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Why you should bootstrap your startup

These days everyone is talking about startups and entrepreneurship. It is quite cool to start a company, build a product and get funded. I am writing this blog based on my own experiences that how I am able to run a company successfully for several years and why you too don't need a funding.

So you have decided that you want to start a company, it is a topic of another discussion and I will write more about it but you should always think twice, thrice and ten time before starting a company and you should have solid reasons for that. Now coming back to the topic why you should not take any funding and why you don't even need it in first place. One thing I feel is very important for all the wannabee entrepreneurs is to answer whether they are starting a company to gain something for themselves or to give back something to the community and society as a whole. In my case I had very strong reasons to start something on my own. I never got satisfaction (technical) in any company work wise. Except my last company my managers and colleagues in previous companies were not technically sound as I am and I never really enjoyed working in company of non intelligent/smart people. May be I am little harsh here but this is just the fact for me and I always wanted to do something cutting edge or at least do something were I have control over my work so eventually I know where my effort is going and the money that you earn working for someone is good and decent but there is always a saturation after few years. More than anything else I always wanted to do something on my own. May it is the way you are brought up. Money was never really the concern for me. I was earning decent salary and but I could never give my 101% on my job. For me starting a company was always about myself and personal gains. I never really wanted to do something for the world. I have always been quite selfish person. I do everything for myself. I could not imagine even now how people can spend 12 hours in traveling and working for years and they don't get much in return. They miss out time with their family and they sacrifice major part of their lives. I knew from the very beginning that I will eventually do everything for myself only.

So before you even think about getting funded you should have the reason to start a company very clear because getting funded depends on that reason.

Now why people seek funding. This is my opinion.

1. It is cool to get funded.
2. You will get respect from other after getting funded.
3. You need money to sustain your company.
4. You want to hire more people to work in your company.
5. You will get rich after getting funded.
6. You and your company will get famous

Technically all these seem like valid reason to seek funds but you should keep in mind that someone will give you money in return of control/stake of your company. You will not be free to do whatever you want. You will loose authority over your company.

For a moment lets go back to the reason why you want to start a company and for whom you want to do it and think again about these points above. Getting funded is sometimes really need because you may want to scale up your already running successful business but these days I see people think that will build something after getting funded. I think it is stupid to jump in the funding process with just an idea or prototype. Recently I also came across people who want to be like serial entrepreneurs, they want to start with an idea, develop prototype, launch and seek funding all within a span of few months and if that doesn't work, do everything again with a new idea. I think this is again very stupid. One should spent sometime in the market, at least few years. Nothing really happens in few months. When I met these people I ask them again the reason why they want to start the company in first place and they could not convince myself or even themselves. They just want to look cool.

I realised this a little late in my career that earning money is probably the easiest thing that one can do. If you have the skill then you will find a market for it. I think everyone who is working for someone as an employee and frustrated in life can do something outside their job to earn money and which is again starting a business only but you need a good reason to start a company. It is not like you wake up one day and start a business. Your reason to do something on your own should be very solid. In case you are not happy with your job then you probably need another job.

There is no shortcut
Do you know that I have worked in 10 companies in my career? I changed many jobs until I found the one that was somehow not bad for me and I stayed their for my last 6.5 years. I have been freelancing since my college days. I started taking small projects back in 2002, so when I started my company in 2010, I had already worked in the market for 8 years. I started with Visual Basic projects then Linux consultation and training and then I started doing Excel VBA work before moving to web development. I started working in 2003 and did job for almost 12 years. Starting from 2002 till 2015 for almost 13 years I was working almost 7 days a week, After my job hours, I would work on my projects and I got married, had kid and also managed to live a normal life but it required lot of discipline and extreme hard work. I had very strong reason to work hard continuously for 12 years. I sacrificed a lot, I hardly took family vacations and spent time with my friends but it was all worth it now. I did all this because I just wanted to reach a point where I can easily leave my job. May be in your case you need to give at least 5 years but I do not understand why people expect magic to happen in few months. There are no shortcuts. If you do not have the determination to work hard then you are probably better with your job. I did all this and gained a lot now. At this point of time I am of course generating more revenue, I have regular clients, big clients and we are the best in what we do. It took us 12+ years, so what. If I include my freelancing time then I am in the market for 14 years now. That is a lot of time.

