Saturday , 23 March 2019

Can everyone become an entrepreneur?

 By Bhasker  Assoldekar*


For an entrepreneur like me who has a manufacturing base in Mumbai but also visits Goa very often, you can’t escape being asked every time questions related to the feasibility and difficulties associated with startups in Goa. Many of them say, “I want my son to venture into business. Do you think he will be successful? And what business activity one should start?”

But then, is starting an enterprise right for just about everyone? No. It is not! Is it the right option for you? How do you figure this out?

Venturing out on your own is not just a career choice. It is a choice of lifetime. It is a choice, you need to make after you think carefully about what kind of person you are, what you care most about, what compromises you are willing to make, and what is your dream for the kind of life you wish to live?

When I set out on my entrepreneurial journey a couple of decades ago, some of the questions I was asked by my friends and relatives were, “Are you comfortable with change as a way of life?

“Importantly, why on earth do you want to do this, when you already are enjoying cozy life as a CEO of a large Indian company?”

Needless to say at that stage I did not fully understand the importance of these questions. I plunged in based on some gut-feel, some bravado and the promise of unstinted support from the spouse and the school going son. Over the time as I embarked on my venture and tasted success and failure in good measure (perhaps much more failure than success in the early years) I learnt about the many hard realities of what it means to be on your own and what an aspiring entrepreneur needs to be prepared for.

To start with in the initial period, my family had to make many sacrifices including even taking  public transport instead of chauffeur driven cars that they were accustomed to when I was a CEO of the other company. No regular monthly paycheck and running the household within limited resources was also a crucial aspect. This may sound trivial when you are young and have parental support. But it is a huge thing when you have a family. Yet this is one of the surest and earliest realities that dawn on an entrepreneur.

There is no automatic credit of salary in the bank account but you still have your grocery bills and other expenses to pay each month. No one is giving you a break on that. And if that is not enough you need to pay salaries to your staff at the end of every month, at times, drawing deep from your own savings. (Bankers normally give a credit line  when they realize you don’t require funds.)

I remember going through almost 18 months without drawing a regular paycheck. Instead, I needed to spend on building the product range, reaching it to the customers, serving the customers, and growing the business. During the first18 months we all took turns in making tea at office and even cleaning the toilet!

Most people I have known find this unacceptable. If you are not comfortable with this kind of roller-coaster life, and would like some stability and certainty in your life, then you should think twice about taking this route.

Secondly a startup is a 24×7 job. There is no clear line to be drawn between work and personal time. It is a continuum especially in the initial stages. No quiet weekends or holidays – work seeps into everything.

And if you are the type  who needs some good balance between work and life, this probably won’t be a great fit for you.

You could feel lonely

As an entrepreneur, you can often find yourself feeling very lonely. All of a sudden, you are in a leadership role and you realize that the buck stops with you. There are not many people you can share your concerns and fears with. Obviously you don’t like to share your failures with peers, friends and relatives.

The other reason for the loneliness is the weight of responsibility that you now carry on your shoulders. You are answerable to your staff, bankers (especially if you have taken long term or working capital loans from them) and to your customers. And you are responsible to your own family – to bring home some money, and to provide them a measure of stability.

You have to be willing to sell

As a founder of a startup, you have to be willing to do a lot of marketing. Actually, you have to get real good at marketing. It is one of the most important qualifications for success of an entrepreneur. You have to sell your ideas. You have to sell your value proposition to bankers and others. You have to sell your vision to your employees and even to government agencies. Equally critical aspect is that you have to sell your product to potential customers at value added price.

In business however the success is usually only measured by money. How much money have you made for yourself? It always boils down to that. Your respect and recognition is largely based on this. Even your friends and family will measure their respectbased on this. This is a fact of life in the entrepreneurial world. Whereas in other fields, there may be several different yardsticks for measuring, recognizing, and rewarding you for your accomplishments, in the entrepreneurial world, money is your trophy. You have to be comfortable with this fact.

Entrepreneurship therefore, is not for everyone.  If you are married, settled and if you are the sole bread earner in the family then you need to think twice. Don’t go by what everyone is telling you. Think hard, and figure out if entrepreneurship is for you, because taking this route is not just another job change, it is a critical life choice. You will therefore need to prepare a well vetted out business plan with time bound schedules.

And if you are in a position to take all of the above in your stride then, in the words of WE Henley, “you can be the master of your own fate and the captain of your own soul!”

*The author is M.Sc.(Tech), MBA(IIMA), managing director of Vibha Natural Products Ltd., Mumbai

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