June 19, 2019

Checklist while embarking on your entrepreneurship journey! – Rajesh Nair

It is increasingly becoming clearer and popular that ‘entrepreneurship’ is a career option much like the fancied engineering, medicine and accountant streams. Unlike the past, the best students are keen to start their journeys into starting a business much before the regular rigmarole of working in an established firm and gaining experience etc. There is also a fair share of mentoring voices and advices available to the aspirant today. Here is a checklist of things which are in three phases.

  1. Are you ready for entrepreneurship?
  2. What is it that I want to do?
  3. What does investors and partners look for in you and your business?

The first set of questions, you need to probe yourself on whether you have the mental makeup which is suitable for entrepreneurship.

You look at your idea and feel those goose bumps of purely being enamoured with the product or service. You sleep less and dream more and nothing can come in between you and business success. While the excitement of ‘starting something’ is often too overwhelming and, in some sense, a little romantic, one has to be realistic. In the frenzy of excitement, it is often good to remind ourselves of a few seemingly minor aspects, which have large bearing on your onward journey. Here are the six questions:-

  1. Are you ready to maintain exemplary discipline?

One of the first things a lot of jobbers do is to think that they are now masters of their time. In a recently TiE Meeting, a senior entrepreneur reminded us that from the first day on his business, he still woke up early, got dressed and walked into his office –a makeshift office in the guest room. As entrepreneur, time is never yours any more, he remarked!

  1. Are you ready to ask for work?

Most of us feel extremely awkward to ask our friends, batch mates and relatives for work.  One needs to have the courage and conviction to do this. It is vital, during the initial days.

  1. Are you ready to receive feedback and to work on it?

No one gets the product and service right, the first time over. You have to listen and work on the gazillion comments and feedback. Your ability to positively and constructively look at changes will be crucial for your journey.

  1. Are you still keeping the fall back option?

Your business venture has to be like a bullet fired –‘No option to stop it and get back to work’! This is easier said than done, but a lot of empirical research says that people with plan B, C, D are not as likely to succeed as the one with only a plan A.

  1. Are you ready to forgo you monthly pay check?

Behavioural scientists say that the monthly pay slip is more addictive than drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. The addict group is more than all the others put together. The security that the first of the month brings you and the unconscious smile you conjure, is not easy to lose.

  1. Are you hoping for better work life balance?

A good percentage of new ventures are people who leave main stream careers to have ‘more time at home!’ There is a difference between a sabbatical and entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur has not distinction of work and life. It is all just life!

In the life of every entrepreneur, there comes some ‘penny dropping moments’ or, as per the popular management phrase, ‘the moment of truth’. This is the moment when epiphany happens and where the puzzle starts solving by itself. This is the moment when the ‘go-getter’ stops just ‘going’ but starts ‘getting’. There is no age for this to happen nor is it the results of years of experience. It just happens.

I present these moments as five questions which will trigger the answers.

  1. What is it that I am trying to sell?

It is amazing when entrepreneurs come and discuss their ‘do it all’ solutions –product or service, which has more potential than any other product in the universe. But, often, they have not really answered the questions: what does their product do, and who will buy it. The moment this dawns on them, they have seen the one ray of light – a humbling, divine moment almost spiritually cathartic!

  1. Am I selling or am I gifting?

A senior entrepreneur recently told my team that he is not selling a product, he is gifting something that he created with love and passion and with all the nurturing instincts of a parent. A philosophy like that will bring you close to your customers.

  1. Am I pushing or creating a pull?

A quickest analogy is a piece of rope. Which is easier –pushing it or pulling it? That law is the essence of business –the targets, the numbers and the push are all futile unless you create reason around your product and make people pull or demand it.

  1. Should I be serving or making money?

One of the first questions you hear from investors or perhaps even from your logical mind is ‘does this product make money’. Of course, it is an important question. But, the more crucial ones are how’ll it value add and how will it serve. It pays to focus on what the customer wants and exceeds that expectation with a great ‘product experience‘ –it will make money!

  1. How did I get more time in my hands?

This is an amazing revelation. The busiest of entrepreneurs often seem to find more time than others. An apparent irony of life –when you are really engaged into a ‘calling’ or a vision for your organisation, you often find that you have more time in your hands. That extra time comes from focus and intention to do the best.

So, what does the investor look for in your business -this question is the ‘holy grail’. There is some very intelligent literature available on this subject and each of them gives you perspectives of experts. You will easily get advice on sprucing up your product explanation, business plan, getting the right resources in your organisation et.al. They are all sound erudite nuggets that one needs to take seriously. But, what is the common thread? What makes the Venture Capital guy choose Jane over John? The secret sauce of the pudding is –YOU! Yes, no one else!

The core element of the entire message is YOU and the ordeal to get the investor trust you. It could be the elevator pitch, the hundred slide deck or the difficult video conference. It is at the end, your ability to get the investor’s conviction that their money is safe with you. Safety of their investment comes first and then the scale, the growth and the exits. There is no panacea for generating trust and neither is there an all cure snake oil. But, here are some interesting snippets, I heard in this journey.

Vision: Your product or service may not suddenly change the world but what is the larger picture. You need to be able to articulate that and build the blocks together.

Passion: It is not just that complete faith you have in your product or service, but the intent and verve and the ability to convey that enthusiasm. Passion can never be overrated.

Integrity: Be truthful on the strengths and weaknesses of the product. Don’t lie –it never works the long haul and you will have to have super memory to piece all those wise replies you gave if they were not true!

Learn: At times, some of the questions you get disappoint you, make you lose confidence and perhaps even cut your concept into shreds. Consider it an opportunity to learn, adapt and make your pitch stronger in the future.

All these ingredients need to have a pinch of earnestness and the intent to take feedback and be mentored through personal experiences and benefit from the feedback of others!

Rajesh Nair


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