away and it was getting worse for sure.

Sunrise... Founder Robot was back in action...

Night 2: Opened my sheet again, why? Do not know.. What was I looking for? Do not know... How am I going to find a solution?? No bloody clue, I did not know the problem, in the first place... Solution was a far-off thing... The pain in my chest, worse, the feeling of loss, worse, the need to fight for whats right, super strong... This night, I went on to the offerings sheet... I stared at it, kept staring... Suddenly, I heard voices in my head... I was alone in my flat... I looked around, I got scared too. I switch on music to chase away the emptiness... I still heard voices, its the mentoring sessions I have had for hours and hours with thousands of entrepreneurs, their challenges, their passion, those entrepreneurs, who have travelled without a seconds thought to meet me. Those members, who have within seconds, pulled out their debit cards and made payments just to spend 15 minutes with me. I heard those voices, I heard them clearly now. I know what they need... I know exactly what they do not have in this eco-system, I know what makes them go on. I know it all... My eyes filled with tears, I really... I really cried for my entrepreneurs...

I want to help them, I want to be the change that can make them achieve their dreams. I am wept like a baby at 4 am alone in my flat, thinking about the entrepreneurs and their challenges... I wiped my eyes, I was scared to death now, what has happened to me, I am just a founder of a Startup. I am just a human. I am not anything else. I stared at the laptop screen, that excel sheet with the offerings stared back at me. I looked at it with teary eyes, I saw my problem, that list did not have what my entrepreneurs needed. I looked at it, as if it was my enemy, it was my cancer, now I had to fight out. But I had found my problem. It was now a question of finding the solution and in the next 24 hours before my mentor sits with the team. I was at war... Sunrise...

My co-founder called me in the morning, as always, but I talked to him like a dead soul. Something had happened last night. If I chose to go back to being the Robotic Founder, pulled into the day to day needs of a company, I will loose precious time, my thought process and my need to find a solution within my time. I cut him off, I put a facebook status, "in a dark place" I wanted to be left alone. I had to fight this out..

I reached office, my ear phone are my only piece of armour towards keeping me away from the people, challenges and things around. I do that... By this time, my team, knew there is some big shit happening in my head, they had seem my FB status as well, so they gave me a sweet and simple greeting and move on. They stayed away... I was happy, they were smart people, they knew me... One of the team member came in, Sreejit, he knows me closely. He dared to take a step in, he wanted his way in, he told me, "Ma'am, I know your thinking something, I want to be with you in your dark space." I warned him like hell, I told him, he will be burnt. It is too much for him to take, I scared that kid so much, he volunteered to be my gate keeper, keeping every one out and letting me be where I was. Smart Kid...

As morning turned to noon, I was giving up, I knew the problem, I was not getting the solution. So I start finding closure. I start reducing my revenues, I was looking at the worst case now! If our members do not like what is offered, we will have lesser revenues, so lets be ready to reduce the numbers, the targets... I did not feel good. I, as the founder, am not a quitter, I am not the one who gives up, I am the growth hacker, my members see. I train them to hack their growth an lead by example. I do not get to choose an escape route now and if I do, I will never ever be able to look into my member's eyes and ask him/her to hack his/her growth aggressively. I am not a quitter..

I sat in office at 8 pm, I did not want to go home, I was scared the night was going to become morning again and I was nowhere close to a solution. Finally, I left... I reached my flat, I hated myself, what kind of a mentor was I? How did I reach here that I was not able to give my entrepreneurs, the support I promised. I threw the keys on the dining table, threw my laptop bag on the floor and hit the bed face first... I hated myself. Suddenly, I got scared, what if my laptop had hit the floor hard, I really cannot handle another issue now, I jumped up, open my laptop bag and switch on my laptop. It switched on and the first document my eyes caught on the desktop was that excel sheet. Kill Me please....

I opened it, like reflex action, unconscious of what I was doing. I looked at the offerings, my founder called, he had just met with an investor and he was so kicked about how that investor was kicked about Startups Club! He was talking, I was not listening, I was staring at the sheet. He went on and on, I did not feel like stopping him, because I have already been very rude to him over the past 3 days, so I let him speak... I keep staring at my sheet, suddenly something came up. Within a second, I hung up the phone and I was on it. I was getting somewhere.

I was now looking at the offerings, not from Startups Club's point of view, not from a founder's point of view, but from all those entrepreneur's voices that I heard last night. I start typing, structuring and in 5 minutes, I had the new list of offerings... I looked at it... I knew it... Those voices died out, things were calm, I knew it, in the end, my entrepreneurs will have what Startups Club / I promised them. I could see the SOLUTION staring back at me with a smile.

The next minute, my life was mine again, I could live again... I was excited for the morning... I danced my way around in my flat all alone, called my founder, shared it with him and he loved the offering. I went on the team WhatsApp group, told them that we had our Subscription Model for Memberships ready and I am back... The whole team wanted to know more, but I wanted to see them, hug them, thank them, cry with them, laugh with them and dance it out with them.

Startups Club was set to launch its first of its kind Subscription Model for Memberships exclusively for 0 to 3 years old Startup / Entrepreneurs.

Let us die another day, founders...