Times & Dimes Podcast

Episode 1: Learning from failure as an entrepreneur

How do you rebound from a business that goes under? In the debut episode of Times?&?Dimes, host Graham Clark chats with Mudit, an entrepreneur whose self-described bad habits with money precipitated the end of his first company — but also provided many valuable lessons.

GRAHAM CLARK: This is Times & Dimes, a podcast brought you by Sun Life. We’re talking to everyday Canadians about how money affects their lives, happiness, and well-being. I’m your host, Graham Clark, with today’s guest, Mudit.

(Music)

GC: Mudit, thanks for joining us today. Can I say it’s too bad that this is only an audio podcast, because you’ve got one hell of a head of hair there.

(Laughter)

MUDIT: I’m trying to compete with your beard.

(Continued laughter)

GC: So, you came to Canada, like, a decade ago?

M: Yeah, just about.

GC: Where did you— where were you coming from?

M: I came from India.

GC: Wow. Where in India?

M: I was— at that point, I was in New Delhi, which is the capital of India.

GC: Yeah, and that’s a busy city.

M: It is. Actually, funny story, after I came here about 10 years back, I never went back home.

GC: Oh really?

M: And December of last year was the first time I went back home since I came here.

GC: And how was that? Was that shocking to you?

M: It was. And I mean, you know, in a good way because the infrastructure obviously has changed significantly if you’re— when you think about a developing country, ten years is a lifetime.

GC: When you first came to Canada, it was to Toronto?

M: It was, yeah.

GC: And right coming into Toronto, what were the big kind of changes that you noticed?

M: The first thing I noticed was it was freaking cold, because I landed— I don’t want to be stereotypical, but that was the reality, because, unfortunately, I landed on December 25.

GC: Oh, get out, wow!

M: I flew on December 24, I guess, at night, and then I landed on Christmas in Toronto. It was freezing. It used to be much colder, I remember this, and because I was landing and I was going to York University, which is slightly north than downtown Toronto, it was colder. And I saw snow — you know, not snow as a tourist, but snow that you live in for the first time.

GC: That’s right, yeah.

M: And it was a life-changing experience, let me tell you that.

GC: Yeah. I grew up with my share of winters and that’s why I live in Vancouver now, because…

M: Yeah.

GC: Enough was enough, I said.

M: Yeah, it was interesting. And I remember, I landed, I went straight to school. I had a friend of mine who was kind enough to let me live in his spot for a couple of days while he wasn’t there and there was no food in the house. So, I talked to some people and they were like, well, there is a grocery store and I— I was a spoilt kid when I grew up, so I never went grocery shopping ever.

GC: Really?

M: When you’re in India, there is a lot of stuff that is done for you. It’s just how the economy works. We don’t do a lot of things for ourselves.

GC: It sounds nice.

M: It is, it is. It’s got its advantages and disadvantages. So, then that was the first time I went grocery shopping… and I also experienced what now I understand is called “windchill.”

GC: Yes.

M: Trying to carry this ginormous bag of groceries, walking 15 minutes through a windchill, I realized that was a mistake — which actually eventually led me to build my first company.

GC: Is that right?

M: Which was a grocery delivery startup, so I guess it somehow resonated.

GC: That’s amazing. Yeah, let’s talk about that. Your first business you started up, you came here to Canada to go to university for your MBA?

M: Yeah. I went to York, yeah.

GC: And right away, you were saying the weather hit you pretty severely. Also, what change in your kind of financial situation occurred between India and then Canada?

