‘From failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’ – Winston Churchill.
Rahul Singh, Founder & CEO, Beer Café, began his talk at Startup50 with this quote. It is a topic very close to his heart, and he emphasizes that it is very different than what is usually said about failure – which is, one must learn from it. This quote, on the other hand, focuses on something else; It is that people should not lose their energy and enthusiasm as they move to their next stint after a failed project.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Singh worked for 15 years in various global companies, starting from 1992, but decided to startup in 2007. His last professional role was Executive Director (apparel) at Reebok India.
By that time, he was already 38, with a family, and so the risks and responsibilities were higher. But he did not want to look back at this stage in life when he retired and regret not making the effort to do what he liked. “I read somewhere that a bigger failure is one who has not even tried rather than someone who has tried and failed,” says Singh.
Having decided to start up something and even roping in two people on board for his bootstrapped venture, the next question was – do what?
An entrepreneur is one who caters to a gap in the marketplace. “I knew golf was in my blood. My father had taken up golfing and I was surrounded by golfers. I said wow, let me do that – start something to bridge a gap in the golfing world,” he reminisces.
He got rights from lots of golf brands using his relationship with them due to his sports background and for two to three years, his business did very well. “I was exporting golfing products from India to 37 countries and minting a lot of money. So I thought I will sell this in India as well,” he explains his next move. He went to different cities and sold to pro shops. The problem was, he never got paid by the shops. “Our debtor list was pretty high. So I said I will go directly to the people. As I set out to do this, I realized people are not playing golf enough. So I thought I could create a new concept, teamed up with an Australian and created an indoor stadium under the brand Golfworx. It was India’s first and largest indoor golf concept. I sank money in it. But when something fails, we say it was before its time. Golfworx was before its time,” he adds.
The company also conceptualized a few golfing events. Though people would sign up for events, they would back off at the last minute. Except, when they organized single malt events, not only would the invitees turn up, but also bring guests with them. “So I realized, booze it is for me, if not golf,” he says with a smile.
He decided to focus on beer because it had the greatest head room.
But the very first failure he met with, was that no one wanted to join him. In general, it is tough to hire for a startup, and he also had the stigma of having failed in a venture. “It is different abroad – even the government supports you. They have a bankruptcy law. Here it is not there. And banks don’t help you. No government agency helps you,” Singh points out.
But Singh was clear that he will not go back to a 9 to 5 job and keep trying. “That’s where the Churchill quote helped me. Failing will only make you wiser and better. Failure inspires winners. Importantly, it is crucial to move with enthusiasm,” he says inspirationally.
Learning from the past
His greatest learning was that the first time, he had created a very large format, like a large aircraft carrier which can sink with one missile. The key is to fail just enough, so you leave yourself the room to rise up again.
So this time, he decided to focus on beer – an easier product to sell – launched Beer Cafe and the venture has already scaled up to 40 outlets, and will touch 100 outlets next year. “Of course, one or two will sink due to various reasons. But I will not lose my shirt this time,” he says, with a smile.
I read somewhere that a bigger failure is one who has not even tried rather than someone who has tried and failed
The company has 800 employees today and is expected to become 2000 next year. “We are aligned as a team towards failure. If someone makes a mistake – we find out who has made the mistake and clap,” explains Singh. The mistake is never because of one person; everybody has a share in it. But the person who has made the mistake is not made to feel small.
Systems also play an important part in the venture, since attrition is a big challenge faced by formats such as his. But the company itself has only four per cent attrition, mainly because it continues to behave like a startup. “People like working with us, and it goes all the way to the customer. In this business, the people serving the customers need to be happy,” Singh opines.
Finally, for him, there is only one mantra: “I can, I will. End of story,” he wraps up.
Try not to fail so bad, that it becomes impossible to rise again
Enthusiasm and energy are key elements of overcoming failure
Failure is hard, but it is really what you think of it. Move on.
As philosophical as this may sound, keep learning and keep trying, success will eventually come