Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Living On Instant Noodles.

Posted on: June 19, 2008

I’m convinced that we are doing something wrong.

During a conversation with someone who has experience beyond my age, on how the product landscape in India is evolving, he smiled, took the time to coin his words (into something more politically correct) and said, “Nobody is really changing the rules of the game. Everyone is looking to make a quick buck”. When I met Subho Roy of IAMAI a few weeks back, he pretty much resonated with that and almost let out the frustration saying “This is all turning into a valuation game. Where are the days of building solid businesses?” Is there something wrong with that? Thats what I am hoping we can discuss, argue and debate about here.

It’s that time of the year for – got barely a month to go and usually this is the time when we are finalizing all the companies and lining up the speakers for the Fastrack Sessions. We are talking about… How to sell, as a Startup? Not how to sell-out, more like how to sell your products and make revenue. There is much that seems to be obscure in the land of the startup community with so much millions and trillions discussed about – especially the size of the VC firm’s wallet.

I have been touching base with a fair slew of guys who have natively built and sold products here in India. Tally is one such company that I got in touch with and the response I got really got me thinking – because it resonates with what Mr. Experienced told me before. He wasn’t sure if he could make it to the event since he has travel plans, but left with a note saying “I wonder if people are ready to hear the heartache of building a business over 18 years. It might even depress a startup.”

Lets not make a mistake here saying that Tally just didn’t hit it right. Do you know how long it took for Bose to become a double digit million dollar making company? More than a decade. There is a joke within circles that Bose would be a bad company in a VC’s portfolio. Infosys took 25 years to attain maturity and go public. Look at Wipro. Look at Microsoft. The list is endless.

Arguably so, there is a compression in the age of the entrepreneur, the pace at which modern businesses move and grow, and it certainly has shortened, but has it also shortened the lifespans of the company?

I strongly believe that as a startup entrepreneur, the wrong person to meet is a VC. Keep in touch with him, listen to them, and get your due diligence out of them, but when it comes to business models, ignore what they have to say. They are going to want you to make revenue from day one. And the process to do that is to have an opportunistic view and that unfortunately is always short lived. Forget revenues. Forget business models. Identify the need. Understand your customers. Understand what the market is evolving towards. Then its upto you to perceive those needs and demands and formulate the solution and figure out the price discovery as to how much your customers would cough up to get that handed to them in a platter.

Instead, if you go to an investor much earlier on, on your toddler days when you should be focusing on growing, having fun and enjoying the time speaking mumbo jumbo with your peers and playing hide and seek, you’ll be wrapped in a straightjacket or in a war suit and sent to battle the mammoths of the battlefield. The end of that is not rocket science to figure out. But trust me, a kid in the middle of a battlefield will be sensational story – and trust me you will get the attention of a whole lot of folks. You just wont last long enough.

I’ll nitpick on one industry. The Travel Industry. If you go and pitch to anyone saying that you are working in the Travel Industry they are going to shun you thinking that you are the next travel portal claiming the cheapest price on the web. It has unfortunately come to that. But do you know how much inefficiencies are still there in the travel industry? The issues with checking in, tracking baggages, and even the legacy systems that they have to manage the passengers inside the terminal – the systems are really not keeping up with the explosion in traffic. Buying a cheap ticket is the least of the worries as of now. How many of you know of Sabre? They are pretty much the underlying platform behind the entire air fleet management and PNR systems worldwide. They are big, which means they are probably scared of radical change. Tell me what they are missing out on, what of that is adding to the woes of the traveller, and fix that.

I remember recently when I was talking to a publishing media about a recent magazine that they had launched. This is a magazine which is focused for entrepreneurs – and its quite well known by now. The magazine house has defined a period of five years for them to break even. I asked the man at the helm if the print industry had such a slow uptake. He responded saying “we break even in 14 months, but we’d rather make the investments in the first couple of years towards a solid start”. He made sense. Lots of sense.

How you lay the foundations for your empire matter. There is a parable in the bible about a man who build his house on the rock, and one that built it on sand. The way the house came up, obviously had a difference since the one on sand required much less work and it was all upwards, but when the rain came down, it showed which one was a much solid refuge to live in.

