10th book of 2021: Failing to succeed by Vaitheeswaran K
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
I remember reading the Mint article of 2015. It talked about Indiaplaza and how it crashed in the midst of an otherwise spectacular funding boom in India. Still in college and three years in as a student entrepreneur, I recall being in shock after reading the story. It had hit hard.
Almost instinctively, I always found myself rooting for the underdogs. The founder of Indiaplaza was just that. A pioneering, inspiring underdog with all elements of a terrific story; he was not from IIT, had contrarian beliefs, and was struggling against the unbelievably mighty giants of the time. Even though he was the first in the race of Ecommerce in India, all cards were stacked against him. The article was masterfully written, and incredibly heartbreaking. Indiaplaza couldn't survive.
Almost six years hence (a couple of weeks ago), I stumbled upon the twitter profile of Mr. Vaitheeswaran and it said: Author of Failing to Succeed. Wow! In a reflex, I ordered it and requested him to join me for an episode of I Read This Book. He said yes, and now that I've read the book, I'm really looking forward to the talk.
Failing to Succeed chronicles Mr. Vaitheeswaran's journey of starting up the first Ecommerce company of India, back in 1999. At the time, no one knew about internet here and everything was new. For the entrepreneurs, it was like laying the road and then walking on it, which is exactly what Mr. K did. One customer at a time. They had more than their share of trials and tribulations, but it would be fair to say that they did well. At the peak, they were on track to hit 120 Crores in sales with nice fundamentals. They were doing well, until the fucking world went crazy.
In 2015-16, the Indian internet economy started booming on the back of mammoth funding, deep discounts and inexplicable madness. Startups were raising money on BS plans and the greatest welfare schemes of the time were being sponsored by VC firms, not the government. People were getting free food, free merchandise, free cab rides, free everything! I was there, building my startup with the mindset of growing profitably (without VCs), and the entire scene was simply bizarre. I didn't buy any of that bubble, and neither did Mr. Vaitheeswaran. And as it turned out, both of us were wrong. Not entirely, but on the parts which mattered the most anyway.
The book beautifully captures a very emotional journey of starting up with a crazy idea, having fun while building things, finding successes, and dealing with all sorts of mess that happens while you're at it. What mesmerizes is the insurmountably tragic end where Mr. Vaitheeswaran deals with agonizing forces far and beyond his control. I sincerely believe this book should be handed over to every entrepreneur, and while one might not agree with everything Mr. K says, it shouldn't matter. Because this story is far greater than a selection of investment theses or startup advice. It's about something way deeper and relevant. It's about personal elegance and integrity.
Even after losing everything and going through the toughest times one can imagine, Mr. K didn't abandon dignity. He rose and fell like a thorough gentlemen with his ethics intact. And despite hitting the deepest of rock bottoms, he picked himself up and started up again. Thankfully, he wrote this book so his hard hitting story can keep inspiring people, and I'm sure will happen. All my hats are off to him.
Must read. I'm planning to make this my new year's gift for people.
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