Levy Fellows Reflection with Lakshmi Menon of StackFarm
Hi! I’m Lakshmi, co-founder of StackFarm. That is how I introduced myself for the past year and a half.
StackFarm was an innovative system to grow organic leafy greens in a space and water conservative unit. This was a revolutionary idea for areas in arid climates, like the Middle East, where increasing health and socioeconomic challenges were attributed to food insecurity. StackFarm was also the winner of Ryerson Global Innovations Challenge 2017. It was an honour to have been a part of a venture that showcased a complete synergy of Ryerson University and Canadian University of Dubai.
There’s a joke about startups; “for every 10 startups you see in the market, 11 of them will fail.” The startup press glorify the rags to riches story, and how entrepreneurs that were once at rock-bottom, became rock-stars. Take AirBnb for example: they sold themed breakfast cereal to pull themselves out of debt, and then turned their idea into a multi-billion dollar business.
But, you rarely hear the stories of startups that ultimately failed. So, here’s a (non-comprehensive) list of why mine did and what I learned from it.
- Study your market
Alternative farming methods were taking precedence in the middle east, and we had a unique business model (or at least, I thought we did). However when I was in the U.A.E with the Ryerson’s Global Innovation Challenge, I quickly learned that we were only a little fish in a big pond, and not a sale away from revolutionizing an industry with many big players.
Takeaway: Don’t have grandiose expectations. Do some market research; find out the problem that your customer segment is facing and if your solution really can alleviate the problem. Plan, and get your idea validated.
- Co-founder – the Ying to your Yang
A startup needs founders who care deeply about what they do and can keep in mind that the most important aspect of any startup is the team. Your co-founder should be someone who complements you and your skills. Creating team workspaces that rely on openness, accountability and knowledge-sharing is key.
Takeaway: Listen more, be articulate, be open to ideas, and never turn down an opportunity to learn.
- Don’t fall in love with your prototype
This section is short: you have a working prototype? Great!
…now, get over it – prototypes are meant to be changed.
- Ask, why are we doing this?
Your why is your philosophy; it determines how intensely you’re committed to your goals and where you’re going to have an edge in the market. A clear, well-defined philosophy gives you the guidelines and endurance to keep you on track.
Takeaway: Aim to build only things that you are truly passionate about.
Failure brings with it important firsthand knowledge. When Thomas Edison famously failed nearly 10,000 times to create a commercially viable electric lightbulb, with each failure, he gained the knowledge of just one more avenue that didn’t work. This was my first light bulb that didn’t work. Entrepreneurship is one of the quickest platforms you can use to learn things about the world and most importantly, about yourself; take advantage.
As for me, I’m preparing for my next venture, made possible by the support and generosity of the Brookfield Institute and Ryerson’s Zone Learning Network. I’m working with a team to investigate the social psychology of health and how treatments that address the mind – not just the body – are superiorly empowering. Special thanks to the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Aspiring Innovators Fellowship for their enthusiasm in this project!
Lakshmi is a fourth-year student at Ryerson, majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Health Services Management and French. Her interests lie at the nexus of innovation in medical science with business. Tune into her journey as a Levy Fellow on Twitter, @lmenon01.