I think, err believe that startups should have fun. Build something people want, and build it having fun and in a way that you are passionate about. I am strongly against working 18 hours a day and racing against time to catch the wave. My most favorite teacher in school always said that it was much easier to fish in a calm ocean than in the middle of a hurricane. Ideas, concepts and the clarity of mind to execute are all luxuries that you can only enjoy in a calm ocean.

So tell me, if you were absolutely passionate about something and want to totally change the rules of the game of an industry, and would want your name to live on for years to come, what would you do? Think about it… take your time… ah, thats what you should be doing. Not living on Instant noodles. Let me tell you what, lets sit down with some candlelight, under the clear skies, and treat ourselves to gourmet – slightly tedious, painful and takes more time, but I tell ya, its totally worth it. What say ye?


44 Responses to "Living On Instant Noodles."

Yes the high-tech high-speed culture of the day spoiling the joy of toil and soil. Thank God,these ‘instant noodle’ people have not yet invented the ‘instant child birth’, yet!

is it also a function of the times we live in ODIs to T20, blogging to twitter, essentially dwindling attention spans… to answer your last question, very generically, a rapidly changing business landscape could force you to think that if you don’t do it now, there’s no point doing it at all.. a rapidly changing landscape would also mean that fundamentals of an industry might suddenly change, and so, an ever lasting business proposition might soon become a fantasy… one thing i’ll agree on though, this is extremely debatable πŸ™‚

Manu: I’m always skeptical of folks who say, if not done in the next three days it cant be done – ever. Racing time is always a losing game.

Pretty neat post Vijay

I fully agree with you on building a business v/s catching eyeballs …

I think best businesses are built slowly over time. However if you want to get into markets like travel etc, you need your marketing team from days 1 (to sell/to develop too)

That is something totally missing … working as a team right from day 1. I think to get that in place, ppl go for VC money. Don’t you think so ?


Totally agree, that one should be focused on doing marketing from day one to keep the team morale, the focus and all going. But where you take that money from could make all the difference. I’d prefer it coming from someone who is grounded in the industry yet perhaps retired to get into the thick of action themselves – Mentor with Money, is what i’d go with. It will make a huge difference.

Well said.. Vijay..gr8 post.. trust me i too hve experienced it.. the website tat we r currently runnin took around 8 years to finally pay dividends..and now it seems all worth it.. :))

Interactive Media pvt ltd.


Would say one of the really interesting post, that requires deep thinking and may be Self-Talk.

One query,
if someone has already raised the fund from VC, what he should do now…i doubt one can’t go public within 5 year, and normally… hey you know the game.


Vijay, a wonderful post!

Well, I agree with you that living on instant noodles is injurious to health but ignoring the attention that world gives to lucky ones who make it big in no time is really hard. While consciously I know that luck plays a huge hand in billion dollar sellouts, it is extremely hard to digest that why I can’t be lucky.

I guess, for me or people like me, it is hard to realize that most great companies are built with years of hard work. Maybe, this attitude will change as I mature. Or, Maybe, it won’t. I really don’t know.

Thank you. That needed to be said.


I attended my first Proto in Jan,2008. This is exactly the impression i had,when i left on sunday afternoon. Those 2 days really shaked my impressions/expectations about startups and entrepreneur.

Everybody seemed to be interested only in starting something new, sell it and push off to the next big thing which inturn is again starting something new…

Probably i didn’t interact with lot of people…but never felt like.

I am happy to read this post because it reaffirms my doubts.

This surely is going to deeply impact the way i think about a VC, about my customers, about my own ability and about the planning and to learn the way to build an empire,

thanks a ton πŸ™‚

Goes back to 1 basic qn – what pain are you solving.
I have always believed that and especially in India, where people don’t hang around the www.!

Enjoyed the essence of this post, Vijay.

In fact, we sometimes wonder (especially when we’re approached by the ‘obsessed with multiples & valuations’ kind of people) if we’re doing the right thing in building up our company with the ‘good old approach’ – manage costs, get sales – aim to get a positive cash flow going!

We’re convinced this is the best way; don’t focus on the exit/acquisition/IPO – it it is to come, the opportunity will present itself (is that a line from a movie?)

