The single thing that can make or break your Startup

I come from a middle-class family in the small town of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Coming from such a family, I always valued money — making sure to not leave any opportunity to save it, and not waste a penny of it.

In 2017, when I started Cogno AI straight out of college, it was a tough decision for me. I had some of the best job offers from top firms and yet here I was — wanting to travel the entrepreneurship journey which is full of uncertainties and with a higher chance of failure than a success.

4 years and 1 co-founder exit later, we crossed $1M in revenue with a team of 80+ members. What went right? I recently wrote about the broad journey from being almost bankrupt to $1M in the last 2.5 years. Many people messaged me — “Hey Aman, great to hear about your journey. However, there must be something more to it rather than just focus.”

And obviously, that’s right. There is a lot more than focus. I call that as “focus on the right things that matter”. We basically made some key decisions that helped us build a customer base of 50+ Fortune 500 brands.

(Cogno AI is trusted by several Fortune 500 brands)

I was reflecting upon what went right and I have tried to structure it into something called “input-output framework”. I realized that at Cogno AI, the input-output framework helps us focus on the right things and avoid unnecessary confusion and time wastage on things that are not in our control.

The input-output framework is nothing but a structured version of the key learning mentioned in “Bhagavad Geeta”

“Do your karma towards your goal but don’t think about the outcome”.

Basically, focus on the “input” aspect because you can control the same. Don’t focus on the “output” because you cannot control the same.

Here are some examples:

  1. You can’t control whether your best team members stay with your company or not. But you can definitely control how you take care of them.
  2. You can’t control how many marks you’d get in that exam. But you can definitely control how many questions you’ve practiced for the exam preparation.
  3. Most importantly — you can’t control whether the customer chooses to continue your services or not. But you can definitely control how best you can serve them.

Our subconscious mind is wired to think about the “output” more than the “input”. The reason is simple — we always think about the output, because that’s what we want and eventually that gets wired into our thoughts. And in this process, we tend to forget what it takes to get that output.

The reality is that “thinking” about the output we want, doesn’t help at all. What really helps is taking those small steps of “input” that really take you to your desired output.

  1. Stop thinking about how much money you can get from your customers. Start thinking about how best you can serve them.
  2. Stop thinking about how many marks you’d get in that exam. Start thinking about how you can practice 100 problems a day.
  3. Stop thinking about how long your best team members will stay with your company. Start thinking about how you can take care of them the best.

Stop thinking about the “output”. Start thinking about the “input” that can take you to the desired output.

In business, the biggest translation of this input-output framework is point #1 mentioned above — “focus on what you have to offer to the customer rather than what the customer has to offer to you”.

  1. Focus on your product quality.
  2. Focus on the ROI of your product for the customer.
  3. Focus on providing the best quality support to your customers when they need it.

Don’t take me wrong — I am not saying that you become a slave of your customer. I am saying — stop obsessing with money and start obsessing with what best you can offer and things will change.

This was exactly what we did to drive Cogno AI from almost bankruptcy to $1M revenue in 2.5 years. We focused on the right things that matter to the customers rather than getting obsessed with money. The money came as a by-product and we didn’t have to fight for it at all.

Customers who were happy with our service:

  1. bought more from us.
  2. referred us to the other “buying teams” within their organization.
  3. referred us to other companies in their network.

We didn’t have to struggle to get business. Our customers helped us do it and business automatically grew.

Let me talk about an interesting story with ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund — one of our customers. Note that I am not sharing anything confidential.

ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund onboarded us right after the COVID-19 Pandemic struck India, at the end of March 2020. Mr. Asish who’s their Head of IT informed us that our Project is a key implementation for them given its value of automating customer support during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Given his seniority in the organization, we understood the importance of the Project for the organization and my Operations Head put in as many resources as possible to make sure that the WhatsApp Bot we implemented for ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund was live in just 2 weeks of time.

We implemented several transactions into the Bot in just 2 weeks of time:

  1. Initiate a Lumpsum purchase
  2. Start an SIP
  3. Account Statement
  4. Capital Gains Statement
  5. Portfolio Valuation
  6. Switch, Systematic Transfer Plan, Systematic Withdrawal Plan
  7. Application form requests
  8. SIP Calculator
  9. Market Updates
  10. Branch Locator

And a bunch of FAQs for ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund Customers to get instant answers to their queries without having to step out of their homes in the Pandemic.

We made sure that the Bot is well built, is within their budget, and offers the best Customer Experience. Asish Sir was so happy with our work that he not only gave us a testimonial, but we got several more projects within the organization.

(A testimonial from Mr. Asish Karunakaran, Head of IT at ICICI Prudentiaal AMC)

We were so obsessed with helping ICICI Prudential AMC that all our team members put their heart and soul into their project. We make sure that they get all the support they need from our side.

Being a company that sells Customer Experience Solutions, we have incorporated “providing a great Customer Experience to our Clients” into our DNA. We make sure that all our Clients get things kind of experience that no other Technology partner can provide.

We make sure that we focus on the input rather than obsessing about the output and that has helped us build a loyal customer base of 50+ largest brands in India. And the best part is that this continues to grow due to our customers referring us to others.

To all the entrepreneurs reading this — don’t chase money, chase customer obsession. Build the best experience for your customers and money will follow as an outcome. Follow the principle taught in our holy books (Bhagavad Geeta)—”do your karma towards your goal but don’t think about the outcome”.

Remember, your actions speak louder than words. Derive your “input” related thoughts from your “output” related thoughts. Convert these “input” related thoughts into actions. Your actions will convert into your behavior and this behavior will eventually reflect in your identity.

Your identity will define your Startup’s identity.

It all starts with input. What we can give to others is what we should get obsessed with. Money is always an outcome. Understanding this single thought can make or break your Startup.

Here is a fantastic book on the above concept — The Go-Giver.