This is my third entrepreneurial innings. With the first, I managed to create a bootstrapped world leader called TWB or The Writers Block that serviced the largest Fortune 500 B2B tech leaders in the world. TWB made money from the 1st month and grew on its own cash flow. The next 2 startups, which I did not choose, are called TWB_ (called TWBShift, essentially TWB2.0) and VOSD.
After 10 yrs of creating a world-class company TWB_’s fall was terrifying and total. In less than 6 months I was the only employee left in the company, from a few hundred earlier. And I had lost all offices, bank accounts, phone numbers even web servers as every rupee was employed to repay. As lenders moved in, employees and customers left. Some of that fightback is the subject of the TEDx talk here. The choices I had to make, the pain and the resurgence while interesting and with a hundred priceless lessons is not the subject of the talk today though.
What IIM Bangalore grads wanted was a view on how to help create this large enterprise to help dogs. The case study is not your average startup situation though. You don’t make a business plan, find friends and family, then angel investors then try to get yourself funded on a blue ocean dream. This is a knife fight and you’ve your hands tied.
Soon after TWB_ went down both my company and personal bank accounts were closed – and no the banks don’t ask you. There was no way for me to find any money. I’ve seen a time when I could only find private loans at 25% pa for a year — where you pay the interest upfront! And then when things sank further I had to find still more — which I got at 1% per day! For ₹ 1 Cr that is ₹ 1 lac a day. These are the kind of guys you watch the movies about – they don’t ask you to sign anything to give me money but you can’t not pay nor delay. If anyone’s has watched “The Girl In Yellow Boots” the local Kannada hudga at Kalki Koechlin’s doorstep is a pretty accurate picture of what I refer to. If you thought VCs are ruthless people you should meet one of these. They don’t threaten you with a term sheet and diluting your equity to put it mildly.
The problem definition
Could you turn around and start delivering on a $100 Million business plan from there with a revenue run-rate of ₹ 4 crores in Y1?
THE LIABILITY SIDE
- You’re the only person in your company. You’ve liquidated all assets. You’ve no address, your emails don’t work your website doesn’t either.
- You’ve got debt that runs into millions of US$. Banks agree to reschedule over a 3-4yr term but sundry creditors they want it all now — at one time together it peaked at ₹ 35-40 lacs a month.
- No matter what you pay back each month you got to find ₹ 10-15 lacs each month for your dogs – that is non-negotiable. They got to eat and they got to have medical care.
THE ASSET SIDE
- You still have a brand (TWB) that means something to customers – you can only deliver on what is not capital intensive and really high margin. TWB_ today focuses on the highest margin business.
- You have terrific goodwill with VOSD (the world’s largest no-kill dog sanctuary & rescue) – you could leverage that to create revenue streams provided you did not have to invest at all!
- You have an individual with exceptional branding talent — for a period of the first 2 yrs. She could allow you to rebrand and make a fresh new identity that still builds on what worked in the past.
- You have an individual with terrific marketing and technical/program management capability — for the next 2 yrs. You can rebuild your go to market assets. But you can’t do both.
- Phase 1 (first 2 yrs) of our execution was branding and short-term revenue. Phase 2 (next 2 yrs) was rebuilding the infrastructure and basic teams and assets to launch.
- TWB is already finding the run rate we had the 1st time and I expect Y2 to be the same top-line where we left off 4 yrs ago. In other words, we will do in 2 yrs what we took 10yrs the 1st time!
- VOSD has created a portfolio of multiple sub-brands some driving engagement some driving revenue but all focussed on dogs. This includes VOSD DOG CARE a complete dog care brand available nationally. BARKING MAD – India’s largest for charity standup property. MONSTER BAKE – India’s largest for charity bake sales. ART FOR DOGS that brings together India’s top artists. STARS FOR DOGS – that brings together India’s biggest celebrities for a cause.
So how do you start creating a $100 Million business on a negative $5million base with 0 people? Answer: With ingenuity & gumption. When you can’t employ money and timing in business you apply ingenuity and fortitude and we’ve done that in spades. I’m still bootstrapped other and than those 4yrs I’ve always been cashflow positive – from Month 1. How’s that for a fightback?