Confessions of a Start-up Junkie

“I used to hallucinate and create companies completely randomly. I wasn’t high or on drugs. I just like creating things completely out of the blue.”
Since dropping out of college in 2014, Jaiswal has registered four start-ups, ranging from setting up websites to teaching Indian engineers how to code. Image: Ayush Jaiswal.

I’ve emailed Elon Musk like 50 times,” says 23-year-old Ayush Jaiswal, while laughing. “I met a partner at General Catalyst (one of the world’s biggest VC firms), Niko Bonatsos, by just emailing him. It was about something I saw on his website, [where he said] he doesn’t care about what kind of countries people come from. I told him that our visions align. And we met after a cold email,” he added.

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We were on the steps of a co-working space, a flight that connected #startupbros from open plan desk to open rooftops in Central Delhi. I’d met Jaiswal six months ago, when I was looking for young CEOs and start-ups doing ‘cool shit’ in tier-2 and 3 towns. At that time he was working on two projects simultaneously, working as the India lead of Startup Grind, a community to support young entrepreneurs, and Pesto, which was trying to become an education consultancy service for US-based businesses by funnelling them cheaper Indian developers to replace their expensive ones. Now he’s reduced his time at Startup Grind, and works full-time at Pesto, which has pivoted (a shift in strategy) into the education business. I was surprised at the pivot. Jaiswal was not. He does this all the time, because he’s a start-up junkie, addicted to launching the next big thing. No matter how many times he fails.

Since dropping out of college in 2014, Jaiswal has registered four start-ups, ranging from setting up websites to teaching Indian engineers how to code, pivoted them a couple of times, interned at over 10 companies in one year, all the while, cold calling Elon Musk.

Every time I met him, Jaiswal was excited by his next new venture, unafraid of failure, whether they were in his past or those that could happen in the future. His approach is to always keep moving, constantly evolve towards running a business better. I couldn't figure out if his way was the right one, if this level of stubborn perseverance was the millennial way of cracking the ‘make it big’ formula.

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Jaiswal with Team Pesto. Image: Ayush Jaiswal.

Started from the bottom

Born and brought up in Varanasi, the 23-year-old always wanted to do something with computers. He just wasn’t sure about what it was. “In 2008, I remember reading about Steve Jobs going on stage, saying, “Today we’re going to launch a phone, a web browser, and an iPod, a phone, a web browser and an iPod… in one device. He got a computer in the fourth grade in 2004 to play Road Rash, after pestering his dad. Instead of Road Rash, he ended up playing Yahoo Chess and participated in Powerpoint and website-making competitions in school.

That was when the pivoting began, in true millennial style. He studied Computer Engineering in Ghaziabad’s Krishna Institute of Technology, but, “I realised there was nothing exciting, so I stopped going to class, played FIFA all day. Because we had paid for a year, I went to class sometimes, but mostly worked on private projects.” At 18, he started a company Teehnoge that beat ten tenders, to win the bid for designing the website for Delhi University’s Miranda House.

Everyday I’m Hustlin’

“I wanted to show my customers what they wanted, so I hired three interns in Miranda House. They would ask their teachers what they want, which they would tell me, and I would build that,” he says. The problem was that Jaiswal wasn’t good at creating sophisticated back-end software and filing paperwork. So six months after winning the bid, Miranda House fired him. “I didn’t have money to pay professionals, and had bootstrapped it. That’s when it all went to shit. Everything we had given to the college, like MoUs, were highly unprofessional,” he says, “but it was a seven year contract, so they cancelled it.” He now keeps that email framed in his room.

Downtime

Jaiswal dropped out of college and rented a place in Ghaziabad for three months in 2014. “There I used to hallucinate and create companies [from finance to coding] completely randomly. I wasn’t high. I just like creating things completely out of the blue,” Jaiswal says. “I used to create Facebook pages and websites and try to sell them.”

Image: Ayush Jaiswal.

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To learn more about running a business, Jaiswal interned for free for the next year at some of India’s most iconic startups like PayTM, Breakfast Box (the healthy tiffin delivery service) and Swarna Amrit (a luxury mithai service) among others. A total of 10 companies over one year.

Pivot, pivot, pivot

Jaiswal headed back to Varanasi in 2015. His next venture? He tried to build co-working spaces, with a Peer to Peer lending service called Crowd Igniter. He didn’t make any money for four months, and because it was a difficult idea to sell in a small city, ultimately closed it. His next start-up was DealFlow, which he set up with a partner, in mid-2016, to help people sell ESOPS. “I got into finance because venture capital excites me. It’s broken in this country,” he says. “I got messages from the government saying I should shut it down. It was from the SEBI, so I respected them, and shut down DealFlow.”

It was around this time that he realised that Pesto, a start-up that he had started only to fund DealFlow, had more potential than he’d initially imagined. “The cost of a developer in the US is around 150,000 USD. In India you can get someone decent for 1,000. We were very casual about it–just hiring people here, getting the development work done, and then selling it to partners in the US. There were four partners and we made a total of 25K USD in revenue.”

The light at the end of the tunnel

“We were happy, the clients were happy, but the engineers weren’t. They deserved better,” Jaiswal says. So Pesto pivoted, from providing cheap Indian developers to training Indian engineers to code, so they could make money for themselves. The company is now aiming at connecting Indian engineers with mentors, who Jaiswal is bringing in using his connections in Silicon Valley; the ones he formed by cold calling.

Follow Parthshri Arora on Twitter.