Visualize the Bigger Picture. An ability to think big over a long horizon is key, and to be able to take small concrete steps to achieve those goals every day. We started with just simple parking reservations, but always had a much larger growth strategy in mind.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Binu Girija.
Seasoned entrepreneur Binu Girija is no stranger to startups. After some successful ventures and a few bumps along the way, the founder of super app Way.com is still hands on, in the office every day as he builds another brand from the ground up. And he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering from a University in India. I then joined BEA Systems as an enterprise architect, and later joined Oracle Corporation and then Computer Sciences Corporation. Eventually, I became one of the first internet entrepreneurs in India. I founded an automotive marketplace in India, it was 7th largest and most profitable there. When I first came to the U.S., I was running a company back in India. There was an offer for me to go back and run the business for 5 million dollars, so I talked to my wife about it and she decided since we had just moved we should stay, so I passed. When I started Way.com, I told her I would make no money for 5 years, so I asked her if she was ok supporting us and feeding the family. Fortunately, she was!
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I was headed to a business meeting and running late. I parked at one garage, and then later realized I had paid twice the amount as another lot right next door. This literally was my aha moment… that this wasn’t fair, and that there was a need for transparent parking rates in the marketplace.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
I think I got my skills from my dad. My dad was a civil engineer, and while he was working, he always had side gigs as well. At one point, he bought a taxi and started a taxi business as he was going to and from work. He didn’t have anything when he started. He was a survivor. He didn’t waste any money, he didn’t smoke or drink, and he was very driven and the only government employee in the family. He wanted to win. He didn’t have anything, but he built houses for his brothers and sisters, as they had helped him to go to school. They supported each other.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re literally modernizing the car services industry one vertical at a time. We started with a simple airport parking product seven years ago, and today we are known as the first super car app, where people can conveniently take care of their car needs through our app, knowing we are getting them the best quality and rates. I think that makes us stand out.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Since day one, one of my biggest objectives was to bring fair prices to the car services industry. Financial stress is a huge issue for Americans, so if our business can save them up to 3000 dollars on their auto expenses a year, I consider that a positive contribution to their lives.
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Adaptability. Over the past 5 years, the company has gone through its own set of existential challenges. Covid reduced our top line by 60% in 2020, since travel essentially vanished. We had to reimagine things by pivoting to a new line of business that complemented existing verticals. A V-shaped recovery was achieved, and the company is on a growth path to achieve significant revenue.
Perseverance. Despite an unprecedented series of events in 2020, I remained focused on doing what it took to keep growing this business. I haven’t had a day off in two years because that is what it takes to grow this company.
Action-oriented. I like the quality of a bias towards action and finding solutions. I really try to avoid what I call analysis paralysis in any way. I want to really understand the root of a problem, and then figure it out so we can move forward.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
To not get so involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. One of the biggest reasons we have achieved this level of success is because I stay involved in all aspects of Way.com every single day.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Absolutely. I got an eviction notice for my apartment because I didn’t pay the rent! My check bounced. I took my wife’s money and put it back into the company — I didn’t have money for the rent. I think at that moment I realized I was putting my family at risk. I had to make some changes.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
I’ve been down this road often enough that I know there is a continuous discovery process involved in building a company. You win some, you lose some, but you just keep going. This leads to a bias towards action — which is an absolute must for success.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
The most difficult part of being a CEO is the loneliness at the top. It is not possible to share all worries and concerns with everyone in the organization; we must think of creative ways of seeking inputs that can benefit the decision-making process from every angle. The fun part of being the CEO of a startup is to have the unfettered ability to think and think out of the box.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks for your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Bootstrap it first and see if there is a model there. My theory is to fail fast. If an idea is not validating, exit immediately so you only lose so much money. The problem with a lot of entrepreneurs is they think all of their ideas are good and keep going even when it’s clear it’s not going to work out.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- A need in the marketplace. If there isn’t a need or desire for what you have to offer, you’ll fail. Obviously, in the case of Way.com, there wasn’t a super car app in existence, where people could save money. People spend a lot of money on their car services, so this served that need.
- Essential services. We learned this quickly as Covid-19 hit and our airport parking business suffered. You must have a business which offers services people will always need. This is why we launched our auto insurance product.
- Visualize the Bigger Picture. An ability to think big over a long horizon is key, and to be able to take small concrete steps to achieve those goals every day. We started with just simple parking reservations, but always had a much larger growth strategy in mind.
- Energy. This is not an easy feat. It takes resilience, time, and lots of your focus and energy. Surround yourself with a likeminded, dedicated team as well.
- Focus on the customer’s success. Never underestimate the power that is word of mouth among your customers. We have had a huge investment and emphasis on the customer service aspect of our business. If I see an unhappy customer or a complaint, I literally will send it to an agent or whoever is involved in this part of the business to get to the root of the problem and fix it.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
There are some people who just want to have the CEO title. I call these guys “Wantrepeneurs”. Most of the successful people I see have rolled up their sleeves and just gotten into it. You’ve got to love what you are doing and have a passion for it. It’s not just about the title or the money.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
If you can’t put in 16 hours a day, please don’t do it. You will be a founder with no money to the pay the bills. If you want to pay your bills, you need to understand things from the ground up. Before Way.com’s beginning, I took my idea to a CEO and he recommended doing a paper survey to see if there was interest. So my friend and I stood outside of a Safeway market and a Starbucks and took a paper survey and asked people what they thought of our idea. I still have those papers today. So, to be honest, there’s no work life balance. If you want a work life balance, please go work for someone else.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could somehow develop something to ease the financial stressors of so many people, I feel that would have such a great impact on their quality of life. I just haven’t figured out what that is yet, aside from helping them with car expense costs!
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’m inspired by the thoughts of Elon Musk. He is all about no analysis paralysis, just get straight to the point and just do it. Literally think outside of the box.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Just keep an eye on the Way.com app. We have a lot of exciting things launching this fall.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!