M: Well, it’s a good question. I mean, financially I was lucky. It was lucky that I grew up in a family where my parents could afford me to send me to school. So, I didn’t have to worry about debt. I didn’t have to worry about some of those things a lot of kids have to worry about when you’re that age. I was 22 when I was doing school, so I was fairly young and, financially, the only difference was that I had left my job to do my MBA, so I was no longer making money anymore. I was depending back on my parents to send me money, which was an interesting thing. But, as I reflect back on those experiences, I think that those are the reasons why I ended up not being very good with the money for the longest time, because things were easy for me when it came to money, right? I mean, it was not that we were rich, but we weren’t poor. So, money was something that I had access to, to day-to-day stuff. I didn’t have to worry about student debt. I didn’t have to worry about eating food everyday even as I was going to school. I didn’t have to worry about getting a temporary job while I was doing my MBA. So, I was quite lucky in those circumstances and then that I think led to some very poor financial habits as I started growing up, coming to a new city, living by myself.

GC: What would you say your habits were like when you were first here in Toronto?

M: Toronto is a big city. It’s a glamorous city. You make new friends, you go out a lot, you eat and drink outside a lot, and you’re kind of spending money on things that may or may not be really useful for you in the long-term. Not budgeting properly, not thinking about saving things, those kind of things, but I think you learn from those. I was very young — I was 22, 23 — and I think you have to go through some of those experiences yourself.

GC: Yeah.

M: It took me about five years after MBA to actually build my first business, but all the things that I did in life before that, the jobs that I did were kind of the stepping stones of eventually taking the leap in saying “I want to become an entrepreneur.”

GC: What convinced you to take that leap? You were in kind of secure jobs where you were getting a steady paycheque and using the skills that you learned from your MBA.

M: Yeah.

GC: What made you— what was the moment? What made you go into that direction?

M: Yeah. So, I was doing strategy at CGI. From there, I moved to corporate strategy at Sobeys, which is Canada’s second-largest grocery chain. I remember this very well: I was getting enamored by this idea of technology, e-commerce, and I really wanted— as the corporate strategy team, our job was to think about the future. Every time we thought about the future, there was always a barrier. We were always stuck in the past and most large companies are; they’re still stuck in the processes and they can’t think sometimes or they can’t execute fast enough.

GC: So, it’s like a giant kind of ship or something. It takes them a while to turn around.

M: I’ve always been a little impatient in life and I wanted to do it faster, quicker. So, I quit my job and I said, “Well, how hard could it be? I’ll just go and build a company.” It seems easy on paper, right…?

GC: Yeah, exactly.

M: I’ve done my MBA, I’ve done enough school, I’ve worked for 4–5 years, I’ve been a consultant, and I’m savvy. How hard could this be?

GC: Yeah.

M: So, my thought process was very simple: I’ll go and start this company, which was called Urbery — at that point, Canada’s first on-demand grocery delivery app.

GC: It was? It was the very first in Canada?

M: It was first, yeah. I mean, I think that’s our claim to fame, I guess. At that point, this is 2000— I’m forgetting the date, but 2013-ish.

GC: 2013, wow.

M: Yeah.? So— sorry, actually 2014, 2015, around that time.

GC: So, was the idea for the grocery delivery, was that directly from your experience growing up in India or what led you to think, hey, grocery delivery is the one for me?

M: It was a bit of everything. So, a couple of experiences, right? In India, as an example, we actually never did grocery shopping ourselves when I was growing up. It just came to our doorstep. It was just how the culture is built. The economy works like that. So, I grew up with that. And then I had that weird experience of me trying to go and do grocery shopping for the first time, experiencing my windchill and all that —?that was also in my back. Then I ended up working on a grocery retailer. So again, sometimes the world works in mysterious ways and you kind of have to do something…

GC: It seems like fate, right?

M: Yeah. It was fate and, in those three years, I realized a couple of things. One, that I was— it was not easy to build a company. It was definitely not as easy as I thought it was to go and build a company. Building a company is quite complicated. Building a technology startup, in addition to that, is even probably more further complicated.

GC: So, when you’re starting up, where did you get the startup money? Where did that come from? How much money do you need to start something up?

M: Friends. Well, the beauty of entrepreneurship today is that you don’t need a lot of money to start something. I remember starting— Urbery was started on a Shopify store.

GC: Really?

