When I had less than a dollar in my bank account!

When I had less than a dollar in my bank account!

It is almost a cliche that every entrepreneur has to often go through tough times. Irrespective of how much money s\he started with, the entrepreneur is always short of money, often running just on fumes and the business is often on the verge of going belly up. Today, I wanted to write about one such moment in my journey as an entrepreneur and in the life of Mishmi Takin as a company.

Since I was short of money to begin with, I decided to go the crowdfunding route to raise the money to bring our products to market. Team Mishmi Takin conducted a successful Kickstarter + Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in Summer of 2016 and raised $80,000. However, I made a critical mistake in our crowdfunding campaign; I had offered far too many products to our backers. As a result, at the end of the campaign, we found that even though we had raised a healthy total, we were obligated to produce too many products and we did not have enough money to produce all of them. This was a potentially business ending mistake.

But, both me and my wife were not ready to throw in the towel and we bravely soldiered on. Both of us maxed out all our credit cards, wiped out our retirement accounts and took as much personal loans as we could get from anywhere. A couple of family and friends also pitched in and over a period of 6 months, we somehow managed to pool together the money to pay for the production costs. We got the production done; but, there was the small matter of customs duties. We still needed to pay the customs duties and there was no where else left to turn to. On the very last day when the customs duty just had to be paid, we were saved by a kind friend who could not say no even though she wanted to.

We got the product, yay, but now it had to be shipped to all the backers and the cost of shipping turned out to be a killer. I had saved a credit card just to cover shipping costs but it maxed out in no time. I had no money left even to ship!! I was forced to wait for sales to happen on our website to get some money to ship.

Matters came to a head in middle of July, 2017. My wife doesn’t get salary over the summer. From May to July, we watched as the cash from her last salary payment gradually inched towards zero. I think it was July 17th, 2017. I made a loan payment from my personal account and realized that my balance was now less than $1. My wife’s bank account had already dropped to less than $1 and our business account too was below $1. Earlier in the day, Citibank had called and suspended my last functioning credit card because I was late in making my payment. Essentially, we were completely out of cash and had no credit left.

As this realization was dawning on me, my wife called from the kitchen to say that we were out of milk for our 3 year old daughter. As I sat contemplating the zero balances, she came over, saw my face and realized what was going on. She gave a short laugh and said, ‘I guess it is what it is’ and went back to her work.

The next day, my 3 year old daughter, who obviously did not know anything, kept asking for milk. So, I had to go around house, rummaging through things hoping to find some loose change. Eventually, I found $7 in loose change. I got my daughter the milk and we managed the next 4 days on the loose change. Finally, on Saturday, July 22nd, we got our next payment from Amazon and we breathed a sigh of relief.

We eventually got through the summer, shipped to all our backers and fulfilled all our obligations (except to the kind friend mentioned above). Mishmi Takin has come a long way since then, winning awards and great appreciation from our customers.  We still are not completely out of the woods. But, I learnt my lesson – to bite what I can chew and not to take obligations I can not fulfill. I also learnt that some things you can read about but you don’t really understand till you go through them. Some victories just have to be ground out. Finally, I learned that the things you buy when you don’t have money taste much sweeter than the same thing bought when you have lot more money.

To all budding and fellow entrepreneurs, carry on.

Kapil

 P:S – If you have stories of how you faced adversity, do write back. I would love to hear them.

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Philadelphia Marathon 2012

In the hotel room after the marathon.

Yesterday, I completed my 6th marathon by successfully finishing the Philadelphia marathon. This was my first marathon in 2 years after being forced to miss the run last year due to relocation to Liberia. This Sunday was a glorious day for running. The temperature at the start was a slightly chilly 38 F but it gradually crept up above 50 F as the day wore on. The leaves were turning yellow and red all around and the slight chill made for a picture perfect autumn day.

This year’s marathon was easily the toughest of all the ones I have done till now. Training in Liberia proved to be very hard. All the little things that you never even think about became significant issues. First was the question of where to run. For a long time, I ran outside on the road but the constant worry about the heavy traffic and the thick smoke coming from the vehicles made the option not very appealing. When I looked around for a gym, there was none close by and getting to the only gym available presented it’s own challenges. The office vehicle was not available when needed. I tried going by my bike but there was no street lighting and I hit a man on the very first day. Lesson 1: A dark African on a dark street makes for poor contrast and visibility!!! I was forced to ride pinion on the dangerous but only feasible local transport, the ‘penpen’ aka the motorbikes. Then was the question of managing the heel injury (plantar fasciitis, for those of you who know). Getting ice to ice the injury became a project by itself. How do I get ice when I need it? Do I buy a 5 lbs bag everyday for the few pieces that I need? For a while I managed by asking a friendly shopkeeper for a few pieces of ice every couple of days. A friend helpfully suggested that I should buy a refrigerator and I said,’Umm, you know the bigger question is where and how to get the electricity to run the fridge.’ I finally did get a fridge but still the ice was not available when needed because there was no electricity during the day. The heel kept bothering me till the race day (and even now). I just kept going courtesy some vitamin I (ibuprofen). Finally, controlling weight in Liberia, where trying to decide what to eat for every meal is a decision, is a story in itself.

Till this race, I have always been improving my personal best in every marathon and I was very keen on keeping up that streak. During the race, even after running for 4 hours the result was still not a given and I was losing speed fast. At mile 23, I tried to stretch my quads and felt my hamstring cramping instead. Thankfully, it turned out to be a scare. At mile 25, I really wanted to walk but there was no time left. It was only an excruciating push in the last mile and a half that finally got me there. When I crossed the finish line with only 38 seconds to spare, I had tears in my eyes. It was an emotional experience. An improvement of 38 seconds over a distance of 26.2 miles, over 4 hr and 17 minutes does not sound a lot but I know how I eked out those precious seconds. This was undoubtedly the toughest and perhaps the most fulfilling marathon to date.

It was tough for me but it pales in comparison to what Liberians face every day. You might know that I am as passionate about providing every child an education as I am about running. I strongly believe that education is every child’s birthright. Providing children the opportunity for them to achieve their true potential is not an act of charity. It is our generation’s debt to the next generation, which we often fail to fulfill in adequate measure. To me, a child is a child, the future of humanity, irrespective of whether he is Indian, Liberian or American and it pains me so much to see so many Liberians going without educational opportunity. There is Christopher who is in 4th grade and whose mother, who herself could never go to college due to lack of money, has now no money to keep sending Christopher to school. There is David who finished high school in 2004 but had to sit out for 8 years with no money for college and poor job prospects. He now goes to college with my support. Then, there is Clarence whose life got disrupted due to the civil war and who at age 31 is finishing high school this year and dreams of starting a vocational training institute one day. I run for the educationally starved children and adults like them.

With all the things going on in my life, I could not do an organized fundraising this year. At this last-minute, I would ask you for your support to expand educational opportunities for under served children. You can contribute to a charity focused on Liberian girls, More than Me foundation, or to my regular favorite, Asha for Education.

http://morethanme.org/

http://www.ashanet.org/philadelphia/marathon/runners2012.html

If you contribute, do drop me a note as I have no way of knowing otherwise. Thank you everyone for your support – material, physical and spiritual. This journey would not be possible without your support.

Kapil