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More than Business Acumen, Entrepreneurship is a Test of Self Belief

An entrepreneur recounts the fun and the pain of leading a startup this International Women’s Day.

To begin with let me clarify by saying that my journey into entrepreneurship was a planned one. 28 glorious years in companies like Shell, BP, BG, Lintas and Essar, each assignment was rich and provided great platforms to learn and grow as a professional. As I have lead massive change agendas in all these organizations, I have come to enjoy the process of driving large organizational transformations, influencing processes, systems, mindsets to create desired cultures that enabled business performance.

I had as a professional come to become synonymous for driving change effectively and I have always seen the more difficult assignments demanding great entrepreneurship and courage gravitate in my direction.

Having said that, I can easily say nothing quite prepared me for becoming a full blown entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is described aptly by a quote that goes something like this:

“Come to the edge, he said.
We can't, we're afraid! They responded.
Come to the edge, he said.
We can't, We will fall! They responded.
Come to the edge, he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”

That explains the fundamental start of entrepreneurship; the ability to take the risk to be self motivated to hunt to earn your living now and for ever more, kissing the comfort of the monthly salary Goodbye.

Here are some must haves before we plunge into entrepreneurship. Unless it is forced or by default, the ideal steps are:

1. Do you have a distinct area of expertise? Do you know what that is? Have you validated how differentiated it is and is the differentiation needed in the market.

Talent and passion juxtaposed with commercial viability of your product or service is key.

2. Identify mentors/ experts you trust and get them to give you constant feedback and give you a reality check in your business strategy/ plan.

3. If you are a registered company then creating an Advisory Council is a great idea!

4. Identify an office space - do not operate from a home/ backyard, garage. I started a new age consulting firm so an office was a MUST. Keeping things professional from the start is key so you set a serious context to what your business is trying to achieve!

5. Here’s to busting the myth on ease of doing business- you will need to register the company under Companies Act, need a PAN number, TAN number, Shops and Establishment Certificate, DUN number if you want to do business with certain companies.

6. Learning how to manage your P&L and cash flows is key. Appoint a good CFO/ Accountant so you are not lost. Initially daily and then weekly or bi- weekly interactions are a MUST if you want to learn how to prioritise your payouts/ maximise your cash flows.

7. Hiring staff is the most interesting experience as on the back of a new brand it’s always difficult to attract great talent. It’s a double whammy/ the brand is unknown although the Founder may be a brand and most people you hire don’t understand the fluidity of working for a startup. Most people you meet will not have the entrepreneurial mindsets to be resilient or multi task, both crucial needs to a startup. I found the trainees to be more non-judgmental, enjoying the journey as they had no preconceived notions or previous benchmarks.

8. Keeping costs down is a priority especially in early stages. Having worked for only big brands in large set ups, I must admit I found this part most difficult.

Overall there is never a dull moment and everything but everything is YOUR problem, but as we work on getting our arms around this, as we delegate more and more people feel confident to take on more, things begin to get better!

Currently we have an avalanche of work, 14 clients in 10 months and most are engaged with us over long duration assignments. We are all thoroughly enjoying this phase, it’s a good problem to have.

Finally entrepreneurship is a fine balance between keeping the fire burning on aspirations for the business, while ensuring execution discipline and excellence. It requires being a wild ambitious dreamer on one hand but pragmatically, being candid and assertive where required and tactful and diplomatic too. This startup has been a test of my will power, marketing prowess, business savvy and ability to influence.

Overall the joy of seeing your brand shine, on the name board, on your business card and when you are introduced are all deeply invigorating moments. That you created it, gave it life and created a positively contributing engine of change is so gratifying.

It’s been like nurturing a vibrant, intelligent child that is getting me to grow too through the experience of nurturing it.

I have personally found reservoirs of patience, energy for hard work, burning ambition that keeps me thinking about this venture and our projects continuously.

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