Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

After many years today, we – my wife and me – walked to the Siddhivinayak Temple, from home.

It’s a kind of pilgrimage that many do and have done, and we have done too, but this one was after a while, and with legs and bodies that were not in the prime of fitness. By any means.

I have many friends who run half-marathons and full marathons, and my walk to a temple is trivial, compared to their routine achievements. However there are many other friends who are not into fitness and exercise as much, and neither am I, and due to which reason, this is a small achievement for me, at least!

So why did we do this?

Multiple reasons, I guess..

1. To do the darshan

2. To see if we could still do it. Meaning walk all the way to the temple. We had reckoned that if things really went bad, we’ll take a cab. So we were checking if we could manage without taking one.

3. To pray for the health of a dear friend

4. Finally, so I could come and write this post 🙂

So few thoughts from the walk, to share:

1. I had a lot of hesitation about this last night when we were contemplating it. For various reasons. For the doubt whether we could still walk the distance and whether I really wanted to put myself through it. Also because there was enough work to do, and if I had to get up early, I may as well do the work that was piled up.

2. Well, finally I decided to plunge in. There is no end to work. But these opportunities to ‘dance on a chance’ are few. And I went for it.

3. Even so, as we started from Chembur, the vision of Dadar and Prabhadevi, seemed far away. And were almost depressing. If I had stuck to that thought, we’d have taken a cab sooner or later.

4. But I changed focus to smaller goals. Thought in terms of one target at a time. And suddenly it was not that bad. A back of the mind understanding of the larger goal at a distance, but immediate focus on the smaller goal which was not that far away, and always seemed achievable. This worked like a beaut. I guess we can see the metaphor to work and life goals, in this!

5. So these were the smaller targets and the time line that we took:

a. Residence (close to Maitri Park Bus Depot) to end of Chembur (Priyadarshini Bldg):

Start time 4-40 am, reached 5-15 am (35 min)

b. End of Chembur to Sion Circle:

Start time 5-15 am, reach 5-50 am (35 min)

c. Sion Circle to King’s Circle:

Start time 5-50 am, reach 6-15 am (25 min)

d. King’s Circle to start of Tilak Bridge:

Start time 6-15 am, reach 6-35 am (20 min)

e. Tilak Bridge to Portuguese Church:

Start time 6-35 am, reach 7-00 am (25 min)

f. Portuguese Church to Siddivinayak Temple:

Start time 7-00 am, reach 7-10 am (10 min)

Total from home to temple:

Start time 4-40 am, reach 7-10 am (2hr, 30 min).

6. I had carried my phone and ear plugs too, with an idea to catch up on podcasts, etc. I did not use them. I thought it was just great to walk without these disturbances, and observe things and life at that early hour. And spend some me-time. Yes, the wife was walking with me too, and we exchanged some words in between, but mostly we were focused on walking, and  the talking did not go that well with the walking. Observing and thinking was fine! So I observed and I thought.. 🙂

7. At 4-40 am, you feel quite safe in Mumbai. Perhaps even earlier. Thank God we live in Mumbai!

8. Post monsoons and post pot hole days, the roads in Mumbai are fine. By and large. We walked mostly on the roads, even where there were footpaths. Because with footpaths, every now and there there are the paths to enter buildings, and the footpath goes a little down and a little up, as you walk past it. With a longish walk, you don’t want those ups and downs. You may as well walk on the road, face the traffic and have a smoother walk. (A metaphor again??)

9. There were many patches where it seemed like we were on one of those electronic walkways. Where we were standing and the road moved us ahead. I mean, the exertion was minimum and the momentum took us ahead at a rapid pace. I guess, a lot of times in an entrepreneurial journey, we hit such patches. One has to make the most of these, move rapidly, and cover maximum distance!

