Connecting the dots looking backwards
There are two paths to becoming an entrepreneur. First is the ideal ‘dream’ scenario: Stumble upon a great idea at a young age, establish a company, become an overnight success story.
However, the above scenario is more of an exception. What happens more commonly is that one decides to launch his/her start-up or business after having gained adequate expertise in a particular industry. Equipped with this vantage point, one tries to determine what opportunities might exist to serve the customers.
This article is about the second path: Becoming a master in a field (usually by being part of a large corporation), followed by identifying a new business opportunity where you could make the best use of your expertise, and then charting out an independent course to offer a product or service.
During my transition from a Managing Director of a Hedge Fund multinational to a Certified Executive Coach and founder of WealthPal, I have learned and imbibed in myself a handful of essential lessons on how a corporate executive can plan a smooth transition into becoming an entrepreneur.
In retrospect, here are the six dots that had to get connected for my world to open to something that I had never experienced before.
1. Learn to say Yes (before you learn to say No)
Why are we all here, if not to live to the fullest, learn the highest and try for the mightiest?
By saying yes to challenges, we learn things we never thought we could learn.
When I started my career at the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1998, my foremost objective was to learn the ins and outs of the business and contribute to my optimum capacity. I volunteered for multiple projects, most of them way out of my comfort zone, apart from my core role of managing and overlooking SENSEX and a slew of other indices.
I stuck to my positive approach into my second job where I shuffled across four distinct verticals over a period of 9 years.
My best advice here would be to make the most of your stint in the industry by taking risks, and saying YES to (almost) everything that comes along your way. Instead of playing for safety, play for increased capability –one that comes with scouting for newer and bigger challenges.
2. You know yourself the best (and it is ultimately YOUR call!)
Finally, after having spent two decades in the corporate world, I started to take note of my waning enthusiasm and lack of fulfillment. I took the conscious decision of moving away from my trade and eventually founding WealthPal.
Remember, no one knows you better than yourself. If you have a dream, it’s your responsibility to engage others (people who matter to you, of course) in that dream. You will have to overcome the pressure of being judged by your family, peers and society, in general.
Also, consciously practice self-awareness to understand your internal guidance system. If you don’t think you are happy with what you are doing or are beginning to lose interest, don’t beat yourself about it. Probably, the universe is trying to talk to you through such feelings.
Research has shown how our physical bodies along with our minds intuitively guide us when it comes to making such decisions. The intuitive part of me knew that it was time to make the shift in my life in the pursuit of what I was ready to create.
Develop the ability to interpret these subtle signals and look for the next signal, and then the next -- till you make sense of the whole message.
3. Take the risk, or lose the chance
In my opinion, most people view risk irrationally, particularly when it comes to their career choices.
‘What if I fail?’ ‘Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?’
Ask yourself one simple question: What is the worst that can happen to you? Your start-up might fail to take off, and you go back to the job you were doing before (or something similar to that).
That being said, I will still argue that the experience you gained by founding your own company (no matter how small or big it was) can certainly make you much more marketable to prospective employers, moving ahead.
4. Be authentic with investors and customers
Once you make your debut, you will have to show credibility in order to secure abundant funding for your business or getting your first few customers.
Having a practicable (read sustainable) cash flow projection and clearly laid out value proposition for customers is the key to a marketable business model. If you are in the business of services and just starting out, you’ll have to be ready to dole out the first few batches of service, absolutely free-of-cost. This will help you launch a great pilot and eventually win over your customers and investors.
5. Adapt (and then adapt a little more!) to newer opportunities
As an entrepreneur, you get to choose the goal, not the path. A slew of factors might (will) compel you to adjust and re-adjust your focus and strategies. There could be 100 doors leading to your goal; but if you stay fixated and rigid with that one door, you will surely miss the other 99.
I started as a ‘wealth coach’ based on WHAT difference I wanted to make in an executive’s life. But I soon realized that people related to me more as an ‘Executive Coach’ than as a ‘Wealth Coach’. I also realized that I was spending way too much time explaining the difference between a wealth coach and a wealth manager. I took an additional training and certification, changed my logo and tagline, re-positioned by brand and made the transition to an Executive Coach.
Remember: In flexibility, lies stability.
6. It is an ‘average’ world out there
Irrespective of how ambitious you might be, you cannot walk the mile alone. You will have to hire a team of competent professionals who share your vision and can help you execute plans. While this can be challenging initially, it is undoubtedly the most important task for an entrepreneur.
One of the more eye-opening experiences I had as an entrepreneur was finding many mediocre vendors and suppliers claiming to be the gold standard. Vendors claimed to be a 50-staff team, but turned up with only five in reality. Copywriters claimed to have worked for big brands, but their ideas reeked of unoriginality. Digital marketing ‘experts’ took shots in the dark without any experience in strategizing and brand-building. The list could go on…
Conversely, it also confirmed my belief that if you have a strong work ethic and are passionate about providing exemplary customer service, you will be able to amble through the competition out there. There is nothing more important than getting the basics right.
“It is a bad time to be average.”
If you have a great idea and an actionable plan to advance that idea, you can start your own business – regardless of your age. That being said, it helps to know some of the best (and necessary) qualities that are usually ingrained in the entrepreneur tribe.
Most entrepreneurs share these 4 common characteristics:
1. Compelling Vision
It is the quest for a deeper purpose – beyond the mere mechanics of operating a business – that drives an entrepreneur or a founder. Your passion for that compelling vision is the all-vital trigger that can propel your company to greater heights.
Without that spark, chances are you’d lack the necessary motivation and the proverbial ‘hunger in your belly’ to pull off a series of early mornings and late nights in order to get your company off the ground.
2. Patience and Perseverance
By my experience, a good business will take anywhere between 12 - 36 months to stabilize. Creating awareness, educating potential customers, sampling your product or service, building faith and gathering references are activities that take time.
As an entrepreneur, you will have to deal with curve-balls at every bend in the road. Your business will not start registering profits overnight; it will take considerable time to transform your idea into reality.
You will have to get accustomed and immune to people rejecting or dismissing your idea. If you have the passion and the will to persevere, chances are you would become inviolable over time. What will eventually separate you from the crowd is your resolve and tenacity.
3. Curiosity and willingness to learn
The future belongs to the curious.
Entrepreneurship entails a long learning process, a process that should ideally never draw to a close. As an entrepreneur, your nature should be sponge-like; ever-ready to absorb and soak in information from credible quarters. If you don’t fancy this, you might as well start thinking about other avenues.
More the learning, better it is. A quote that I’m particularly fond of is “One who thinks he knows all the answers, has probably never been asked all the questions”.
4. Ability to network
Your offering could be great, hands down. But if people don’t get to know about you, you will not have the market that you’ve always wanted.
Being a part of networking organizations (I joined Business Network International), making new acquaintances in the industry and getting a mentor (or two) will help you with the right direction so that you can finally arrive where you’ve always wanted to be.
Entrepreneurship, fortunately or unfortunately, is not a 9-5 job. You will have to be on your business idea, nurture it and think about ways of turning it into reality. You will reap the harvest, only if you sow. After all, it is not a small leap.