Seeking funds in the very beginning is for losers who don't know what they want in life and they just want to follow others. You should first start a business, start generating revenues and seek funding only when you want to scale up. By the time you are running a company successfully you will probably not worry about getting funds. You will find ways to scale up yourself without external inflow of money. I am by no means highly successful business but being a 6 people company we are making quite an impact in the market, we are one of the most sought after Atlassian consultants in India and whole Asia pacific for that matter. We have been into Drupal development since the beginning and have developed expertise for Non Profit Organizations. All this is done by just 6 people. We do not have a fancy turnover to showcase to other but we are quite content and happy about our work. We are growing steadily revenue wise, client wise and we hire more people only when we really need to, not for the sake of it.

In the past I did have low time and thought of winding up everything and going back to comfortable job but I never could do that, not because I am emotionally attached to the company but because I am used to earning a lot more money in less time now. No job could pay me the money that I am earning now. I worked hard for it and I want to grow more from here now. I live a pretty humble life but I enjoy earning money. It gives me high and I feel good and happy. I may have become greedy but we have developed a skill set and people need us. So why not get the most out of it.

So coming back to the topic that you should think first about the reason to start a company and for whom you are doing it - yourself or for the society. One should take funds only after you are running a successful company but not in the beginning. You will loose the focus right in the very beginning. One should start with the ambition to learn something, one should focus on earning money from the very first year and stay in the market for few years then decide that do you really need more money or not. May be someone will give you money based on just an idea and a stupid prototype but it is like begging someone to support you. Why should you take money from someone when you don't exist anywhere in the market. I think one should stay in the market and run the company for at least 3-5 years before even thinking about getting funds. In Sparxsys we are primarily into services and we have had few successful products in the market, we will probably build more products this year too and based on my experience I don't think I will ever think about seeking funds. There is no fun in it for me. I find it shameful asking someone to give me money and finally one should learn about running a company. You run a company for 5 years and you will learn far more than any graduate from A grad business school.

If you want to get in touch with me to share your experiences then you can write to me at ravi [at] sparxsys [dot] com. May be we can learn from each other.

My top 10 goals for 2016

Ravi JIRA Training in Pune
I am trying lot of different things recently both in personal and professional life. Since last one and a half year I am taking my work not quite seriously. I work only 5 days a week and don't even open my laptop on weekends. This is working quite well for me. I feel much better now as I have less to worry. Working less doesn't mean less business. We are doing pretty good, my company Sparxsys is doing great and I am happy about it. Just that I am not to ambitious these days and I make small achievable targets. My idea is to feel good about whatever little I achieve and not set very high goals.

Last year was not very good health wise, I didn't go to gym regularly and I gained few kilos. This year I have made lot of plans for myself that may require giving up some pleasures but I know in the end it will be all worth it.

My 2016 plans

These are plans for this year. People say you should not share your plans with everyone but I don't know how sharing it with other stop me from achieving them.

1. Read 24 books
I recently purchase a Kindle and that is good enough reason to indulge myself in reading. I have been reading actively for the past few months but I need to speed up and read more books. 2 books per months seems like not difficult to me. I have created a new page to list all the books that I have read.

2. Get 6 pack abs
In past I have managed to built few packs but never really complete 6 packs. This year I have decided that it is now or never. Get back in shape and get at least 6 packs.

3. Less beer
I really like beer, may be I am addicted to it but I don't know why I have it almost everyday. I know it is not good, it adds fat to waist. This year I have decided that I will have it not more than twice a week, less is of course better.

4. Cycle and running twice per week
I own a road bike and recently purchased MTB too. I am planning to get more active on cycling and ride at least twice per week. I haven't been doing any running recently but now thinking of starting running twice per week.