10. One could have walked alone. But it is great to have a partner with you. To be with you on the rough patches as well as the smoother ones. To celebrate the intermittent targets reached, and then to be with you, at the destination! As you thank God there, for making it happen! Totally metaphorical, and so true for entrepreneurial journeys as well.. 🙂

I may add that this walk was also in celebration of another walk that me and my partner have been on, together, for last 23 years. We celebrate our anniversary tomorrow, and I am so glad to have a partner to share similar joys. Be it, of such walks, or to the innumerable movies that I insist on seeing, and which she gamely accompanies me to..

🙂

 

The “versus” in the title might make it seem like it’s a battle or a game or a competition at least.

No, I do not intend to do any of that.

I am just comparing the two.. !

The starting point to this thought process is from viewing the absenteeism numbers at office, many a day. I stagger to see the number of folks who have taken leave!

Well, part of that reaction is about getting used to the fact that we are a large team now, and a small percentage of a large number, will still appear to be a decent absolute number.

But that apart, there is the second aspect. About how differently an entrepreneur thinks, from a typical employee.

I mean, I get requests for leave, because a “brother-in-law is not well”.

As an entrepreneur, I have brothers and other in laws, and few out laws also not keeping well, and I have still trudged in to work.

Or when I get a request from someone who wants to leave early because he / she has a “bad headache”!

Again, as an entrepreneur, one might be in a similar situation. And one may take a Crocin or a Saridon, or whatever, but just hang in, at the office anyway!

So I am not saying which is better or worse.

As an entrepreneur, I may think that why can’t the employee be more like me? Or should I sanction this leave at all??

Then, there is the other thought. An an entrepreneur, giving work precedence over other priorities, I might have erred, in missing out on the PTA meetings and being beside a close relative and giving them comfort when they were unwell.

Does an entrepreneur need to think a bit like an employee, about his own priorities, and does an employee need to think more like the entrepreneur in giving higher priority to the work??

Obviously the above are generalized scenarios, and there are exceptions, both sides.

Just wondering about the stereotypes here..

A couple of days back, I got a call on our building intercom system. It was the security guard, informing me that a “maharaj” (cook) was there, and he wanted to come up. He put the maharaj on the line. A friendly voice asked to speak to “bhabhi” (my better half). I gave her the line.

Now she was busy with some work and as I observed her, I could see that she was trying to put him off and was not keen to have him come up. But there must have been something in his conversation that she finally agreed to let him come over. And as she put the intercom down, she made a face. That told me that she was wondering why she let him come up!

I saw him for the first time. A short, bespectacled, freckled man, carrying two large cloth bags, containing several packets of food. Very simple, very ordinary looking. And then I saw his exchange with my wife.

Very friendly, almost homely, like he had known her for ages. Offering whole bunch of new stuff that he had. Name dropping some interesting cooking assignments that he had executed recently. My wife was in no mood to purchase anything, and he did not even push for sales. Just kept showing things that he was carrying. Ultimately, my wife made a small purchase. Total of Rs. 100/- worth. He had no issues at all. Took the money, proposed that he be called for other work if any, and left with a smile.

Later as I talked to my wife, I discovered that he had come to this level from very humble beginnings. He would work at people’s homes, take small money to run the family. He would pick up these contractual cooking work, which would be seasonal, and would leave him with free time and no earnings, in between. But he had a good hand, a good attitude, and he got good houses to visit as a result. With that access, he experimented and created some snack items, and started offering to his loyal customers. And some tried. And these were good. Well priced as well. And word of mouth happened. And he has a decent customer base set up. Also with the successful experiment of migration to product creation, from being only a service provider, he got into full-fledged catering offers too. At a fixed rate per person, he can cater for full fledged parties at home. Decent food, good rates, all inclusive with tissue, paper plates and all.

I am sure he has done well for himself, from where he started. Amazing enterprise. Hard work. And of course, the sweet talking sales skills.

Yes, India has amazing enterprise. Perhaps a legacy. Perhaps the fact that India could never offer its millions of people the jobs they needed. Whatever be the reason. Survival via enterprise became a rule. And we see an amazing number of such hard working entrepreneurs who have done well to improve their lots.

And the one thing that sets apart those who become really successful here, is their innate ability to sell.

Like this maharaj described above, I have distinct memories of few other such cases.

