Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Learning entrepreneurship lessons

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

The key points of the talk were
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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!


keyur joshi said...

Respected Sir,

I am very pleasure that you are sharing your enriched experienced thoughts.

However, from my personal experience (as we have a family business), for an entrepreneur,making contacts and convert them into hefty relationship is quite important.

I know one of the owner of tiles manufacturing company. The Owner of that company is very poor in English. Though, when I visited his factory in Morbi, Gujarat(where around 50 to 60 percent of total Indian industry tiles are being manufacturing by most of PATELS(illiterate!!?? )), I was stunned by seeing the vivid machines the company has. Most of the machines were imported from China. I deliberately asked him how did you make this happen.

He smiled and replied:" Well, I know I am not proficient in English at all. So, I went to china with one of my friend who knew English very well and he made these happen by communicating with China clients."

I asked him again:-- "Then what about maintenance and service?" He replied:-- "The company person comes here regularly for giving services and also if the machine stuck at a time then also immediate service is available."

One may be wonder:-- Was the person(English translator) who was with the owner while going to China was a hired one???

NO.....He was his school friend and he was in touch with him since he left the school..(Ya, this entrepreneur had never have lecture in college!!!!)
Ya.. and that's how the relationship makes business to find their solutions.


Signing Off...

Keyur Joshi.

Surendra said...

Good morning sir,
Thank you sir for this insightful blog.
I would like to share my own experience sir. I had started a small business (Mushroom making) in my college days. It was continued for almost one year but after that because of college’s hectic schedule, lack of knowledge and parents, I had to stop that. But today I am really regretting for that.
But I have learned a lot from that. If we want to start our own enterprise we will have to commit it to our self that it is my dream and I am going to live with it. One have to indulge him self in that business then only he can taste the success. I also learn that we will have to change ourselves with the changing environment.
Thank you
Proton Surendra Pratap Mourya

RAJSHREE said...

Respected Sir,
Amazing blogpost, FMB course in 7 points. It will really help aspiring entrepreneurs.

Warm Regards,
Rajshree Gupta

Test said...

Rajshree - thanks for reading and commenting!

Surendra - wonderful experience sharing. Thanks a lot!

One thing is certain - a lot of young people "trying" their hands at entrepreneurship are likely to burn them unless they GET TOTALLY IMMERSED INTO THEIR VENTURE. Entreprises are never created part time. Sadly, lot of people just do not seem to understand that.

Keyur - on one of my earlier posts, I have treated this subject of trust at length. It is a dilemma always - how much to trust. But smart people, with experience, find ways to strike the optimal balance.

vidit said...

Dear Sir,
Thanks for sharing such wonderful experiences with us. I feel you are sharing wisdom nuggets with us. It feels you want us to learn from your experiences and save the time learning some other precious things in life.
This Entrepreneurship talk seriously answered some of my questions for which i was searching an appropriate answer.
One of my question was whether to train an individual for the post or to build processes? Like who is more trust worthy?
Vidit Shah

Kanchan Pahuja said...

Respected Sir,
Thanks for sharing ur valuble experience with us.
Sir here i want to share that before 6 months my some friends have started their own business of publishing magazine , they are trying their best but still they are incurring losses and doubtful for break-even point to reach.They are thinking of stopping this project because it now seems unviable to them. Agree! that in the short span of time, it is difficult to decide that weather they should go ahead or stop this project.

But after reading your blog i got insight that how really a project should be chosen, what factors need to consider before really get into our own venture,I can figure out What the things that perhaps my friends would have missed before implementing their project.


Unknown said...

Respectd sir

Read your blog. Thank you for providing the gist also.

My coulegue has also mailed your blog link to our class group Id.Now we can keep all the key points of that talk with us forever.

Thank You once again for an unforgettable talk you delivered.

Ankit Bandi
Coordinator-Indore Industrial Visit

Test said...

Vidit - training people is a continuous process in any organisation. As the entrepreneur, you have to be in that mode regularly. But the training that we impart must be in tune with process building. Never train anyone with such specific domain knowledge that it is useless for any long term system building. Maybe this approach is what you are looking for.

Kanchan - I hope they do well, and break even soon. My best wishes!

Test said...

Ankit - thanks for reading and sharing the bloglink. Hope to keep hearing from you regularly.

Neha Fatehchandani said...

Dear Sir,
Thank you for sharing wonderful lessons on entrepreneurship.

One question that I always have in my mind about entrepreneurship is how can one maintain a balance between his/her personal and professional life?

Proton Neha Fatehchandani

Avdhesh Shukla said...

Hello Sir,
A wonderful, thought provokiing, & an awe-inspiring blog. People like me have always looked forward to somebody; to learn, to feel and experience, and to start believing in their dreams; and I ought to say that social figures, leaders and last but not the least teachers (Guru) like you have always become the ray of hope.
This blog has again proven that. It does help one to understand himself better and being more focused .
Thank you so much and keep on sharing your thoughts and vision with all.

Thank You once Again

Hitesh said...

Dear Sir,

What should one do if he fails at his first venture? Will that entrepreneur should consider himself as a failure? Should he look at a job or go for the next venture in his mind?