Execution: Everything looks fantastic in the books, but things start crumbling when you execute it. Get a stronghold of finance, demarcate roles and responsibilities perfectly, establish a strong team & culture, and improve your sales game. Every aspect of the company needs to work in complete synchronism. We learnt a lot from our initial mistakes — getting emotional about roles, wrong hiring, and money management.
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 Sanjay Vyas.
Having spent over 20+ years in Data Management and Information Systems, Sanjay Vyas has built a strong passion for data architecture and management. He co-founded Diyotta with one goal — to build disruptive technologies and take the Data Integration to the next level to address the modern day challenges.
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?
From a very young age, I wanted to be independent and start an enterprise. Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t happen overnight. One must have a zeal and passion for succeeding — which one may acquire over time or be born with it. In my case, I believe I had that attitude right when I was young. I was not that normal kid who did things as expected. I was a risk-taker, and if 100 people took a left turn, I took a right. Even today, I like challenging the status quo.
It was almost like an epiphany when I met the other two founders who incidentally were in the same situation as mine. That’s when our energies collided, and we conceptualized what soon became Diyotta.
The timing of our collaboration was perfect because the industry witnessed a paradigm shift — moving from traditional data storage and processing to a more modern outlook with Hado and BI Data. So, we wanted to go all out. We discussed with our families about quitting our jobs and commencing this new journey.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The AHA moment is very fresh in my memory. Before we left our jobs, we were still brainstorming and creating prototypes. We were adamant that Diyotta must offer a product with a user interface and facilitate the drag and drop interface. While building this prototype, we realized that the result should be a pipeline, where a user can save his data. But when he reopens the pipeline, the data is intact and retained. While all this sounds simple and feasible — we, for a second, stepped back to realized, “Whoa! We can perform this from a UI perspective. We can ACTUALLY see our idea come to life.” We realized that this project was scalable and was determined to build it.
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?
Inspiration for me comes from entrepreneurs who took a chance and failed before succeeding in their goals. The guy who tops this list is Steve Jobs. I have extensively read books about him and his journey and watched all the material available about him. Each of the stories gave me one important message — despite several setbacks — his entrepreneurial spirit never died. What matters, at the end of the day, is your efforts! One must have no regrets.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When we entered the market most of the solutions and architectures were outdated. We were witnessing exponential data growth, and enterprises were all moving towards a data-driven approach. We wanted our solution to be light, portable, and scalable. Hence it was important for us to separate the computing and computing instructions which were combined together in legacy solutions. So, we went for a Meta data-driven approach to generate the computing instructions and leverage the power of the data ecosystem that the customers already had. This was a unique approach in terms of managing data processes at the enterprise level. Essentially, the data can stay where it is; you can use a visual interface to compute instruction and push down the logic to the existing data platforms.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At least 200 + people earn their living through our company and have succeeded in their career paths, started families, and have flourished in life. That satisfies me a lot. We have also tied up with NGOs in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India as part of CSR. But in all honestly, I am still not there yet. I would like to do a lot more for the society. I don’t think it is ever enough.
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?
- The ability to make decisions quickly — can lead you in the right or not so right direction. But at least you took a call! When we started, we had to deliver our first POC with our only client — Clarity Telecom. I quickly decided to spend the time and effort to fly to their head office in Kuala Lumpur. We won that deal. If I had evaded the decision-making process or waited for them to make the call, things might have gone the other way.
- Try to identify the problem in advance and take action immediately. If you see something is not working, identify the issue early and take quick actions. At one point, we hired an external leader to run sales and then hired a few more sales representatives. The leader was making all the decisions, but we didn’t see the desired results. When we raised the issue, he asked us to wait for another two quarters, yet it ended with no results. We stepped in and had to dissolve the team. We knew things were not working; we should have acted upon it. This entire process cost us a lot of money.
- Treat your money as your best friend as you are already running a startup under a crunch. I would be so frugal in the initial days. I wouldn’t take the business class while flying or wouldn’t spend on bottled water. We never went overboard with marketing. One must define, prioritize and spend the money in meeting essential requirements.
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?
This will sound contradictory to what I said earlier about money being your best friend, but I learnt from my mistakes. In the early days, I religiously followed a leading analyst firm in the US. All the clients we approached asked us whether we are approved by the analyst firm. We were not. So, I decided to speak to the officials at that firm to take things forward.
