Monday, August 10, 2015

The Seven Tenets of a Start-Up Entrepreneur

I wrote a column 10 days ago about my completion of one year of Entrepreneurship. It received unprecedented reach from my professional world. Over 2,500 people had viewed it, over 750 “Likes” and more than 75 people took time to comment on the article. A few requested me to keep writing and share more about Entrepreneurship and I am hence writing this as a follow-up article.

I would like to highlight the seven tenets of Entrepreneurship, as I have seen it in the past few years myself as well as from the experiences of those around me. Of course, there could be more but then these would summarise and may include other points as well within them.

All ideas are not monetisable

Most often, as to-be Entrepreneurs or existing Entrepreneurs, we try to build a case on an issue which we think could solve a problem. In some cases, it would solve even an unknown problem that the customer never knew (Read: Apple/Steve Jobs/iDevices). But before you build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or a Prototype, do check if the product you are building would be profitable (at some stage), scaleable (across geographeis, for example) and saleable (potential buyer for the business and not just customers). If these three points have a green tick, then you are good to 

Funding an Idea vs. a Person

Most often, one would hear that the Investor is not funding just the idea but the person as well. This is quite true. Most investors look at how the Founder/Promoter approaches the idea or concept and in general, their view of life. Only a few founders who go to build massive companies focus on the larger essence of life which excludes monetary and material pleasures. It doesn’t mean that the Founder takes a Public Transport to work or operates in a dingy pigeon-hole work environment. It means how frugal they are in their thought process about spending every penny that has been invested into the venture by Investors.

Looking for an Angel Friend

Most Entrepreneurs, mostly first gen like me, do not come with the backing of a family office or hereditary wealth. They save up a bit and start off at some point in their life mostly depending on someone else to fund their ideas. While friends and family would encourage them to move ahead, you would also see them exercising caution, not to be myopic in their view of business and life. Those who talk big stuff, usually end up doing nothing for the Founders. Some avoid emails and calls, let alone introductions to potential Investors. But that’s just fine. Don’t mix up Funding and Friendship.


Age No Bar

There is no age for starting up. If you think you are willing to give up your lifestyle (that doesn’t mean a compromise though) and work a bit harder than you are working for someone else ((I mean like, really hard), then give it a shot. Fix a timeline by when you will return back (unfortunately or otherwise) to a day job if things don’t go your way. There is no fixed time for this. It could be a year to five at the max. In five years if you haven’t got it right, with just one idea or probably a handful, then I guess it is time to move on.

Money, Money, Money

Save quite a bit before you start-up. Things could go horribly wrong with your idea, product or service. You may need money to demonstrate, scale-up and prove that what you have founded works. In the meanwhile, you could have other compulsions – family, health issues, insurance, vehicle repairs, etc. It is wise to keep aside your minimum monthly requirements for atleast 36 months before you start your venture to be on the safer side. That is if you are willing to sail that path for so long.

Reboot – Plan B

If one idea doesn’t work over a period of time (as an Entrepreneur, you would know what’s best), then have Plan B, C, D and so on. Never get stuck with just one idea that you believe could change the world dramatically. Have alternate ideas and plans. Remember, it is you who has to click as an Entrepreneur and not just the idea. It’s a two-pronged approach and you need to keep this in mind. Always.

Never Give Up

You will hear advises from all over the world around you. Believe me, talk is cheap and free. At the maximum, data charges for emails and messages and perhaps call charges. The Advisor loses nothing to preach. However, they could be people like you who have started up and failed and their wisdom is speaking. They could also be those who started up and succeeded but probably know the difficulties. If you keep the above six points in mind, then go ahead with what you believe in. Never Give Up. But do remember, all ideas do not work for various reasons. So have the grace to accept and move on.

Hope the above points have helped you as a budding Entrepreneur or if you are already one. Cheers.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One Year as an Entrepreneur!

It’s already been a year, I wondered. What started as a passionate journey has gained momentum in the past 12 months. Life has been very different, as an Entrepreneur to say the least. It is one thing to turn an Entrepreneur when you are in your fifties – you probably have enough savings to dip in, dabble on experiments and have alternate plans if one thing doesn’t work. The world has indeed seen many successful Entrepreneurs who started late in their lives. And it is completely different to start off on your own when you are in your twenties, which currently seems to be the flavour of the Entrepreneurial ecosystem. Lads that age have successfully demonstrated that their ideas can be converted into mega-businesses, touching the lives of millions of people. So, starting off in my late 30s was something I was not very comfortable, honestly, at the outset. I was having a fixed salary, enjoying air travels and hotels across the country, meeting the high and mighty exchanging business cards of large companies who gave me the identity that I probably deserved.


But things changed. They had to. The past two years have been troublesome for me, at a personal front which had an impact on me professionally. Entrepreneurship instincts come naturally to a few, and many others develop it over time. Mine was the latter. That’s probably because being born and raised up in middle class environments taught me the essence of valuing money. It was not too wise to let go of all what you have earned and saved, forget borrowing and running a business. It’s a bit of a taboo too, for an Entrepreneur is expected to do things which one doesn’t have to otherwise. I too, like any other person thought of all these things before I ventured in to the entrepreneurial journey. To say the least, it has been extremely gratifying and satisfying. I have learnt quite a few things more in the past 12 months, which I may not have seen and learned if I was still working for someone.


