“Being” an entrepreneur

I was getting ready to deliver my talk at a newly opened co-working space in Bengaluru which already had few promising start-ups operating from there with series A funding. I was nervous but I was also excited about the opportunity to speak at the event. It was about 4 months into my entrepreneurial journey and I wanted to make the best use of it. The speaking engagements are a good alternative to expensive digital marketing efforts to build credibility and trust with potential customers, partners.  

I had reached the venue well ahead of time to do the setup for my speech. About ten minutes before the session we got the right cables and connectors. The laptop finally started projecting the slides, it was fully charged, the power cable was also kept as a backup, the clicker was ready and was kept next to it. As a plan B a white board and few markers were also arranged with a glass of water and a few tissues on the table. My cue cards were decked neatly adjacent to it. The mic was tested and kept on mute, ready to go. I was ready. 

I was satisfied with the preparation and with a smile looked at the audience and to my surprise the hall was almost full. I thought that the topic of the session has made people curious to attend the session. For a moment the fear of failure kicked in but at the same time I remembered the tip from one of the youtube videos I had watched on public speaking, in which the influencer energetically speaks in a high pitch, with a fast pace about effective public speaking like connecting with the audience before the session, starting with a question or a story etc. I decided to go and speak with the guests. Being an introvert this journey of entrepreneurship was not easy for me. It was a constant battle of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. 

I had to get into action, first I went to the snacks counter and picked up a cup of hot filter coffee. I gathered my courage and went to the first few rows, started speaking to a few people in the audience. I also observed some curious eyes eager to learn, some tired souls looking for a break, few people sitting without any expectations who looked like they were just following the crowd, and many opinionated faces accessing and judging me and a few calm faces that looked like zen masters. 

I was also looking at my watch often to ensure that the session starts on time. When I had about a minute and half for the session, I started walking towards the podium to start my session. At that point one gentleman from the front rows asked me in a loud voice, “Raghav, are you qualified to speak about this topic?”, “ Hmm …” his name tag read “Naren”*. I was taken aback by the tone of his question but I was unfazed as I knew what I’m going to share was my perspective about being an entrepreneur and not the ultimate truth. 

The topic of the day was “Being”an entrepreneur. What does it take to start and sustain?

I smiled and said “Yes, I think so. It is almost time and let’s start the session on time, as Indians we are slowly coming out of the bad reputation that we are not on time. Can I start the session and then respond to your question?”, I asked for his permission to start the session and he agreed readily. I could see a sense of satisfaction on his face for asking that question. 

I switched on the mic and at 6.30 pm sharp, I started the session. The hall was full. There were one or two people near the snack counter waiting for the coffee flask to be refilled. Otherwise there was a positive space in the venue.  

After introducing myself and thanking the host, I told the audience “One thing I can guarantee if you choose to take the path of entrepreneurship – you can always expect the unexpected. Like the question from Naren – am I qualified to give this talk?”. There were few laughs in the audience and few disappointed faces who thought his question was inappropriate and a digression.    

I looked at Nareen and asked him – “Naren frankly that question has never occurred to me, this is my 3rd time I have taken on this path of being an entrepreneur. Can you please give me some context?. Your question was “are you qualified to speak about this topic?”What made you say that? or in your opinion what qualifications one should have to speak about this topic? “. 

Naren started sharing “I’m Narayan Krishnamurthy Dandapani*, I’m known as Naren, I was in the Bay area for many years and I moved to Bangalore about 5 years ago, many people in the startup circles know me. I’m a very active participant in the startup community. Currently working with a MNC as Senior Architect, I’m from IIT Delhi. Nowadays everyone starts a company … “ 

“Naren, sorry to interrupt you, I have limited time and I want to share a few ideas as part of my session. We can catch up after the session to discuss in detail. Right now, can you please share your thoughts around the qualifications required to speak about this topic? “.

