Saturday Features

Big lessons on little things

One thing they don’t tell you about your twenties is that you may outgrow your identity crisis, but now you develop an existential crisis. You start questioning the ‘why’ of everything you do and everything you are

- Abha Dhital

When you are a teenager (in the messiest years of your life) those in the know tell you your twenties are going to be ‘so much better.’ I am a hearty advocate of this notion. The last two of my teenage years were the unhappiest of my life. I couldn’t wait to get through to the years that followed.

When I entered my twenties, somehow, I became a more sorted human being. I was able to make choices that catered to my personal wellbeing and a happier state of mind, choices that brought me into the company of people who focused on growth and the things that mattered to them.

One of these amazing humans introduced me to a world that I had never known before—the realm of entrepreneurship. He had created a platform where Nepali artists could turn in their art, which would then be printed onto t-shirts. The profit made from selling these t-shirts was then shared between the company and the artists. This was five years ago, and back then, such companies were few and far in between. It was through him again that I tapped into a network of other entrepreneurs.

During one of our chiya guffs, I had confided to my entrepreneur friend that if I could run just one company, it would be a greeting card business. I wanted to make cards that communicated and spoke like we, everyday people, do. In response, he said “let’s do it.” In 2015, we started working on the project right away, but it wasn’t until last year, after many roller-coaster rides of emotions and ambitions, that we committed to the business.

You see, one thing they don’t tell you about your twenties is that you may outgrow your identity crisis, but now you develop an existential crisis. You start questioning the ‘why’ of everything you do and everything you are. In Oh Wonder’s words, you are always, “one step heavy and two steps high.” Even when you are doing what you love doing, you start wondering if it’s what you “should be” doing.

The past two weeks, however, have been one of the most amazing weeks in terms of how grounded I feel. Last week Little Things, our company, got to be part of the Creative Business Cup Nepal, facilitated by Antarprerana. We had applied to the programme at the last minute only because we realised there was nothing to lose and everything to gain. If we won the cup, we would get to represent Nepal in Copenhagen in November, compete worldwide and win upto 14,000 euros to aid our business. 

We got through the screening rounds and made it to the Nepali finals. There was hope, there always is. We wanted to win this. But it took me less than five minutes into the bootcamp to realise we wouldn’t win. We were competing against amazing innovators who were turning sounds into images, making waiter-robots and changing textbooks into augmented reality. We on the other hand were an illustrated cards and gifts business. There was no hope.

So, our team decided that we would learn as much as we could in the five-day bootcamp and on the final day,

we would get on stage and have fun. We would be our goofy selves and make the most out of the marketing opportunity we had in front of us.

Lesson no 1: Winning isn’t really about the trophy. It’s about how you make the most out of the opportunity you have in front of you. Knowing our place in the competition and being able to calculate our chances helped us stay grounded. We could focus on our goal: Of exploiting the platform as a marketing ground.

I trained under three mentors in the bootcamp. The first taught me to find the ‘why’ of my business; the second taught me to own my story, to be confident in the business I had built; and the third taught me why not to include anything in the pitch that I didn’t believe in myself. Golden lessons that became essential to understanding why I do what I do.

Lesson no 2: You will always be protective of your business. You will always feel like nobody knows it better than you do. And maybe you’re right. But keep yourself open to new teachers, new lessons, new perspectives. Because as soon as you close yourself off, you will stifle your growth. Of course, you get to choose what lessons you want to keep.

On Wednesday, we had to pitch our business to 200 people. TWO HUNDRED. I ran to the loo a gazillion times. Major human flaw: we always have a fear of being judged, of failing, of making a fool out of ourselves. And I am particularly always anxious around people, so it just doubled up that day. I would have probably run away and ditched the event if my partner, my rock, hadn’t been there to help me calm my nerves down. I took long breaths, drank a lot of water, and stayed.

Lesson no 3: Always choose a partner who can remind you why you are where you are. Run a business with someone who can be your strength when your knees are weak.

As I stepped on the stage, I reminded myself that I was there to say what we as a company do and how much we love doing what we do. And strangely, things fell into place. Turns out it always does when you own your story. I felt like a mother gloating about her child. You know how moms are, no matter what their children are they show us off to the world like we’re the best damn thing. The audience smiled at me. I smiled at them. We laughed together. We had fun.

We didn’t win the trophy, we are not going to Copenhagen, but turns out we managed to win hearts and a lot of new customers that evening. We came home feeling like winners, especially after so many heartfelt hugs and pats on the back from the jury. I am still smiling.

Lesson no 4: Maybe we’ll scale. Maybe we won’t. But sometimes all you need is a little validation. A little love. A little “I see you” from people who have always felt so distant and larger than life. And none of this will come to you if you shut yourself in. You have to put yourself out there no matter how nerve-wracking it might be.

I would have probably spent that Wednesday night wrapped up in a blanket, watching Netflix, questioning the very ‘why’ of my existence—missing out on this amazing opportunity to interact with a pool of potential investors, collaborators, and lifelong customers.

Thanks to the ever blossoming entrepreneurship scene in Nepal, we got the push that we really needed at this phase in our business—even if it meant that we had to drag ourselves out of the house at 7am every morning to let our guards down and learn about the strengths and weaknesses of our own business.

Congratulations to all 15 companies who participated, especially to Paaila Technology, a company that builds robots for restaurants and hotels, for getting a chance to compete worldwide. You bring home that cup and that €14,000 euros.

Published: 2018-09-08 08:09:40