I recently delivered a talk as part of the get-together of students of FMB programme of SP Jain institute Mumbai. They wanted me to share nuggets of experience I have had as an entrepreneur! I hope I did a good job, and did not scare them too much.
My entrepreneurship experience spans 17 years now, across several enterprises I have tried to build. More information can be seen at http://www.ptuniverse.com/
The key points of the talk were
Understanding oneself : It is very important for an entrepreneur (and others too) to understand who they really are. What excites them.. what is it that will drive them for years on end.. what will bring a twinkle in their eyes.. what will create moments of happiness again and again.. Once this is clear in the mind, the efforts can be readily focussed towards creating one's career as an entrepreneur in that particular direction only. There is no point in trying to be everything to everybody - it is not possible. It is far better to be an expert at something, even if it is being a generalist, and then stick to that as long as it is rewarding for yourself. If you do not do this, then there is a lack of sense of purpose in life. You get up in the morning thinking of a long day ahead full of drudgery and tasks, rather than a set of interesting challenges ahead waiting to be tackled head on.
Creating a personal brand : Before you contemplate creating a brand of the various product(s) that your company might be making, consider creating your own brand. Your personal brand. What does the market think of YOU? What is YOUR image in the world? Amongst your relatives, friends, family? Chances are, what they think of you is going to deeply affect the prospects of every future material brand you may launch. It is rare that you enjoy a frivolous image, and your created brands enjoy a serious image. Your personal brand is likely to cast a shadow - positive or negative - on everything you do as an entrepreneur. So invest heavily in creating your personal brand. How to do that? Well, that's a long discussion reserved for some other occasion.
Getting priorities right : You have only 24 hours to the day, and there is no way you are going to be able to do beyond a certain number of things each day. So as an entrepreneur, you will be daily faced with the Hobson's choice - the need and desire to be involved in virtually everything in your organisation v/s the practical limits of time and energy available to do all that. These small small choices you make on a daily basis add up significantly over a period of time. So learn to say NO to the stupid and senseless tasks, and YES to every task that in some way will have a medium to long term impact.
Not taking anybody's nonsense : As the head of your business enterprise, it is your sacred duty towards your balance sheet that you learn to call people's bluff. You will come across many consultants, advisors and wise-men who will charge you for bluffing you. I do not mean any disrespect towards such people but the fact is - Any entrepreneur who is seen as an idiot will be treated like one. So you better learn the basics clearly. Step One : what is it that you want from an external consultant, be clear in your mind. Step Two : Make it clear to the consultant. Twice. In simple language. Step Three : Be demanding in delivery. Step Four : Reject bullshit totally. Even if it looks rude, do not accept bullshit.
Readiness to be un-popular : Well, this one is fairly simple. Love your people, but be clear regarding processes and systems. Our first priority is survival and growth of the brand, for if that is dead, everyone else is dead too. In trying to ensure this, you will be faced with several decision situations where really tough calls need to be made. Do not fail yourself on such strategic moments. Make those tough decisions. In the long run, that's the only way a robust brand / enterprise can be built. Remember General Motors' classic folly. They kept on bending backwards to accommodate the United Auto Workers (Union) for many decades. The payouts washed out the net worth of the company itself. So surely, that wasn't wise!
An eye on cost, and another on profit : Wherever synergy is possible, extract it from the system. Costs = Money drained out of the system forever. Hence, Costs = Basically a bad thing. Hence Costs = Evil. Hence costs need to be contained wherever possible. Of course, quality promised to the customer should never be compromised with, but intelligent optimisation is always welcome. As for profits, it is the final duty of the entrepreneur to ensure that the enterprise makes profits. Healthy profits. No one else can ensure that, or take charge of that responsibility. Only the entrepreneur is responsible for that.
Systems, processes, discipline : To grow beyond a certain stage, you will need to create your replicas. Since cloning is still not a feasible solutions, processes are the clones that will help you replicate yourself or at least your vision across more business units. So if you want to grow, and that is really not a choice (but a necessity), you will need to start developing a process mindset. Find out what all can be made to work without your personal presence. Force yourself to disengage from some parts of the enterprise sometimes. Slowly, a system traction will develop in the enterprise that will help you in the long run.
This was the gist of the talk I presented. I guess it helped them, because the Professor in-charge Madam Latha Nair decided to felicitate me with a really beautiful gift :-). Over dinner, as I interacted with students, parents and the Professor, I realised that the overall experience of this FMB programme was opening up a wide range of possibilities for the participants. Good work!