While I started up for the first time, I was of the kind who had “Fire in Belly” and certain degree of accident.
Given that I belong to not-so-affluent-family with middle class values from a relatively smaller town, where every Father has a vision for his son to be an engineer and end up in Infosys doing “high end” programming job; and should work for at least couple of years to get an MBA from some reputed college and get to the management track and have a good, predictable and decent lifestyle. So, like anyone else I was trying to create a balance between my “father’s son” and myself and thought of actively pursuing my MBA from US of A (for God forsaken Reason “don’t know why”).
I had almost hit a silver bullet as I got admit from 2-3 decent colleges in US for MBA and I had a chance to get exposed to matured entrepreneurial eco-system in US (as compared to India in 2006); until I was denied VISA thrice from US consulate on the grounds of “Possible Immigrant”. On my third visit to US Consulate, I had almost made of my mind to start something in India soon rather than regretting my VISA denial for the third time. In fact, just before facing the officer who was deciding People fete by either “Handing Over Passport Back” or “Saying, Have a nice stay” – I was clear what I wanted to do – I was really hoping to get my Passport back over the window. As expected, I was denied VISA and my immediate response was “Thank you very much, Officer. If you would have granted me VISA for my studies, I would have been a confused soul – A position that I hate to be in”
Soon, after this I was all set to take the next leap – Start a first ever Entrepreneurial Journey. I always knew that Path won’t be easy but was mentally and physically prepared to take on this path of uncertainties.
Why I think – I am an entrepreneur today is because I always wanted to be one; I could have been an entrepreneur at my Job as well but I wanted to move beyond the Job that I was doing. I used to find environment around my work to be very comfortable and I was not challenged at all times. I was in search of a platform which could give me enough challenges every single second and help me grow beyond just been a Problem Solver to real Troubleshooter. As an Entrepreneur, I could now proudly say that I am exposed to very high degree of uncertainty with no indication that whether I would succeed. (;).. Oops)
When I look at my very early days where I was contemplating before starting up, two things explicitly helped a lot:
- Talking to successful People: They were leaders of large government and multinational companies and we approached them for an appointment with “request for advice” and we could find meetings from most of them. Such meetings helped us in learning very important lesson of entrepreneurship – “How to Listen without being Silent”. Talking to them gave us lot of confidence and maturity to handle various situations. Coming from Horses’ mouth that we are planning a right step forward just bolstered our confidence and adrenaline to next level. One of the best advice which I have ever got in such meeting was; “If you have an Idea, and you are confident about an Idea; what you would need to focus on is getting the right team. For an Idea to be successfully executed, within your team you would need 1) Technical Skills 2) Marketing and Selling Skills and 3) Finances/funding. If you have two of the three mentioned pillars, you could always acquire third from the market”
- Talking to Early Prospective Customers: Writing this is lot easier than actually doing it. Though it is very difficult to initially nail down prospective customer but this is a recommended step.
It helps you solve the very Basic Hypothesis:
In the quest to achieve this activity we were able to define our Selling process and articulate broader guidelines for qualifying prospects and ways to target them.
The immediate next step was to find like minded people who would want to team up with you on the thought process that you have. Given that, I had been working with IT services for some time and had a fair idea of how and what IT Services businesses look like, obvious choice was to start an IT Company. I was really lucky to have a core team to start with and we started with very basic process of developing a business idea and giving it a form.
Given that all the co-founders used to work with market leaders with very strong process orientation we always thought that having a Business Plan document was the important part of starting the business.
We were completely wrong.
With time, even into 5-years of successful business, we never had a document called “Business Plan Version x.xx”; but what we had was sync-action-plans thought thru approach on (what, why, how) we want to do things. So, we were basically in Love with our Business and not with Business Plans and we never had any regrets of not having any Business Plan.
Having too much process orientation at times just let you not use your Brain for applying a common sense. I was mentally paralyzed for weeks together answering a section in the Business Plan document ( I think this is one main reason why I hate building those mammoth documents) which talked about Business Model. Since, I was in process of starting an IT company and thanks to all PhD holders on this subject, I ended up doing PhD myself (no University recognized it though ;)) by browsing thru numerous sites, downloading tons of PDFs and making notes to eventually strike one awesome Business Model. Yes, you guessed it right – I too was victim of formal education.
- Unlearn everything that you have learned in so called Process Oriented world where everything which is already perfect, people are still working towards perfection without even applying a bit of common sense, and
- It is important to apply learning of your education than applying education for your learning.
Having no Business Model in a copy-paste way; I ended up exploring business model by answering some very basic fundamental questions:
- Who are my Customers?Do I need to segment my customer on some common pattern or behavior?
- What is my Value Proposition for my Customer?
- What will be my Channel to deliver my Value Proposition to Customer?
- How am I planning to manage my Customer Relationship?
- What do I need to create Value Proposition for Customer?
- Do I need Partners to sustain my Value Creation process?
- What are possible ways of generating revenue?
It gave us some direction of thought and we got an insight on how and what or model looks like. With time, changing Internal and External factors we could see our model evolving and for good.
There are three important aspects that we could see in this journey so far:
- Self-Belief is a characteristic of Entrepreneur’s DNA. You need to believe in yourself and not with your own mirror-images which people create about you.
- As an entrepreneur, either you need to believe in your idea or team or both. When you have an Idea which you believe in, you would find team eventually or vice-versa.
- Love your Business, stick to basics and fundamentals of doing business; and not complicate your thinking process by building mammoth Iron-curtained Business Plan documents – Investing too much time to create, beautify the document.
I need to now introduce “funding” here else I am sure to welcome lot of criticism of been biased. From entrepreneurship perspective, this exactly is a sequence of events where Funds (which plays a very critical role in the success of idea or teams) come little late. As an investor, you would be willing to risk your money more with Hen which is about to (had already) lay eggs rather than some random Hen which could Lay Egg. Fertilization of Hen for laying an egg is an important background process. You need to have got this Fertilization right for you. As an Entrepreneur, I think, 1) validating a Idea, 2) giving Idea a shape (feel free to alter shape to phase), 3) forming a team and 4) then raising a fund is a good direction to take.
Raising a fund becomes really tricky when an Investor approaches you for your Idea and venture. It is not a good idea to say “No” to investor on such cases. Should we ever say “No” to an Investor? There’s already a great discussion happening here. Thanks to Ravi Kikan, community manager of “Startup Speacialst Group” in Linked-in
Are you planning to start a Services Business or build some kick-ass Product or use services profits to build product? Stay tuned for the next post around this.