Tell us what inspired you to become an entrepreneur. How did you get started on your professional journey, and when did your business aspirations start to take shape?
Suneel: My mom was a refugee who taught me to believe that anything is possible. As a kid, I always saw entrepreneurship as a way to follow in her footsteps – to create something out of nothing.
Did you have a clear idea of what success looked like when you got started? And how has that idea changed over time?
Suneel: When I got started, I saw success as a function of money and relevance. Now I simply see it as being able to create things that matter to you. If you can do that while paying the bills, you’re wildly successful.
You’ve referred to yourself as a “twice-failed entrepreneur.” Can you give us a bit of background on what those experiences looked like for you, and how you bounced back from failure?
Suneel: The New York Times wrote a full-length article on failure using my face as the cover. So…that was embarrassing. But I emailed that article to people I admired saying, “As you can see, I clearly don’t know what I’m doing. Would you be willing to meet and give me some advice?” The vast majority of them got a kick out of my note and said yes. Those conversations shaped how I think about the world, and my place in it.
You wrote a book called Backable. What is a “backable” business model, and what made you want to dive into this aspect of entrepreneurship?
Suneel: We tend to think of entrepreneurship as two-step process – come up with a great idea and then execute on it brilliantly. But there’s a hidden step in between, and that’s where you have to recruit early employees, investors, and partners. So how do you get people to believe in an idea before it’s obvious? That’s a challenge every entrepreneur has to take on, because no one who succeeds does it alone.
What are a few ways that an aspiring entrepreneur can make their business idea more backable?
Suneel: What moves people isn’t charisma, but conviction. Backable people earnestly believe in what they’re saying, and they simply let that belief shine through whatever style feels most natural. If you don’t truly believe in what you’re saying, there is no slide fancy enough, no hand gesture compelling enough, to save you. If you want to convince others, you must convince yourself first.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
Suneel: If I could synthesize all of the best advice I’ve received into one line, it would be this: Long-term success comes from short-term embarrassment.