M: I knew enough to build a Shopify store. I knew enough coding to build it. I remember me and my girlfriend, now my wife, put together a catalogue of about 2,000 products.? We scrapped the Internet to figure out what a catalogue looks like, we figured out random pricing and, boom, we were live. But that’s the— starting is easy, but building something and scaling something is a very, very different problem to solve. Then, we had to go raise money. Our first investors were friends and family, begging our family and saying, “Why don’t you invest in us? Invest in my company, this is going to be the next unicorn. I’ll make you guys a lot of money.”

GC: Yeah, and was that stressful asking family and friends to invest? Did that put more stress on you to make things work?

M: It was and it was probably more stressful that I had to tell them that I’m closing the company down after three years.

GC: Right.

M: Yeah. So, the stress, when you ask for money, it’s probably easier because you’re still— you have this aspiration and dream and you believe that this will all work out. It’s harder when it’s not working out after three years and you kind of fail or you— I don’t like to use the word “wasted,” but you can’t return their capital. That’s probably the harder one to think about.

GC: Yeah. What was it like to shut down the business?

M: It was tough. It was really tough and the tough part weren’t so much shutting down the business, I mean that was kind of— I kind of knew that had to happen. The tougher part was just telling the employees. I was able to build a really incredible team and then telling all of them that this journey is over was hard. I was happy that I was able to place some of them into a new job because that was kind of a big focus for me, how do I connect them to my network, and then making sure that they landed somewhere quickly and not getting impacted by our company shutting down. Not everybody was able to find a job immediately, but I think 50% of them or so were able to get somewhere through the doors that I unlocked, so I was quite happy with that.

GC: And do you feel like anybody in a business in that same position that that’s their duty? Like, did you feel like I need to do this?

M: I can’t talk about everybody else, but I think for me it was. I think it was my responsibility to make sure that I was taking care of everybody else. Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t do it any other way… because I didn’t care about money, so it wasn’t about me anymore.

GC: Yeah, totally.

M: That’s the advantage of not worrying about money, right?

GC: Yeah, exactly. You can really blue-sky things.?

So, in that three years, take me a bit through what that journey was like. You had the startup, you and your girlfriend had kind of sourced how to do that from the Internet.? And then you had it live, then what was the next step? What did you do to make it grow over those three years?

M: Yeah, so a couple of things. We were focused on spreading the word, so we got featured on some local blogs that blew us up. We basically went viral. My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing with people signing up for our service — it’s super exciting, right?? People are talking about us. If you ever Google the company name, my name, we were always in the news, all the big newspapers were featuring us, I was winning awards. It was just— it was incredible. It was an accelerating experience, but that’s what the public kind of saw. The backend of that was really, really tough, because we were building a logistics beast where you were trying to connect people to people, and people were going to go shop for groceries, and it’s a very hard, complicated problem to solve even though it looks easy on surface. There’s too many nuances and if you don’t have enough money to build the right technology solution, you kind of always break and fail.

GC: Right.

M: For context, as we were building and we didn’t have enough capital to build the right technology solutions, I was the guy and a couple of us just from the main team were delivering groceries all the time. So I, myself, would have done over 2,000 grocery delivery orders.

GC: Wow. So, you were out there on the ground doing it yourself?

M: Yeah.

GC: Do you think that that’s as an owner and a leader of a business, do you think that was important to do the on-the-ground stuff like your employees?

M: Yeah, it was. But I think, in the beginning it is, because you learn a lot. A couple of things: you learn the process side of it, but you also talk to your customers, which is super important actually going and delivering and saying, “Hey, by the way, I’m the founder of this company, tell me what you like and what you don’t like, so I can make this better.” That’s a great experience, but you can’t do it forever, because then you become the bottleneck… because you have to, at some point, separate yourself from the day-to-day and go a step above and say, “Well, I’ve got to think about a lot of other things, the bigger picture. I got to find incredible people to solve some of those day-to-day problems.” And if I would have to think back about things that we didn’t do well, it was probably one of those. I was too into it every single day versus trying to take a step back and saying, “It’s okay, I gotta find the right team to actually operate this business so I can go and raise money, I can go and talk to marketing people and go and build the business for them.” But you learn. As an entrepreneur, I think those are some of the learnings you have.

