Last Updated on 5 months by Anoob P T
In this post, I am going to tell you how to Start An Online Business That Changes Your Life without depending on luck, VC funding or other people.
This is going to be a long post, and it is based on my experience and might not be fully in line with your thought process.
Before I start, I should tell you that ambition is a wonderful thing and to be ambitious requires some amount of ego.
After reading this post, you can think that this dude is not ambitious, his advice seems laid back.
I was very ambitious early on in my career but after getting fired from the company I started and spent sleepless nights trying to grow, I have slowed down.
My mother is a very enterprising lady and we often discuss online business ideas. I have written a post about Business Ideas for Housewives–you can read it if you are interested.
Now, even my material desires have slowed down.
I’m not chasing success like I used to.
Just to give you some context, I started my career as a call center employee and handled digital marketing for many Series C funded startups.
Later, I went on to found a startup that raised $2 Million in funding and then I was fired from the same company.
In many ways I have been lucky to be part of the entire VC-funded, hyper growth startup scene and I have seen companies go big and companies go bust very quickly.
Many young kids have approached me with online business ideas and requests to meet VCs–all claiming they have the next billion dollar idea and their company is going to be the next unicorn to be listed on NASDAQ.
If you are also thinking of starting an online business and want to raise huge rounds of funding and become an overnight millionaire–you are welcome to try but I should warn you–it is not all that glamorous and easy as it seems.
Over the course of my career, my thoughts around success have changed and now I am of the opinion that even if you own a small business, but you are the total and complete owner–that is better than the VC funding, hyper growth game.
This could also be because of the fact that I hate listening to people. I literally hate having a Manager telling me what to do and how to do things in a way “the Management” deems fit.
I was once consulting a startup and had a very interesting conversation with the founder.
He was telling me that taking funding for expansion was the biggest mistake he ever made in his life.
His business was small, he was happy and was spending time the way he wanted.
After funding, he is now answerable to VCs, has to be ready with Monday morning presentations and weekly/monthly performance targets and forecasts.
That being said, it takes the same effort to build a startup that can get funding vs a small side-hustle that can make $3000 in a month.
The question is which road do you want to take?
The funding-focused startup route has a 2-3% chance of succeeding whereas the side-hustle route has over 90% chance of succeeding (but it takes time). It all depends on your preference.
I have tried starting all kinds of online businesses in the past.
I have also created an article around Ultimate List of Business Ideas you can read it if you are interested.
Here are some of the online businesses I have started and put in a lot of time, effort & money to try to scale fast.
- An on-demand gig platform for small jobs (before such platforms were so common)
- A Question and answer website for non-English Speaking audience
- A community-led lyrics aggregator website
- On-demand T-shirt printing e-commerce store
- E-commerce store selling Ayurvedic products
- An e-learning company that teaches career-based skills
- A motivational Android App
- A Quiz community
- A News & Media Platform (that raised funding)
- A co-working aggregator website
Some of these projects made some money but in most of them, I lost money.
I tried hiring developers to build complex projects.
I tried virality and had some success.
After all these projects, I just got tired.
I got tired of losing money and putting in tons of effort only to find out this shit just doesn’t work.
This post is not about me, but about you and what you can do to Start An Online Business That Changes Your Life.
Here is some advise that might help you.
How to Start An Online Business That Changes Your Life
Table of Contents
Rent + Food is Your Magic Number
Before you make millions from your online business, you need to break your targets down.
When I was trying to build online businesses for raising VC funding, my sole aim was to grow fast and grow at any cost.
I never cared about how many hours of work I had to put in or how it was affecting my health.
I wanted my company to grow. Period.
After 4 years of running non-stop, I couldn’t keep up any more.
I was still making some money using side-hustles but my main area of focus was the startup itself.
Now, my side-hustles generate enough money for Rent+Food and I have savings to last about a year so I’m not worried about whether I can make revenue.
If you are thinking of starting an online business, let this be your first milestone.
Try to make enough money for Rent + Food and are already ahead in the game.
With Rent + Food covered, you unlock the most valuable asset in the world which is your time.
You can use this time to study competition, learn new skills and pivot your online business to make money and succeed.
In the past, I have hired developers to build complex websites & apps.
I have tried to build communities using AI.
I was of the opinion that if the idea was not big or complex enough it was just plain stupid for me to waste my time.
Let me give you an example.
When me and my friend were discussing what startup to build, I casually mentioned to him, “Why don’t we start a blog? It can solve at least some of our money problems.”
My friend laughed and said, “Are you stupid? Blogs will be dead in a couple of years and who would want to buy out a blog?”
I thought for a moment and told him, “Yeah you are right!”
Let’s build the AI powered gig recommendation engine.
