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Rediff News  All News  » Getahead » DON'T turn entrepreneur just so you can play boss

DON'T turn entrepreneur just so you can play boss

Last updated on: April 15, 2013 10:55 IST

Divya Nair
If you're planning to quit your job and pursue a personal business venture, be prepared to face criticism, more challenges and excruciating work hours -- and that's just to start with.

An entrepreneur's life is full of lessons to learn, experiences and I-wish-I'd-known-that-earlier moments.

At Wedvaan, a b-school event held earlier this year at the Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai, three entrepreneurs heading three different ventures revisited their respective journeys and shared interesting insights into everything they've learned along the way. Through several mini failures, surprises, challenges and brief successes, they've also mastered the unique art of survival.

Revathi Roy, the seniormost speaker at the event, who launched the country's first cab service for women says she had no mentors to guide her when she took the plunge.

Siddharth Banerjee, founder-CEO of Indusgeeks Solutions Pvt Ltd, a virtual gaming company that was founded in India when gaming was still at an experimental stage says that signing his first big deal was an 'accident'.

And then there was Shweta Gopalachari who founded ToyBank, an NGO that works with underprivileged kids. She tells us how her idea of distributing free toys was criticised by close family members and friends.

While each of them spoke, a group of young professionals and some future entrepreneurs, as they envisioned themselves, got a taste of the seldom-discussed challenges awaiting them in the real world.

And so, for the sake of all future Zuckerbergs and Murthys, here are a few things about first-time entrepreneurship that were discussed during a truly insightful session...

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Illustration: Dominic Xavier

1. There is no Eureka moment

You may find it hard to believe, but some of the most successful entrepreneurial ventures are born out of pure insanity and sleepless nights rather Eureka moments.

Revathy Roy said she was "fed up" of constantly driving her drunken friends back home after late-night parties.

Tired of their behaviour, after one such journey she got out of the car thinking, "If I'm good at driving, and there's really no one else offering this service, why shouldn't I get paid for it?"

This novel idea did not, however, turn into a business venture overnight. Roy had to spend the next few months finding ways to convince people of her idea and obtaining the necessary resources to get started.

At the end of it all, she confessed, "I did not have a business plan when I started. The idea came out of momentart insanity and before I realised what was going on I was in the middle of it, learning and working things out."

And how does one survive without a plan?

"Once you are in it, there is no escape, you learn to go with the flow and fight it out. If your idea is good and you believe in it, you will eventually find takers," said the founder of ForShe Cabs and Viira Cabs.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

2. How profitable is your idea?

You can betray yourself, but not the world.

Your idea, your baby, may seem like the most brilliant, out-of-this-world concept waiting to explode.

But it may still not be the best one yet -- it may be only temporarily viable, or non-profitable or not immediately executable.

The question you have to ask yourself is, how profitable is the idea?

"Even if you have the most wonderful business idea, you must sleep on it for at least six months. If it still doesn't let you sleep and you think you can convince people to buy it, you are almost there," counselled Roy.

And while we maintain that research and homework are important, Banerjee warned, "If I had done too much research, I would probably never have started my company."

So you see, sometimes you just have to go with your gut and know when to take the plunge.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

3. Never work with a friend

Yes, you read right!

The instant you get an idea, the first ones to hear of it are your friends.

It's only natural to want to partner with a best pal when you're venturing into a new business, because you trust him/her and are comfortable working with him/her. But if you want some expert advice, chuck the idea.

Gopalachari started her NGO ToyBank with her best friend. Several disagreements and unsettled debates later, they are not partners or friends anymore. "I lost a dear friend. Today I don't even know where she is," she said wistfully.

For those of you who still want to risk it, Banerjee advised that one set boundaries. "Never mix friendship with professional ethics. Divide your work and don't bend the rules all the time."

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

4. Don't hire, collaborate

One of the most amazing and challenging phases of launching your start-up will be hiring and finding the right partners for your business.

You will want the best of resources and talent, but you will be bound by the shackles of a budget and costs, not to mention the flipside -- the risk of bad publicity.

Fret not. Banerjee said the best way to get resources for free is by collaborating. "In the initial stages, don't hire, collaborate! That way, you can discontinue when you want to."

Shweta says NGOs like her's get most of their work done for free. "If you can convince people that you are doing a good job, they will not charge any money. Corporate organisations and investors welcome young entrepreneurs to partner with them because they believe in their ideas and the goodwill. Money comes in much later."

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

5. Be honest with your team

Getting together a good team is a luxury for a start-up. And if you can't manage that, at least try to be a good leader to your employees.

"Your employees look up to you as God. Most of the time they will not understand the hardships you are going through. If they have worked hard, irrespective of the results, you have to pay them a salary at the end of the month," advised Banerjee.

"If you are running out of funds, don't put up a brave face and lie to your friends that you are making profits. Be honest and tell them the truth. Chances are, they will stand by you in your tough times and some may even willingly work for free and help you get out of the mess," he added. Banerjee himself survived without a salary for more than six months at a stretch.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

6. Competition is good

Monopoly doesn't work in business.

You have to have someone who'll constantly throw surprises at you.

The more the competition, the better it is for you.

When Roy started ForShe cabs, she had very few takers. But as business boomed, she began competing with male cabbies, who she still thought were not enough competition.

There was no one in the market offering the same service as hers, she complained.

"If you want to scale up, competition is crucial. You need someone out there who will challenge your services, prices and inspire you to do more than you are already doing, else you'll get bored," she stated.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

7. The boss is also an employee

And finally, the most important point -- "Don't be an entrepreneur because you want to be your own boss," counselled Banerjee.

There's no denying that most people quit their jobs and try to turn entrepreneur because they do not want to take orders from someone else. However, entrepreneurship demands much more than merely giving orders and delegating work.

"You are responsible for the people who have invested in you and your company. You can't be giving them excuses for your failures all the time. You have to constantly reinvent your ideas and plans and sell them too," Banerjee added. "In fact, you will realise that you are sleeping for less than two hours a day and slogging for the other 22, but you can't afford to be lazy and leave things to someone else. You must finish what you began."

In a start-up, the boss is just like any other employee, only more responsible and proactive.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh