Five lessons learned from my first failed business that helped get the next one off the ground

- January 5, 2018 4 MIN READ

By Mandeep Sodhi, cofounder and CEO of HashChing

Telling my father I was starting my own company was not an easy conversation. As with many Indian families, he’d always expected that I would become a doctor, or an engineer, or a lawyer – one of the “safe” professions where hard work was rewarded with a steady and sizeable pay cheque.

As such, he packed me off to Australia not long after I finished high school to study software engineering.

After graduating I worked as a business analyst and consultant for one of the big four banks and various financial groups for over ten years. However, I became increasingly discontent working for other people. The idea of putting everything I had into someone else’s company felt like a waste of resources. I was hungry to build something of my own.

Success didn’t just turn up on my doorstep, that’s for sure. My first business was an online liquor store, Ebottleo. It grew quickly – too quickly – and I was forced to sell it in the first six months. The main problem was that I hadn’t built a team that could implement technology changes fast enough to keep it scalable.

But that was ok. I hadn’t travelled nearly 10,000 kilometres, risked my dad’s disdain, and invested every cent I had to simply pack it in at the first sign of trouble. It was a great learning experience for me that highlighted the importance of scalability, and it had a formative impact on my next endeavour.

I can’t tell you whether it was in defiance of previous hardships or because of them, but I was determined to have something stick. I had the will, I just needed to find the way.  

This way revealed itself to me in May 2015, and in August 2015, I launched HashChing with my cofounder Atul Narang. It’s no coincidence that Atul had a very strong technology background, and in him I had found the perfect partner to complement my own strengths and build a business that could survive its own success.

Now, in 2018, HashChing is an award-winning company that has received more than $12 billion worth of home loan applications, a network of more than 700 mortgage brokers, and more than 25,000 customers.

In business years, we’re still very young, but we’ve been able to achieve an extraordinary amount in short time.

It was only recently that my family back home started to respect my career decisions, and I’m proud to say they’ve come around 180 degrees. My nephews in India were so inspired by my success that they’re looking to start their own businesses, and they have the full support of their respective families. I’m humbled to have had an impact on their career choices.

Looking back, I believe there are five things you need to do in order to successfully get a business of the ground:

Quit your day job and commit

Make the commitment and focus on your business full time. In my experience, starting a business feels like two full time jobs and a degree rolled into one.

A business doesn’t sleep; you’ve got to be responsive and ready for anything 24 hours, 7 days a week. You’ve also got to realise that running your own company means you don’t just work in it, you have to put all of your time into working on it.

If had tried to shoehorn starting HashChing into the few extra hours I had a week outside of a full time job, I never would have succeeded.

Take off those rose coloured glasses. You’re going to get dirty pushing mud up hill, but it’s worth it

If it was easy, everyone would do it. Entrepreneurs’ hours are crazy, resources are scarce, and the team – if you even have more than yourself working on it – is so small that everyone has to wear a dozen different hats everyday just to get things done.

HashChing almost collapsed in its first three months because we had neglected to acquire one of the licences needed to operate legally. Suddenly we weren’t just at risk of the business failing, we were in serious trouble with the law. We contacted our industry body, ASIC, which introduced us to a mortgage aggregator who was able to provide us the necessary credit licence. Because we acted quickly we were able to resolve the issue and had the business back on track in three months.

Don’t let your challenges or limitations define you

If, like me, you grew up in a foreign country and experienced the Australian culture later in life, don’t see it as an obstacle or a disadvantage. The language and customs may be an adjustment, but it also puts you in the unique position of being able to draw from two completely different economic, political and industrial systems. By comparing the strengths in each, you’ll be able to identify the weaknesses as well.

In India, for example, the lending manager from the branch is much more hands on and will come to a borrower’s home on the weekend or after hours, whereas in Australia, it’s the brokers who do this. Hence our concept of partnering with brokers, which allows our borrowers to get better customer service and deals than if they’d gone directly to a lender.

A similar thing applies to younger entrepreneurs. Sometimes having no experience can actually be better, because you’re able to see things without biases, and ideas aren’t restricted by preconceptions of how things ought to be done. It also fosters curiosity, resulting in a ‘what if?’ rather than an ‘it is’ mentality.

Know what’s going on around you

Invest your time in remaining abreast of industry shifts, news, forecasts and issues. Devour newspapers, online publications, and trade blogs, because they will help develop your understanding and power fresh ideas.

The same goes for people and networks. Attending industry events – many of which are free – will give you an opportunity to tap into the minds of mentors and the capital of investors. Turn up, keep turning up, and ask questions. Also, don’t work in isolation. Join a hub, as this will not only boost your morale, but also help you build a support network that can help you with problems you can’t solve on your own.

Wear your user’s shoes

Find out what your customers’ pain points are and build solutions to them. Even once you’ve solved those problems, your journey is really only beginning. The moment you get complacent is the moment a more nimble and responsive competitor leaps ahead of you and steals your customers.

If you’ve solved your customers’ complaints, figure out how to improve on those solutions, or take it a step further and solve problems that they don’t even realise they have yet.

Want some more expert advice? Check out the Startup Daily Brains Trust for more tips and how-tos.

Image: Atul Narang and Mandeep Sodhi. Source: Supplied