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Start-ups: Here's how you must handle failures

By Hari Ganapathy
Last updated on: October 05, 2015 18:42 IST
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Every start-up faces issues -- people may quit, you may incur losses, your idea will fail even before it hits the market.

What do you do then? How do you steer clear of your failures and move forward?

Startups: What sets you apart from the rest?

Survivor. That's what I'd like to call myself.

It's been 18+ months into my first venture and while the journey has been a rollercoaster ride, there is always this fear that you are not moving fast enough.

I thought I would pen down what helped us -- a bootstrapped team of 20 with customers from over 14 countries with zero marketing cost – move this far.

Execution is key. Team matters. Razor-sharp focus.

Learn from your consumers. Fail fast. Pivot. Cash in on the VC wave. Raise money when you don't need it.

These are some of the most often used terms that one hears at events, in articles on entrepreneurship or from entrepreneurs themselves.

It is true that these statements have a high co-relation with a start-up's success.

But, having seen entrepreneurs from much closer quarters and having survived 18 months myself, I think there are a few unstated qualitative aspects that have an equal if not higher impact on the start-up's success.


It starts during your starting up stage.

Many of us are scared to share ideas with friends or bounce them off on colleagues.

A start-up is a leap of faith. And a leap of faith without trust is like swimming with a life jacket.

As you build a company, you will have to delegate tasks sooner than later.

The natural extension to delegation is letting others think for you and your company and trusting them with your company's success.

This can be the make or break: you will have to choose between micro managing every design, decision or sales call and letting things be completely in a person's control. Blessed are those who are able to find that fine balance.

A large part of a company's success is how well the founder is able to build a trust equation with the team.


Running a start-up requires you to continuously be at it.

In the face of adversity, failure and social pressure, having the sheer grit and determination to turn up everyday at work and inspire folks to reach their goals is easier said than done.

If you keep at it long enough, you either build enough momentum to cross the potential barrier, or find an idea that will help you pivot and tunnel through the barrier.

I like the latter; maybe because it's the closest scientific explanation to a very Indian habit: jugaad!


You need to be patient with people. You might want to hire the best person out there, but getting that person is not so easy.

Even if you have hired A-type folks, you need to give them some time.

A change of job/scenario is not easy to get used to. And if you are a funded start-up, you would also have to manage investor expectations on both hiring speed and productivity.

The longer you take to hire a candidate, more are the chances of you making a desperate hire.

And the tricky thing with wrong hires is that Ctrl+Z is quite a laborious task.

So when it comes to people, don't treat them like lines of code; develop empathy and you will see your hiring quality improve.

The same applies to your own goals, be it revenue, product releases etc.

It's important that you realise that when you are moving from zero to 100 kmph, you will have to cross 20, 40, 60 and 80 kmph and have patience as you cross those milestones.

My heuristic for timelines: about a quarter for the sales/business development folks (lesser if from a similar industry), about a month for designers and any specalised (finance, technology, Quality Assurance) kind of roles.


Do you know this guy (actor Dhanush)?

For those who don't know who he is, this guy is now the biggest grosser in the current breed of South Indian actors.

He has diversified to become a producer, singer and has acted with Amitabh Bachchan as well.

The one thing that most people who know him would vouch for is his dedication to work.

It's a classic case of rags to riches.

Often, we attribute someone's success to luck. But what gets discounted in that argument is the kind of effort that goes behind the success.

I believe a lot of our luck is what we create and while its easy to attribute one's success to luck, it's also important that we realise that failure is not equal to lack of luck.

In fact, failure is the most probable outcome for any start-up.

So in case you fail, you have reached the natural outcome!

Types of Luck

Chance I is completely impersonal; you can't influence it.

Chance II favours those who have a persistent curiosity about many things coupled with an energetic willingness to experiment and explore.

Chance III favours those who have a sufficient background of sound knowledge plus special abilities in observing, remembering, recalling, and quickly forming significant new associations.

Chance IV favours those with distinctive, if not eccentric, hobbies, personal lifestyles, and motor behaviours.

What can we do to be lucky?

How uniquely are we developing a personal point of view -- a personal approach

How flexible and aggressive are we at synthesising?

How curious are we?

How energetic are we?

The author Hari Ganapathy is co-founder of PickYourTrail -- a platform for personalised vacations.

Lead image used for representational purposes only. Image: Arko Dutta/Reuters

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Hari Ganapathy