Since I put out the news about working on Fliptrazon, some of my friends and acquaintances have been a little underwhelmed by my ‘startup’. The general comment is like –
“I thought you were going to do something impactful”
This always gets me thinking. And sometimes worried. Life is short. Am I making the best use of my time here? So let me try and make a case for doing something that may not look impactful (tl;dr – for fun).
The year 2015 was stressful for me, both on the personal and professional front. On the professional front I struggled with finding purpose in what we were doing. Perhaps I needed a break. Perhaps we were losing the essence of what it meant to be a startup in the race for metrics, and chasing growth. I don’t mean to undermine the efforts of our team, and sound cynical, but the valuation game that is being played is very real, and distracting. It can be exciting for a bit, but after a while, it is barely satisfying.
Needless to say, it was no longer fun for me, which has usually been the most important factor in doing something. And I was lucky to find myself in a dispensible position, which was often not the case in the past. So, I made a move out, knowing that it will take me some time to figure out what to do next. As simple as that. No glorious ideas about what I would do next, no chasing unicorns, just a blank canvas.
The anticlimactic post quitting realization
I figured I would be able to come up with something impactful to do in a few months. Yet, here I am, almost 5 months after quitting the last business, and still having little clue. In fact, Fliptrazon started as a side project, and I still haven’t figured out where this is going. Is this a
- small business (order of $1-10M valuation)
- medium / large business (order of $10-100M valuation)
- unicorn business (yeah baby!)
n |\ | or _| \-/ic / un // ~ + \ // | // \ \ ||| | . .| /// / \___/ look, a text unicorn!
The case for fun
I wouldn’t say I am in unfamiliar territory though. About 6 years back when we were winding up from iTasveer, I had some free time and started making IndiaBookStore (IBS) to solve a personal pain. It turned out to be such a fulfilling product, both from the point of view of solving a simple problem, as well as earning some secondary income :)
Making IBS taught me important lessons about working smart, minimizing the foot-print of the product, automating all kinds of stuff so that I would not have to spend more than a couple of hours a week on it, and obsessively worrying about making it so good, that people come back to use it again.
Some startup purists argue that small businesses are not worth the time, but I don’t see anything wrong with working on small businesses, purely because of the ideas you get to learn from them can be applied with much larger consequences elsewhere. They serve as a good ground for experimentation and exploration. Ironically enough, when one is working to meet valuation targets, the fear of failure and exploration is daunting. Products tend to become more complex, rather than more simple. Saying no feels like we’re not doing enough. Very few organizations are able to strike this balance.
Enter, doing things for fun. The creative boundaries are expanded. Exploration is often the goal, and getting an interesting product/market fit almost comes as a side-effect. Even if it does not, it is the process that I like to imbibe. For eg. this time I intend to throw all I have at writing. It is a skill I have always wanted to develop, but rarely find the time to practice. I intend to get even sharper and quicker at finding a product/market fit. I also intend to learn how to break the clutter of marketing, to reach out to a large number of customers, hopefully doing it much faster than the previous time. Sounds like fun? Well it is! I can also name it something stupid for bonus..
— Animesh Jain (@animeshjain) January 17, 2016
So that’s roughly what Fliptrazon is right now. A fun project, that is highly likely be a small business. And in the next 6 months, I intend to find out what kind of wheels I can put on it, to make it a much larger business.
To conclude, here’s a graph that I made with impact on Y axis and fun on the X axis. If I would have had a 3D simulator, I would have added a Z axis for $$ too:
Fun exercise : Do tell me where you would like to place startups (your own or otherwise) on this graph.
Update: I just made an email list. Subscribe here if you want to follow my writing. I’m hoping to create some social pressure so that I keep up.
Update 2: A swing and a miss