“A business might fail, but an Entrepreneur never fails” | Sagar Sheth, GoDutch
Interviewed by Sunny Dhondkar
Sagar Sheth is an IIT Bombay alumnus, an ex-business analyst at A.T. Kearney, and now one of the co-founders of GoDutch, a Mumbai-based group payments startup which has raised $1.7 million led by Matrix Partners India, with participation from Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital, VentureSouq, and marquee angel investors in less than two years of starting up. He shares the success journey of his startup and talks about the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs and how to overcome them.
What was the one major takeaway from your corporate experience? What was the one thing you thought was very important?
For me, when I was a student and I was on campus, I used to think that if you have a great idea that is interesting and could lead to a successful business then we should start our initiative. I had a belief that you can begin a startup only when you are completely passionate about the idea. Contrary to that, in my four years of corporate life what I realized is that even if the idea is important and you’re passionate about it, other things like the execution of the startup, the day to day hustling matters way more. We need to work a lot for executing and implementing the idea more than creating an idea itself. If we say that ideating a startup takes a month, execution of this idea may take a year or longer. And that’s what makes the outcome better. That was the major takeaway during my corporate experience.
What is your startup about? And how did you start? Were you alone or you had a team with you for different jobs?
The idea itself germinated at IIT Bombay, itself. I was staying at the Hostel 3 along with my wingies from 3rd or 4th year. We used to order food online or go out and enjoy it together. That’s when we realized how broken is the system of managing group expenses when you go out with the group of your friends. Major of the times one person has to pay on behalf of the entire group and people don’t like doing that. After coming to the hostel, this person had to roam door to door requesting people for returning his amount. His friends used to delay the payback and give regular excuses. He has to wait for a number of days before people actually payback. Also, reminding people gets awkward many times. Because of these issues, people don’t like paying on behalf of others. That’s what led us to establish goDutch, to simplify the way groups manage their expenses. goDutch is founded by three of us. Me, along with Anirudh and Riyaz used to live in the same wing of our hostel.
What were your highs and lows during the journey? What was your approach to beginning the startup?
Generally, for an early-stage startup, it’s difficult to figure out whether it would move from an idea to a business. Basically, you have to build an MVP or an early version of the product, which you can test out with real users and get their feedback. This helps you figure out whether this product makes sense or it actually adds value to their life or not. That’s what we actually did in the beginning and it was only the three of us. None of us was a natural coder. I was from Meta, and Anirudh and Riyaz were from Civil. Also, we couldn’t hire someone who can code an app or a website for our startup as we couldn’t collect funds in the beginning. Luckily, Riyaz had worked with a company in the past as a product manager. He didn’t actually code while working for the company, but he learnt how to do it. So, he basically created the whole product by himself. Then we tested it out. Anirudh created a campus ambassador program and reached a lot of students and get their feedback. After that, we were able to raise quite a considerable amount of funding. Since then things have got better. We were able to hire a team. Things before that were quite scrappy. I realized that for making a startup grow, you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone and learn things on your own. You won’t have a budget to hire too many people to do work for you. You will have to do most of the stuff on your own.
When were you actually assured of your idea and firm to hire people and build a team for expanding your venture?
We talked about our concept to a lot of people and then we created the MVP I spoke about. We kept creating a better MVP and speak to the real users of our product and get their feedback. When we got sure about the validity of our idea, we decided to raise funding. Once we raised funding, we started hiring people for our company. Now we have a 10-11 member team. That is, we decided to hire people only when we were sure our startup can grow to a large business. It took us about a year to get at this level when we could hire people.
Do you have any interesting anecdote to share with us?
We got into Y-Combinator, which is supposed to be the world’s best funding accelerator program. It has given birth to a lot of large companies. Our application with them happened at the very last minute. The night before the application was due, Anirudh and Riyaz came to my home and we basically worked the entire night to fill the application. We had to make a video and answer a number of questions on that. Luckily, we got an interview and got selected. The thing is we didn’t have an actual product ready at that time. All we had was our MVP and we presented that during our application. It is very difficult for the early-stage companies to get into the Y-Combinator. People generally prepare for the application for weeks in advance and we made it in a single night. They were our first investors. Y-Combinator invested $ 150,000 in our startup.
What were the sacrifices you had to make for your startup and was it difficult to maintain a balance?
We had to make two kinds of sacrifices. One was jumping from a job to the startup. You have to sacrifice a high salary job in such a situation. That is the toughest mental adjustment you’ll have to take care of. But talking about the balance of work-life, it exists only when you are doing a job. Here in a startup, the thing is that you’ll have to make your work your life. Work is the only thing that matters the most to you. There’s no concept of work-life balance anymore. It’s obviously important to take small breaks and refresh yourself, but working the entire week becomes important. In a startup, it’s a very small team and there’s so much to do. This takes away the concept of work-life balance. Your work becomes your life. But you never regret this. It’s something you’ve chosen for yourself. Making such sacrifices might seem risky. Now I’m 25 and I don’t have any dependables as such. I am not married and I don’t have any loans or debts. I am at a stage where I can sacrifice my high salary job to create a value of my own, rather than someone who is around 35 and has so many dependencies and family pressure. For me, I’ve got nothing to lose. According to me, an entrepreneur never fails. A business could fail but as an entrepreneur, you could never fail.
How has the pandemic affected your startup?
In terms of the pandemic, we’ve been affected in a couple of ways. We didn’t have any team members before the pandemic started. We were just three co-founders. We received funding just before the beginning of the pandemic and we sort of onboarded our entire team. For sharing ideas, it’s better if the team stays together and performs discussion live face-to-face. But due to the pandemic, we’re unable to do that. That’s one loss we’ve faced. Also, group expenses are not happening due to the pandemic. People have stopped travelling and entertainment industry that includes concerts and movies has stopped. But still people are sharing OTT subscription, online food delivery, and paying home rent so we are not in a sudden declination. That’s a good thing.