Always bet on (the new) black
You have to be courageous enough to step back if need be and let someone more competent run it
If your startup fails, it’s worth spending time to understand what went wrong. That’s the only way you’re going to improve the odds of making it next time
Every year, based on trends, the color of the year is decided. You must have heard about ‘Marsala’ being the Pantone color of 2015. But you and I both know all of this is just masala (pun intended). Black always remains everyone’s favorite go-to color and that is what entrepreneurship has become lately — the new black. Be it a fresher or someone going through a mid-life crisis, anyone and everyone seems to find their true calling in entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is depicted as an express train, a ride of freedom, flexibility, fame and fortune. It is the new ‘F’, the new social status that everyone, their uncle and their neighbor want. Starting up is the new fad. Working for a company these days is plebian and having a traditional job is oh so not cool.
When People Matters also decided to join the bandwagon I personally decided to roll up my sleeves and get cracking on what the fuss is about this new ‘F’. Unlike other articles where I share my thoughts, this time around we decided to go out and talk to people who have been there and done that. We reached out to both people who succeeded and failed as entrepreneurs.
People who succeeded were happy to have us associate their names with their entrepreneurial ventures. Among those we interviewed were, Anirban Das Blah, Founder of Kwan Entertainment, a talent management and entertainment firm; Nitin Dheer, who in 2009 started Inqubex that provides HR advisory services to corporates across industries and Nikhil Joshi, who while pursuing an Engineering degree founded SNIC, an industrial engineering consultancy in 2006.
We also had many of those who failed gracefully share their struggle, learning and stories with us. We have stayed away from sharing their names and instead focused on sharing what’s more important: their words of wisdom. Among those who tried their shot and didn’t quite make it was a young gentleman who started an online portal that sources domestic help in the Mumbai & Delhi regions; a middle-aged lady who tried sustaining an online bakery and a colleague of mine who tried his hand at entrepreneurship twice before returning to the corporate scene.
We would like to thank each of the above ladies and gentlemen for sharing their personal journey with us. Here are excerpts from conversations and key takeaways. We hope this article serves both as a reality check as well as a guide for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Dheer remarks: “At every social gathering I am approached by people who are in good, successful jobs, but are fantasizing about this utopian world of entrepreneurship. In reality, to my mind people who I see as successful in making the transition are those who do not fantasize about this too much.
Rather, they go about executing the plans.”
I couldn’t agree more. I have personally seen some of this behavior close at hand as an investor and mentor. It makes me tired because people want to jump on to this bandwagon for all the wrong reasons.
Anirban Blah says: “A lot of people do it for the wrong reasons. They believe they have an idea that everyone is dying to get their hands on! Hence, 90-95 per cent of them fail. The other reason people do it is for greed. These are the wrong reasons to be entrepreneurs. The right reasons to go down this path are when a lot of research has been done; you have something to offer that is not available in the market and you have the ability to marry the two.”
“I was attracted to entrepreneurship when I gave my first job Interview because I did not like the way my ‘to-be’ boss interviewed me. Knowing that I wanted to be my own boss led me to start my own venture but it did not really drive me,” says Joshi. “About six months later when we hired our first two employees, I suddenly felt responsible for two families and the future growth path of two individuals. I understood that my drive for entrepreneurship has the ability to make a difference in people’s lives by the actions and decisions that I take every day,” he adds.
My take: you have to truly believe in it and more importantly live by it. Entrepreneurs see what others can’t, do what others won’t, and accomplish what others dream. Simply put, entrepreneurship is a way of life.
Blah says his biggest learnings are that you are only as good as the people who are with you, and culture is everything. “It is the single most important thing to focus on,” he adds. As the HR head of an organization that takes its culture seriously, I completely stand with him on this one. For Dheer, the biggest learning is to not take anything for granted and, borrowing a line from Hollywood: “The only easy day was yesterday.”
Through his experiences in the past eight years, says Joshi, he has learned not to get too excited by success and not to get disappointed by failures as both are the stepping stones to business success. Also, he adds that learning has to be continuous for everyone in the firm.
Dheer’s description of the challenges he faced is short and sweet: “The biggest challenge has been to attract and retain quality talent.” A major concern indeed. We all know the ‘I, me, myself’ attitude never works. Great things are seldom achieved alone. “Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do,” said Isaac Asimov. Be self-aware, be honest where you need help and reach out for it. Now that we have heard from those who are still living their entrepreneurial dream, let me share what those who had to walk away from it had to say. Not too many people are open to talking about their failures, and that is why I have great respect for those individuals who shared their experiences with us.
Pearls of wisdom
Recall I shared a team member of mine has gone down the entrepreneurial path twice? His take on what he learnt from each experience is: “Have the right people on board with you and be ruthlessly professional, to the extent that you have to be courageous enough to step back if need be and let someone more competent run it.”
Seeking money too early, honey. This young acquaintance of mine had no idea he was heading vroom towards doom, as he had his eyes set on the money first. His biggest advice to others: “Follow your passion rather than following the money. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”
Flak for being a jack. Advice from the baker: “Do less and do it well.” She personally spread herself too thin by being too ambitious from the beginning itself. “Constantly apply the 80/20 rule and don’t start too many things. What are 20 per cent projects generating 80 per cent revenue? Do not be a jack of all trades. Instead, do what you love and love what you do. You know you’re doing what you love when Sunday nights feel the same as
Friday nights,” she says. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
Indecisiveness. Destiny is made during the moments of decision-making. I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. So get over the indecisive stage and start cracking.
No money honey. An entrepreneur without funding is a musician without an instrument. Get the finances in place and build a pipeline. Think through about reserve funds, know how long will you last and so on.
Skill and will. Successful entrepreneurs go above and beyond in everything they do. They know that without the right skill and will to achieve their goals, there won’t be any ‘extra’ in their ‘ordinary.’ With a low business IQ, you’re going down the wrong path for sure. This is the most widely acknowledged cause of failure of startups and what many second-time attempters shared with me as well.
The above shared experiences are, hopefully, a good enough beginning point for startups. Remember, if your startup fails, it’s worth spending time to understand what went wrong. That’s the only way you’re going to improve the odds of making it next time. And there will be a next time for sure! But don’t do it because it’s the in thing. Do it because you love it and want to be in it. Saying “no” and walking away is never in fashion, but it’s sometimes the best thing to do.
Good luck. Look forward to hearing from you.