Exploring the unseen side of startups at F’Up Fridays

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Launching your own startup is hardly a cakewalk. This is a universal truth, simply because everyone goes through ups and downs. Sharing what honestly happened and how entrepreneurs overcome these obstacles is what F’Up Fridays is all about. Held at Hatch, think of F’Up Fridays as a place to grab a cold one and reminisce failures.

The stumbling blocks on the road to building a better world

Taking us on a trip down memory lane was Harinda Fonseka – Founder and CEO of Gudppl. He learned the importance of accountability at a very early stage. Gudppl is a platform that connects volunteers with volunteer projects. If you want to know more about Harinda’s journey and the origin story of Gudppl, click here.  

Opening up about his failures, Harinda said, “Not having a strong mentor is my first f*ckup.” Adding to this was the fact that he didn’t have a co-founder. He was accountable to no one. As a result, he found that he found himself over committing and losing focus on the core goals.

This led to his second f*ckup which was “not starting small.” But after several iterations of the Gudppl platform, the Gudppl team focused on releasing an app with minimal features. Of course, building this team was no easy task either. 

In 2016, when Harinda began recruiting, he read every book he could find on the subject. His interview process had all the bells and whistles such as a 3 stage rigorous interview process, individual meetings, and panel screenings. “It was probably more advanced than anything anyone else would’ve had in this room,” joked Harinda. Yet despite all this, Harinda only hired two people. Of these, only one showed up to work the next day.

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One of the many projects that Harinda and Gudppl was a part of (Image Credits: Harinda Fonseka)

Despite these f*ckups, Harinda didn’t feel under pressure. This is in stark contrast to many other entrepreneurs. So he quizzed the audience, “What do you do if you’re not under pressure?” 

When Harinda began working on Gudppl, he was living with his parents, probably giving a soft padding for the floor. Therefore, he had minimal personal expenses and gave him a safety net to take risks.

He prepared to launch Gudppl on 11 occasions since 2016. Sadly, each time it was a flop. In many instances, it was simply developers making false promises. So in Dec 2018, he together with Gudppl development team, decided to focus on releasing a basic version with minimal features. This was released in April 2019.

Harinda Fonseka | F'Up Fridays | August 2019
Harinda sharing the stories of his failures running Gudppl

When it comes to failure, Harinda is not a novice. So what kept him going? His answer to that question was his pride. His persistence has paid off. Since its launch, Gudppl has connected approximately 1500 volunteers with 275 projects. Yet, this is merely the beginning of a bold dream. With determination, Harinda concluded by stating, “I want Sri Lanka to have a better positive image.” The end goal is to build a world with good people that care.

You need to find your own customers 

This was a bitter pill that Chandika Jayasundara – Co-Founder & CEO of Creately had to swallow after launching his startup. Back in 2008, he saw that no one was doing diagramming apps on the web. At the time, the market leader was Microsoft Visio, which was a desktop application. 

So in that same year, Cinergix (the holding company of Creately) raised $300,000 to launch Creately. This was the diagramming app for the web. It was novel but even so, nobody knew them in Silicon Valley or in Sri Lanka. Adding to their troubles, their funding dried up following the financial crisis. Nonetheless, Chandika was adamant to introduce Creately to the world.

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A glimpse of Creately (Image credits: Creately)

Initially, Creately tried partnering up with large corporates. However, this experiment ended in failure. This was a failure that sent 6 months of work down the drain. From this, Chandika learned an important lesson, “You have to find your own customers.” 

Fast forward 10 years later and Creately has over 3 million users. These include giants such as PayPal, eBay, Amazon, Disney, and even NASA. Yet, Chanidka went onto state that while Creately is a success, it’s only so by ‘Rest of the world’ standards. “In the Valley, people would call Creately a lifestyle business,” said a somewhat frustrated Chandika. ‘We stopped swinging for the fences somewhere in the middle and that was our most foundational mistake, startups are there to find exponential growth” 

Hence, he’s determined to see the exponential growth of Creately. To do so, he returned to the root of the problem Creately was solving. Soon, a revelation came, “Whenever you get an idea what’s the first thing you do? You’ll scribble it on a napkin, or a piece of paper. But when was the last time we did this on a laptop?”

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With this realization, Creately was completely overhauled from the ground up. Chandika admits that initially they were terrified about losing customers. “But they’re still paying for it, so it’s all good,” he meekly shared. The next step on this journey is an ambitious one. Chandika boldly stated that Creatly’s next goal is to reach 100 million people within the next 5 years. 

In conclusion, Chandika shared a few nuggets of positivity for the entrepreneurs in the audience. He reminded them to remember why they chose to walk down this challenging path. On this road, one will inevitably face challenges. “Even if your company fails, it does not make YOU a failure,” reminded Chandika as he walked off stage.  

Overcoming barriers for healthy lifestyle adoption 

Sharing her experiences in a not-so-average startup was Teesha from Workout.lk. Its mission is to inspire active and healthy living while providing credible resources all under one roof. Initially, Teesha believed that people would be readily keen to adopt such lifestyles. However, soon understood the many cultural and psychosocial barriers for adoption. Additionally, our collectivist culture is an additional barrier preventing us from venturing outside our comfort zones.

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Determined to make a difference, Teesha wasn’t deterred. She experimented with different approaches and tactics to encourage healthy living. Reflecting on her strategies, she learned to pivot when necessary and fail fast.  Thankfully, Teesha ran a lean operation, which meant she had plenty of room to experiment given the unpredictable economic and political landscape. 

Before concluding her talk, Teesha shared a few thoughts on the startup ecosystem and its hustle culture. She highlighted that many startups aim profit maximization at the cost of ethics and societal impact and that only a handful of investors focus on startups that aim to make a larger impact on society. She also highlighted that many entrepreneurs sacrifice health and wellness in pursuit of startup goals and that this is detrimental and unsustainable in the long run. When posed the question, she emphasized that being a woman should not deter anyone from pursuing entrepreneurship goals. 

You too can come share your story of failures

That was a rare glimpse into the truth of entrepreneurship. It’s a road filled with challenges as we learned from Harinda. It’s a continuous journey with valuable lessons like those Chandika found growing Creately. It will challenge your assumptions and force you to adapt as Teesha did. But this is merely scratching the surface. If you want to learn more, be sure to keep an eye on the Hatch Facebook page for future editions of F’Up Fridays.

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