If the market is bad, even a good entrepreneur fails
In a start-up, a founder feels responsible for all that goes wrong. In a job, as an employee, it’s different
By age 27, Aman Singhal, has experienced working for a large company, a budding start-up, set up his own start-up and then went back to a job working for an international start-up.
Singhal, who holds a degree in civil engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, was the co-founder of Drivojoy, an on-demand two-wheeler servicing and repair platform. Set up in 2015, the start-up wrapped up two years later. After a break in the US in 2017-18, he joined Halodoc, a healthcare network platform, which is part of the Indonesian start-up Go-Jek, as a product manager.
“At the time when Drivojoy was incubated was also the phase when many of my college seniors and friends were either setting up start-ups or were working in one. It created a sort of mindset where you could reach out to each other and discuss ideas and more. Everyone around me was receptive to the idea,” says Singhal, who is based in Bengaluru.
Drivojoy was set up by Singhal, along with a former colleague, Vishwanath Kollapudi and Ravindra Akella , who had worked at Microsoft. Singhal believes that working at Ola Cabs, a transport start-up in the 2014, was instrumental in some way for the birth of Drivojoy. “I was just 24 at the time and Vishwanath and I used to bounce off so many ideas. We also got to see what all was happening in the world as far as the transport business went. Ola was, in a way, a great incubator for ideas. Senior managers such as Mitesh Shah and Pranay Jivrajka corrected us in a couple of places, helped us with seeking early investment; on the whole, they were quite approachable. We used to ask ourselves what Bhavesh (Agrawal) would do or not do in this circumstance,” says Singhal whose role at Ola was to drive key business decisions using data-driven insights.
The turn back
Drivojoy shut operation by late 2017 and Singhal says initially he did not know what to do. Having started his career with a large multinational software firm, Dassault Systèmes, as a technical sales consultant, he was by now sure he did now want to go back to working for a very large company. “I had done it for a year and the work was not very exciting.” He also did not want to work with early-stage start-ups. “At Drivojoy, what had excited me the most was solving real-life problems using technology. Hence, I wanted to get into product management kind of role—something that sits at the intersection of business and technology, and could complement my existing skill set,” recalls Singhal.
One of his biggest learning has been that a bad market beats a good entrepreneur and sometimes start-ups do overestimate the market opportunity.
“By mid-2017, we had become operationally heavy and our revenues weren’t enough to sustain healthy unit economics. Moreover, our digital acquisition strategies were maxing out and since bike servicing is not a high-frequency use case, our growth was stagnant. Our existing investors were ready to commit some bridge capital, but since the pivot was capital intensive, I figured it won’t last long. Instead of pouring that money down the drain, we decided to throw in the towel and call it quits,” he explains.
The tough parts
Among the changes Singhal has had to make while going back to a job is learning to work in a hierarchy. “While I get to look at diverse problems and find solutions, the final call is always someone else’s. I miss not being able to take the final call,” he says. There is, however, some flexibility here. “For the first time in a long time I have a work schedule. I work, go home. For two years, I had a 14-hour workday, and no holidays. I was running a start-up and yes,I was self-motivated to do this but that was hard,” he explains. Sometimes at his new job, being self-motivated is tough because you know you work for someone else and that feeling of having your skin in the game is missing. But Singhal says there is still much more to learn in a job. “I used to feel responsible for everything that went wrong at my start-up. Here it is different. There are more people and responsibility is shared,” he adds.
The road ahead
Having set up a start-up has advantages, especially when you are in a job with another start-up. “I am not looked down upon because my start-up failed. In fact, people now believe ex-entrepreneurs make for good leaders because we are used to thinking out of the box and have the experience at building a team,” he says. For now, though, Singhal is clear he does not want to take an all-round leadership role. “I want to learn the skill of product management. If I ever set up a new start-up, maybe this will help me,” he says.
Back to a Job looks at start-up founders who went back to being an employee.
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