5. Improve my public speaking skills
I do lot of corporate trainings and speaking in front of 50+ people continuously for 2-4 days is quite normal for me. I feel I can improve a lot here, it will no only help me professionally but personally I also want to become better speaker. I feel good when on stage and it give me high. I am thinking of joining Toast Masters club, I went to their session in the recent past and really liked it. Most likely I will join them as a member too.

6. Continue learning French
I joined french classes last year and I really learned a lot, this year I will continue to learn this language and I wish to converse with someone entirely in French this year. I joined one institute called Just French and it is quite good.

7. Learn guitar
I recently dusted off my old guitar and started practicing simple tunes by watching youtube videos but this year I want to learn from some professional. May be I will join some classes.

8. Grow my company
This year I want to scale up a little bit and grow my company. I want to increase my business both money wise and also want to grow my team. We are doing quite good but there should be hunger and desire to do even more. I want to keep that desire alive.

9. Start building a product and launch it
I have always been into service industry and our major company comes from service only but I really wish to build a product this year and launch it.

10. Write another book in 2016
I have to admit that writing a book and getting it published was one of the most satisfying experience in my life. I was quite happy when my book "Mastering JIRA" was published. This year too I plan to write another book. Writing a book is a wonderful way to learn something and also to share it with the world plus it really establishes your credibility in the market.

This is probably not the complete list, I have other things in mind too but these ten items are my top priority goals. All the actions that I take and all my work would be focused to achieve these goals and as you can see most of these are personal goals and some of the goals will help me both personally and professionally. I believe everyone should plan their life with written goals.

JIRA Training in Hyderabad, Chennai, Meeting old friends and traveling with one bag

Yeah I am back to writing blogs, I took a long break and I didn't really feel like writing much. Today I am actually writing during my work hours as I don't feel like working, in fact I am feeling guilty that I am not working but writing blog but that's ok. I have been working consistently hard for the past two months and I deserve to do little things that I like during my work hours :) I promise I will get back to work in 15 minutes.

Past two months were hectic and I was traveling a lot. I went to Hyderabad and made new clients there for JIRA consultancy work and I earlier this month I went to Chennai after several months and this time I liked begin there. May be the weather was surprisingly good. It rained when I landed in Chennai.

JIRA consultancy and training in Chennai

When I woke up and looked outside my hotel window I felt really nice. I spent few days in Chennai and unlike last time I went to different places to dine and enjoyed my time.

These days I am trying to revive contact with my old school and college friends. I realized that being social keeps you happy. I am still trying to organize a get together with my school buddies but over the past few months I met my college buddies after several years and it felt really good.

ASET College friends

Also I am learning new things. Recently I enrolled myself in French classes and I am thinking of understanding Agile methodologies in detail. I train companies on implementing JIRA Agile and over the years I have learned myself both SCRUM and KANBAN techniques. I have had several wonderful opportunities to work with several companies as a JIRA consultant. In the past 2 years my company Sparxsys has successfully implemented JIRA and other Atlassian tool many organizations and I feel really proud and little arrogant in saying that we are probably the best Atlassian consultants in India.

Recently I joined one workshop on Agile where they organized an exercise to build Leave Management System using Agile and I have to admit it was really a good session. I got some references from that workshop and I am thinking of doing some certification course on SCRM now.

Implementing Agile

The guy in the picture (unfortunately I forgot his name) works in HCL and the session he organized was wonderful. I will surely connect with him in near future. In fact many companies ask me to train their employees on SCRUM and it would be good to connect with good Agile trainers in Delhi NCR region.

What else?

I travel a lot these days for trainings and meeting clients for taking down their requirements and I feel really difficult to organize the travel. Book tickets, make hotel/cab arrangements and most importantly packing. I have now decided that I will travel with just one single backpack with everything I need. I am a great fan of Samsonite backpacks and I recently ditched my old Samsonite bag for a new one.

Samsonite Vizair backpack

The black bag on the left is Samsonite Vizair, it is bloody costly bag but it is an investment. I carry this bag to places and it keeps my laptop safe with shockers at the bottom and it has lot of spaces. I miss my old bag which was several nice pockets here and there but that bag sever me well for over 5 years and it started to torn from the edges. Although it still is in proper shape and I will probably use it for fun vacations.

