| August 22, 2017

Five stupid startup beliefs busted whilst building a startup in Nepal

Five stupid startup beliefs busted whilst building a startup in Nepal
At the onset of every new year, I feel I was stupid the previous year. What I believed the year before is often shattered to pieces by the things I learn during the current year. And I wonder why I didn't think about that last year.

So, I have divided my experience as a startup "wannapreneur" of 1.5 years under five major headers.
App market

In 2014, I ran a start up called 11Beep. I believed the app market to be a lucrative one. Globally in 2014, a total of USD 23 billion was generated by Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store—USD 8 billion and USD 15 billion respectively. The top 10 apps raked in 25 % of the revenues. And the top 20 apps raked in USD 5 billion out of 8 in Play Store and USD 7 billion out of 15 in App Store. The initial entire pie of USD 23 billion looked pretty darned attractive. Not so much after I realized I had to be in top 20 to share any substantial part of the pie. Either I get a really large pie or I won't get any. Therefore, an app market is almost impossibly hard for startups to generate revenue. It will take a really long time to reach to the top 20.

So, if I were to do a startup, I wouldn't focus too much on a mobile app. If I were to do a mobile app, I wouldn't consider it for monetization. The mobile app would be for distribution of value or customer engagement. I will have to find different business model outside of the app.

I was stupid to believe that mobile app market is a good market. Today, I don't believe so.

Technology adoption

I believed that there is a possibility of technology adoption in Nepal. Some people cite data such as there are 4 million Facebook users in Nepal and more than a hundred thousand broadband users. Mobile penetration is almost 100%. So, Nepalis do adopt technology, one is led to believe. These are all true but useless facts for a startup. It's incomplete understanding. One thing that I forgot to analyze was the stage in which these technologies entered Nepal. All of these were widely popular in the global market when they entered in Nepal. This makes Nepalis laggards of technology adoption. I didn't need laggards. I needed innovator adopters.

Therefore, being an innovative creator is irrelevant if your users are not innovators. Hence, today I feel selling a new technology product in Nepal is impossibly hard. I won't do that.


I believed location of a startup didn't matter. I had read that the world is flat and geography made no difference. Many people argue that there are successful startups from small countries such as Israel, Singapore, Switzerland, etc. Those people forget one thing. All of those are rich countries with a lot of funding opportunity and a great culture of adopting innovation. I live in Nepal. Even to get a visa to travel for a meeting with an investor is impossible. I couldn't bump into an investor in a café. One cannot raise money on an idea. One needs users to raise the money. A conversation starter to raise money is traction. But traction from Nepal is impossible for one reason: There aren't just enough early adopters in Nepal. So, the conversation is over in the very first minute.

Therefore, today, I don't believe the world is flat. The world for me is a steep cliff. And the slope of the cliff is 90 degrees for someone from Nepal. Of course, I can climb the cliff. But I need the climbing gears ready to start climbing it.


I believed I will succeed if I persisted long enough. And I knew I could persist for long. The only thing I didn't realize was persistence meant 1% hard work and 99% financial backup. I had an enviable team. They are crazy good. But how long could I have persisted? I went without any finance for almost 18 months. Knocked so many doors. Pitched my idea to so many people, and talked to so many more from around the world. We did all the hard work. But to no avail. Therefore, to repeat what I've already mentioned—hard work amounts to just 1% of the persistence; 99% is financial backup.

Media coverage

I believed getting media coverage is a good strategy for customer acquisition. I was written about in many popular blogs and feature articles. However, getting media coverage serves no purpose than provide momentary flattery. It did no good to increase users of my app.

I've figured out this: Wannapreneurs go to the media and real entrepreneurs go to the bank. Wannapreneurs try and build fancy mobile apps. But real entrepreneurs do the boring stuff, get hold of the paying customers, and laugh their way to the bank.

I exited

I stopped working on my startup in the first quarter of 2015. I had started it in the last quarter of 2013. For about a year and half, I kept pushing my startup believing in the aforementioned "stupid" things. Eventually, I snapped and just stopped working on it. Every now and then when my team brings up "11Beep", I have a passive and detached response—as if it never existed; as if we haven't created it.

It's time to move on. I will definitely not work on another app. I will definitely not try to sell technology in Nepal. I will definitely not base my startup in this country. I will definitely not venture out without financial backup. I will definitely not use media as a strategy to get customers.

I will create an unfair advantage

Experience is a bitter teacher. Now I know I will do something on which I have an unfair advantage. The best way to create an unfair advantage is to collaborate with great people; collaborate with people who can design, build stuff, who have a massive network of people, who can invest money to lengthen the "persistence period. I think an unfair advantage is collaboration among people with complementary skill sets. Magical things start happening when you collaborate with great people.

Perhaps, in the coming year, I'll feel stupid for thinking this way. But I don't mind being stupid. This stupidity makes me "think" and then lets me "do" new things.

Bimal enjoys working with startups. Currently, he is involved in scaling up startups such as leapfrog academy, Machnet, and Expresivstudios. He also looks for investment opportunities for new startups at Leapfrog Technology. This article is an excerpt of the speech he gave at the Kathmandu chapter of Mobile Monday held at Entrance Café in Kopundole, Lalitpur, on December 6.