We’ve also got some angels/advisory board members who are all people who have been there / done that and have followed similar approaches to building extremely valuable businesses. The probability of success is simply higher with the ‘weathered’ (if you like) approach – as opposed to the ‘hit or miss’ approach the valuations game seems to be fostering. Of course, proponents of the latter will (correctly, at times) argue that one might under-capitalize on opportunities with a ‘conservative’ approach. Obviously, a lot of this has to do with the temperment & backgrounds of the founder(s) as well!


When I started my first company, two folks from the “traditional” business lines were directors. They expressed a certain degree of shock when we presented them with a profit on the first year, with zero debt and only enough capital to buy four machines and a printer.

They said they always believed in the kosher-3-year law – that any business needs to be given three years to make a profit.

Of course there are excesses in the other direction too. One such “traditional” businessman invested a couple crores setting up a 80 seater call center – complete with machines, call equipment, internet lines etc. – and got this “manager” to try and get him business. Because of the traditional thinking he didn’t bother about the mounting losses, or with things like utilisation rates or any metrics – believing that it would take three years. He had to let it go at less than book value (luckily the property appreciated enough for him to recover a little bit)

A lot of people get complacent when you tell them building businesses take time. an interesting thought is to ask that all people take loans to build their businesses – even if it’s a personal loan and you already have the money. The idea is: the loan must only be repaid by cash flow from the business. (any intermediate payments made by you are added to the company’s loan) If in X years the cash flow has not paid off the loan, you need to get the heck out.

After running a startup for seven years and not really going places, I’ve seen a little bit of the other side – how inertia can take a toll on business.

Raxit: Absolutely, it does take a fair bit of self-convincing and to pave your own path

@Paras: I think vision and working smart, with flexibility is what i’d define as the key elements – not luck. Tell me one guy who’s been lucky and made it big? I cant think of too many.

Swaroop and a fan: Unfortunately so. Lets hope things change.

Follower: Glad it makes a difference.

Ashish: There are a whole lot of logistical ground work one needs to do and be prepared to toil for a lot longer. Lets start with the basics first πŸ™‚

Lux: It shows that you’ve been through it mate. Glad to see you here.

Deepak: Finally a guy who takes the other side. Yep, totally agree with you. I’ve come across enough companies which are more than a decade old and not keeping up with the times nor have signs of a sudden growth and they keep going. Slow death.

Thats the other extreme for sure. Do like the 3 year Kosher law. I think five is pretty good.

We are going to see the people who are going to change the rules of the game time to time in Industry. There are some who will follow these rules and solve some of the customer problems.

We need people who can think of customer problems and solve it, inseatd of building the company on the Sand, just because someone loves love something and start building, etc..

We need to see what kind of problems is faced by current customers and what kind of problems customer might face in future.

Btw, working strictly 9 to 6 will not allow you to succeed, rather you will earn your bread and butter.


Great! Sounds like something we could have used a year ago πŸ™‚

Selling, and getting money out of someone’s pocket is *very hard*. Something that we engineers massively under-estimated :).

In any case, I think we’ve come past the worst of the hump, and hopefully we’ll do much better going forward.

Vijay, we’d be glad to share our experience of selling technology, if you want us to. It’s raw, bloody, and top of our minds right now :))

This post is an eye opener for the 20 something internet startup boys.. Vijay as you rightly said building business requires lot of patience and perserverance.. which is lacking in the newage entreprenaurs. Just making millions (or rather billions) in the shortest span should not be the goal .. but making difference through once product / service should be the primary goal!

The 3-year rule is golden and people wiser than me have convinced me that there are absolutely no workarounds. I personally do not like thinking in terms of short-term sales and profits, but more in terms of long term value. Thinking of cash flow distracts you from the long term vision, it makes you do things that doesn’t add a dime to the end goal. Valuation doesn’t have to mean what the company could sell for today, it could mean what it’d be worth after 5 years.

Hmmm. While it is easy to agree with what you say, it is extremely hard to bring it into day-to-day life. At least that’s what my own experience has been. When every car around you is honking and playing a video game, it becomes very difficult to drive straight πŸ™‚ You not only have to stand against your own herd mentality, you have to answer 50 other people why you are not driving crazy like others πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ It’s an irony that you have to justify when you want to do it right!

