Failure is part of being an entrepreneur
You become an entrepreneur because you have identified a problem and you are truly interested in solving that problem. That journey of identifying a problem, working towards a solution, seeing so many different ways of gratifying a customer and seeing success is the fun part
Q. You started your career in the Silicon Valley and have worked for mid-sized, large-sized companies in the tech field for about 12 years. How did you transition from being a successful professional to an entrepreneur? Can you tell us a bit about the experience?
A. When I came back to India after 12 years, I worked for HP as the Director of Software-as-a-Service, responsible for sales and delivery in Asia Pacific and Japan for two-and-a-half years. But, I wanted to start a company of my own. Soon, my ideas began to take shape in HP. When the timing seemed just right, I took the plunge to become an entrepreneur.
I established my first company, Social Hues Software, in 2010. We were among the pioneers of social media analytics in India. The vision was to develop software that could collect and index data points and provide inputs for appropriate action to companies. The software did its job, but gradually we realized that human intervention was necessary to understand the context of the customer and his/her business. This required us to hire people who could do the additional analysis of the data, visualize and present it to the customer. Hence, our company started becoming more of a consultancy rather than just a software company.
Although it was a lucrative business, I wanted to focus on building the software rather than a consultancy. Somehow, things didn’t materialize the way we wanted them to. Secondly, the number of competitors increased daily and it required us to be cutting edge in social media analytics or think of another white space that wasn’t already captured.
We saw great initial success with some very interesting assignments. A lot of the top executives were wowed with the results that we were giving them. So, it was a hard decision to wrap up the consultancy and move on to building another software company in a related space. The next company we started was GitGrow, which simplifies web analytics. It looks at a variety of factors that understand the growth of start-ups and can give indicators to various stakeholders that are interested in investing in start-ups.
Q. Do you think this trend of leaving a successful job and becoming an entrepreneur is India-specific or a global trend? What are the rewards and risks of being an entrepreneur?
A. Entrepreneurship is certainly a global trend. In the last 10 years or so, the number of technology entrepreneurs has gone up drastically. In the US, it is quite common to see young, ambitious graduates starting a company of their own. It is different from what we see in India where most graduates start to look at a corporate career before they think of entrepreneurship. The average age of entrepreneurs in India and the US is hugely different. Here, we see significant numbers of entrepreneurs who are in their mid 20s or 30s.
You become an entrepreneur because you have identified a problem and you are truly interested in solving that problem. That journey of identifying a problem, working towards a solution, seeing so many different ways of gratifying a customer and seeing success is the fun part. The risk is that the challenges come in many different ways. It is a very long journey; sometimes the reward to being an entrepreneur comes after a long struggle. So, one has to be prepared for that. The other part, which is a little tough to swallow, is that 99.9 per cent entrepreneurs fail globally. So, you have to ask yourself if you are comfortable with that thought. If you are, you are really going to enjoy being an entrepreneur. If not, the best way to pursue your career would be to join a corporate.
Q. Why do entrepreneurs fail?
A. Failure is more accepted in certain scenarios as compared to others. A large number of people that I talked to feel that they can’t openly talk about their failures as it may impact their future. Hence, they only talk about the cases where they were able to overcome the failure. A lot of the learning can come from failures that led nowhere, which forced you to shut shop, start again, or move on.
There is lot of genome analysis that is being done on entrepreneurs. Not having the product-market fit, not understanding the customers, not managing costs etc. are some of the very common reasons why entrepreneurs fail. A lot of the times when there are writings on the wall, entrepreneurs don’t want to read them.
In my case I said that I will do business in India because I wanted work-life balance. The space I was in i.e. social media saw a lot of money spent outside of India. I knew that focusing on a particular geography will limit my growth. When I started, I thought that I would get the product market fit and that the market will grow.
I was hoping the tide would turn at a particular juncture but that didn’t happen. So, there are many reasons why failure happens; the entrepreneur should be aware and should acknowledge that failure is a part of being an entrepreneur. The mantra that the West adopts very nicely is that it is ok to fail fast. They say: Experiment, try, observe, decide your next action, close if you think it is not going to materialize. That is really what an entrepreneur should be doing again and again.
Q. In your corporate avatar, you grew up the ladder and you had a lot of experience in managing people. How difficult was the whole HR and leadership management business in your avatar as an entrepreneur?
A. Very different. As a manager in a corporate, you give people certain amount of guarantee in terms of job, training, team support etc. As an entrepreneur, quite obviously, none of that could be promised to an employee.
In terms of talent management, it is a bit difficult until you get growth because the reward for people who come to a start-up type of environment is growth. You really need to ensure there is a lot of team building that happens when you get growth in your start-up. Until then, hiring and getting people in and finding the right motivators will be a challenge. Usually, compensation cannot be the most important factor because a start-up cannot compensate these people fairly. So, retention usually happens when the journey is good.
Q. In your opinion, is there any difference between women or men entrepreneurs in the way they look at their business?
A. I think there are some differences that come up and it is mostly in terms of revenues. What I find is that women entrepreneurs do not necessarily look at short-term revenues as the most important factor while they are doing day-to-day decision making. For men, somehow the topline is big and bold. I would say that women leaders differ from men leaders in their prioritization of revenues, building the right talent, having the right product strategy in order to capture market. But regardless, in order to build a healthy business the top priority will be same; it is just the order of priorities that is different.
Q. The market conditions are more conducive to make an idea fail even when an entrepreneur may do the right thing. Looking at the uncertainty of economy, what is your advice for entrepreneurs who are starting up?
A. My belief as an entrepreneur is that if one has a really good idea and can execute well, it is going to see success regardless of whether it is a slow economy or booming economy. There are going to be some things that will be different in a slow economy, such as slower growth and unique challenges. If you are a really good entrepreneur, you will take on all of these uncertainties and still succeed.
As an entrepreneur I wouldn’t even be too concerned about a slowing economy. From the topline point of view, money that one can make from a slowing economy will be slightly different from a booming economy. But if one is in the right space, and has got good products, it will get him success in the longer term.