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Got what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
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February 14, 2007

Part II: Entrepreneurship = 60 hours of work

Part III: Starting a business? Say goodbye to your ego

Think you have it in you to become a successful entrepreneur?

According to Subroto Bagchi, co-founder and chief operating officer of MindTree Consulting, self-confidence is the most important attribute that a person must have to become a successful entrepreneur.

He writes in his book The High Performance Entrepreneur: Golden Rules For Success In Today's World: 'You cannot show me a person who does not believe in herself and yet is a successful entrepreneur. '

The book provides a peek into the personal and team charcateristics that result in high-performance entrepreneurship.

An excerpt:

It is interesting that before getting down to writing this book, the subject never occurred to me. Is there something like an entrepreneurial profile? I have not come across any significant body of work that concisely proposes the subject, not have I seen a psychometric test that could tell us whether any of us is entrepreneur material or not. Is there something in common between GE's Thomas Alva Edison, Microsoft's Bill Gates, the Tata's Jamsetji Tata, Dell's Michael Dell, Wal-Mart's Sam Walton and Sony's Akio Morita? When we look at their lives closely, we do see some important traits. Anyone wanting to venture out should assess whether or not of characteristics without which venturing out may not be advisable. Yet, I must caution, there are exceptions to every rule. But, exceptions they are.

Self-confidence: It is the # 1 attribute

The foremost attribute of people who become entrepreneurs is self-confidence. I would even argue that there are no exception to this rule. You cannot show me a person who does not believe in herself and yet is a successful entrepreneur. However small may be the size of the endeavour, self-confidence is the most critical ingredient of success. What is self-confidence? It is difficult to define it, but most people will be able to judge whether they have it by doing a little introspection.

It is something that either you have or do not, at a given point in time. The reason I am using the qualifier is that it is possible to build self-confidence and it is equally possible to lose it due to circumstances.
However, if at the time of starting out on your own you do not have a sustained phase of self-confidence, I would advise against venturing out. Wait for the right time.

Self-confidence can come from personal experience. As a little boy of six, I had gone to visit my maternal uncle. It was a time of great festivity in Berhampur, in West Bengal, where they lived. It was time for Durga Puja and in every locality, the idol of Durga was instated. We spent most of our time hanging around the community idol and there I found an older boy selling balloons. For some reason, he offered me apprenticeship. Without knowing what I was getting into, I accepted. To my delight, I found people quite willing to buy from me. It was quite easy and I made quite a bit of money. But when it was time to return home, I became worried. How would I explain the source of my income? What if my mother got angry with me for selling balloons? For a six-year-old who has done something without prior permission, this can be a huge issue. I had liked the whole experience of selling someone a balloon and having a repeat customer when a mother or a sister of a kid returned for more was exhilarating.

Selling balloons is a value-added activity. You buy the balloons, you breathe air into them, you carry them in a lot and you talk price with real customers. I do not quite remember how I handled the issue at home, but the next day, I was back in business.

From then on when I look back at my life, I see a series of things that told me. I could do it. I would sign up for sports and debating and theatre and music and any other contest going on. It baffled me when I was thrown out of an audition for the school's annual day celebrations. I was so musically deaf that I did not know why they were rejecting me. So what? I had no shame in trying one more time in another school the next year.

By the time I was thirteen, my family had moved to another town. For some reason, I did not like the school there. I convinced everyone at home that I needed to go back to my old school. Leaving them behind, I headed back. My father, who had retired by then, finally agreed to come and stay with me till I completed the high school term. I was setting my directions --not someone else.

As a child, I was asthmatic, but I did not let that come in the way of physical activity. At eighteen, I got selected for parachute jumping as a cadet in the National Cadet Corps and trained with the Indian Army for two months. During the rigorous training, there were times I thought I would die. I never told anyone that I was asthmatic. They would not have selected me if I had. But the daily regimen of army exercise, their generous diet and the eventual five jumps cured my asthma.

When I came back, I felt I had become an adult and needed a sweetheart. So, at nineteen, I found her-all of sixteen years --got her to agree to be my beloved and promptly notified everyone at home. In India of 1975, you did such things at your own risk.

