I’m not sure where this road will lead, but I am excited to find out.
By Mili Mittal (Co-Founder & CEO, mor.sl)
I was on the phone with my 13-year old niece today. She recently launched her own jewelry website and 4 days post-launch was deflated by the fact that she had no customers. I’d been dreading this call.
She’d had hopes of instant success. And it’s no wonder — with all the hype about entrepreneurship these days, it seems that anyone can get customers, get bought, or get funded “overnight”. The hype is false. The media tends to leave out the arduous tale of toiling and pivoting that most startup founders go through before they “make it.”
Here’s my tale (still in progress!) and some of the big lessons I’ve learned so far.
Lesson #1 – Dive In.
I left my cushy IT consulting job in Washington, DC to study entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley. As a busy MBA student recently diagnosed with asthma, I wasn’t working out the way I used to and started gaining weight. I was sick of eating out all the time, but didn’t feel like I had the time to plan and cook satisfying meals at home.
Turned out my friends felt the same way. It was a problem worth solving – for our health, our wellness, and our wallets.
I built an all-MBA (and coincidentally, all female!) team, and after several months of rapidly prototyping and pivoting our business model, we graduated. Most of the team scattered. Two of us proceeded, turning down 6-figure MBA salaries to build our vision. I put in my own money, and we proceeded to take the plunge.
Lesson #2 – Be Flexible.
I planned to get a work-from-home consulting gig, move into a nice apartment in the city, and work on mor.sl simultaneously. No job came, so instead I made an office out of my sister’s basement in the burbs. I knew we had to get a site up immediately, but we didn’t know how to code.
I built a 20-page technical specs document and spent midnight hours on Yahoo! IM and Skype vetting developers in India, whispering so as not to wake my sister and her husband.
I found a partner in Dashfire, and they started building our vision — well, the fraction of it that we could afford to build. Plans change!
Lesson #3 – Do what YOU Can.
While the coders coded, the MBAs launched a food blog, iterated on financial models and started developing recipes.
I spent my days cooking and learning from two incredibly generous and talented food photographers who made my then-boyfriend-now-fiance’s kitchen into a studio.
I took meetings with big companies, naively believing they’d partner with us. They didn’t. But I kept doing what I could.
Lesson #4 – Build the Right Team.
Several (somewhat agonizing) months later, we had a website! Now what? I couldn’t afford to keep outsourcing, but despite countless interviews with arrogant pricks off Craiglist, we had no technical co-founders.
Things got worse: around this time, my partner expressed desires of moving on. Could I go it alone? I wasn’t sure. But I was determined to go.
I put a desperate plea out to my friends asking if they knew anyone, and, lo and behold, the universe presented me with not one, but two technical co-founders – Graham and Tony. They were neither arrogant nor pricks. Instead, they were eager and brilliant.
Lesson #5 – Be Persistent.
New life was breathed into the company. Based on user feedback from our alpha site, Graham, Tony and I rebranded, rebuilt and redesigned. We’d never met in person. We set ambitious goals and consistently missed our target deadlines. I got mad. So did they. It was tough. But we were tougher. We hung in there, believing fully in our vision.
Lesson #6 – Be Patient.
It might not have happened overnight, but several months later, mor.sl launched as a personalized recipe recommendations engine. One month later, we were featured in TechCrunch and, more recently, in Mashable. A few months later, we’ve seen great traction, have raised enough to keep going and have accepted a place in one of the top startup accelerators in the country. I’m not sure where this road will lead, but I am excited to find out.
I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It’s for anyone, though.
Anyone who wants it badly enough, anyone who has an idea worth fighting for, anyone who can be creative and persevere. Your own company may or may not happen overnight, (it may or may not “happen” at all!), but your entrepreneurial journey will undoubtedly be the most personally (and hopefully professionally) rewarding journey of your life.
Who cares if it takes longer than expected? Who cares if you don’t fail fast enough? That journey is worth experiencing, for as little or as long as you care to.
“Be comfortable in your skin. This is your journey,” I said to my niece. “Yes, the road will get harder. But your skin will grow tougher and your heart will grow fuller. In the end, that is a better reward than any overnight success.”
I returned to my kitchen, again reminded to savor every morsel of my own venture.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Mili Mittal is Co-Founder and CEO of mor.sl, a personalized recipe recommendations platform. mor.sl uses a fun quiz to learn your tastes, allergies and cooking skill level and a powerful algorithm to match you with recipes from its curated collection. Prior to launching mor.sl, Mili was an IT consultant at the Corporate Executive Board. Mili and her fiancé reside in Washington, D.C., where they cook, eat and photograph gourmet meals on a budget. Follow her on Twitter at @morsl.