I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug lurking inside me and after working for more than 20 years at a multi-national bank, I decided to take the plunge and build my own Start-Up. Most of the clichés you hear about starting out on your own are true – the highs you get from achievements, the lows when things aren’t going well, the ceaseless hard work, and the unpredictability of how things will work out. Below are some random thoughts from my personal experience as a start-up founder that I hope you find interesting.
1. You’ve got to Find Something You Love to do and Then Try Your Hardest to Be Great at It.
Don’t start a company unless you are obsessed with the idea, or it is something you thoroughly enjoy doing. Remember, if you have an exit strategy, then it is probably not an obsession. You absolutely need to be solving a meaningful consumer problem. The idea has to be scalable for you to be able to ‘knock it out of the park’. As founders, each of us had some ideas on what we were venturing out to do, but we tossed many balls in the air first, before finalizing on the one thing that we would put our energies behind. We knew our core competencies and our constant focus is to always be great at this.
2. Invest Time And Energy On Building A Good Team
Every single person in a small start-up needs to love their job, and if they do, they will find ways to make it a success. If you are missing a core competency, pay to hire the best. Spend time with your people and always keep your hand on the pulse.
One of the joys of a start-up is the (relative) freedom from rigid hierarchies and politics that can be the bane of a large established company. You can set the tone for the company by making sure it has a flat feel and people have the independence and confidence to act according to their abilities. Since it is a small group of people, it is vital to maintain constant contact with your team – open offices keep everyone in tune with what’s going on and keeps the energy up. It is always necessary to keep a pulse on stress levels and accomplishments, and ensure people are acknowledged and appreciated for good work and counselled and mentored when the going gets tough.
3. When Faced With Ethical/Moral Challenges – Always Do The Right Thing.
I am not elaborating on this point since it would otherwise sound condescending. Don’t overthink this – just read the line and follow it.
4. The Company We Run Today Is Not Quite The Company We Started, And Will Probably Not Be The Company We Run 3 Years From Now.
A start-up needs to be always flexible. It doesn’t have the luxury of time or resources to tide over challenging situations – unlike an established company. You need to quickly recognize challenges to your way of thinking, and be able to let go of dearly held plans and beliefs in order to adjust to these externally created challenges. When our plans meet the real world, the real world wins! When we started out at Credit Mantri, we had numerous ideas in our heads and our prior experience as bankers had trained us to look at our business potential through a particular lens that we were familiar and comfortable with. We had a framework, a long term objective, a compelling vision, knew our core competency, and from there we planned and strategized what might work, determined what was important and how things might develop. We thought we had a perfect plan. Then, we tried to generate sales, and found that we quickly needed to revisit our earlier assumptions. Then, we met with potential investors, who definitely helped us hone our strategy.
5. Overnight Success Does Not Exist!
Starting a company and making it a success involves a tremendous amount of hard work. You face numerous setbacks before you get a sense of what is likely to succeed. Successful entrepreneurs fail often, but they get up and give it another go – it is this untiring desire to succeed through trial and error that is the key to success. One has to learn to cope with failure in order to achieve, and then enjoy, success. I recall a quote that goes something like this – “If you’re unwilling to fail, sometimes publicly, and even catastrophically, you stand very little chance of ever being successful.”
6. Everything Takes Longer Than You Think – Important To Plan For Delays.
Starting and building a business takes time. First-time founders underestimate almost all aspects of starting, running and growing a business. Most plans, projections and forecasts will not come true, at least not at the times you had originally predicted. One has to be prepared for delays, missed deadlines and cost overruns – many of which are not in your hands. It is essential to have some personal and organizational financial buffers in place to tide over sales and profit forecast misses.
I could have provided specific examples for each of the points listed above, but without a broader context, these might not have resonated as clearly for you as they did for me, and so at the risk of these sounding like general motherhood and apple-pie statements, I decided to pen them nevertheless!
And finally a quote that had guided and continues to guide me – “If you wish to be rich, you must grow a mental armour. Not too thick to blind you to well-constructed criticism and advice, especially from those you trust (or those who matter!). Nor too thick to cut-off family and friends.”