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Last week, a good friend -- Ajay Sanghani, the CEO of ITvidya.com -- invited me to an idea camp for entrepreneurs at IILM, a business school in Gurgaon. Venture capitalists Alok Mittal and Sanjay Bhargava chaired the camp, which was organised by Sanghani's company.
At the camp, I asked several entrepreneurs to share their initial struggles and success stories. They spoke with passion, and I learnt a few lessons:
Believe in yourself
Being an entrepreneur is a lot more risky than the conventional job routine. There is no regular salary; you have to find customers on your own. Marketing your product/service and financing the project are also of concern. I noticed that most entrepreneurs use a combination of due diligence and gut instincts while evaluating their product/service. They are good at spotting a need in the market and then backing themselves up to believe that their idea can fill that void.
Lesson one -- Believe in your idea. Never underestimate what you can do. You may surprise yourself.
Hire the right people
Most entrepreneurs highlighted this as the toughest aspect of building a business. Sanjay Bhargava, who co-founded Paypal, recommended entrepreneurs to bring in people who are really good at what they do and also to focus on ensuring the team members get along with each other.
Some entrepreneurs confessed they made the initial mistake of hiring friends and people they liked, but soon realised that friends were not always the best employees.
Lesson two -- Build your team with people possessing complementary skills, not 'yes men' who are always showering praise. You need employees, partners and mentors you trust, who will give you honest feedback and take your company to the next level.
Be money wise
While some entrepreneurs went in for conventional sources of funding from a venture capitalist or banks, etc, quite a few started out with their savings or by borrowing money from friends and family. Most entrepreneurs said they focused on increasing efficiency and optimising costs and overheads. One entrepreneur shared that he consciously stayed away from non-essentials like an extravagant office, equipments, etc. The focus was on superior execution and high quality service.
Lesson three -- It's tempting to dream of a corner office, a pool table and expensive chairs, but give it some time. Start small and start efficient. Being better is more important than being bigger.
Concentrate on the message
"As a small business, most of our marketing is word-of-mouth. Our clients appreciate the kind of work we do and our reputation for delivering results," said Vidhanshu Bansal, founder of an information-technology company called Pixel Webtech.
Most entrepreneurs said that in the early days, their tendency was to focus on sales activities and as they grew, they started looking at various marketing initiatives, as that is the cement that gels customers, vendors and employees together. Their strategy kept changing, depending on what worked -- direct mailers, e-mail marketing, presentations at seminars, etc.
Lesson four -- Marketing a start-up business is a 24/7 activity and you need to pay attention to the message you're sending out to existing and prospective clients. Your message has to be tailored to meet the customer's expectations.
Keep the team motivated
Do not indulge in fault-finding or blame games. That was a clear message from most entrepreneurs. Pigeonholing a particular member of the team may spread negative vibes within the team and cost you time and quality. Celebrating every small success and appreciating team members will build a sense of camaraderie.
Lesson five -- Be a coach, rather than the star player. Appreciate and acknowledge the positive behaviours of team members so that the behaviours turn into consistent practices.
"If you ain't a little bit scared, you ain't driving fast enough," said Deepak Wadhwa, another entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs agreed. Give your people the license to fail. It's ok to make a mistake as long as they are succeeding 9 out of 10 times, and making sure that they don't repeat those mistakes in the future.
Lesson six -- The worst mistake is the one that gets repeated. Create a culture of learning and experimentation right at the start of the business. This will become a powerful value with the growth of the business.
Most entrepreneurs accepted that the rewards of being an entrepreneur can be terrific but they were also of the opinion that there is no 'secret sauce.' There are a lot of magazines, self-help books and biographies of successful entrepreneurs that one can read, but at the end of the day, it's about execution. What you really need is to be passionate about your work.
Lesson seven -- If you are doing something and the day flies by, if you are surrounded with people you like to work with, then you have most of the ingredients for entrepreneurial success.
Monday: Interview with venture capitalist Alok Mittal
Sunder Ramachandran, managing partner, WCH Training Solutions, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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