Entrepreneurs, get a reality-check
Deep Malhotra, who has over 10 years of entrepreneurial and start-up experience in working & building companies like Google, Myspace.com, rediff.com and Onmag.com shares his experiences as an entrepreneur
In my mind I was clear since my early years that I would make my career in digital industry. I was barely out of school and had already completed few digital design courses and before I knew it, I was in my junior college and had worked in few companies as a designer. In the year 2000, after couple of years of working and studying for my graduate degree, I got hit by the entrepreneurship bug and thought of setting up the first online creativity magazine: a platform for creative writing, photography & designing. We earned revenues through providing talent to publications & television channels, but the money wasn't enough. We struggled keeping the company afloat with some angel fund and the business was killed during the infamous dotcom bubble burst of our era. I thought maybe my approach wasn't right, as I looked at the business from a creative side rather than business, so maybe a master's degree and few years of experience in couple of known brands in the industry would help me understand the digital industry better.
In 2009 my father was not keeping well and we had few building projects stuck because of which cash flow in the business was trapped. I took a decision to join my family business of Real Estate Development that very year. After being part of the digital world for ten years I knew that doing something completely different won't be easy. I was very wrong, it wasn't just not easy but the most cut throat and crazy industry I had got into – the Real Estate Industry. The thing is when you have been part of some of the biggest companies and have been running multi million dollar business, you think that you are actually the guy who is running the show and getting the revenues, and that if you put yourself in any other situation or company, you will continue making millions. This is untrue, especially when it is something as hardcore as real estate. The idea behind joining the business was to get it on track in six to twelve months and then join back my cushy lifestyle of a senior management role in a big known new media company. But I am now more than 3 years into the business and I am still very much in business and having a time of my life learning new things everyday.
What actually happened? The first 6 months when I joined the business I thought it was worst thing could happen to me. Mainly, because I think real estate business is the one of the most unorganized and unprofessionally run businesses that one can come across. Our company had four projects which were stalled for some reason or the other, one of which was a slum project rehabilitation project. This took me from having meetings & conferences in five star hotels, where we media executives are usually found having their meetings- to places where there are no proper ventilation or light surrounded by more than 100 people at any given point, screaming at top of their voice at you or with you. From meeting marketing heads, CEOs and industry stalwarts to dealing with police, government officials, politicians, local goons to so called social workers on daily basis. It was reality hitting you with a 100 kg hammer on your head. It helped me handle pressure of running an unorganised business in an unprofessional industry, raise capital in a cash crunch economy and handle complex people who are cut throat in their approach to get you out of business everyday.
Slowly I realised that when people say that 'I want to do something of my own', (and have been hearing this line more often from people recently since we have started our startup incubation firm Gemini New Media Ventures to help Indian entrepreneurs convert their ideas into a successful business) most of the times they have no clue what they are getting into. Being an entrepreneur maybe a fad, but what goes into to making one is not a joke. It's a glamorous thing to say you got VC money and you are building this cool new business, which is not necessarily making any money. The tough part is to make the business run on its own money.
My thoughts changed from being an employee to a business owner in the last 3 years, it made me realize your product, marketing plans and revenue strategy can take a walk if your business is not making money. When we look around you don't see many successful startups in new media space because I feel the reason behind this is the business owners want to fly before they can walk. I have seen business plans with projection of million customers before the business can even get ten customers. Planning on a magical tool called Microsoft Excel has no limits, you can project your company to beat your competitor or be the number one company with a click of button. Realities are different.
Here are some lessons that I have learnt from experience as an employee and as a business owner:
- It's easy to work for others than to be your own boss: Think about this, when you are an employee you don't have to bother about paying salaries or paying rent of the office or paying the vendors. What you care how & when you will complete your targets and how well you are getting paid. If you cannot handle pressure, entrepreneurship isn't for you.
- Getting money from investors may sound glamorous, but truth is way far from that: You might have heard this fairy tale story – your friend's friend got this awesome idea for which he went to an investor who gave a million dollar cheque to him and then all of them lived happily ever after. But this friend from whom you heard the story probably missed out the details of how & what this friend's friend went through to get the cheque. So don't believe in such once upon a time fairy tale stories get into details and make sure you are ready for the process.
- Do something you are really passionate about: In July 2011 my company Gemini New Media Ventures beta launched its first in house product Gemi Deals - a platform for real estate deals. What we want to do is to make real estate more transparent & professional place. I am passionate about two things: new media & real estate. It makes sense to combine both things and turn it into a business. Passion is what keeps me driven, the journey enjoyable.
- Start small as big needs money: Prove your concept microscopically before you grow. Test it out with getting 10 customers from your area before you even think about expanding it to the city.
- People are the most important thing in business, keep them happy: Its critical to have good team, its more critical when you are building a team to have good people building. Its simple – good talent attracts better talent.
I am still learning everyday and would love to share more of my thoughts. As a passionate entrepreneur, I am enthusiastic towards helping fellow entrepreneurs in their journey to success. Feel free to write to me with your business ideas, thoughts and opinions on firstname.lastname@example.org