The End of 13 Llama Studio – and What I Learnt From It

It has been a year and a half since the transition started, and it just got over around last week.

Prasad’s and my labour of love, 13 Llama Studio, has officially ceased to exist. As you were aware that we had started on our journey of entrepreneurship around five years ago, with an agency named 13 Llama Studio. In the summer of 2016, I decided to end my stint with it, and Prasad decided to pivot to a pure digital marketing agency called 13 Llama Interactive.

Things weren’t looking really rosy for the development part of our business for a few months then. There were a few things we could have and should have done differently. Some time in the spring that year, we took a call that our friendship is more important than a business partnership, and we decided to streamline projects and teams under either of us. Some time around June, I took stock of the situation and realised that I was bleeding at a rate higher than all of our billings combined were able to sustain. If I had deeper pockets, I would have tried to restart everything and take another shot at the kind of company I had dreamt of making.

Sadly, that was not the case. Soon after deciding to shut down the development business, and putting away the name 13 Llama Studio, I was out in the job market looking for openings. Friends were contacted, headhunters I had not spoken in half a decade got calls from me, and resumes on online sites were dusted and preened.

Thanks to many friends, I had interviews soon after, and after converting three of them, I decided to join ICICI Securities Private Wealth Management as the marketing guy. It’s been seventeen months here, and I’m loving every bit of it. The transition was a bit difficult, but owing to the way this place is set up, it wasn’t that difficult. How I have fared here, and what plans I have over here may be the subject of some other post in the future.

Today I would like to share what I learnt from this entrepreneurship stint:

  1. Vision: Every business needs to have clarity of vision — where you want to be in a year, in 5 years, in a decade, and a clear plan of how you plan to get there, not just an industry and a product/service you are going to offer. You can’t wing this.
  2. Being on the same page: No matter how strong your friendship is, your business wouldn’t survive unless all founders/partners agree on the vision and ways of doing business. And constantly communicating with each other about this and whatever you think is important for the business. Skip this step, and you risk your friendship.
  3. Hiring: I had read in the book Ogilvy on Advertising, that if everyone in a company hired people smaller than themselves, it becomes a company of dwarves, while if everyone hired people bigger than themselves, it would become a company of giants. We could not adhere to this principle, despite seeing the merit of it and being awed by the simplicity of it. But to be fair to us, we weren’t spoilt for choice when we first began operations — though I believe that had we acted right back then, it’d have become easier for us progressively.
  4. Hiring the right clients: A small company is eager to survive, to grow, and to thrive. And for each progressive stage, one has to get progressively selective with the kind of projects one onboards and the kind of clientelle one associates with. Through our journey we had a handful of amazing clients, who, no surprises there, are now at the peak of their respective businesses, and are overall happy in life – because they operate out of a sense of fairness and abundance. On the other hand, we had quite a few clients we should have said no to, or should have been careful with while laying down the rules of engagement – these clients operated out of a incessant drive for extracting maximum bang for buck combined with disrespect for what we did for them.
  5. Valuing ourselves: For too long both of us worked at the company with meagre salaries. Either of us still drew more pay than any of the rest of the staff, but that doesn’t say much. This led us to believe for long that we were profitable. We were growing no doubt, in billings, in the size of office we could hire, in getting a coffee machine, and somewhat respectable furniture, but we weren’t valuing ourselves, the founders, at our full cost. The only saving grace was that we began with very little capital, so the return-on-investment seemed respectable optically. But given our backgrounds, and the kind of opportunity costs we both incurred, it was criminal the way we ignored it while doing a health check of the company.

Having run that company we both loved for around three and a half years has left us only wiser. And our friendship remains strong. Whatever we do now is guided by experience and wisdom.

Here’s to the future!

The Hare & The Tortoise – Rethink

The tortoise did not win the race. The hare lost it. The tortoise is a winner only because his competitor was an idiot — who was complacent and slept off.

There is a take-away in the story. But it is not that “slow and steady wins the race”. It is that “no matter how skillful you are, never underestimate your competitor”, and “if slow and steady could win the race, think what fast and steady can do”.

If the hare had not slept off, the tortoise would not have been celebrated. Slow and steady wins the race only when fast and steady isn’t around.