When I read the news of “Stand up India” program, first thought that came to my mind was “entrepreneurship can not be thrust upon anyone by giving money in hand”. On the contrary entrepreneurship is all about brining your ideas to life despite having all the odds stacked against you. Second thought that went thru my mind was why government wants to encourage only one section of the society to be entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship should be encouraged for anyone who has deserving ideas irrespective of caste, religion and gender.
When I was discussing the challenges of growing our business and hiring people, I said that our priority was to build the capability first and we can build the capacity later on. When I thought about this statement more, I realised that many organisations go through this challenge. Very often we have to take decision about hiring people in a given budget.
For example, the question that I was trying to address was whether to hire 2 people at entry level skills versus hire only 1 at an expert level.
With 2 people, it lowers our risk of failure (seemingly), it also allows us to regulate the cash flow.
On the other hand hiring one expert and having a cash outflow equivalent of two, increases the risks, if things don’t work out.
However the key question for me was more about capability vs. capacity. 1 expert gives us capability and 2 entry level skills gives us capacity. Based on the current needs I decided to go for ‘capability’ building.
Last week, I attended one of the talks that SMU-IIE regularly organises. I went to the talk with no particular expectations. My main motive was to get out of my office seat and be among the people. .
But after the talks, I felt thousand times grateful to SMU-IIE for organising it and bowed million times to the speaker for such a wonderful insight. So let me share with you what I learned.
Firstly about the speaker. Dr. Bala S. Manian has been an entrepreneurial innovator, investor and a mentor in the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial community for the last three decades. You can read his bio at the above link. What makes him special is the fact that he has been on the entrepreneurial scene for long, much before it was fashionable. Has seen through 7 ventures successfully.
Now what I learned :
The one bit of advice which set me thinking most and which I liked was :
There are pieces of information with many people, someone who can organise it and present it gives knowledge but one who brings this knowledge with real life experiences is bringing wisdom.
My take on this bit is that, many of us know what is right thing to do. We know a lot about various subjects through reading. For example, by reading internet and books one can give good lecture on entrepreneurship, but when it comes from the person who has been there and seen it, it has weight, it makes more sense. Does this means we should spend time in listening to such people – no.. very clearly this means we should spend time in “doing” it, practising it, then we can preach.
On various other pieces of wisdom that he shared, that is important for the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are :
“It is not about state of mind, but ability to execute what is in your mind”
“Ability to read people, gives you ability to lead people”
“You need to be a good communicator, but more important is the ability to listen”
“Need to have passion bordering on addiction” and “Self confidence bordering on arrogance” But should also know the borders.
“Will to succeed is more important than desire to succeed”
” You go to school only to learn to how to learn”
“Risk taking is important, but more important is the ability to deal with and manage uncertainties”
Some interesting thoughts on business plans :
You need a business plan but the purpose of the business plan is “to show your analytical thinking ability, it is not a roadmap”. Another piece of wisdom was so important ” You should not believe in your own B**Sh**”. This was in the context of the what we communicate externally. While is good to be bullish and come across as a confident person, we should know the reality.
He also talked about VCs, about exit strategies, about pace of advancements in technology, about the importance of mentors.
On a particular question regarding pace of change and a narrow window of go to market, how should entrepreneurs look at it, his advice was very helpful. He said, ” if you find you are little late in coming to market with a particular product, you can re-purpose it for next problem to solve. You would be the first one with ready answer”. In this context he also mentioned that don’t get hung up on a particular product per se, focus on the opportunity. If you know the opportunity well, you can find different technologies to solve the problem. In the same context he said ” the answer we get depends on how we frame a question”.
He also talked about India’s strategic place in this context. His advice was India offers an opportunity to entrepreneurs to fail inexpensively and hence is a good place to leverage.
For me this was a great learning. I am sure most others who attended would have found it too.
Note : This is an attempt to share my learnings. This not a transcription of the talks. The words in ” ” are very close to what he said in exact words.
You are alone when it matters most : Even if you may have found support and encouragement from your professional network while making the plans, when it comes to execution you are alone and it becomes your sole responsibility. You can not count on any one else whatever they would have promised. People like to join you only after you are successful.
No amount of prior work experience is good enough : Even after spending 20 years in work, the situation and circumstances that you face are totally unique and you come to know about it only after you have taken the plunge. So if you get a chance to take the plunge earlier, don’t stop yourself.
Be prepared to avoid ” I have arrived” feeling : I am not sure if this happens with everyone, but I guess must be true particularly for those like me who start after long years in job. You are given feeling of special person, person who has shown courage by the people around you. While this is a good thing, very helpful in the beginning, but it might give you a feeling of ” I have arrived” and take you away from rational and practicality of the entrepreneurship. It might give you sense of accomplishment and slow down your hunger for real success. Just taking a plunge is not enough, succeeding is more important.
One thing I would like to share that happened with me. I realised, pretty late, that I made a classic mistake of not building enough pipeline even after running sales for so many years. Every lead that I generated, I thought would convert into business. When I look back today and ask myself, what could be the reason for getting into such complacency ? I realised that it might be because of the feeling of “I have arrived”, ” I could do no wrong” sense that might have been developed. Hence wanted to share this story.
Many possibilities, many avenues takes you nowhere : This again may be because of long years in the job. You tend to think – I know so many things, I have network in so many areas, I can do so many things and you get proposals for many business ideas. In the initial stages, it may sound good, it may satisfy your ego, it may give you feeling of being busy, but soon you would find, it has not taken you anywhere. This may happen despite you having a good business plan.
Sounding board : When you start as one man army, it is very important to have someone around you who is well wisher, aware of the market conditions and who can be your sounding board. At least I found it very difficult to keep talking to myself or keep coming out with ideas without someone around. It helps tremendously when you hear yourself talking. You immediately realise the wrong and right.
I have gone through many more personal learnings. It has been very enriching experience from that point of view. At the same time it has been challenging times. Things have not gone as per the plans. Lot of things have fallen through at the last moment bringing me back to square one etc.
Family support : I think if there is one thing that you absolutely need is family support. Entrepreneurship is as much a an emotional journey as a commercial venture. When you feel alone it is only your family that you can reach out to. That is the only support system you can count on. I am fortunate that I can count on such.
Now I think I am much more grounded to reality. Looking forward to next year.