Most of us in the entrepreneurial journey are so focused on the destination that we sometimes miss the journey. Various management gurus and motivational books have asked us to have an inspiring and larger-than-life destination. However, we should not forget that Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal didn’t have a horizontal marketplace in mind when he started selling books online. And Vijay Shekhar Sharma didn’t have any idea of having a digital payment giant when he started his SMS broadcasting company.
I wasn’t aware of this life lesson when we started researching the reason for not finding cereals based on millets. Growing up in various places in rural South India, I have had my share of exposure to millets but was wondering why we only have artificial-looking extruded millet grains in muesli. We didn’t have a solution to crack it. While trying to understand this challenge better, we started giving this in pieces to nutritional science graduates as part of their internship programme. They didn’t exactly know what they are searching for; neither did we know why we are doing it. But as Steve Jobs says, when you look back everything connects.
Customers never know what they want, so none of our interns worked on customer feedback and data gathering. This comes with challenges, because the time taken to reach a destination in this method of journey is longer and success isn't guaranteed. What we ended up with after a three-year zig-zag journey was a single-ingredient breakfast bowl of ‘Jowa Bix’ which has --
* Longest bowl life (time before it gets soggy) in the category
* No added sugar or sweetener, but still sweet
* 100 percent jowar
* In the process, have a patent pending in our name
Never in our wildest dreams did we have a patent in our name. Also we never knew that the jowar stem nectar we developed as a magnesium-manganese-iron supplement a few years back will come in handy and be the key to our patent application. Just like Steve Jobs never had a clue in early 90s that Apple would become the most valuable company in the world thanks to its phones which wasn't part of its plan then. But what he did believe was that they should keep challenging themselves which would help them get ahead. So is that a larger-than-life vision? To me it isn't, but it's a commitment to be persistent and making sure you are moving forward.
One has to make sure that one isn’t stuck with the same problem and is always moving. Though movement in uni-direction would make you cover distances faster, if you are learning even a zig-zag movement would take you places where others haven’t been yet. But this comes with an important caveat; one needs to have resources. External resources would be available only for people who commit a uni-directional journey because learnings can't be monetised in the short term. So even if you are doing a zig-zag format, each of those small vectors has to be big enough for the external investor to believe in. Or you need to be making enough cash flow on those vectors that you don't have to rely on external support. The irony is that not many talk about this and even those successful ones don’t.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma took 18 years to reach the Paytm we know today and when he says ‘go big or go home’, don't get stressed too much because Colonel Sanders created KFC when he was 61 years old. For him, 52 years of pre-KFC learning helped, so until the day you fall dead you have a chance to go big. From an investor’s point of view, who has a definite timeframe, this may not be true; none would have backed Sanders in his 30s for a blockbuster that he created 30 years down the line.
Jowabix happened when:
* We were looking for a millet breakfast solution which goes with TrueElements brand filter of wholefood.
* The journey was to minimise the tinkering with ingredients.
* We were looking for a single-ingredient breakfast which can be convenient and tasty.
These were the vectors which were the zig-zag journey. This might go big; even if it doesn’t then the learning from here will pay us as long as we persist in the journey and not give up.
The world can’t be full of Elon Musks because everyone is unique, the moment you start measuring success through the prism of the world you might get stressed. Own your prism, focus on smaller vectors and enjoy the journey.
Sreejith Moolayil is the co-founder of True Elements.