We are going through an exciting time for start-ups – lots of new companies are being formed, angel/ venture capital has been accessible and a large number of smart, ambitious men and women are willing to take the plunge. It seems really cool to be an entrepreneur!
At a few recent interactions with young college students, I have been posed this question pretty often – and in different tones. I always feel weighed by some sense of responsibility while trying to answer (or wriggle away) from this question, since this is a path that does happen to be fundamentally different in not only the risk-reward equation, but more importantly the kind of life one enjoys leading.
In some way, the tone of the question influences my response. There are so many motivations behind this innocuous question, I feel the key is for one to understand motivations very well before deciding that entrepreneurship holds your key to happiness. And ofcourse, while these are not mutually exclusive motivations, however, one of these may often be the more dominant primary motivation.
Natural entrepreneurs: They will anyway end up doing something – a rare breed just driven by passion and all they need is that no one disturbs them and let them be. They are the really high beta folks – either they keep struggling with ideas and ventures or just create something so phenomenal that the world they operate in does feel the impact
“Entrepreneurship is cool and I am cool – so I should be an entrepreneur”: My humble take – you may be really cool, and entrepreneurship is certainly cool, but just be sure you are talking the same kind of cool here. An entrepreneur needs to find challenges cool, the excitement of working with an awesome group of people cool, the fact that you are building something cool – which will be pretty much the story of the next many years. Then if you are having a great time, and also are lucky to be successful, you may experience the more traditional definition of cool. A little hard to plan for it, at the outset.
“I want to build something”: A lot of us fall in this category - yearning to build something, looking for a need which can be an opportunity to build something and having some awareness of the areas we want to work towards. For this group, all I have to say is – if you really believe in the idea, go for it. Just be honest to yourself – at least you must believe in the idea naturally, and not force yourself to go for it just because this is better than a few other ideas you had. The idea needs to stand on itself in absolute terms, not relative to your other thoughts.
I want to be like Bill Gates – really rich! : Well, honestly, the odds of making a lot of money would be much better in Vegas than becoming an entrepreneur. So, while for sure you wont be rich like Bill Gates working for someone else, just being an entrepreneur is not a ticket to riches. Yes – we all want to make a lot of money, but unfortunately, that is the final output, and not many people become rich by merely wanting to be rich.
I will be an entrepreneur if I can raise some money: Fair enough – you know your risks and rewards and you know your idea. Just remember, if your idea does not hold water, even if the market is flush with funding and you raise a few millions, as the entrepreneur you would be the last one to see the cash. For that, you really need the venture to be of value. Understandable if you need some financial support to follow your dream, but if you choose to dream depending on whether you have the money then you might just end up fooling yourselves (besides a few investors, of course)
“I am bored and miserable at my job”: Try another job. Chances are you would continue to be bored & miserable, plus without a salary being an entrepreneur; unless the excitement you seek lies in following some path you have been dreaming of.
For sure, we all will have a little bit of all these motivations at play – I think one is just happier if one’s motivations are aligned with the chosen path. In general, it is pretty important to have some solid positive motivation to be an entrepreneur, else life will be a bit hard.
All in all, it is a great time to be an entrepreneur in India. However, do it for the right reasons, and if you have a dream or a passion to try something - certainly go for it. Surround yourself with the right people with the right skills and mindset, be persistent and patient as long as you believe in the venture, be flexible and follow opportunities as you see them open up, and enjoy the ride. You live only once, so make it count.
(Prashant Tandon is managing director and co-founder of Healthkart.com, an online health store.)