It reminded me of one humorous post Hurry Om Hurry and one of my own blog Eating food one dish at a time.

There are always two type of goals i.e. short term & long term. so it depends that on which goals you are working on. vision & mission can;t be achieved with same pace.
Its a debateable topic.

Its a great post Vijay. I started reading with some
some reluctance, then got glued till the end.
My question though, coming straight from the
heart, is that in certain high-growth,
tech-intensive industries, can one really
the candle-light gourmet, while the
competition is already half-way through his
instant noodles and has hit the market?

The other point (and this might sound like
a rant) is that the market for high-tech
software products is still to mature in India.
In such a scenario, how and to whom, does an
Indian startup sell its products? Its markets
are in the US, its competition is in the US
eating into those markets, and the only way it
can reach those markets are through VC funds.

I know of atleast two startups(one of which I am very
closely associated with) that are facing this
issue right now.

so, isnt it better to have some instant noodles
if its available, than starving to death?

Yash: Working from Nine to Six isnt the magic formula to success, neither is working 24 hours a day. Its about how you work, how productive you are and if you have a focus and know your way around. A lot comes into the picture rather than just the sheer number of hours you put into it.

Prasanna: Technologists cant sell πŸ™‚ That’s a statement.

Vikram: Possibly, but also for the folks who are trying to take it slow and steady. I think DHH’s talk at Startup School is a must watch

Vikas: That sounds about right.

Manas: Everything good is also hard. Its like abstinence πŸ™‚ Its so much easier to indulge and break the rules.

Kalim: Absolutely. One needs to keep focus on both, but this is essentially tied into the exit path of the company.

Titash: Thanks for the compliment. Well, you cant live in paris and decide to dress like a bum. If you want to slow down, you also want to move onto something that lets you at your pace – the reason why i think some of the so-called hubs of innovation in this country arent very friendly at all.

And building a last company means having a longer sight of things. If this company is chasing the same thing that a noodle company is chasing, then they are just lying to themselves. They are both in the same boat – except that these guys are wasting time eating gourmet πŸ™‚

And VC Money is not bad. If you know exactly what you want and want to grow, VC money will give you that boost. But in the forming years that could be detrimental – that was what i was getting to

Vijay, by luck I mean that for one YouTube to succeed, there are 100s of other *good* but unknown web companies that never really make a mark. I really didn’t mean pure luck by the term luck. I meant that many things have to fall into one place, for an idea to succeed.

Bravo! This is what I wanted to hear and I am excited that there are people here in India that think this way. The law of the farm holds true for everything.

Our journey to building DeskAway was not that of a quick one like other startups – but the patience and persistence is slowly paying off now. Its sometimes a challenge to make the team understand this cause like everyone else they are looking for the rewards tomorrow!

PS – if you see, this is happening in the stock markets also. People who wanted a quick buck and got greedy were burnt pretty bad.

If you’ve got the product/service that is in great demand and you are the only vendor succeeding in pricing it right; you can’t help growing instantly . πŸ™‚
Then there is a saturation point unless you keep innovating.

Instant noodles thingy sometimes does create a brand name that sells for a substantial amount of time to give you space to innovate.

element idea Labs

Srikrishna, Lets not flatter ourselves. There is no such thing as a product which only our company is building. It has never been the case, and if it ever appeared so before, it was cause the world wasn’t connect as much.

I’ll tell you a case of a product which didn’t have a competitor: Gilette razors. The use and throw things that we men use on a regular basis now. It started off in the 80s and it has taken it 20 years to become mainstream. Trust me, if its something solidly lifechanging, it takes its own time to seep into the fabric of the society.

Vijay, very interesting post and food-for-thought. What you said is very much correct. All the big companies are not built in a day/month/year, but over the period of time. I have not met many start-up’s, but I strongly feel that one should have the plan of action in place and this is the first thing one should do. I know, many disagree with me. Vision, Mission and Charter are what you breath and eat. One should be very clear of what they want to do. At times, I feel the best enterprises are the Social Enterprises. Look at Ashoka etc. and also see our next door neighbor – Grameen Bank. They are classic examples of “Change the rules of the Game”.

a common problem is most people behind startups are techies. they want the idea to be implemented and “get it over with”. handling sales teams is not something they want to do for too long.
hence the “sellout” mentality.

