Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Secret Sauce of Entrepreneurship

I was sitting with a senior friend of mine, who happens to be an entrepreneur and a star academic performer all through his life. Since he has recently turned an entrepreneur (after 10 years of service experience), our discussion veered towards the pressures and pleasures of being an Entrepreneur. "I have been forced to explore every part of my mind, body and soul after I turned an entrepreneur. It was never like this earlier. I think I have known more of myself in the past 2 years than I did in my decade long service experience", he said.
I was startled by his statement! Positively startled. Since I do not have any corporate service experience (the only thing I did was a 2 months summer training with Tata Motors (then TELCO) at their Pimpri Pune plant in May-June 1992) I could not relate fully to what he said, but believed it, and hence my amazement.

Three things make an Entrepreneur's life different
  1. Life and Death decisions on a daily basis in the early years
  2. Turning absolutely rational and objective
  3. Tremendous stress levels, and no one to share
These three defining aspects of an Entrepreneur's life are not be found anywhere else. Let us see them one by one.

First of all, in the early years, almost all the decisions that an Entrepreneur makes are not just tactical, they are strategic. Each of them has the force, the power, the seed to turn into something strategic that affects the enterprise strongly. So, the Entrepreneur has to treat each decision from a 360 degrees perspective. Each decision has to be analysed (in her mind) so thoroughly that the mind may start revolting after a point in time. And remember - there is no time to delay decisions. Opportunities just whiz past before you can nail them down. So, that's the first defining feature of the daily life of an Entrepreneur - Life and Death decisions on a a daily basis, to be made really quickly.

How many people in regular service do that? Even if they knew, would they take the pains to do it? Definitely not. It is too much, it really is. Hence I say this is a "defining" feature of the life of an Entrepreneur.

Secondly, an Entrepreneur realises early on his career that he has to be extremely rational and objective in dealings with people. She learns that being emotional about people starts turning negative for the entire enterprise. There is something sinister about being emotional about people in an enterprise. There are many who start taking advantage of you, the moment they realise you have an apparent soft corner for them. Because we should not forget (i.e. the Entrepreneur should not forget) that behind every person working in his enterprise there is a family, a set of relationships who may not entirely be friendly to the enterprise. I have personally encountered people who were positively hostile to my entire existence! To deal with them on a daily basis, to ensure that the enterprise works well profitably despite such people around, to ensure that the tomorrow of the enterprise is brighter than the today, is the sacred duty of the Entrepreneur, and the Entrepreneur alone. So does this mean he should treat people like objects? No, no, no, a million times no. What this means is that he should treat every situation objectively. Every interaction has to be measured from the perspective of whether the entire enterprise will benefit or not, whether the longer term objectives of the customers will be served or not, whether the enterprise will gain more profits or not.. it is as basic as that. And not many people can turn themselves into such "objective thinking machines". I am aware of the risks of saying these things - many will pounce on this opportunity to castigate all Entrepreneurs as mindless and emotional brutes but that's not true. You want proof? Meet those Entrepreneurs who have failed in any of their ventures. They will testify.

So, let me wrap this argument up by saying that "the best emotion about your employees is to ensure that their jobs are protected through the flourishing of the enterprise". I rest my case on this one.

Finally, the third defining feature of an Entrepreneur's life is the insane stress levels she has to endure. It's like a tonne of weight on her head, every moment of her living existence. Since the "final" responsibility of almost everything rests on the Entrepreneur's shoulders, the stress levels can assume gargantuan proporations. In early years, when cashflows are not properly defined, and profit streams are unpredictable, and reserves are negative, these stress levels are defined by the existential dilemma of making it to the next week safe and sound. This stress can totally change an Entrepreneur's perspective on life. It can make her ill, break up her marriage, or change his personality. It can end up doing nothing of this, as well. All depends on how the Entrepreneur plans his work, his attitude, and his life. No matter how you plan it, one thing is for sure - Stress Level is Guaranteed Superhigh always.

So if entreprenurship is truly this difficult, why do people do it?