The decision to start my own venture was a well thought out plan. My wife, who is my pillar of strength (sounds a bit clich├ęd but a golden truth) and I planned our goals meticulously for over a year before I finally got on to it. We worked on various business plans and models and finally arrived at something what we thought was a profitable, scalable and a saleable model. Smiling Baby (a baby shop that would cater to young parents and parents to-be) was first coined in my car during a long trip we had undertaken followed by the logo designs on a computer screen. Quite soon, the first store was up and ready. We commenced operations on a Friday. We had sunk in (or invested, if that sounds right) almost all our savings that we had accumulated over the past decade or so. It was a roller-coaster ride that we anticipated. And boy, what a ride it has been. I would have met atleast a 100 potential so-called Investors over the past 2 years. The very first one whom we met chided the idea. The person (and I am not going to identify their gender at this stage) discouraged me to pursue Entrepreneurship and instead focus on a day job which was more stable and secure since I had a family and two little girls. I gave a patient ear. And went about what my heart said. No offence to the person’s thoughts.


We prepared and shared a MS Powerpoint presentation coupled with backing numbers on an MS Excel Work Sheet with numerous people. The first question was – “Have you started off?” and this kept bothering me. It looked like they would pour money once we started. And there were quite a few examples that way in the entrepreneurial ecosystem already where professionals had been backed by “Angel” Investors who went on to build successful companies. So, I decided to quite a full time career and start off – 1st Aug. 2014 was the day I was officially an Entrepreneur. Wishes and congrats poured on my LinkedIn page along with messages and calls from all corners of the world. Friends and Acquaintances appreciated my gall to quit a full time salaried job and pursue my dreams. It was very encouraging and I honestly enjoyed the attention and spot light for a few days.


We spoke and met a number of so called potential Investors. Some displayed grace. They heard our story. They encouraged us. They offered to support us. Many others said this would fail, probably they were a lot more clairvoyant than me for they were seasoned “Investors” who could predict which way things would go. They knew cock-shit about Retail, forget knowing what it takes to quit a full time job and become an Entrepreneur especially when you have a Cancer patient at home and five dependents including your little ones to take care of.


I should have probably listened to them and should have quit being an Entrepreneur. I didn’t since I was already in the game and wanted to give it a whole try. Things were fine for some time. Not a single instance of brick-bats from our customers, who appreciated what we were doing. The journey was turbulent but we thought it would stabilise slowly. Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way we had anticipated. There were a few reasons for this – we were a bit myopic in our thoughts about the business. I was quite confident I could raise money in a couple of months from starting, since the business idea was a strong one. It continues to remain so. And I had a decent pedigree – I was among the Top 50 Retail Professionals in India as recognised by a top research firm in 2014.  


We went door after door, making presentations and pitches, changing our business course as we moved forward from time to time. Our bank balances were drying. And one day, it was near empty. A few good Samaritans came forward to help us cross the bridge. It gave us a buffer. Although a short one. Those who had promised to support us couldn’t, for various reasons. Many emails, messages and calls went unanswered. We were losing hope on people whom we thought would give us a helping hand. I was willing to offer even half of my equity at some stage, just to ensure survival. Things went awry. My lowest point was for a few days when I gave up even on God.


I finally came to terms. It was my life and no one is expected to make an impact on it except me. Probably my close family and a few friends. I decided to shut the first store we had taken on lease. I had built it more passionately than the three houses we had bought in our lifetime over the last decade. I pulled out everything out of the first store, some personally with my own hands. I was choking. But with a glee in my heart, that this was not the end. And probably it could have got worse.


On 31st July 2015, the day I completed 365 days as an Entrepreneur. This day and date will be etched in my mind all my life. It was a Friday too. The day we commenced our venture. And on this day, I had to legally cancel the lease agreement. It was a couple of hours’ thing and it was all over. Finally. For a venture which was started with so much excitement, it was not the best way to end.


As I wake up, sip my coffee and write this article, I begin my second year as an Entrepreneur. I have stood up, dusted, come to terms with the Ecosystem and have moved on as an Entrepreneur although I have a bit of baggage left as an individual. I have lost faith in people whom I trusted and those whom I didn’t know much – I would get carried away at times by sweet talk, but not anymore. I have realised that people come and go out of our lives for a reason. The “going” and let-go part seems to be more important, on a lighter note.


I always thanked my ecosystem for making me a reasonably successful professional over the past 18 years. In my first job when I used to scoop Ice-Cream 18 years back at Baskin Robbins as a part time job during my graduation, little did I realise that I would be blessed to offer jobs to a few people one day. “My Retail Journey” has been a very exciting one. And it continues to be so. I felt that an important reason for my success was the ecosystem. And I also feel that the same ecosystem let me down as a first time Entrepreneur. Am not sure how much importance should I give anymore to the ecosystem though. But I will continue to respect the views of people around me, although I may not be able to abide by what they say at all times for all issues, unanimously.


I have a few plans for the next couple months on what I should be focussing on. This time, I have not one but multiple back-up plans. Although they are just plans on paper and computer at the moment. But am sure, I am going to crack this, come what may. I cannot and shall not allow life dictate terms to me. This is my life and I shall live it the way it suits me and those around me the best.


I have Miles to go, before I sleep. This is not the end of year 1, this is the beginning of Year 2.


Watch this space.