Very aptly said – makes me think about some of the conversations we had with VCs πŸ˜‰

While I agree with you that the instant-noodles trend is bad, I think there are more than a few basic reasons for it.

It is widely perceived that the greed of making a quick buck is why everyone wants to have a startup. True, if you only look at inexperienced people jumping into startups and dreaming about VC funding. But look at the other side – there is a whole ecosystem that dares you to jump in and the collective intelligence of that ecosystem cannot be questioned either since there are good companies being produced out of it.

So what is going on here? My belief is that the global scenario is changing and in the true capitalistic sense, the gap between rich and poor, the gap between big companies and small companies is growing. This kind of an environment ensures that consolidation will happen at regular intervals and that is what is keeping the whole VC marketplace alive.

Another thing that changed the dynamics in a big way post 2000 is the open-source revolution. There aren’t a lot many things that you can build today and claim that “this is so damn hard that no one else can build it”. So the only way to save your business is to get users to adopt it fast.

So if someone really understands this and likes instant-noodles, its really not a bad thing. Sadly, a lot of people who jump in don’t understand this and to add to their woes are not building something that solves a real problem. They should listen to your advice.

Good post Vijay.

I have a slightly different take on why so few double digit million dollar companies get created.

Earlier, an entrepreneur had a single chance to succeed. If you failed, life was miserable. That was also the reason an entrepreneur incubated the business for 5+ years (succeeding eventually). Starting up was also painful; so it was difficult to do it again.

However, times have changed. When taking the plunge an entrepreneur makes a 10-point agenda in his mind. The agenda revolves around learning the ropes of business at a rapid pace viz. how to incorporate, how to raise money, how to hire, how to manage people, how to run a business, how to sell a business and how not to look stupid while doing all of the above. You wanna try everything out to at least understand what it takes (every entrepreneur is different, has different goals). A good example is raising money — we may have seen a lot of serial entrepreneurs mentioning the fact that they don’t wanna raise any money from a VC; solely because they had a not so positive experience in their previous startup. On the other side, on an average, an entrepreneur makes it big on his 3rd/4th attempt (we seldom hear the failure stories if preceded by a super success).

The answer lies in the tolerance of failures and increased experimentation. So, Go β€˜start it up’ – if you fail, at least you know how to (or how not to!) build a product, which in larger scheme of things is going to be good for your next startup.


I agree to what you have said …. and I also disagree to what you have said …

Those were the good old days when communication and speed were not at their best. It used to take days to reach US from India and 2 hours to get connected across different cities…

I do not think of Tally, Microsoft, Infosys(yes Infosys) or Wipro as my role model any more. If at all we compare their share with other upcoming ventures, their market shares is going down. Agreed that they still might be the number 1, 2 or 3, but for how long.

The world is changing fast and so is the time taken for a product or company to go up and down. Specially in the web, if a company is not showing any traction in the initial few years, it is quite difficult to come up the ladder without drastic changes. It is the same case with the traditional business as well. Change and speed seems to be the formula of success.

To conclude, I would cite a few examples, Google is about 12 years old(half of Microsoft) and is challenging Microsoft. Infosys and Wipro are not longer dream companies of fresh computer graduates and the list goes on.

Rashmi, google is 12 years old and their revenue comes from ONE product. Microsoft’s revenue comes from such a huge array that they are one of the most robust companies around. I wouldnt be too surprised if Google disappears off the face of the planet in a decade – unless they do something to keep that edge. Not good enough.

hmmm I find it difficult to believe and only time will tell tht ….

However, the main purpose is to say….. companies do not take a life time to build a brand now …. and entrepreneurs should look at speed and precision to challenge the market leaders…

No matter how big the market leader is, they can be toppled from the top and the startups would be able to do that…

If someone still wants to build a brand in 3 to 5 years …. I can only hope, they have all the luck …..

Rashmi, 3-5 years for a brand is fairly reasonable. Look at for example, we are two years old and are just scratching the surface.

I always equated building a brand, as magnetizing steel. It takes its time, but once magnetized also holds power longer. Thats essentially the power of a brand. It most certainly needs its time. Three years, if you think about it is just 1000 days πŸ™‚

The takeaway from this post should be :
Instant noodles are much quicker to make,
easier to throw away, contain just enough
nutrition to help us make it to the next pack.