Three reasons why people turn Entrepreneurs
  1. Personal ambition to be different, famous and to achieve a lot
  2. The itch to be on their own, and not to serve anyone
  3. Tremendous nervous energy dying to break free every moment
First of all, Entrepreneurs are ambitious people. They want to live life to the fullest. And this goes well beyond collecting luxuries and spending classy vacations with family. It is all about personal ambition, and the kick they get out of creating something no one thought they could. All this comes with the tremendously sexy reward of "fame" and "glory" that's almost impossible to resist. And fame feeds bravery consistently. Achievement feeds efforts without fail. Remember Sir Richard Branson, who can go to atrocious lengths to ensure fame (for himself and his companies).

Entrepreneurs are sure of the fact that by serving "under" someone they will simply waste their lives. Not that they have a large ego that's crying out, but they feel that their potential will remain truly underutilised by choosing not be on their own. This is a very strong driving force. It helps Entrepreneurs brave the most strident of all criticisms from everyone around them, in the founding years. When everyone is sarcastic and caustic, they brave the winds because in their hearts they know that glory is imminent. That mad, almost insane, feeling is a force strong enough to drive them through the dark alley of social ostracism. The real tragedy appears when the Entrepreneur realises that he has become totally subservient to the interest of God himself - the Customer! Remember Steve Jobs - the ultimate monomaniac who realised that unless he treats customers as the God, his products will not succeed.

A lot of Entrepreneurs are people who have a lot of physical and emotional energy that's visible in their bodies. They can't sit still for long. They want to keep creating new thing, new objects, new ideas, new stuff that people will appreciate. Remember Shah Rukh Khan.. he cannot remain just an actor. He has to do many more things at the same time.

So, if you are planning to turn an Entrepreneur, here are 3 ways to help you decide!
  1. How would you like to see yourself at the end of life? A clean, smooth, unhurt individual - or someone with bruises, scars and gashes earned from adventures and encounters unthinkable? If it's the second you relish, welcome to the world of Entrepreneurship.
  2. Does the idea of sacrificing the pleasures of personal life (like long weekends) and those lazy evenings with your family troubles you a lot? Then shoo!
  3. Does failure motivate you to do better next time? Did your family teach you that being a good loser is more important than being a good winner? If yes, then welcome!
This blogpost is a quick roundup of some Entrepreneurship essentials. It's a complex topic, and I'll keep writing more.
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Akshay Kothari said...

Respected Sir,
The only word comes to my mind after reading this stuff is "SUPERB".
Entrepreneurship is the best profession one can choose to live his life at fullest and learn maximum from it.As LIFE is all about VARIABLE changes,FIXED changes will keep happening daily.

Heights of Co-incidence-:

I was about to mail you to get some suggestions for an idea which i shared with Mr.Sanjeev Bikhchandani( ventures) through Email.He shown some interest on my Idea which is "Education needs Motivation".
He also asked me about the Revenue model and niche market.
I also booked a domain which will be soon
It would be great to share the idea with you at a full swing if you permit.

Eagerly waiting for your session on Entrepreneurship.I am sure that will be the best motivating tablet for the people who have zeal to do something differnt in life.

Proton Akshay

Rahul said...

Respected Sir,
I want to say only one thing to you that, today i get the new energy inside me that pulls me towards my goal.

Its true that in india people feel shame when they fail, because society did not accept the failure and shown the sympathy towards the people who fail and said this is not your 'cup of tea'.

I want to ask one question, if some one want to start his enterprise but his parents want him to do a job because they invested huge amount in his studies and expect a good amount of salary but unfortunately he is not able to get good salary job as compare to the amount he has invested in his PG.So what he can do, can you please lead the path so that he is able to take his decision.

Proton Rahul

Unknown said...

Excellent posting, Sandeep!

I am curious to know what role does corporate work experience plays in kindling or diffusing entrepreneurial spirits and also in terms of increasing the prospects of success?

--Rahul Choudaha, PhD

Unknown said...

Hello Sir!
IT is one the best article i have read before on "Entrepreneurship". In my views an entrepreneur to me who is self motivated, has passion and sets higher standards while being connected to ground realities. As for an entrepreneur only having a business idea is not enough, implementation is also important.There are various ideas that destroys within the minds. This article has enabled me to evaluate myself. Sir, I got assurance from Mr.Sasha Mirchandani for funding my business plan. "Need your help to implement it."

Test said...

Dear Sourabh - sure. Tell me how I can help you.

