A first-time entrepreneur from India with big ambitions talks about what she’s learned on her startup journey so far. 

By Divya Sornaraja (Founder, Pith, Inc.)

So, I’ve started my first company…

I am 24 and an electrical engineer with the belief that tools like knowledge, money, power, authority, connections, etc. need to be in the hands that can make the best use of them to build a better tomorrow: a tomorrow that future generations will cherish.

I took my first big step to accomplish my mission of building a company that has integrity in addition to impacting a few billion lives. As naïve as this might sound, I decided not to give a damn about what the rest of the world might think about my vision. I realized that the more I care about what others think of me, the more I lose a part of myself. So, here I am being that tough woman who does what she wants.

So, apart from ranting, I am sharing some of my learning since I started up:

Take the First Step: Build it

Ideas are cheap. Everyone can say “I have an idea to ‘revolutionalize’ world” but there are only a very few who can say, I have built something that has the potential to disrupt a market. Think crazy, but build what you ideate.

Bootstrap, Bootstrap, Bootstrap

The best lesson I learnt by far has been that “build your MVP for your customer and NOT for your investor.” Try to bootstrap as long as possible and get your first customers. Go to an investor only when you think it might be wise to have someone onboard bringing you additional resources to grow faster. Money isn’t the first thing you need; customers are your first need. Follow the general 18-month rule: make sure that you have enough resources to run your company for another 18 months before you figure out how to generate the first revenue stream and get your first customer/client. Do not go to an investor first unless he or she is a personal connection.

The Customer Is the Boss

No matter what kind of a business you run, your customer is your boss. When you build your product, slip into the shoes of your ideal customer and ask yourself if you’d pay the money on your price-tag.

Networking Can Be Awkward, But That’s OK

Being a woman in startups can sometimes be awkward. Every time you walk into a networking event, there is a chance that someone might ask you out. As much you want to embrace those people as trying to be kind, it sometimes turns too awkward. Speaking with a couple of women who have been doing this for years, they mention that they are sometimes disappointed to learn that some of their business associates turn out to have an unexpected angle about them. Women face this challenge, but with time we can usually figure out a way to handle it.

Find Mentors

One thing I discovered very recently: find yourself a great set of mentors who keep you grounded yet excited — maybe someone who has wide experience and keeps you focused on the bottom line, or an entrepreneur with whom you can share notes and vent, someone to cheer you up when you are confused. It is going to be an emotional roller-coaster ride and it is important to be surrounded by three kinds of people: the cheerleader, the critical-analyzer, and the empathizer.

Team Is Important

One of the key ingredients to building anything is to have a team. After I built a crude MVP, I met up with my friends and asked them what they thought of it. Some of them were so excited that they jumped onboard to co-build the company. In turn we have begun growing our team. Not all of us are full time at the moment but we are enjoying what we are doing as we plan to make that giant leap. We all share passion and are complementary. We made sure that every new member of our team has integrity and competency and that they are not primarily after money or fame.

Have Fun!

Having discussed all the serious pointers, the most important part is to have fun. As much as you work hard to change the world, it is also important to make yourself smile often. Having fun everyday despite all the tough times is all the more important to keep yourself going.

me_1.1About the guest blogger: Divya Sornaraja is a 24-year-old entrepreneur-in-the-making from India. She graduated as an Electrical and Electronics Engineer from Chennai, India and has started her first company, Pith, Inc. in the healthcare space. She graduated Singularity University and is a Cherie Blair Foundation fellow.