It is heartening to see that increasingly university grads in India are looking at entrepreneurship as a viable and desirable career path to productively use their skills and energies. Sometimes they jump onto the bandwagon immediately after passing out and sometimes after a few years of “learning the tricks of the trade at someone else’s cost”. The ‘Heroic Entrepreneur’ syndrome of a garage to a billion-dollar company made a global legacy thanks to many like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is a major point of motivation.
For all those who want to kick-start an entrepreneurial career of any hue, I strongly suggest going through Lean Start-up by Eric Ries.
Great to be an entrepreneur or want to be one. But first, begin with the question: do you have domain expertise in the sector you want to enter for a comparative advantage when you start? If not, it is not a good idea to make it your first business. The big picture must be in the head of the entrepreneur just as the entire film plays in the mind of a real film-maker even before the first shot is taken. Only a strong quantum of expertise, passion and commitment can fight out self-doubt which naturally comes in every entrepreneur at the start. Mission, vision, goals, tasks by timeline must be the founder’s call and s/he needs to keep checking on them from time to time.
Research before you step in. Intuition also must have a base in researched knowledge, either your personal study of the market or with the support of a freelance researcher. There must be absolute clarity on which market-gap you are addressing, what exactly you are selling and what your go-to-market strategy is.
One of the biggest lacunae in start-up operations is cash flow management due to delayed invoicing, vendor late invoicing, working without a down payment, etc. These must be strictly avoided at the cost of losing business unless there is some other established to trust the credit credibility of the client. Finance consultant Anil Lamba of Pune exactly does this: coaches first-generation entrepreneurs to maintain financial records and manage cash flow effectively.
Every start-up can surely start small but must aim big. It can be self-funded, can resort to boot-strapping, but still, it must be process-driven, documented and with clarity on who gains and at what costs. The associations one builds at the start need to be preserved for the business to grow fast. Trust is the best base of business.
Even for small start also, clarity on who exactly is my customer, and how can I document, preserve and re-connect with my once sold customers must be there. Often the cost of acquiring a new customer is far higher than servicing or re-selling to my existing customers. For all these, basic consumer insights and CRM, some level of database management are required. I remember that a teenager barber in Ahmedabad used to keep the special days and frequency of salon use data of all customers, and wish them on their anniversaries and invite them when due to hair cut, etc. He runs a three-floor air-conditioned high-end salon today some ten years later. I remember a lady who has kept data of every customer who bought her designed women’s wear from the very first one, and today the number is above 5000, while the first ones are still buying from her. People must be the focus of every business, then planet the business being sustainable and environment-friendly, profits coming last but remaining for the longest time.
You are as good as your next team. Hiring a good team and instilling a professional culture of owning up your work is crucial for a start-up to succeed. People leave bad managers and not always the company. Even for small firms, have detailed hiring norms and clear job descriptions, avoid close relatives or old friends unless passionate and partners, and evaluate efficiency at regular intervals.
Often start-ups are susceptible to unrealistic timelines and goals. Have realistic goals but have a no-nonsense approach to time which can only come through strong self-discipline. Start by asking yourself: did I do the best use of time?
These days you cannot survive without technology and you can do wonders with simple application of technology. For example, the intelligent use of digital and social media can take your product or service to uncharted terrains and unknown customers. It is important to make technology tell your story, fine-tune your service, evolve your product to the next level, and help know your customers better. Software-based operations from sourcing to selling must be done.
It is always good to be on the right side of the law. Hence, GST and other taxes, internal crediting etc must be known and practiced from day one. If you have to take the benefits of the law or its loopholes, one needs to know the relevant laws in-depth.
Build. Measure. Learn. They say that it is important to validate your learning and get feedback to grow further. If you do not fail, you cannot learn. No harm in committing mistakes till we commit the same mistake twice due to oversight.
There is also the route of social entrepreneurship where you engage a community with a common goal and mission and make everyone in the process a minor stake-holder and ensure their skin in the game, thereby contributing to a more equitable share of wealth made in the process of an entrepreneurial venture.
So, go. Bring it on. It’s one life, and make it large.
The author is a media academic and columnist and currently the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Kolkata based Adamas University. This is based on his recent talk to a group of B-School and Biotech school graduates wanting to be entrepreneurs.