Dear Dr Rahul - thanks for reading and commenting. Well, corporate experience spans a very big spectrum. From the extremely challenging (setting up a new plant from scratch) to the mundane (running an established payroll), it can assume many shapes. Some enterprises have a strong internal culture of innovation, and that demands a strong level of entrepreneurship from a lot of people in the firm. A lot do not demand any such thing. So I guess there is a whole lot of action of all kinds happening out there... one thing, though, is for sure - the way a person leads out his/her life, depends a lot on personal choices the person makes about a lot of things. And that is something which is (IMPO) the strongest factor that affects decisions on a day-to-day basis.

SUCCESS is all about one's personal perspective. Anna Hazare is tremendously successful - he can make the Maharashtra government weep if he chooses to - and he is so humble, so down-to-earth, so regular a guy that many will not recognise his strength unless told. He changed the whole social fabric (to positive) of Ralegan Siddhi village. Now that's a unique way of looking at success. Unfortunately a lot of what is being taught to our young people is crap. Success as measured by Forbes and Fortune, harbingers of news from a now discredited system!

Proton Rahul - thanks for commenting. You need to read the blogpost again. The answer to your question is written there. Take your time. It will become evident at the right moment. Best wishes!

Akshay - my best wishes are with you for the venture you plan. Remember - consistency is the mother of all entrepreneurial successes.

privacymogul said...

Hello Sir,

This is a very thoughtful artical. I see myself in second point that you have made in "Why people turn entrepreneurs". This term "Entrepreneur" makes me delirious, itchy, restless and i don't know what. But i always have a hunch that, i will be entrepreneur.

I just want to ask you a few simple questions that Is it neccessary to be an employee before be your own boss? and Entrepreneurship Institutes can really make a entrepreneur?

nikhil said...

Dear Sir,

This article will definitely help many aspiring entrepreneur like me to see through the fog and take the plunge.

Test said...

Pradeep, Nikhil - thanks for reading and commenting.

All possible Employee / Boss combinations exist and it is not correct to draw conclusions based on them. In the end, success depends entirely on the person concerned. So try looking inside, rather than outside.

Unknown said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks for posting this wonderful article.
You are my inspiration; I have completed my graduation and going to start my organization in July.
I m facing the same problem that you have mentioned; like everybody is ki value kya hai, MBA to kar le,
I have no working experience (money problem too).....but every time when a problem came I remind my self- Sandeep sir ne bhi to problem face ki thi (I remember that line” What one man can do Another can do").Every time I feel depressed I shout your success mantra KAR KE DIKHAYENGE !
Nandan Agrawal
Entrepreneur (Emerging)

Neha Fatehchandani said...

Dear Sir,
Thank you for giving valuable insights on entrepreneurship. It has made many me realize the fact how challenging it is to be an entrepreneur and it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
I would specifically like to know about the Women Entrepreneurship in India, the challenges she faces and how to overcome them.

Warm Regards,
Proton Neha Fatehchandani

Test said...

Wow Nandan, you made me feel really good :-)

Stay motivated. Stay ahead.

Neha - women in India face peculiar problems pertaining to family demands on their time and energy. Western world does not impose any such limitations. So, the success of women entrepreneurs in India is all the more enthralling and motivating to observe. The work-life balance that women need to maintain in India is of a different nature altogether. Someday I will post on this too.

kirtishekhawat said...

Respected sir,
it was really a nice article....we can get positive feeling after reading this's true that as an entreprenuer we have to face many challenges but this type of article will give a lot of confidence plz keep writing this type of superb articles....thank you dear sir...

Unknown said...

Dear Sandeep,
from your very well crafted blog it seems that - so called perception of preparatory education being unnecessary and a creation of opportunists has also prevented IIMS to even consult a prep training institution to learn about ground realities and difficulties that students go through.
Being in sales i have observed the unstated ... See Moreanxiety and hope of students & parents. This indeed is a sad day for students, parents & trainers who have invested their time money and above all hope & faith in an esteemed exam like CAT.
And the worst - many more days to go clouded with doubt and anxiety for all.
May God do a miracle!

Krupa Patel said...


This post has energized me not to deviate from my decision to be an entrepreneur. Thank you

Proton Krupa
Fall 09

Anonymous said...

