Starting-up or for the uninitiated, embarking on a long, arduous yet exciting entrepreneurial journey is perceived to be the most ‘in’ thing to do these days. Apart from being your own boss and apparently in control of the variables that determine your work-life balance; the sheer thrill of creating something new and fulfilling the unfulfilled need of the market is what drives many into actualizing their ideas into reality.
The media has given rise to a new breed of poster boys and girls, proliferating success stories of entrepreneurs raising funds by the million or rolling out new offerings to make our lives more convenient. While it takes a potent combination of a great set of ideas and foresight backed by the ability of execution to determine the success of a venture, great emphasis needs to be placed on entrepreneurs having the right mindset or the psychological wherewithal to brace themselves for the undulations that the journey presents.
This piece isn’t about how to build a successful start-up with a 5 point to-do list. Instead it’s a reflection on the psychological hurdles that dot the journey and ways to surpass them based on my experience – both at a professional and personal level.
Saying Goodbye to the Perks of Corporate Life
Starting-up entails cutting your coat according to the cloth available. Without the comfort of a salary getting credited at the end of the month and personal expenses continuing to mount; economizing is a Hobson’s choice for survival for early stage start-ups. Bare necessities such as owning an office space or having an air conditioner running assume the proportion of luxuries.
Having worked for a decade and a half in MNC work environments, not having an office to go to every morning can be quite an unnerving experience. You start missing out on the social intercourse with your erstwhile colleagues more than the plush décor of the office. As long as you are conditioned to think that entrepreneurship is a ‘lonely’ journey, you can come to terms with it.
The mushrooming of business incubator spaces across Indian metros to help budding entrepreneurs move from their garages and homes into an office like set up comes in as a succor. If you can identify one in your city, it benefits you in more ways than one. You not just get work space, but also are in the company of like-minded people and the feeling of being a part of a community working towards a common goal of entrepreneurial success keeps the spirits up, your batteries charged and the cross pollination of ideas.
The Need to Build a Reservoir of Patience
Think of starting-up and the romantic notion of a bunch of guys in shorts working right through the night fuelled by the passion to achieve something gets conjured up. Passion however sustains itself only with constant reinforcement through results. The toughest part of a start-up is the endless days of waiting for the product to take shape; for the people you’re talking to agreeing to partner with you and for users to start using your product. That’s the acid test you are subjected to while running a start-up. In moments like these, those blessed with a liberal dose of patience, survive the test of time.
The Courage of Conviction while raising Money
We’ve all heard stories of guys with great educational and professional backgrounds raising money before they even started up, haven’t we? It is natural for you to fantasize about an idea on a paper napkin at one end of the table and an eager ‘cheque cutting’ VC at the other.
My early meetings to raise money made me skeptical about the existence of early stage funding in India. What complicates things is that there is a fair amount of overlap in the areas that angels, early stage, venture capitalists, strategic investors to name a few operate in India. What also left me confounded was the fact that many of the VCs weren’t able to envision the business rationale of BigDecisions.com – the personal finance platform co-founded by Gaurav Roy and me. This is likely to be a problem faced by many early stage start-ups while pitching for funding.
A key lesson that you learn is that while there may be no shortcoming in terms of articulating your idea to your potential investors or convincing them about your ability to scale-up and win market share, it is highly imperative to demonstrate that you are working towards a product or service that people want.
While market research to validate your idea and iterative test marketing of your product would help substantiate your pitch and make it convincing, investing your own money in the venture would send a positive signal to potential investors that you are willing to risk a fair bit for a vision that you really believe in.
Bottomline, the quest for funding will infuse ‘tenacity’ as an integral lifelong trait which you will permeate into your organizational DNA. When you have a product, some traction and most importantly demonstrated skin in the game in terms of time and money spent, you do get taken a lot more seriously.
Never give up if you do not win investor interest. As long as you are agile in spotting opportunities to network, have a clear vision of where you want your business to be and assiduously focused on the market segment you wish to serve; funding will come about.
The Art of People Management: Winning Together
No entrepreneurial dream can be achieved alone. You need people whom you need to motivate, train, empower and most importantly ‘Trust’ to build a team of go-getters who will shape the destiny of your entrepreneurial dream.
The challenge is to hire right. The rule of thumb I’d recommend is to always hire those who have the potential to be smarter than you. Permeating a culture of mutual respect, open communication channels, objective feedback and painting the ‘Big’ picture are essential to keep your team engaged.
Guiding principles which every start-up must internalize:
- When a business has purpose, it shows - When a team has clarity in understanding and aligning organizational goals with personal goals, that’s when we are able to create a direct impact on the work outcome that really makes work meaningful. We all grew up having heard “Find purpose and the means will follow”. Now, I really know what it means!
- Treat it like your own businesses – Always thinking about ‘getting work done’ regardless of time of day or week is quite unique to start ups and it’s something which should stay on even after your venture matures.
- Have fun, all the time – Every achievement is a cause for celebration. Something that is essential in strengthening organizational culture as your company matures.
It’s never too late to #Start-up as long as you are open to experiencing a different dimension of life that is a more meaningful and makes you a lot more alive. All it takes is the proverbial Leap of Faith.
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