7 maxims to a hitch-free startup
In 2013 with my co-founder Devendra Kumar Rane, we created Coverfox to sell insurance online. We had already been running Glitterbug together for a few years. Glitterbug's product was a lead management system, which was licensed to various financial companies to help with their sales. The software had a huge amount of traction amongst insurance companies.
This experience, combined with my insurance experience at Tata-AIG, led to our epiphany—Insurance; both as a sector and as a consumer experience, it was difficult to understand. It made the consumer journey arduous to say the least.
In creating Coverfox, we started trying to move insurance into the 21st century with an emphasis on transparent information. It was a do-it-yourself offering and a great consumer experience. That was the genesis!
Once the idea had struck us, we moved fast. In the summer of 2013, we began working on the product; got angel investment and by the end of the year had our Brokerage license from Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDAI). By the end of 2014, we had a public launch of Coverfox, selling Health and Auto Insurance; we procured a "Series A' investment, and a team size of 80. This year we've added Travel Insurance to our portfolio, doubled our team, and got a Series B round off funding.
We've also worked hard on making the interface extremely user friendly and international in its appearance. Our technology helps customers make comparisons easily and helps them find the best match based on individual needs in a quick and simple way.
The growth curve has been steep, as has been the learning curve, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. While running a startup is like being on a bucking horse, there were some aspects we were prepared for. And, there were some we had to understand and tackle along the way. These are some top learnings for scaling a startup. There are a lot more things we need to learn. As we continue to improve Coverfox, some of them were surely waiting to surprise us:
1. Team, team, team
Oft repeated to the extent of becoming a cliche, the concept of team can never be overtly emphasized. Getting a good team in place takes care of some of the most important things necessary in a fast-moving and fast-growing startup. Delineated responsibility with high ownership, maturity to handle the everyday ups-and-downs, and hire the right kind of people works best. We were aware of all these from the very beginning, and fortunately we have been able to put together a stellar team—arguably the best startup team in the entire Mumbai.
2. Communicate well internally
This is something nobody really talks about much! An efficient and open internal communication culture goes a long way in making the organization more productive. Good person-to-person communication is very important especially after product-market fit has been achieved, and the startup is scaling rapidly. I am not sure we have the perfect solution yet but the good thing is we are mindful of the problem, and we are working on it.
3. Go, go, go-- Speed!
Do not sacrifice speed for any reason! Speed is a habit (no pun intended), a motor reflex. Once the organization drops the habit, it will be very difficult to get it back. Many-a-time speed is accused of being the source of multiple problems, namely, lack of efficiency, poor communication, and frayed nerves. Almost always, those would be due to a chronology of events and not a cause-and-effect sequence. Allay the downside impact of speed by building the right processes to take care of the areas that are affected. But, do not let go of speed.
4. Look under the hood
Get deep into a problem to understand its root cause. Without doing that, responses or solutions would be band-aids sans the much-required stitches. And guess what, those cuts would open up again. This can also be paraphrased to say avoid knee-jerk reactions. Of course, the caveat is to stay away from an analysis-paralysis mode while trying to gauge the root cause of the problem.
5. Rationalize spending
This definitely does not mean don't spend on employees, office space, interiors, hardware, parties and others. It means that every rupee spent should be tied to a goal that is crystal clear and the idea for the same should be articulated in a genuine and convincing way. The team and especially senior leadership should be on the same wavelength with importance to capital. Intrinsically, we all know this but sometimes in haste, we digress from the central truth. However, it helps a great deal when the founders set and fortify the same example.
6. Follow your gut
This is most important! You are running a startup, and most of the questions you come up against will have no precedents. They could be about product-market fit, internal processes, customer acquisition and others. There is no right or wrong answer. Follow your instincts! The secret here is to give everything a long rope to prove that the outcome should be conclusive. However, it should not be long and drawy that it may become an irrevocable mistake.
7. Keep the fridge stocked
And this is only half in jest! Bottom line: Being a founder can be trying at times. Have fun and enjoy the ride. The ride is what makes it fun.