In 1976, I graduated from college and joined the local university for my Masters. Sixty days through the course, I decided that it was a waste of time. Moreover, I did not want to be a burden on my two brothers, who were supporting retired parents, another brother and me. So, I talked to my professor, left college and took up the job of a clerk in a government office. Only after getting my appointment letter did I notify my family that I had given up college.

A year after, I found my first real job, as a management trainee in DCM, at that time India's seventh largest business house. Once I got there, I worked my way up. During all this and at all of twenty-two, I figured out that I had to marry my sweetheart, and did so. In the process, I irked my in-laws and also jumped the queue of one immediate elder brother and a dozen older cousins. Not the practice in my generation. But who cared?

There is a reason why I am sharing these personal details with my readers. Looking back, these incidents at different points in time till me the level of my own self-confidence.
If you looked back at your life, you would be able to see many small things, significant nonetheless, that hold the key. Strung together, they show your level of self-confidence.

To determine your entrepreneurial streak, ask yourself if you tried out unusual things, and whether you enjoyed them.

Entrepreneurs value their sense of freedom, but they are also very disciplined.

First of all, a clarification. Most successful career managers value their sense of freedom. In fact, organizations that recognize this and are willing to pay the price for it, breed a very special kind of manager, one who is like an entrepreneur in his area of operation.

All my life, both on the personal and the professional fronts, I have enjoyed being free to set my goals and create and work towards my own work plan and take my own decisions I like taking instructions from more competent people and my customers. But I do not like someone telling me how to go about doing my work. I work best when I am given what is called a `porous boundary'. When I look back at all the jobs that I did well, I see a common thread. Each one allowed me an enormous amount of freedom to do what I wanted to do.

This, however, comes with great responsibility. One is responsible for ensuring that one's stakeholders are delivered a beneficial outcome, if not always, at least most of the time. One is responsible, particularly, for customers and employees. Freedom is not lack of answerability. Many people mistake freedom with the absence of accountability. Freedom to me is the ability to explore and settle options the way I think is suitable and the ability to work within porous boundaries.

Sometimes people think that freedom for a business person is about deciding for yourself when to come and go, who to serve or not, how much to pay yourself, how much to able to spend on entertainment, choosing the hotel you want to stay at or accounting for a personal trip as official.
None of these are about freedom. If you ask people who know, they will tell you that such attributes ate severely looked down upon by successful entrepreneurs.

A good entrepreneur is a highly disciplined person.

Freedom to such an individual is an inner need for space in which the person can create greater value without interference. That process of creating greater value often involves risks, of trying creative ideas to stay ahead. He does not enjoy someone pulling him from behind or asking for a progress report by breathing down his neck every now and then.

This does not mean entrepreneurs are not accountable.

At MindTree, people routinely question us on policies, issues and directions. Every month, Ashok Soota, chairman of the company, sends out an electronic update called Snapshots. Every quarter, we meet all MindTree Minds for what is known as 'What's on your mind' and people put us on the mat. Every quarter, the board reviews and questions us-five of the nine members on the board are external directors who pore over an average 100 pages of reports and ask detailed and often uncomfortable questions on strategy and direction. In addition to all this, we are answerable to the government agencies and financial institutions of every country in which we operate. And, of course, we are answerable to the analysts who track us, press persons who seek our views and write about us, industry associations whose members we are. We are answerable for high-value purchases to even our suppliers and last but not the least, in a very real sense, we are answerable to our customers.

So, what is left? And what is this talk about freedom?

Freedom to an entrepreneur is the ability to choose a line of business and set goals consistent with stakeholder ambitions. Freedom is the ability to write and revise a business plan. Freedom is the ability to make a decision on a given product and service strategy. Freedom is about the ability to choose from whom you want to take money, on what terms. Freedom is the ability to decide whom you want to hire for what job. Freedom is the ability to settle policy that will govern the internal working of the organization. Freedom is the ability to say that the debate rests here and the decision begins.

Freedom is also about reaping the risks and the rewards that come from all this, but within the articulated guidelines of a business.

Part II: Entrepreneurship = 60 hours of work

Part III: Starting a business? Say goodbye to your ego

~ Excerpted from The High Performance Entrepreneur: Golden Rules For Success In Today's World by Subroto Bagchi, published by Penguin Books India, Rs 395, with the publisher's permission.

~Would you like to buy this book?

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