15 Years Of Entrepreneurship: 3 Lessons To Live By
I am a Mumbai-based entrepreneur. I run Azure, a brand management firm. Having taken on the challenge of turning an entrepreneur at a time when being one wasn’t cool, I have had one roller coaster of a ride.
I come from a family of very ‘stable’ professionals like bankers, lawyers, MBAs et al; my family almost had a panic attack when I announced my decision to go solo. They even offered professional counselling (sigh!). That was a tough curve to make as they thought I was throwing away a career. Many of them still don’t quite get why I work so hard when I can get a ‘cushy’ job (sigh again!). But mostly, they have settled on the fact that I am ‘stable’ now.
I have also had the opportunity to work with the world’s most formidable brands. I am a treasure chest full of many a mistake along the way.
While all experiences make our journey worthwhile, there are three lessons in particular which I would like to share. Hope it helps you in your endeavors too.
Lesson #1: Entrepreneurship is a heartbreaker!
Every morning, I wake up to these glamorous stories about billion-dollar funding. Journalists are waxing eloquent about how these poster kids of the startup ecosystem will wipe out Silicon Valley. Smart, (rather) roughly dressed young ones are making statements about Facebook and even Pokemon being passé and so forth.
On an average, I speak to about four-five new startup founders a week, who are so bedazzled by these stories. They meet me starry-eyed, full of dreams of buying that private jet. Hey, nothing wrong with those dreams. But realizing them is a tall task.
Entrepreneurship is tough! It’s an ego-crusher. Your dreams are shattered to pieces, smashed against the wall every now and then. Nobody wants to believe in you until you really become successful. Resources are tough to come by. Finding co founders who will believe in same vision is a mammoth task.
You will meet people who will waste your time, steal your ideas, abuse your efforts, disappear on you, cheat on money and demotivate you. This might include family and friends too. Yup, sorry to pop that bubble! Are you ready for that? Are you ok to be heart-broken, weep tears of dejection, indulge in self-doubt, even go broke, but still wake up every morning and get back to the battle?
I have experienced two excruciating blind curves in my professional span of 15 years--curves where the biz fell apart. It took superhuman strength to stay on. It also took taming of the ego to accept that things aren’t going well and I need to move the goal post. These may be compelling changes we need to make because of external market changes or other reasons out of our control.
For every success story that makes you drool, there are 100 other great ideas that fail. These stories don’t make the headline. They aren’t glamorous. But the truth is that lives are impacted when an entrepreneur fails despite their best fight. It’s an emotional/ financial/ physical drain.
Should you want to turn entrepreneur, do it for the right reason. Don’t romanticise it. And remember, it’s very tough.
Lesson #2: We never make it on our own!
This is an important lesson and seldom spoken about in detail. When you set out to execute your idea, you need to find people who will believe in your dream. It’s very easy to slip into a martyrdom or hero mode where you feel like it’s you VS the world.
That’s a delusional belief. Truth is, you will always need people who will help you along the way. Today, it’s an open, connected world. Reach out to mentors, people you admire, friends who care, confidantes and others. If you are passionate and honest, chances are quite high that someone from across the world who can see these qualities in your communication will certainly respond.
The challenge appears when you try to connect to people without clarity in what you want out of them. Time is scarce. Approach people with definite thought of where you want to go and how they can help. Remember, don’t be smart-assy. Be sincere. It will do you well.
It’s critical to seek mentors from diverse fields who will be tough critics and good friends. You need people who will believe in you but tear apart your plans if they spot flaws. The biggest journeys of the world were made only with support from such guiding lights.
You also need team members/associates. Even if you don’t have people on your own payroll, look out for those you can associate with. We are not experts in everything. You need to identify, and then beg/plead/negotiate to have this talent by your side.
If you try to do everything on your own, failure is guaranteed. Don’t try to hog the limelight on your own either. The more you share credit, the farther you will go. Let me give you an example: some of the brightest tech talent I have met have often made mistakes in marketing goals. Well, that’s not shocking as not all of us are experts at both.
You are also not working against the world. You are working for it, along with it. Becoming an entrepreneur is about bringing innovation to make this world a better place. Therefore, there is no battle with the world. Don’t fight the lonely fight. Take people along, get mentors, and learn to have people believe in your dream. These might be a handful only, but that’s all you need.
Lesson #3: Whatever your idea, someone is already working on it
I am surprised by how many entrepreneurs who approach me believe that their idea is so unique that it’s never been thought of before. Tragically, it can’t be true. Chances are 100% that whatever you are working on, someone somewhere is certainly developing it.
Your success really depends on how well you EXECUTE the idea. The idea itself on the paper means nothing. It’s worth is less than ZERO. It’s the team, execution, market fit that will define its success. There was an Orkut before Facebook. Remember?
Never be disheartened if you hear of a similar business model. But, always question yourself on what your differentiator is, what value-add are you bringing to the table. Don’t fight for the same market share. There are always different geographies, age groups, demographics that you can target as well as bring in feature/product differentiator.
Another shocking aspect is when people don’t do enough research on the subject. Even in the age of Google and the gold mine of information available to us, why would you not spend time on research? Deep dive into the idea, historical evolution of the concept, parallel biz ideas, failure stories, etc.
Go armed, well-informed into what you want to do. Thereafter, it’s all a matter of how well you execute.
Whatever you do, give your 100%. Be prepared that failure is always a possibility. But it’s not the end. Don’t let success or failure define you. As a person, you should keep moving the goal post and reaching ever higher. Take people along. Be sincere, be kind, be honest.
Wishing you all a super week ahead!
image not our own