You can buy this bag from Amazon. It is costly but as I said it is like a good investment and I plan to use it for the next 4 to 5 years for sure.

Phew, I am getting tired now after writing so much. Total I posted couple of blogs on my several sites and I feel good. Sometimes you are not sure about life's true purpose, in fact many people don't know what they want to do in life and everything seems out of control for them. I am not sure either as of now but I know for sure that writing is something that I love. Last year when I wrote my first published book "Mastering JIRA" I could not believe that I can really get something published. Now that I already have a book published I am thinking about writing more book in near future. It is like leaving a mark in the world :)

If you want to buy the book then click on the above link. I agree it is a bit costly but you can purchase the Kindle version :)

Have fun and stay happy!

How I usually start my new month (to increase the cash flow)

Every month in the beginning I take 3 empty page, write something on it and stick them in my room where I can see them everyday. What are these three pages?

Page 1: Pending Money
I don't have the luxury to hire an accountant or someone who can simply take care of collecting money for all the work that we guys do at sparxsys. At any given time we usually do 5-6 projects, sometimes more, sometimes less but we do have lots of projects which are in maintenance. Every month we need to ask our dear clients to pay us pending dues, that is important activity for us so that we can pay our salaries and cover our expenses. Every month I prepare a list of all such pending payments. The active projects priorities are also defined by how much cash flow is coming and from which client.

For instance there are two client. One is paying x amount for 2 month project and other is paying x amount for 1 month project, so obviouly we give more attention to the later. We make it very clear to the client that amount of money is directly proportional to the service and quality of work. Of course we never work below a certain limit.

Page 2: Open Leads
We always have projects in pipeline and many people contact us regularly, either for Drupal services or JIRA Training. Getting new projects and making new clients is also important. It also ensures that we have plenty of work that will pay for our expenses. Now sometimes we do get lazy on this aspect but as a business owner who need to make sure that business is coming otherwise the company will eventually fail.

Page 3: Daily Time Table
I follow a well defined time table everyday, expect when I need to meet someone. I divide my day into various slots and each slot is dedicated to my work based on their priorities and more importantly the value they bring to the company and every month I spend some time thinking about what activity need to be done at what time, so I can utilize my time wisely and have a productive day in the end. I keep improvising my daily schedule a bit but I always keep some uninterrupted time only for myself that is usually 3AM to 6AM in the morning when no one calls me. I don't check emails or browse the net. I disconnect internet sometimes during this time too. Rest of the day can never be planned ahead. A new client could ask you to meet or people will call us.

Running a company is not easy. In the end the cash flow matters, especially in service industry where we work under pressure. We just work 4.5 days a week and this has only been possible because we plan ahead with great precision.

Never ever work without a written contract

Contract

I formally started Sparxsys in March 2010. I am just an engineer by education and never really learned anything about managing a company or a team. There are specialized courses like MBA for such stuff, I do feel sometimes about not knowing all these things when starting out, but I know from my experience that you can always learn it in the field and that learning is life long.

Today I want to share something I learned.

At Sparxsys we are currently into Drupal development services and JIRA trainings. This post is all about software services and how you should deal with clients. In web development services client will share the requirements of what they want to build. May be they are looking for a web portal or some web based application. Over the year I have learned so many things about requirement gathering where you understand the client's requirements and store them in written format, finalize it and offer a solution to the client. This is better known as Business Analysis, I am not an expert on this topic and I don't want to be, but I can definitely share my experience here. This post is not about on how to do requirement gathering, probably I will write another post on it but I want to share how to deal professionally with your clients. It will give you peace of mind and also make sure you are safe legally.

Never ever work without signed contract
You know what I mean. When you start your own company, you may not know about these things, I didn't know too, there is no one who can guide you well. You can't afford to hire lawyers, they are a**holes anyways. What I have learned in all these years is that contract is just a paper where you write what all X number of services your company will offer in return of Y amount of money in Z many days or months. Don't worry about fancy language, it could be in simple English that everyone understand. As you grow your clients you can improvise this contract.

Your contract should have.

