Fun fact: ReadMe has been in operation since 2012 and it’s nearing 7 years now. Honestly, it’s getting harder to keep that in mind. If you’ve been with us since Day 01, thank you! We absolutely wouldn’t be here without you. Of course, that’s not to say the journey has been smooth sailing. We’ve had our fair share of invisible victories and epic failures. Last Friday, we had a chance to speak about the latter.
Welcome to F*ck Up Fridays
At the very first edition of these meetups inside Hatch, aimed at encouraging startup founders and entrepreneurs to share their f*ckup stories, our co-founder Enosh Praveen made the bold decision to be its debut speaker. He took the stage to share some stories of how he f*cked up and what he learned from these adventures. It’s not exhaustive but here are his top 03 experiences.
“How arrogance f*cked me up.”
This occurred back in 2012, ReadMe was just born. “We had learned that the content business was tough and we needed revenue sources fast. Then an opportunity came knocking. A reputed brand wanted us to create some content for them.” explans Enosh. Seeing this opportunity, Enosh thought to himself, “Hey, I have a bunch of writers, I know the know-how’s, why don’t I try this?”
Thanks to a known contact, Enosh went for a meeting with the Managing Director and some of his associates. When the MD walked into the boardroom, everyone stood up as a sign of respect. Except for Enosh who was caught off-guard but leaned forward in his chair and back. With that out of the way, Enosh started what he describes as, “A blabbering pitch.”
Couple of minutes into the pitch, the MD says, “Get up.” in a harsh tone. Enosh was confused. “Please, get up,” said the MD again. Enosh stood up and the MD said, “Look at what you’re wearing. T-shirt and jeans. Is that how you dress? Do you expect me to respect you and listen to your pitch when you’re wearing this? I’m not ready to listen to you.” The boardroom and everyone inside were silent for a few seconds. He then said “Please leave.”
Dumbstruck, Enosh packed his things and left. Up until that point, he had been someone who’d wear a T-shirt even to weddings. His parents used to yell at him and he often argued back. But this was a turning point he describes saying, “And that’s my first f*ck up due to my arrogance of not listening to my parents earlier. I’m not saying what’s right to wear here. I just learned a lesson of how people choose to perceive you, is not the same as how you want them to.”
“How ego f*cked me up.”
Fast forward 2 years after ReadMe started operations, things were going well. So we made the decision to expand into new content verticals replicating the same model. We launched 3 new platforms venturing into Sports, Education and Travel. “We were doing well on one platform, so what could go wrong? We even hired 3-4 people each team to run them,” describes Enosh. “We were having a gala time at ReadMe back then, we didn’t even notice that it was overshadowing some adverse indicators from the other platforms. It all came to a head when we decided to host a large scale Futsal Tournament.”
“We were highly positive about it. We spent a good two months planning it and dumped in close to Rs. 2 million to make it a reality. But on the day of the event, only half of the sponsors turned up. The other half weren’t informed properly. Of the half that came, only half ended up paying and that too after months of following up.”
So what went wrong here? Enosh credits this experience being among our failures due to us having a team that was too big and believing nothing could go wrong. Too many cooks were involved. Enosh elaborates on this experience saying, “We later realized that half of the sponsors hadn’t even confirmed in writing. We only had verbal or WhatsApp confirmations. No contracts. Some email threads we not very clear. We had been entirely depended on our expansive team and didn’t care to go into the details. The result was that we had to bear almost 80% or the costs. Our ego that nothing could go wrong came back to swallow us whole”
“How inexperience f*cked me up.”
As the story goes, the next adventure took place when a local newspaper publisher approached for a partnership. They wanted to discuss what seemed like a golden opportunity at the time. The entire ordeal was a new experience with multiple discussions taking place inside their ancient building with long hallways and lavish wooden floors.
“Little did we know that this opportunity was like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and we bit into it sinking our teeth too deep. We entered into an agreement where we were contracted to conduct interviews, write content, design the magazine layout, and also look after the sales. The publisher would then print and circulate 50,000 copies island wide with co-branding, for which we were paying in full for the printing too. The profits would then be split equally.”
As Enosh describes this experience, “Things were amazing the first 3 months. Every person we met would be asking about this magazine. But then 3 months became 6 and 6 months became 9, and we were starting to feel the heat. Clearly, we were doing all the work and there was something not right here. We were burning close to a million every month, and sharing half of the profits too. The partnership was a strain all along. We were just too excited to examine this closely. Ultimately, we had to call it quits.”
Would we ever do these things again? Absolutely yes. Each of our failures simply taught us a valuable lesson on “One additional way of how not to do these things” says Enosh. Hence, in closing he stressed “We’re still f*cking around to tell you more stories next time!”.
We weren’t alone in reliving our failures
After Enosh, we saw another brave soul take the spotlight to share the story of his royal f*ckups. Aloka Gunasekara – Program Manager at StartupX Foundry opened by jokingly saying, “If fucking up is an art form, I’m the Picasso of it.” He also went onto say that “Having friends with the same mental disorder is a blessing. But not with your co-founders.” From his entrepreneurial adventures, he learned the importance of having co-founders who would challenge your ideas. In his experience, if everyone’s excited about the same idea then things might not end well.
One of the key takeaways we got from his talk was having some understanding of HR matters and accounting. When Aloka co-founded the company, his business partner had registered for EPF and ETF. But he hadn’t shared the information with Aloka who shockingly discovered it one year later. At that time, it was quite challenging to pay EPF, especially since Aloka’s business partner had to sign the cheques but was in Australia.
The other remaining options weren’t feasible either. On top of this, the labour department offered very little support nor did the Employees’ Provident Fund itself. They somehow managed to make some of the EPF payments through cheques. But after spending almost 2 years going back and forth regarding these deferred EPF payments, Aloka and his business partner realized that it was easier to simply pay the fine.
Aloka elaborated on this saying, “EPF said they’re gonna sue us. We said, be our guest. They sued. Judge asked what gives. We said we’re paying. Judge asked whether we’ll be paying the whole amount. We said yes. Paid the full amount then and there.” Thankfully, ETF in contrast was a lot easier. Describing the difference, Aloka said, “They hand held us through the process of making our deferred payments, even with ETF, I remember only two bank branches accepted ETF payments in Colombo. The one ETF payment accepting People’s Bank was close to our office and ETF genuinely understood that we had no idea how to make these payments.”
Another entrepreneurial adventure of his was building a website to sell second-hand items in Australia. Think of it as an Australian version of ikman. Sadly, the website only saw a few thousand visitors over many months. Aloka admitted that their market research needed a lot more work if that idea was to succeed. Hence he went onto emphasize the importance of conducting proper market research before anyone launches a startup.
Following Aloka’s talk, we saw many members of the audience share their own stories of failures. These ranged from simple email errors to business failures to even failing exams. The final story of a royal f*ckup we heard that night was by Randhula De Silva – CEO of Hatch.
Randhula shared how she and a former colleague wanted to build their own startup accelerator after being exposed in the field for so long. They later had been put in touch with a consultant that had promised to connect them with noteworthy investors and other key individuals. But months passed and the consultant didn’t deliver on his promises. On top of this, the consultant was charging them a hefty fee.
Even though they had made advance payments, which was no small cost according to Randhula, she and her friend took the hard decision to bid farewell to the consultant after months of delays. She shared that they’re still working on their idea, but it’s going to take a bit longer than before. With that on record, the celebration of f*ckups inside Hatch began.