Steady Success to Proud Failure

By Anik Agrawal (re-published with permission from the author; originally published on LinkedIn)

Before jumping onto my first startup, I knew that there is a social stigma attached to failure in India. However, being adventurous and somewhat rebellious, I never paid too much attention to that and carried on anyways. After having series of success in life, I experienced my first failure. I am going to share my life story and what I learned from my failure.

Being the only child, the expectations were always high with me as a kid. I was pushed to excel in not just one but all areas of life. I developed a peculiar sense of attitude to not sacrifice on one area of life on the cost of other. When I scored 6th rank in Grade 5, my parents asked why didn’t I come in Top 3. I replied “I am not going to sacrifice my play time just so that you can brag about my rank with other family members and friends.” I was very good with sports. I chose to be right handed while playing cricket but left handed while playing all the racket games. My mother asked me why do I use two hands. I replied “When my right hand gets tired of playing cricket, I will use my left hand to play tennis.”

My father runs a cloth weaving factory in Ahmedabad. I was fascinated by how quickly the machines operated and produced output. This fascination for machines steered me to pursue Mechanical Engineering. During college days, I took part in extra curricular activities like robotics and college fests to engage in social interactions and build self-confidence. I also did an internship in Mercedes Benz which taught me discipline in life. I had to wake up at 4am everyday for 6 months to catch the bus.

Born in a business family, I discovered early on in college that I wanted to do business in long term. I also realized the importance of having a well-rounded job experience that can be applied in the business. I was financed by my family to study abroad and learn a thing or two with the intention that some innovative idea can be brought back to India and converted into a profitable business. Classic Marwadi thinking right!

Anik Agrawal

My 4 years in the US were life-changing. I became over-ambitious and tasted the flavor of success. After pursing my Masters in Entrepreneurship, I landed a job in an early stage well funded startup in San Francisco. Here I was barely 24 years old with an income more than the appetite, living in a dream city. Life could not have gotten any better. The startup saw hockey stick growth that people talked about in entrepreneurship community. Bay area startups had a culture to involve people of all levels in investor/customer meetings. It was a great learning for me and an exposure that shaped me up pretty early in career. About 2 and half years later, I couldn’t resist the idea that if I can be part of a successful startup, why can’t I create one.

This idea led me back to India, as I felt I need to take the first step towards becoming an entrepreneur. I was new to the professional world in India so I decided to get some work experience to understand how things worked. With the experience I had, I easily scored couple of stints of high paying corporate jobs in the span of 2 years. After about 2 years, I was ready to leave all the comfort and certainty of job life and jump onto my first startup.

As you could guess, this where the dark phase begins and after series of success in life, I finally experienced what failure means. I have always seen entrepreneurs talking as if they have figured out everything and that they have a clear vision. But the reality is no one knows the future and I learnt to get very comfortable with the uncertainty of chaos. Another thing which I noticed is entrepreneurs always talked about positive things and impressive numbers, but I learnt that they are just made up. If the numbers were so favorable then 99 out 100 startups would not fail. I learnt how to show the good side but also to be honest at times when things are not working. After spending 2 years building a product, I failed miserably. I had to let go of people who came onboard with a dream I sold to them. I burnt all my savings and lot of my family money. When I think of why I failed, lot of things come in mind but the biggest reason could be my attachment to product. I ignored customer problems and only focused on building a product I thought they need. I have now learnt never to get attached with product and focus only of customer problems.

Here I am not fully recovered from the first blow. I am surrounded by people giving all sorts of free advise like move back to the US, work with a corporate and get a stable job. One thing I have learnt in entrepreneurship is to be persistent and never give up. My failure is only going to be a stepping stone to success. If I steer my direction now and leave entrepreneurship, I might regret this for my entire life.

So I had to give it another shot. With renewed spirit and amazing co-founders, I am back at the grind. I am looking forward to my time at BurnCal. Time to convert dreams into reality!

Anik Agrawal ’13 (MS) completed the TEAM program in 2013. He has since worked in business development positions and founded a software platform to streamline management for companies that install solar energy systems. Anik has recently started a second venture, BurnCal.