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So you think you can 'start up'? Take this FURNACE test first…

31 May, 2010

Almost every other day, I get an odd mail from someone in B-School or working in a corporate job wanting to ‘start up’.  I am polite to all of them saying ‘think again’ but I am now inspired to write down the ‘FURNACE’ test. Take this if you are in a start-up state of mind. 

F = Format 

Are you a ‘format’ type of a person? Someone who lives by dos and don’ts and ‘this rule’ and ‘that theory’? If yes, just abandon even the dream of starting-up. It will be a nightmare. You need to be re-formatable like a hard disk. In my dad’s socks factory, I took on an export order that could be profitable only if I bought ‘unfinished’ yarn and then did something at my end to make the sock look wearable. My factory floor manager of 30 years freaked out. He whispered to my dad that we were doomed. The yarn I had bought was twisting and turning because it was unfinished. I knit 30 pairs of socks with that yarn and did everything conceivable to make the twisting stop, until I hit bull’s eye – washing the socks! (Much later I found out that the last processing of that yarn was washing and they charged 20% premium for it). 

Be ready to make a power point presentation in the cab or speak extempore. Don’t live in a format. 

U = Ultrarian 

Forget being a contarian and ask yourself these questions. How ‘ultrarian’ are you? Are you ‘ultra’ everything? Are you passionate, never saying it’s over? Can you work on Sundays like it was a Monday? Would you put work before family? 

Start-up entrepreneurs are Ultrarians. They take their passion to the limit and sometimes that hurts. 

My second daughter was born on a Sunday, and I told my wife as I drove her to the hospital that this kid was a ‘practical’ one. She didn’t care to hear what I said. On the Tuesday my wife was to come home, I wasn’t around. I was signing the first term sheet of my life and Neeraj Bhargava (E-Ventures) and I were putting our pens to paper at the Oberoi lobby. My wife never forgave me for this. And, let me confess that I am guilty of my action. 

R = Ravenous

Start Up entrepreneurs are not hungry – they are ravenous and starving. They are GREEDY – and I use this word in Capitals because most of us are taught not to be greedy. I contest that. The biggest wins in the world come from entrepreneurs who are starving – Steve Jobs’ hunger is to create art forms in hardware and Google’s founders is to make everything so easily discoverable. 

I remember making a fervent non-stop marketing pitch at the L’Oreal office in India a few years ago. The marketing head, Ashwin Rajagopal (a close friend), at the end of my long, non-stop pitching, asked: “Alok, Oh my god! Why will you do all this for us?” I looked at him and said, “To become rich.” There was the deadly silence in the room – they did not come across hungry, ravenous and starving entrepreneurs often. 

N = Nave 

Being uniformed can be the best blessing as a start up entrepreneur. In IIMs and MBA colleges I usually get asked by the students out there if they would become great entrepreneurs and my honest answer is ‘NO’ (thank god I haven’t been hit by an egg or a tomato yet). 

I think the world has changed so rapidly that now textbook case studies are not relevant. Companies peak out in 5-10 years and that’s just about the time they would become a formal case study. Also, is this relevant for a startup? Typically you are trying to do something that has never been done before – so who could have written about it? 

When I began pitching contests2win, the ad gurus in agencies I met, said, “Bad idea – you don’t know marketing or positioning or Maslow’s hierarchy. You are not an MBA and have not worked in a marketing function before.” I nodded and never met them again. Instead I went and met 4,509 brand owners in the next 10 years (just counted the visiting cards I have) and convinced them that consumers (LIKE ME) – wanted to win free stuff by playing a contest, and a brand could benefit in that interactive process. They all agreed and we created an industry that never existed before. I was nave and I won. 

A = All hands on deck 

Will you sweep your company’s floor? Will you be the receptionist? Can you hand out your startup’s fliers in a mall? 

Start-up entrepreneurs usually do everything – simply because there aren’t others to do stuff for you! Also, this gives you a bottom-up perspective of each and every process of your operation. You have to be willing to be all hands on deck. 

During contests2win’s first few months, I could not afford an office boy. So, at the end of the day, I used to drive and drop off the prize consignments to the local courier office. One day, the clerk said, “Sir, I have to ask you a question that’s been bothering me – You drive an Opel car to come here and yet drop packages yourself?” I chuckled and said to myself – the car is a family gift to me and I have gifted myself a startup. 

C = Captain 

Are you a leader? I’m not asking a question that appears on the covers of those books you see in airport bookshops. A captain is not only the guy who dies when the ship sinks. He also assembles teams, motivates armies and gets drunk with his men. 

This is important. Can you fire someone without remorse? Can you shout and scream? If you can’t, that’s fine – get a co-founder who can and become ‘co-captain’. 

One of my favorite Captain tricks is to arrive in packed conference rooms, sit right at the back and then ask the first question of the floor. It takes guts. Why? It gets my company noticed since I announce my Company and myself before asking the question. If I am not on the panel, I still leverage the panel. I play Captain even if it’s not my ship. 

E = Excited and Excitable 

Even today, a $2000 game license or media buy gets me excited like a kid getting a chocolate bar. I walk around, get a coffee or just start making conversation with colleagues. I get the same high that I used to get 10 years back. 

You have to be excited about your business and company and also be excitable so that your teams visibly know what makes you happy. Excitement is incredibly viral, easily noticeable by visitors and possibly the best free funding you can provide your company!

Alok Kejriwal is the founder of the 2win group (http://www.c2wgroup.com)

He blogs at http://www.rodinhood.com.

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So you think you can 'start up'? Take this FURNACE test first…

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