There is a serious issue with Indian investors
and long gestation products. I define “long”
as just 2 or 3 years. I also agree that a
personal investment from a wealthy ex tech
entrepreneur is the best way forward for those
seeking investments in this space.

In the end, you need to track some metric that
makes sense for your business.

If the metric is not showing an uptrend, then
there needs to be a plan to push it upwards.
My previous favorite metric was counting
downloads, my current is number of searches
by our product names. I think constantly
iterating the process of improvement and
measurement will lead to a winner or a clearly
visible exit sign.

It goes without saying that if you want to
play the ‘long gestation’ game, you need to
be prepared to duke it out.


For websites and software products, I still believe, this will not work. So startups should never just have fun taking 3 years as their playground and some one from the back would go past them.

For a startup to survive, they have to be fast, furious and at the same time, give time to build the brand. I see no reason why a brand can not be built in a year.

To build a brand, focus is very much important, and if you have the focus, then it can also be built in year and may not require 2-3 years.

Just a question, Do you think, Proto comes in the category of building a company for years? I think otherwise. Proto was a success in the 1st year itself. And it has not taken 2-3 years to be a success or a brand. It can be taken as an example of fast, furious and building a brand.
Rashmi Ranjan Padhy

Rashmi: Hmm.. I still wouldnt agree, but thats okay πŸ™‚

Dear Vijay,
One of your strongest posts yet! Thanks for stepping back and holding up a mirror for all. Will try to cover fresh ground – as other commentators have covered a fair bit.

[a] first agree with your core premise – trawling blogs and talking to 20 something entrepreneurs and new (to India) VCs one gets the sense of instant noodles and little of “Build[ing] to Last”
[b] HOWEVER, much of the discussion here and in other blogs at times appears to indicate that other than the Web (2.x) there is nothing happening in the Indian startup scenario – to provide some contrast

[b1] any semiconductor, pharma or embedded system startup needs easily 12-18 months just to get a product out the door and three years to know if they are going ot be around – and that’s for the good ones; Sasken, OpenSilicon, earlier Arcus, Impulsesoft, FutureSoft, Emuzed are all examples of this; as are Reddy’s, TTK Health or Ranbaxy
[b2] there is a slew of educational (classrooms or books) and manufacturing startups, talking to whom it will be clear that there are no instant noodles and the three/five year rule applies
[b3] it has been fashionable, right from the time Al Gore “invented” the Internet to talk of Internet time – but the basics of building team, product, marketing and supporting customers and building a brand has not gotten any faster, even if your RoR app is up in five days!

My sense is that even in or other entrepreneurial forums it is critical for us to step back and view the entrepreneurial scene in the bigger context and not solely frame it in Infosys/Wipro, Google/Microsoft or Twitter/Web2.0 sound bites.

Reminds me of periodic discussions in the Valley of how shortsighted VCs are; however over 30 years any number of VCs have shown their perseverance to put in $80-100M into each semi startup to still see only 1 in 10 survive and thrive. Part of the problem I suspect is to do with youth of the audience and the boundaries we put on our discussions! Keep ’em coming.

I am also ok … πŸ™‚

This is the fun of having a debate … both sides do not agree … but are ok πŸ˜€


Nope I havent forgotten them. Those (outside of the IT – I wouldnt even call it Web 2.0) sectors are doing just fine in the way they are focusing and building organizations, products and the brand.

But they are also beyond the circle of influence of these grassroot level interaction. I am more worried about whats happening in the eye of hurricane πŸ™‚ But good point.

@Rashmi We were talking about the way a company’s product and culture should be positioned – brand is another topic, but the more I think about it.. how do you measure the success of a brand. Brand value and Brand equity. I cant see that being much within a year or two of the launch of something.

Also the deal is in building a brand that lasts. I mean, there was Kazaa… considering that people still remember it, its a great brand, but really what does it stand for? Maybe a not so good example, but hopefully you get the idea.

Or Maybe its just me who cant think of a single brand built over a year.

This blog covers some of the stuff you were talking about in Instant Noodles from a first person perspective.

Makes for a very good read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: