Lessons From My Failed Startups

I’ve spent much of the last ~4 years trying to build a company of my own and, for the most part, have failed to do so.While it doesn’t matter what has kept me from succeeding, I’d like to share it with fellow entrepreneurs so they avoid pitfalls and get a more authentic picture of the entrepreneurship journey.Although I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of getting funded, I’ve chosen to stick to being a bootstrap.

How I Started

Roughly from 11th standard, I’ve been active and serious about blogging. My first blog was about WordPress themes and plugin reviews. I started blogging on Blogspot, a free blogging platform, moved to WordPress, and in 3 months, tried a plethora of plugins and themes.

I figured, I’ve tried so many themes and plugins, I can probably write reviews helping others to make the selection process better.

It was around this time that I was introduced to affiliate marketing.

I made a second blog and started with amazon affiliate marketing. Then slowly moved into affiliate marketing of web hosting, VPN, and other internet software.

This was happening while I was still in my final school year. I was making an excellent income from the above-mentioned internet projects.

It was around this time that I became serious about the idea of pursuing entrepreneurship. I was super happy that I finally found a career at such a young age.

But I quickly realized I could not run a company entirely focused on affiliate marketing. I needed a more active and frequent source of income.

I’d been writing my own blogs for over 2 years now, and it would be good if I started offering content writing services.

With this, I started a content writing company which quickly grew, given how good I was at networking. I also moved to offer SEO packages.

At this point, I got so occupied with the agency that my projects were neglected. They still made a profit, but it was declining ever so slightly.

Starting with literally $0

Things were good, and I was preparing to save cash flow to invest in paid ads. All growth till now was from SEO & networking.

I had a steady supply of revenue and was getting new project offers without even trying for them. Things were looking perfect until I got an ulcer.

You have to understand that I was juggling things near the break-around point.

Getting paid by a client, paying the writers, and saving the amount left in the middle. It wasn’t much, but I had plans to hire a full-time writer and increase the margin I was keeping.

My little savings were burned up when I was in the hospital for an ulcer.

I came out after ~3 weeks with nothing left in my bank account and in no shape to work.

My family is okay with me not going to college and working on my startup, but they weren’t so sure about supporting me financially, and to be honest, I wasn’t confident about taking their money either.

I had to build everything from scratch -literally!

And thus began a series of mistakes I made

Mistake 1: Rented an office without saving 5-6 months of running expenses

I returned to the agency and picked up some content writing & SEO clients.

I got paid a couple times and had exactly one month’s rent.

At that time, I had a friend who wanted to be a co-founder for this agency. So I thought that’s it!

I have one month’s rent, he’ll have some savings, and we can begin working on it.

So with all my hopes high, I went in and rented an office near my home.

Only to be surprised by my friend backing out at the last time.

But renting an office came with a lot of unplanned surprises. I was out of saved-up money in starting 2 weeks.

I had no other option but to join a job.

From then to 3 months, all I did was work on the Job to make enough money to pay rent. During the day, I worked at this translation firm and on my own startup at night, trying my level best to have enough clients to make ~6 months’ worth of running income.

But, I got exhausted and ended up quitting both the office & the Job.

My idea was to entirely focus on agency and work from my parent’s home.

Lesson 1: Calculate how much money you need to run an office. Write down all running expenses. Double them to find the actual running cost. Ideally, you should have months’ worth of running expenses before renting a space.

Mistake 2: Mail Verification Company I got involved with

After leaving my first Job, I started working more proactively at my agency.

Things started to build up again. I was picking clients primarily from my landing page ranking via SEO.

One such client I got was an email verification tool.

I have always been interested in working on SaaS tools, and this project was in the starting stages. The founder let me work on crucial parts like finalizing developers for further tool development and much more apart from SEO.

One day she came up with an offer that I should join her as co-founder.

This also was a joyful moment for me.

I started working on the project with as much energy as I had then.

The founder then got into a relationship with this lawyer, who started to interfere in the project a little too much.

I was being poked for small things, and I started feeling more like a marketing employee than a co-founder.

It was clear that his boyfriend wasn’t fond of me. Since he was a lawyer, he added more and more legal things to the contract.

My limit was met when I was told I’ll have to report everything to them. It felt like I was a marketing employee, not a co-founder. It also didn’t help that the contract stated I’ll have no access to the company’s bank account.

One day I decided I had enough and finally walked out of the company.

It was such a heavy feeling to work on a project, to give so much to a project, work on it 24/7, and then be forced to walk out of it.

Lesson 2: Do not become a project co-founder if the cause is a shortage of money. Do not stay in a startup if you don’t feel respected.

Mistake 3: Agency Management Company I got involved with

This mistake overlaps with the second mistake.

While working on the email verification tool, I also got pitched an idea for an agency management tool.

I started working on this project too.

But things didn’t go well with this project either.

I still, to this day, wonder why the project couldn’t take off because I really wish things should have worked out.

It might have been a mistake from my end, the other 2 co-founders, or a mix of both, but I am not sure.

The tool wasn’t finished, and I was asked to deliver paying clients. I couldn’t explain my points clearly, and the project collapsed.

Lesson 3: Too many cooks spoil the dish. If there are too many founding members/co-founders. The chance of cracks forming really soon is really high. If I had shared the same bond as the other two co-founders shared, I might have been able to explain my points better.

Back to 0$

With two failed projects, I was back to having nothing working.

I had invested all my time and energy into these projects and wholly ignored agency and affiliate projects.

When these projects collapsed, so did my savings.

I was again on a two-way road deciding whether to focus on projects or get a job.

As much as I wanted to work on my projects and build things up, time was not in my favor.

I had a job while working on these two projects, but I quit in hopes of the projects turning out soon.

I hadn’t attended college, and my friends who did had a lot to show for it; I only had a couple failed startups. I had no other option but to quickly find a way to generate money.

Besides this, I needed money to grow the agency and other affiliate projects, money that I didn’t have.

And so one more time, I joined a company as their SEO Manager.

I am in a loop of trying to make & save enough money to focus on my startup and then not getting enough time from my Job to work on my startup to make any money from startup.

What I’ve learned till now: Bootstrap is much more complicated than getting funded.

The social media content you consume around entrepreneurship applies only to funded startups. I’ve seen reels like “focus on what to become after 10 years” as much as it’s music to ears, it’s not feasible for someone like me who needs to pay rent, hosting expenses, and employee salaries in 30-day cycles. I HAVE to focus on what can bring in money right now.

If you’re someone working a day job and dream of becoming an entrepreneur, you have to let go of something:-

  1. family life
  2. friend circle
  3. health
  4. love life

You can’t have all of these or, in many cases, either. You can pick a Job, work on a startup, and maybe 2 of these at max.

I’ve come to understand that in this journey, I am not buying anything other than time. I am essentially buying their time if I hire someone since I don’t have enough.

I have limited hours a day, and I can only spend them working on limited things.

If you have a day job, it’s 12 hours gone adding work hours, commute, & wind-down time. Sleeping is another 8 hours ( given that you’re sleeping well ). 12+8=20 hours. 24-20= 4 hours left.

In these 4 hours, you can either hit the gym, work on your startup, talk to your family members/ spend time with them, hang out with your friends, party, or have time for your girlfriend-friend.

You have to choose your time wisely if you’re building a startup alongside a day job.

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