  • Amount
  • Attach the finalize proposal that contains the list of features
  • Deadlines/Timelines of deliverable
  • Payment Schedule
  • Termination clause
  • Penalty for non delivery
  • Penalty for non payment or on time payment

Make two copies of the contract, both parties should sign it and keep it with them. Also mention in the contract that additional features or any changes will require separate discussion and will be treated as change request. After certain point of time your client will say that "I want this feature too" or "You promised that and didn't deliver it". You can always refer to this contract to remind your client about your initial agreement. Of course this contract is for both the parties. Your client can also refer to this document if you don't actually deliver what you promised. More importantly it will give you peace of mind and that really means a lot, at least to me personally. Nobody wants to get into legal matters and in case of disagreement court cases are worst thing to do but having a document will ensure that you have clearly written down your offerings. In most cases this is just enough. We never really had a situation we had major disagreement with client and signing a contract is something that we always do.

I did make several mistakes where I didn't ask the client to sign the contract and due to that had conflicts later on. Client can refer to the conversation you had long time back but if it is not written and signed then it is not part of the agreetment.

There are few other things that I want to share with everyone. Nothing related to the contract. Just my experience.

Never do any personal favors to your clients
Your client may ask you to do some favor like "creating a website for their wife", "Add this feature for free", "Setup this for free".

Never do anything for free. Personally I know and can do lot of different things. I am quite comfortable in server manangement. I know hardware stuff really well. I am also good in excel. I am comfortable working on linux, windows and mac. Overally I have good technical understanding of things, thanks to my experience of over 11 years as of 2014 but that doesn't mean I will do thing for free. Usually client's ask me for favors all the time. I define favors as something that you can do without charging money. Usually I say no to things I don't specialize in, even if I know how to do it but more importantly I know from my experience that people don't respect for things that they get for free. I have done lot of favors to people and now after bad experiences I have learned that people don't remember these favors.

Money is all you should care about
You will hear and ready everywhere that people want to start business because they want to do something good for the society or world, that is bullshit. I believe that you should first care about yourself. Business is all about making money. I have no hesitations in saying that I need to get paid really well. Of course that also means that I will provide good service to my clients and always be honest with them, but whatever decisions I make are always oriented towards making profits, otherwise there is no point of doing business. I guess it is true for everyone but people don't want to openly accept it.

  • Never hesitate about asking money
  • For small to medium project, at least take 60% advance
  • Do not start work until payment is received

I want to emphasis on the last point. Client might agree to the payment and payment terms but never believe them when they ask you to start the work and payment would be made in few days. You will make clients for a long time, be strict when it comes to the timely payment, otherwise client will take you for granted. I made this mistake intially and that resulted in late payments by several months, during that time client will also add new features and knowing that your earlier payment is due, you will be under pressure to accept that. So be strict about the payments from the very beginning.

Client's are not your friends
Never ever make friends with your clients. Ocassionally socializing with them is ok, May be you can go out with them for lunch or drinks but I personally avoid it all the times. The more you become casually with them the more your business will suffer. In my case, being a very small company client's usually interact with me, right from the very beginning till the final delivery, and even during the support. Right now I can't really afford to have multiple people taking care of various departments in our company. I do multiple roles like sales, business analysis, project management, accounting and client support. Clients know that and they also know that I am the owner/founder of the company and have most of the decision making powers. So just keep your interaction with them very formal.

and finally..

Prefer formal wear when meeting clients
People make judegments by looking at you. This may seem like a small thing but the way you dress up does give a strong message to the people you deal with. You don't want to hand over an Invoice of Rs. 2 Lakh to your client wearing a torn jeans and t-shirt. I hope you get the message. In winters I even wear blazers, of course it is not comfortable but it is all about the money!

These are just things I wanted to share based on my experience. I am no way an expert but have learned from my mistakes. Hope it helped you. You can always reach me at ravi at sparxsys dot com to share your experience. I will be glad to know how you guys are doing these things. We can always learn from each other.

Good bye and have a great day!

P.S. - I will soon share the sample contracts and other legal documents in this blog.

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