This was at least 6 years ago and looking back, it would have been better to just start a blog.
Now I just focus on building this website.
If I had started this website 6 years back, I am sure this site would be making plenty of money but I chose to ignore what was right in front of me to chase a rabbit in the bush.
The point is, whatever you are planning to do, start small.
It could be a blog, a YouTube channel, a small website that just has some information that people could find useful.
The beauty about being small is that you can pivot anytime.
This website started as a website to find information about coworking spaces, now I write about almost anything I feel like.
Start small, it will take you to big places.
Don’t Tell Friends About Your Project/Startup
I don’t have many friends that I can talk to about my projects or ambitions.
I mean I do have an active friends circle, but most of them are not as per my wavelength.
When I was planning to start the side-gig finding company and was getting together blue collared workers, I made the mistake of telling one of my friends about the idea.
He immediately said, “Dude, its a stupid idea, what if some worker rapes someone? You will go to jail.”
The whole idea was to start with my cook at the time, his wife and his friends as my blue collared team, but after speaking to this friend, I thought about the risks and kind of dropped the plan.
Mostly because, this idea was new and I did not have the money or the manpower to deal in case something went seriously wrong.
Then there are other types of friends.
I have a friend to whom if I tell any idea, he will just say, its stupid it will never work.
This guy does not like the concept of side-hustles and has a habit of making fun of me behind my back.
He keeps telling my other friends, “This useless fool is trying to do this. It’s just a matter of time before it all blows in his face.”
Partly, it is my mistake for telling him about my grand plans.
Then there is an another type.
The moment something starts working, this friend wants in on the profit.
This type of friend never does any work, but once you start seeing some success, they want in on it.
In all the above cases, I have found the best thing to do is not to tell anyone about your business idea or the project you are working on.
Even if it is just a blog, do it yourself and don’t even tell your girlfriend or wife how much money it is making until it is making enough money to replace your salary.
Majority of all “friends” will never be of any help in your entrepreneurship journey and it is better to fail alone than in front of a crowd.
When I was working in the VC firm, I remember a young guy coming to pitch to the VC.
He had made the deck with industry insights, competition, market potential and everything else.
After the pitch, the VC told him it does not sound like a fundable idea and that he would have to pass.
Before the day was over, the VC called couple of his older friends, and they started the same business in a week.
Couple of months later, they raised $10 Million in funding.
So does this mean that you can’t even tell your idea to anyone? Nope, you need to pick whom you share information very carefully.
Give it At least 2 years
A big mistake that I made over the years is not giving my online businesses enough time.
Back then, I was always chasing the fast money and if something was not working, I would usually lose interest and move on to the next idea.
Looking back, I now know that anything good requires some time to start seeing any result and anything less than 2 years of time is bound to fail.
For example, if you took this website when I started, it was not making any money.
Even now, it barely makes any money but the good thing is that I am willing to keep working at it for free as long as the work is enjoyable.
When I was in school, I was a good writer and I always had a fascination with movie script writers, how they would just go anywhere and write from their imagination and make a living out of it.
I’m not a movie writer, but now this website gives me the flexibility to write by a sea-side and still earn some money without needing a day job.
If you are starting an online business, give it 2 years before giving up on it.
The best case would be starting something on the side so that you are not financially dependant on the success of the project.
Find 10 Paying Customers
When I started easycowork as a coworking services company, I was getting leads for people trying to find spaces and I would help them find a coworking space for a commission.
I was getting a good number of leads but real estate commission is a tough business.
Majority of leads do not convert and even if leads convert, the company rarely pays their broker.
I was getting sales through the website, but the commission was not regular and it was lot of work for very little money.
That’s when I decided to change the website to write about more topics and be less reliant on coworking leads.
If you cannot find 10 paying customers, you should think about pivoting the business or expanding the circle of your business to serve more people.
The hard truth is that one or two customers a month even if they are high paying customers is just not enough.
Keep Your Day Job
Next piece of advice for your to start an online business that changes your life is to keep your day job.
There are two reasons for it.
First is that, the day job gives you the security and a paycheck that keeps the lights on while you are figuring out how to make your online business succeed.
Think of the day job as an insurance policy that you need to keep only for the time being.
Like I mentioned before, it usually takes a couple of years to make something work and if you can do this part time while keeping your day job–its a lot easier.
The second reason (at least for me) is that it is hard to stay motivated when you are working alone on a project and it is not making any money.
Just to give you some context, few years back, I quit my job to work on this website.
I had decided that I’ve had enough of listening to idiots and I am much better off working for myself.
Before quitting my job, I imagined working for myself to be a real walk in the park.
I will be getting up when I want, eating when I want, having meetings when I want and just living life the way I want.
I was wrong.
