Every now and then, you come across a start-up. They are so commonplace now that 3/10 profiles that you see on LinkedIn have a “Founder” tag on them. The hard pill to swallow is that most of them fail too. Chances of success are low and yet, they still pop up every other minute… just like those annoying YouTube ads.
In this crowd, how are we… different?
We are at a stage where this question is meaningful and needs to be answered every day. And every day, we try to answer it through consistency, which will help us unravel who we are and reinvent what we can be.
Let us turn back the pages a bit. Do not worry, I do not intend to give you a lesson in History. Although I have started to enjoy History, I reckon most of you don’t. So, 2016. There I was in Japan, leading an extremely comfortable life. Happy family. Decent job. Heavy wallets. Yet, something was missing. There was no sense of fulfillment, no purpose but worst of all, there was nothing to look forward to other than longer titles and fatter paychecks.
I cannot trace it back to a single ‘eureka’ moment but the inception of Hachimichi, even in my mind, was a gradual process. There you go. Our first point of difference. Most start-ups today are built from an ‘aaha’ moment, some even in a drunken stupor with your best buddies. Somebody quips in, “Hey, why not sell this masked as that?” and bham! While that is not a bad way to start, ours was more of a butterfly effect.
The first time I stepped foot in Japan, it was a cultural shock to me. And a bit of disappointment as well. You see, I was literally hoping to see some ninjas and samurais roaming around. Anyways, Tokyo was like being dropped into a video game set in the distant future (Cyberpunk, anyone?). Everything was so… purposeful, sleek, and modern. Even after half a decade in Japan, every time I stepped out, I managed to find something new and fascinating. Most often, these things were enabled by technology. Some were prevalent in Japan for decades and are coming to India today, e.g., food/drinks vending machines, electronic toll collection systems, GPS maps in cars, and so on. And some other technologies that were in Japan when I left, may take another 5-6 years to make its way to India. For instance, robots. Can you believe that my Fuso office in Kawasaki had a robotic receptionist? No human presence! Visitors would greet the robot and tell them whom they wanted to meet. The robot would notify that person while guiding the visitor to the meeting location and about the available drinks like tea/coffee.
Then, there were the yearly vacations to India where nothing changed in decades. Well, they did change but they could have changed much faster. Japan, like any other developed country, gave me an opportunity to experience India’s future, although partial but probable. We may, no doubt, jump certain points on a standard developmental path. But such an exposure opened my mind to new business possibilities and that excited me a lot. I could see untapped potential in so many sectors and I felt that it was the opportune moment to capture it. I wanted to do it myself. I was fortunate to graduate from India’s top institutes and I should be the last person to avoid taking risks. If not me, then who? I felt incomplete. Deep down, I knew that I had a moral responsibility to the country that brought me up and not slaving away in another country to make an already big corporate, even bigger.
Thus, I started hunting for ideas. I had a little notebook dedicated to this that I carried around everywhere. Every time I had a thought (some were just downright crazy even) I just jotted it down. Hachimichi was born out of this notebook, a million thoughts and a thousand ideas later.
Today, most start-ups pop up in the IT sector. A lower requirement for capital, more room for error and a much easier form of deployment are the primary causes of attraction. In a product-based start-up like ours, we do not have as much room to wiggle in. For us, every day is a new learning experience. 2 years down the lane, we still learn something new with every new customer that gets added to our fold. Our flagship product, SeatO’fresh, solves a very prevalent problem of unhygienic toilet seats in public washrooms. Moreover, having a product that the customers can touch, feel, and interact with is quite an advantage. It creates more of a human connection with the customer than a software ever could. The biggest challenge though is that a product such as ours cannot be perfected overnight with a few lines of code. What helps us most is the feedback from our customers on what more we can do for them.
The way we approach our customers is different as well. Instead of a traditional sales pitch, we try to onboard them as our partners. We lay stark naked in front of our customers. Today is still day one and therefore, our aim is to sound genuine and ambitious. We assume a transparent position and convey the values our customer could derive. We see a potential partner in ever stakeholder we speak with; a partner who believes in us and is ready to invest their time and energy to help us grow. Because of this, we do not simply look for the volume in orders. Instead, we look for customers that can offer value to the product in terms of development. Most of these early adapters despite knowing that product is still rough-edged, took a leap of faith. This because they believed in our determination to solve inherent problems and improve continuously.
We are lucky to have a handful of such believers as of today. They have contributed to our growth and for that, we are forever thankful; because without them, we would not grow. 5 years down the lane, these early customers-cum-stakeholders that helped us on our journey will always be most valuable to us. Acquiring such stakeholders is what makes the journey interesting.
Our products are fairly new to the market and thus, no one knows the best possible supply chain, business and service model. Hence, with every piece of the puzzle that we crack, we develop a unique market understanding. This will help us to always stay a step ahead. We are continuously unraveling what our customers want, how they want it and how best it could be delivered. The road ahead is…well, we do not really see any road laid before us. But that is what makes it exciting. We are fighting against the odds of making a tech-savvy product start-up successful and with every step we take, we pave our own paths. We realize our constrained resources (time, money, and knowledge), and we are taking our steps accordingly. 2020 had its hardships. 2021 will also have its own challenges and we look forward to facing them head-on.
Begone 2020; Welcome 2021