Naren without taking a breath, “ Yes, I’m coming to it. I have been thinking about starting my company,I have done a course on entrepreneurship at Stanford and I have collected a lot of information, I have even met many VC’s , I have even met Prof. CK Pralhad when I was in the US. To become an entrepreneur you start with an idea, then you start with a seed fund, then you find some angel investors and develop a product, then you will get your Series A, then you grow, get your series B and C, scale your startup then take it to public through a successful IPO. Then you write a book and speak at conferences and events”. 

I smiled at him and said “ Yes, thanks for sharing , that is one of the ways. You also mentioned “successful” IPO, I would like to stress on the word “success” – it is very personal, it means different things to different people. I will share my definition and my views later in the presentation. In my view I’m qualified to speak about the topic ‘cos it is based on my journey, it is the third time I have taken this journey. Moreover if you notice my focus is on “being” and it is more about starting and not about exiting, This session is for those who are on the fence. I also should admit that I’m speaking about this topic for the first time. Like an entrepreneur, we test our ideas and listen to our customers, right?”. He looked pleased, felt he realised that before exiting he should start one first. 

So we started our session. “Being” an entrepreneur. What does it take to start and sustain? 

(The slides from that event are here ) 

This incident happened about 6years back in Bangalore, when we had just started our ProcessWhirl UK entity. This incident brought a smile to me as I was reflecting about my entrepreneurial journey and noting down my learnings as I’m starting a new journey. I have a lot of notes from my experience in the last 6 years and will share them if it helps others. 

After more than 6 years of this amazing journey of being part of ProcessWhirl, I have taken the tough decision to complete it and go back to a corporate job. 

Some of my learning and views on entrepreneurship are as follows. 

What is entrepreneurship? 

Is the process pursuing an idea and implementing it for the benefit of the customers and/or society. Building a business model around that is also an important part of it. At a fundamental level it is all about creating value for society. Most ideas when converted into a value have potential to be exploited commercially. 

Who is an entrepreneur? 

A person involved in the process of entrepreneurship. 

When is the best time to start a venture? 

Best time to start? None. If you have not started already, it is today. 

Do it now ! 

With so many start-ups failing is it a good idea to pursue the dream of entrepreneurship? 

It is very important to understand one key distinction around failures. Start-ups fail (yes more than 99%) but the entrepreneur never fails

Yes, the businesses fail to survive due to various reasons. But the spirit of entrepreneurship never lets you down. If you start and take this journey you are guaranteed to walk out with fond memories and a great deal of learning (and few friends).  

Personally I think the only failure is, if you have a dream and you are an entrepreneur at heart but you never took that plunge. 

Closing your start-up is not a failure but not starting one is.  

How to start my startup? 

In the UK, you register your company at the company’s house. The website says “It costs £12 and can be paid by debit or credit card or Paypal account. Your company is usually registered within 24 hours.”

https://www.gov.uk/limited-company-formation/register-your-company

I know it is a bad joke, technically, that is it. In most countries it is similar.  You just have to start.

What comes in your way before you decide to take that plunge? 

The fear of failure. 

Paulo Coelho — ‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.’

How to overcome the fear of failure? 

By failing often and creating your own definition of success. Here it is very important to distinguish between failure of the enterprise (the entity) and failure of the entrepreneur (the person). At a personal level you should develop that mindset of separation. You are separate from the entity you are creating. 

Do you have any suggestions for people who have just started or contemplating starting this journey?

No, Just go ahead, trust yourself and the universe. Everyone’s journey is unique. If you can survive then you will succeed. Manage your cash-flow and risks. Enjoy the journey and the experience. Trust me you will never regret it. 

 I found the philosophy of Sridhar Vembu inspiring. 

Please let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to help.

As I start my new journey, I’m filled with gratitude for all the learnings, experience. I’m immensely grateful for the support I received from my family, friends, partners, customers and so many wonderful people, I can not even list them all. 

May all your dreams come true. 

Thank you. 

31-Jul-2021

*changed the name and few factual information to respect the identity of the individual

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