GC: And that was kind of the first year you were doing that, or the second year? When was that all happening?

M: Second, yeah. I was in it for about two years just completely entrenched in that business. And, when you think about grocery delivery, it’s not just a mental process; it’s also a physical process. If you’re delivering ten orders a day yourself, it’s actually physically draining, because you’re going to a store then you’re ordering kind of like trying to pick up all these products.? Now, people just don’t order small things. When they order groceries, they want to order cases of water. They’re always ordering bulky things, right, because that’s the whole idea of grocery delivery it’s you got to— I’m going to outsource all the bulky stuff out to somebody else. So, it’s a physically draining process. You’re trying to find parking and your car is getting towed. It’s mayhem at that point of time, and then you’re trying to do all that and then come back home or to your office, and then go and build a company. It’s actually a very difficult process to undergo and I always tell entrepreneurs now that, if you’re building something logistically complicated, don’t be the person that’s actually doing the logistics part of it, because you will be drained and you can’t focus on building your company.

GC: Right, and so you were kind of saying you were entrenched in the job, you were full time plus. How is that on your relationships? How is that on your life?

M: I had basically neglected most of my relationships, be it with my spouse, be it with my family, my parents, everybody. I was just so focused and driven towards trying to build a company that I just ignored everything else around me, which in hindsight wasn’t a great thing.

GC: No.

M: We always, as entrepreneurs, pride ourselves in obsessing over building companies and solving problems, but sometimes we’ve got to take a step back and think about, you know, your power comes from people around you, and your family and your relationships are super important. You have to take a break. You brain has to step back at some point of time. And the other side of it — this is a money podcast, so we’re talking about money — the other challenge that starts happening is, as you’re looking at your team that is now hired, you’d rather pay them money versus paying yourself.? As an entrepreneur, you’re trying to take one for the team, because you know that if your team leaves you’re done.

GC: Yeah, that’s right.

M: It’s just this weird balance and then money plays an important part in it. So, what does a person that doesn’t have money do? Uses a credit card.

GC: And that’s what I was going to ask. I was going to say, if you’ve got not money coming in, you’re running this very kind of, like you say, logistical difficult enterprise.? How were you living? How did you just exist?

M: Yeah, it was bad. I mean, all my savings, every single penny of it after two years was gone. I had nothing in the bank account. I probably had $60-–70K in debt at that point in time after credit card debt, line of credit debt… just thinking about all the instruments that banks can give you, I had them all and I had extinguished all of them. Missing payments— like, everything was on, which is a different stress all together, plus the stress of building a company, so I went through all of that. And it was tough.

GC: What was your— because you had never been in debt up until that point, how did you figure out how to manage the debt?

M: Yeah. It was tough. I mean, it was just really looking in the mirror and saying “holy crap,” like this is, A, the company is not working out, and the second part of all this is that I’m personally in a really bad financial situation. So, it was really about just like taking a step back and saying “OK, I’ve got to go and fix this somehow.” Fixing it could mean either shutting down the operation, going and getting a new job, or, in my case, I ended up starting a different company, which ended up doing slightly better than my first company, so I was able to take some money. We eventually sold that company, so again, we got some more money. I was able to kind of clean up my personal balance sheet of debt and then kind of restart again.

GC: So, you started another company and…

M: Yeah.

GC: … was that scary for you to—?you’d come from this enterprise that totally rung you out and accrued so much debt. With starting a new company, were you just diving into it or were you a little bit more cautious?

M: Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard. I don’t know why.

GC: Really?