Respected Sir
Some books are like blunt pencils –without a point, other are like dripping paint brushes and yet some other are like labyrinths that exhaust both the topic and the reader.Your blog posts are like those concise and trustworthy winner manuals reading which one could find himself standing many steps ahead from where he was and the implementation of those learnings , I am sure, would convert those steps into miles. I believe, all the people across the nation who read your blog posts would agree to this without a doubt.
I could relate my experiences to the present topic. And I have been searching for the characteristics of this third category that falls between Entrepreneurship and Service. If a person is near to the definition of an entrepreneur but he can’t start his own venture, then, how will he join these conflicting extreme ends into a circle inside which would contain the profit and benefit of an organization he is working for. How can an entrepreneur become a valuable asset to a business and yet can feed and groom his entrepreneurial self. Sir, may I request your opinion on this?

Thank you.

Sincere regards
Proton Nidhi Agarwal

Unknown said...

Sir,i have a dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur.So i can totally relate to the three reasons of becoming a entrepreneur.But sir there is one more thing regarding entrepreneurs and that is they never need anyone to motivate them as they are highly self motivated.Lastly,thank you very much sir for giving us insights about entrepreneurship.

Gautam Gunjaria said...

Respected Sir,
This blog post is very insightful. What came to my mind after reading it for several times is:-
1)Entrepreneurs are the persons who always create troubles for themselves i.e. challenge themselves.
2)They always think of unthinkable.
3)Entrepreneurs are indifferent towards what society tells and thinks about them, but they are not antisocial.
4)It is all about going beyond the limits and taking learning lesson from each failure.

With regards,
Gautam Gunjaria
Fall 09

DIVYESH said...

Respected Sir,
This is one the best post I have ever read.
"Entrepreneur", the word in itself is very invigorating.
I can connect all your words with what I have practically seen in my Father. I am really a very proud on my Father, who with all his efforts and hard work has made us what we(I & my younger brother) are today and what we will achieve in our future.

I have personally experienced some of this situation when I had a chance to be on the HOTSEAT of my father.

I really like the images of this blog especially, the image of the insane stress level as well as the 3 drops i.e 3 ways of yours.

Eagerly waiting for your next sequential post and would like to back my peer's request, Akshay's, to take few sessions on Entrepreneurship.

With regards,
Divyesh Shah

Gurpreet Singh Kapoor said...

Dear Sandeep - This was indeed a truly informative blog, sharing your hands-on experiences. I have got the reference of your blog through your entreprenourship video on youtube. I am looking out for mentorship in becoming an entreprenour. Currently I am 36 Yrs & into middle management position in reputed IT Organization, so earning wise its around 16L per annum. But I am not satisfied with whatever I am doing (again the same reasons which you have mentioned in your blog). This frustration is simply inclining me towards entreprenourship which is not new for me as I have already tried it once & have failed but have tremendous learning. I again want to initiate any entreprenourial initiative but this time with better planning & support. Can you guide me what should I do to get launched?
I have hundreds of ideas, but I don;t have anyone to share, plan, brainstorm to finetune/extend, so I get confused & finally do nothing. I need some mentorship in initial phases who can guide me through. Could you please advice?

Warm Regards,

Hitesh said...

Entrepreneurship can be related to hardship. If you dare, then you must bear.
Are you looking for lots of trouble? Then, welcome to the world of entrepreneurs. It might be a joyride for you, for all you know. You see a gap and you fill it, hence you create something different and worth someone's attention. If you convince others, then Hallelujah! Otherwise, keep trying until you do. This is a loop, an arduous one. But once you achieve your goal, it all will be worth it.

Unknown said...

Respected Sir,
I have always been a great admirer of you. I always thought of being getting in touch with you after viewing your lectures. This is really a good medium for students like me to be in touch with you.

Now talking about this article, first thing that come to my mind when I talk about entrepreneur is that he needs a lot of money to run an enterprise and the second is if he has got money with him ,whether his idea will be worthy of putting his money into that.

But as I read this article, one thing I can say is that you really have to be ambitious to start a business and even if one fails in that it will be a future lesson for him.

Now a personal favour needed from you. I am preparing for IAS . I am having your full IAS study material purchased from Indore. My english is not good. How can I improve my english and how should I prepare for IAS

Unknown said...

Entrepreneurship is indeed a satisfying career if one has all the necessary inputs and if one goes through the tough times which are definite in the initial phases. If he/she manages to sail through the initial hurdles without giving up hope the best in life is in store for them. This also creates jobs thereby serving the society in a way.