I must say that they were very encouraging; they also agreed to provide product direction, keep us updated with the latest trends, etc. However, everything came with a price. We signed a two-year contract at a huge price. We didn’t have that kind of money back then. They offered several other services, and everything cost a lot of money. You may be of the opinion that some companies may help you; instead, they can mislead you. My response to the question is a two-point answer: do not get advice from people you don’t know. Second -only take the direction with your solicitation. Now I realize that I should not have listened to that analyst firm.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When we started the company, we completely bootstrapped. Money was our single most significant problem — from paying salaries to the existing employees, office expenses, purchasing equipment, etc. — We spent 15,000–20,000$ a month. That is huge money, especially when we weren’t making sizeable revenue. We would often dig into our savings or avail loan from friends. Apart from that, we had a huge loan to repay with interest, when we fired the external leadership that we had hired. We were overworking to strike deals, to make ends meet literally. However, I must admit that I never regretted leaving the job. All my focus was on getting this company started and leading it the right way.
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?
The passion and desire to become successful helped me overcome all difficulties. We believed in our products; in the due course, we gained clients and slowly climbed up the ladder. But it all fell in place because of our continued efforts. We knew that our technology would work and would definitely find a place in the market. We achieved that by being persistent. Today, we are published in Gartner and are one of the ‘Top Technologies To Watch Out For’ as part of a Solutions Review article.
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”?
We discussed portfolios amongst the three founders during our initial days- based on our weaknesses and strengths. There were emotional discussions, and we didn’t reach a consensus. We didn’t believe in ourselves — and as a result, the distinction of our roles was a big problem. If an issue arose, three of us would try to reach a solution and ultimately deflect from the problem itself. Finally, when we got an external leader, and things went downhill, I stepped in as the CEO. Another big plus is that I also do yoga, meditation, and pranayama (breathing techniques) to help keep the mind stable. If I were, what I am today, nine years ago — the company would have had a better growth cycle.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks 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?
I would tell them to bootstrap as long as they can. Diyotta is the most prominent example of that. If you, as an entrepreneur, are trying to keep the process organic, then the only way to do it is by bootstrapping. Bring in external funding only when you are looking to scale the business. Otherwise, bootstrap as long as you can.
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.
When we started- we wanted to make sure that our idea was innovative. So when we differentiated ‘compute process instructions’ from compute engine, it was clever. We didn’t have solutions in the market. In our process, users could create scripts and run them natively on the machine. Our perspective was different. So my first point goes to the idea — be different and think creatively.
They should be committed; the chemistry needs to be top-notch and it would be a bonus for those with prior experience. With Diyotta, I am thankful that I found people who are devoted to the company. We saw our ups and downs, but the understanding and chemistry I shared with my founders were unmatched. We could all leverage the prior experience that helped us in building Diyotta.
3. Initial Capital
Think about how much money you will need for the next 2–3 years to run the company including expenses, sales strategy, marketing, etc. The three of us didn’t plan for this correctly. Find someone with a financial background so they can give you the proper perspective on initial capital. There were months when we wouldn’t know how to make ends meet. Be mindful of this aspect.
Everything looks fantastic in the books, but things start crumbling when you execute it. Get a stronghold of finance, demarcate roles and responsibilities perfectly, establish a strong team & culture, and improve your sales game. Every aspect of the company needs to work in complete synchronism. We learnt a lot from our initial mistakes — getting emotional about roles, wrong hiring, and money management.
You may end up having dry days, constantly running out of money and time, and things can get frustrating. All you need at that time is a ray of hope and belief. Be persistent because that can never go wrong and constantly innovate.
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?
The opposite of all that I just mentioned above is some of the top mistakes one can make. I have seen companies crumbling even if one of the suggestions — finances, idea, founders, or execution missed the target. I have also seen companies work too hard on the product and miss building their sales strategy. Work on it in your early days. People think- if we create a sound technology, it can sell itself. That’s not the case. We started our sales in India and eventually found clients in Switzerland, Canada, South America, and Singapore. We developed the product in the US, and we should have ideally identified clients in the US preferably. Learn from the mistakes others have made and don’t repeat them.
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?
I personally followed mediation and pranayama (traditional Indian breathing technique) to keep my mind at peace. I think taking breaks is very important; otherwise, you will burn out quickly. Have an early morning ritual where you connect with yourself and your mind. This space and time are essential for a thinker.
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. 🙂
I would ideally like to build a technology that can help the healthcare and agriculture sector. I am still working on it, but my next step will be developing a technology that can help customers lead healthy lives. I come from a country where 70% of the population depends on agriculture. There is a technical gap in that sector that needs immediate attention.
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.
Elon Musk. I think he is a visionary. Spending just five minutes around him can be inspiring. It is just amazing how his mind can think so differently. He recently said Tesla would create a quiet electric leaf blower. Who would have thought?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you for the opportunity. Stay well!