M: Yeah, it wasn’t that hard, because I guess I wasn’t done with it. I mean, I always felt like I had more to give. But the big change that I made was I tried to balance, I tried to find a better balance than last time. In the first iteration of my startup, I was just obsessed with my company and that was it. I didn’t care about anything else?— didn’t care about family, money, nothing else. But in the second iteration of it, from all the learnings, I wanted to make sure that I was building a company that was going to be, A, profitable.? So, anybody involved in the company should be making money: investors, myself, my partner. And the second part was that it had to be a good balance between my professional life and my personal life. By then, I was married to my girlfriend, who was, by the way, going to law school and had become a lawyer by then, which was very…

GC: Wow!

M: Yeah. That’s also a very stressful experience of trying to become a lawyer.

GC: Totally.

M: It’s a very different life for her. But the second time around, it wasn’t— the decision was easy to go and build it. I think we were, again, a little bit lucky because I was building a different type of company. I was building a more enterprise consulting company, and I already had a lot of connections with industry and I had clients before we started the company, so that kind of helped me build that faster.

GC: So, this business was really— it sounds like it was quite successful. And, by that point, had you paid off the debt from your first…?

M: Yeah.

GC: Cool.

M: Yeah, most of it. Most of it, but not of all it. Most of it and then, post-acquisition, I was able to pay all of it.

GC: Nice.

M: So, I’m quite proud to say at the time of this recording, I have no debt except for this house that I’m in. So, I have a much larger debt, but that’s a different type of debt, I guess.

GC: Yes, absolutely.

M: Yeah.

GC: Well, congratulations!

M: I don’t have credit card debts. I don’t have credit card debts. I don’t have line of credit debts. I just wiped all of that out from my life.

GC: And how long did that take and how did you do it?

M: How long did that take? I had accrued it for a while, I guess. I had accrued for over four years. But during the second company I was building and post-acquisition, I had a plan. I didn’t want to keep debt. I realized that I didn’t have a good relationship and money and it was because I was not good at managing it because, again, as I said, I was lucky. I was always— money was easy. I didn’t have to worry about student debt, I didn’t have to worry about food, so it was easy for me to just accrue debt and not worry about it. So, I had to really look in the mirror and say, “Well, life doesn’t work like that.”

GC: Yeah.

M: You’ve gotta change your habits, so actually I got into a strict plan. I said I’ve gotta pay off every month, I’ve gotta pay X dollars, I’ve gotta save Y dollars. I’ve gotta make a proper plan for myself and we did that, and then eventually, post-acquisition, because I had some money, I was able to pay off most of it. But what I’m proud of was not only did I just pay off my debt, I actually went more into financial planning and really started thinking about what does wealth mean moving forward. It’s just not “build a company, sell a company”; you got to build wealth for yourself and for your family and generations to come. So, I’ve really started thinking about financial planning, investments, savings in a very different way now, which I never did before. This is very new to me as a concept and I’m really enjoying actually trying to save money and not spend it all for a change.

GC: And what was that day like, the day that you finally paid off the debt? How did that feel?

M: It was— I actually remember this quite well. I remember paying off the last part of that debt and it just— there was a pressure that just went off. It was like, there was a deep breath and I was like, “Wow, this is done!” I can’t believe I did this. I can’t believe that I actually paid off all this debt that I accumulated. I think the last bill that I would have paid was probably $2,000. So, it wasn’t significantly larger at that point in time, but still. Just paying that off, and not having to worry about that payment every month coming out of your bank account, and now actually properly planning your savings and your future was a big relief. It’s hard to explain that as an emotion, but it’s just— it was relief, that’s probably the only thing I can think of.

GC: Thank you so much for joining us. You were a fantastic interview and best of luck in all your ventures in the future.

M: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

GC: No problem.?

(Music)

GC: Money plays a huge role in all our lives and it’s not always easy to talk about, but we truly believe that having open, honest conversations about money can help improve your mental, physical, and financial health.?

Before we go, we'd like to ask our listeners if they've ever found themselves in a situation similar to Mudit. If you have, you can find resources to help you at sunlife.ca.?

Thanks for listening to this episode of Times & Dimes.

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