05 May 2015 14:21 IST

Challenge the status quo to create value now!

Don’t underestimate yourself, fall in love with what you do, and be prepared to make sacrifices

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” - Sun Tzu

The word entrepreneur is derived from the French word entreprendre, which means  to do  something or one who undertakes.  Entrepreneurs undertake a considerable amount of initiative and risk when launching a new business venture. Some are successful, but many will fail. Nonetheless, all entrepreneurs share the same driving spirit that has led them to undertake their dream of starting their own business.

I too dreamt of starting my own business; of success, of glory, of financial rewards beyond what one could hope for from a profession. 

In India of the 1980s, to be an “entrepreneur” you were either from a business family or you were out of a job. I was neither. Having  graduated from IIM-A and having over three years of work experience  there was no compelling need to be an entrepreneur except the burning desire to become one and the “foolishness” of  self- belief  that youth and inexperience held. In other words, there were no negative ‘self-beliefs’ – we did not act like the elephants in India who are used for manual labour. But what is to be done with them when they are not working? How does one restrain them? Their handlers came up the idea to “programme” them while they are still very young – by setting self-imposed limits into their thinking. How does it work?

When elephants are still small, weighing around 70 kg, they get tied up with a very heavy rope. All day long, the elephants try to get rid of it, whine, tug at it and some of them even try to chew it. But they can't break free. Finally, the elephants give up and the fight is over. And now’s the interesting part:

From that moment on, they strongly believe that there is absolutely no chance to get rid of the rope. They accept the “fact” that the rope limits them. And with this imprinted belief in place, their handlers are able to tie them with extremely small ropes! Even as adults, weighing 3,500 kg and more, they never attempt to break free because they “know” they have no chance at all! As you can see, the elephant’s limits are not real, but exist only in their minds.  We are similarly programmed with our built-in-boundaries. They are also not real but exist only in our minds.

The entrepreneurial mindset is that “The journey is the reward” and “There is no failure except in no longer trying “. Entrepreneurship is exciting, the rewards are great but so are the risks.

Why become an entrepreneur? For me, it has been always a dream and I started young. Just four years into my job after graduating from IIM-A, I decided to strike out on my own. Looking back it was a little bit of foolishness – chucking a good job at a leading private sector company with no business background or support, just a burning desire to make it big as an entrepreneur. The family was aghast, though to their credit, they did not put any spokes . The unspoken comment though was that this guy is “a write-off”.

The first and most critical thing that one needs is that burning desire to become an entrepreneur .

Burning desire

"You must fall in love with what you do, because being an entrepreneur is a lot of hard work, and overcoming a lot of adversity. From that love will come the dedication that will get you out of bed at 4 am because of a great idea you just had and get you to work till 11 pm and not feel tired.”  – Ken Field, real estate magnate.

There have been many many occasions in the early years when we have worked through several nights at a stretch with undiminished enthusiasm.  We loved what we were doing. As Confucius says ; “Choose a job that you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Be that as it may, it is imperative to have that burning desire. But that, by itself, is not enough; one definitely needs to go beyond. For this, you need a good business idea, some validation of the concept and preferably a beta customer.

So in 1986, I packed my bags from Calcutta and went back to my hometown Coimbatore. Needless to say, my parents  were aghast and short of making me pack my bags and head back to a job, they did  try all else. However, to their credit, once they found that I was determined to try my hand at being an entrepreneur, they accepted that decision.

There is much merit in starting young – one has very limited responsibilities; one is  not yet fully softened by  the trappings of corporate life; youth has boldness and flexibility on its side. The cons are that one is still wet behind the ears, one has still not built the strong networks and contacts so essential in building businesses.

Plenty of sacrifices

The burning desire to succeed makes up for a lot of deficiencies. So if you have this, then my advice will be to follow what Mark Twain so eloquently said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

However, remember that it is not all easy going. There are a number of sacrifices one has to make with this choice; you can’t hang out with friends; you don’t have enough money to spend on luxuries; you make compromises on your lifestyle – your one focus should be on achieving what you have set out to do, that is, build the business. But the most invaluable lessons that we learnt is the need to be frugal and cost-conscious, to have an effective control on costs and to reduce wasteful expenditure. All of these are valuable lessons that any entrepreneur should quickly internalise.

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