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Founder Gospel: Waves, Wisdom, Wealth, & the Wolf | Reflections from the SaaSBOOMi SGx Goa Retreat

First things first. I’m Aastha, co-founder of Veris and a proud SGx Summer ‘22 graduate. For everyone reading, SGx is a stellar program for SaaS entrepreneurs. The past four immersive months of SGx founder coaching with SaaSBOOMi have been more than just good times. It’s been one of the most stirring, inspiring, and spirited journeys I’ve undertaken in my 14 years of work. And still, all these adjectives don’t do justice to the ride we’ve been on. We’ve had the privilege of being mentored by seasoned entrepreneurs, grounded in real-life business needs, challenges, and opportunities. They’ve asked us some pointed and probing questions and shared with us some solid insights and advice that will go with us a long way as a company, and as individuals. If all that wasn’t enough, the 3-day graduation ‘un-ceremony’ in Goa was beyond memorable – it led me to realize the 4 W’s of entrepreneurship: Waves, Wisdom, Wealth & the Wolf

Dancing on the Waves

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

One mentions  ‘Goa’, and views of beautiful beaches come to mind inadvertently. Arabian Sea scallops and beach shacks beckon, the sunset demands your presence, and the undulating waves touch your heart. It’s like when nature herself wants you to avail her bounties; then why not listen and rejoice? That was the intention we went to Goa with. Who knew we’d learn to ride on the waves in a different context altogether: The waves of life’s ups and downs.

As founders, a lot of us, at different points in life, have been told to ‘embrace failure’ in the spirit of entrepreneurship. I never really understood it until a few days ago. 

What’s your failure resume?” some were asked… and oh, the mind-blowing anecdotes that came by! This blog sure won’t do justice to their magnetic storytelling – Sachin Bhatia, Founder & Chief Growth Officer – Exotel, Dhruvil Sanghvi, Founder & CEO – LogiNext, Sundeep Sahi, Founder & CEO – Skuad.  Meeting them in the flesh was a near-fangirl moment for me. These are people I used to read about. And there they stood…sharing their ‘not-so-perfect’ choices and the roller-coaster ride that eventually led them to succeed against all odds. 

My takeaway: If you haven’t failed, you haven’t truly grown. Their stories guided me to a point of self-reflection. For the first time ever, I acknowledged a willingness to stumble along the way… and that failures are as much a part of your growth journey as success. They define you, they expand your horizon, and they give you the strength for your next fight & flight.

From my notebook: Learnings by association

  1. It’s critical to hold skip-level meetings for richer insights, better organizational relationships, continuous improvement, and performance monitoring.
  2. Get ahead in the collection curve, and don’t ever lose sight of the cash runway
  3. Protect your people, and they shall return the favor if ever in need
  4. Articulation is an art one should harness. Founder success depends on precise communication and aligned action

The Wisdom School

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. ~Will Rogers

If SaaSBooMi SGx was a wisdom school, Mrigank Tripathi, Chief Growth Officer, PeopleStrong, was our dean. Mentors come in many flavors. Sometimes we learn by observation, other times there is direct business intervention. They annoy us, perhaps pushing us beyond our notional stretch limit. 

Over the last four months of intensive founder training, Mrigank truly molded us to harness the potential that we ourselves were unaware of. In the little time we worked with him, we doubled not only our leads but also our pipeline and our closing rate. We restructured our team and also automated all critical processes. 

It would be naïve to think that we’ve done it ‘all on our own’. Yes, we’ve done the work, but our work, our plan and execution, and the outcomes have all been influenced so greatly by him and all the other mentors.

From my notebook: The speed course

Business Learnings

  1. Opening a new market is like setting up a new business: Every geography works differently. Their pain points, the language they relate with, and the places they search at.
  2. Content bridges the gap between the product and buyer expectations: Insight-driven original content is the most effective method of growing audience engagement, developing presence, and driving sales.
  3. Customers are inclined to trust you if they view you as an industry expert: Once you are recognized by peers, customers, and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the space, there is no looking back.

Quotes that will stay with me forever

1. “Nazar Hati Durghatna Ghati” {Always keep your eyes on the road to avoid accidents}

Evaluate > Plan > Execute > Measure > Repeat                                

From setting SGx OKRs to weekly reviews, we learned how to run a project, a team, and a company

2. “In a seven-course meal, never get up at the third course”

Run the full cycle > Only then repeat or change track 

Run the full cycle of wholehearted-all-hands-on-deck kind of efforts. If it doesn’t work, only then move on to plan B

3. “Sharpen the sword before the battle”

Anticipate > Prepare > Progress

Do your homework, build & prep the team, stay agile, and anticipate what’s coming next. When the battle drum beats, be ready!

Life Beyond Business

The past few months brought to light a lot of interesting life and business lessons that I hope you can borrow from as well. Five of those I want to share with you because I think their application goes beyond the realm of business and actually connects with life at large.