After I quit my job, I started taking digital marketing projects and before I knew it I was working the same number of hours for less money.
I was having calls with clients and listening to the same bullshit story of wanting 10x growth as quick as possible.
I also got into a rut where I was sleeping late, getting up late, eating unhealthy and drinking a lot of beers.
The problem is that I am somewhat of an extreme personality.
When I work hard, I work very hard and when I laze off, I completely blow off everything.
This made it very difficult to have some sort of structure in my life and I just became lazy to work on this site too.
While the idea of making a side hustle work and showing middle finger to your boss and walking out seems great, you should be confident that you will stay motivated and will not get into a rut (like me).
Invest Money You Are Willing to Lose
There’s an old rule in stock market investing that you should only invest money you are willing to lose.
When I was young, I remember a neighbor of mine had committed suicide because he borrowed a lot of money and invested in the stock market only to see it all go down the drain in a single day.
No matter what business you are starting, there is always the risk of losing your investment and you should be okay with that.
If you do not have funds to invest, start something that requires little capital like a blog or a YouTube channel and try to build passive income before hiring developers to build the next Facebook.
Don’t beat yourself if its not working out
Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.-Gustave Flaubert
I’ve worked with plenty of idiot CEOs who raised funding and thought that they were the next Steve Jobs.
These people generally have the attitude of “Look at me, I’m so great I raised VC money and everyone else is stupid working for me.”
Sometimes things take time to work out and in such cases, you should not beat yourself up if the idea or the business is not working out.
It becomes even more difficult when you see other succeed faster while you are slaving away.
When you are working for yourself, you become your own boss and most of the time, we are harder on ourselves than we are on others.
Sometimes it is just about plain DUMB luck
One of my bosses was a Silicon Valley startup veteran who made millions during the early dot com bubble.
Once I asked him how come some companies which have no product, no business sense and incompetent people raise funding?
He replied, “Dude sometimes it is just dumb luck. You need to be at the right place at the right time.”
Interesting I thought.
In many ways, he was right.
Sometimes when your time is right, everything you touch turns to gold and success comes very quickly.
In my hometown we have a saying that goes, “God comes to all homes at some point. You should be smart enough to realize its him and then taken him inside. Don’t tell him to come back next week.”
Sometimes whatever you try just fails and it becomes a pain to even try.
To succeed in anything you need some talent, some hard work and some bit of luck.
If you are not finding that lucky break, just keep at it and hope that serendipity will strike sooner or later.
Learn Basics Of Digital Marketing
The last piece of advice I can give you is to learn the basics of digital marketing.
I am not saying this because I am a digital marketer, but it’s a skill that can help you launch your own online business and free yourself from a job.
I have written a very detailed post about how to get an entry level digital marketing job and I have covered almost all aspects of digital marketing there.
You can read the post if you are interested.
Now, the last part of this post.
Online Businesses You Can Consider Starting
An online business is not very different from a regular business.
You have a product or a service that you can provide to an audience and the audience gives you money in exchange for the product or service.
This includes a physical product, digital product or even information.
If you look at this site, what I provide is pure information.
I’m not sure how many other folks have graduated in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering, started working in a call center, handled digital marketing for Series C funded startups, started a company raised funding and then got fired.
This might be a unique story and this website is read by lot of people for information about how to start an online business and learn from my experience.
In return for spending time on this website, I earn some money in the form of ads or some commission when I recommend some courses.
This is the basic exchange that is happening here.
Now, when you are trying to start an online business try to keep it simple.
Try to find an answer to these questions:
- What is your product/service?
- Why should customers choose me?
- How is my business exchanging value for something the customer has (time/money)
I cannot tell you what online business to start, but here are few good options you can get started with.
Ecommerce – How to Start Ecommerce Business
YouTube channel How to Start Making Money from YouTube
Blog or Content Website How to Start Blogging
Directory Websites – How to Start a Directory Website
Apps (Information, Gaming, Service) – How to Develop an App & Make Money
I’m not going to go deep into each of these individual businesses because there are far better people who have created guides on how to start such businesses–I have linked some of them.
As with life, every journey is unique and you have to walk your own path to figure out what works for you.
You might succeed the first time or you might succeed the 50th time, the key is to keep trying and moving forward.
If you read till here, I think we can be friends. If you need some help starting an online business, do let me know using the form below. Would love to hear from you.
Talk to you soon,
How to Start An Online Business
How to Start An Online Business Summary
Here is a step by step guide on How to Start An Online Business That changes your life. In this post, we look at different types of online business ideas you can consider, major issues you might encounter and how to improve your chances of succeding.
- How to Start An Online Business
Almost anyone can start an online business
Very limited capital required
Can measure your growth
Takes time and effort
You will need patience.