  1. It’s good to make yourself redundant sometimes because your redundancy is a sign that your team and the people around you are becoming self-sufficient. What it also means is that as a leader and as an individual, you have newer goals to look forward to, to which you can now devote your time.
  2. Leading doesn’t happen from behind. One has to step forward and lead by example. And this is not just true for the good times, but also for those trying times when one doesn’t necessarily lead from a place of privilege.
  3. You are your own benchmark. For me, this is more about self-introspection than about comparison. Very often we pivot our measures of success outside when in reality, they lie inward.
  4. Play it like a sport. That’s the true peer community. When you’re playing, you’re known for your excellence, not mentor or mentee, senior or junior, new or old.
  5. Focus on what you have rather than what you can have. This is a big one for me personally because I feel that we are so used to – as people, as leaders – chasing the future and the things we don’t have, that we stop relishing what we do. It’s a great way to be mindful rather than always being in a chase.

F*** You Wealth

Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it. ~Benjamin Franklin

Have you ever wondered How much money is enough money? What’s your FU Number? This was a question that pulled an all-nighter during the Goa Retreat. I believed in simple calculations till then. When a person accumulates around 400-500 times their monthly expenses, they have enough to last for another 30 yrs. Even if you adjust it with your and your family’s increasing needs, for inflation, a longer lifespan, and unforeseen needs, an estimated 1000 times might be a good number to look at. 

In Goa, when I happened to meet three charismatic entrepreneurs with incredibly successful exits and acquisitions, my perception evolved. Varun Shoor, Founder, Kayako, Pallav Nadhani, Founder, FusionCharts & Charts.com, and Aakrit Vaish, Co-Founder & CEO, Haptik – the three alongside Dhruvil – hosted a rather interesting panel discussion: ‘Bechne ke baad kya?’ – What after exit?

From my notebook: When to sell

As an entrepreneur, take an exit or get acquired only if one or more of the scenarios below is true:

  1. You are getting an undebatable offer: a number preferably bigger than your FU Money
  2. You don’t have enough working capital to keep going, but you want the company and your people to thrive even if it’s in someone else’s ship.
  3. Your health isn’t supporting you, and now the most powerful asset of the company, you, need a break
  4. You have outgrown the business or the business has outgrown you

Now the money is in your account, you surely have dreams about what to buy or build—a new home, travel, investing, or a new company. But is that enough? How do you do justice to your biggest life win?

From my notebook: Some realizations

  1. Money is nothing if you don’t know how to enjoy it. The three panelists sure knew how to do this. Bubbling with energy and steadily striking off their bucket list.
  2. Money is nothing if you aren’t in the best of your health. The late, great entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” Surely not the dream home you just bought. 
  3. Money is nothing if you lack purpose. Empty calendars hit you hard. The realization that happiness lies in doing what we like and not only the money we bagged is an important one. 

The Wolf of Growth Street

Hunger drives the wolf out of the woods. ~German Proverb

For those who aren’t GOT fans or don’t know much about wolves, they are complex, highly intelligent animals who are caring, playful, and above all, devoted to family. Only a select few other species exhibit these traits so clearly. Just like elephants, gorillas, and dolphins, wolves educate their young, take care of their injured and live in family groups. The SaaSBooMi SGx family quite remarkably shares these traits. They treat & teach you like family. 

If one analogy wasn’t enough, there is always the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. Meeting mentors and wingmates at SGx Goa Retreat, listening to their dreams and failures, their journeys at large, and their conviction in their vision and also in us…leaves you pumping with motivation. I’m a personal fan of the movie. What I and my team felt was similar to one particular scene in the movie, and the emotion it relates to The Chest Thump. Let me try to describe the scene, my emotional response to it, and the similarity to my SGx journey:

 ‘He begins humming and beating his chest… in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Unfazed by this, Jordan joins in, setting the stage for the entire film {for me, setting a high growth stage for my company, Veris}. The scene goes on for so much longer than other films would allow it to. The audience is captivated at the moment with them {Much similar to the connection founders felt with their mentors. All at the moment, giving in to their wisdom, sincerely wanting to believe, learn, grow}. Though we might want to escape, we can’t. Though I was oddly uncomfortable watching two grown men in suits beating their chests, I couldn’t bring myself to look away {Being pushed to harness our own potential, however uncomfortable we were, we eventually began to enjoy and welcome the change}. That moment told me exactly what this world was like {and what being a founder truly means}’

It was ‘action-learning’ at its best! I want to thank all mentors and wingmates for their selfless efforts, and all the awesome founders I met on this journey. It’s a true pay-it-forward community and I do hope I’d be able to do justice to this spirit!

For those with these aspirations, I cannot recommend it enough. I will cherish the friends I’ve made and look forward to seeing everyone’s business grow.