As a child, I happened to visit Nainital a couple of times. And while I have hazy memories of the lake and the yachts, I have a distinct memory of this suit store on Mall road there. An absolutely stunning salesman, it was said that you could not step into his store and come out without making a purchase. Since we went there twice and my father had an experience of this the first time around, he studiously avoided getting into the store on our second visit. But on the last day, out of curiosity, intrigue and admiration, he figured that we will go to the store, just to share good tidings, but we will not purchase for sure.

Yeah, right! Like we had a hope. Sure enough, we came out with a bag of goods!

Then, there was this amazing experience I had on 5th Ave, Manhattan. In the heart of fashion district, in one of the high rises there, on a higher floor. A Gujarati speaking, Bohri Muslim, born and brought up in Ahmedabad, but now in the US for many years, runs one of the most successful custom suit business. I spent two hours sitting with him once, few years back, and was an observer to his selling skills with an American customer who had come in to shop with him, all the way from Texas.

Picture this first. Two offices joined together. No walls in between. Huge open space, beautifully carpeted and four large walls painted white. And having frames right through. Frames with photos of celebrities dressed in suits made by this Ahmedabadi! Politicians, Hollywood, sports. Especially basketball players. Since they need to be fitted! Mind boggling reference list.

Had a back office in Hongkong. Had samples of all kinds of fabrics whose large quantities were inventoried in HK. Connected over fax. To send out those measurement details, especially the intricate sketches of fine requirements. Suits get shipped in 3-4 working days. If it is a new customer, he walks in for a trial, and if there are tweaks to be done, this gentleman does those himself. Well, now he also had a couple of assitants (but that was it – including him, a total of 3 persons on the team, doing HUGE business!).

But back to the man. And how I saw a phenomenal salesman in action, as I sat there as an admiring observer.

He knew this Texan by name. Must be a reasonably regular customer. Talked to him about many things other than business. All topics that the customer was interested in, it appeared. Getting down to business, it seemed like the guy had walked in to purchase a suit or two, at most. Sharing the various products, and then offering package deals (shirts, ties etc.), he ended up generating business worth more than $8,500, all in a matter of about 45 minutes. And swiped the card right there, to close the deal. Awesome stuff.

For a man who began life on the streets of Ahmedabad… would you not doff your hat off to him?

The moot point of these stray examples is the skills in selling that run common. None of them have stepped into B-schools. They don’t have any aids except for their tongue and their passion and their emotions.

As against that, a B-schooler sales guy is lost without his laptop and his powerpoint and his graphs and charts and data. And then he wants support in terms of lowest prices and freebies bundled in, and extended credit terms offered. And after all that, he may meet his targets.

Now if you needed a sales person to save your life, who’d you pick? The maharaj, the suit seller in Nainital, the custom tailor from Ahmedabad, now on 5th Ave, NY, or the hip MBA with his laptop?? 🙂

Yesterday I was filling out the registration form for the TiE Summit in Mumbai, coming up this December, and where I needed to describe my entrepreneurial status. Of the many options offered there (e.g. early stage entrepreneur, growth stage entrepreneur etc.), there was the one that seemed most correct for me, viz. Serial Entrepreneur. Yeah, I guess I qualify for that! Having co-founded and ran Homeindia.com from 1998 to 2007, before divesting our stake and exiting, now this new venture, Social Wavelength, started in April of this year, is certainly a “serial” venture!

So how is it different the second time around? Is there still the same passion? The madness to think that you can make the world different? Or is it all tampered with time?

I thought about it, and realized that for me, this second time is certainly different. But for all the right reasons! Well, except the age. Really, I wish I could have started my entrepreneurial career at least 10 years before I did. Oh well. (Maybe this last bit of thought is the direct consequence of having just passed the 46th birthday. Part of that philosophical churn that accompanies the passing of a birthday, especially in the 40s age bracket!)

Coming back to the differences between being a first time entrepreneur and a serial one, I would pick the following key factors:

  1. There is more fire in the belly. I must qualify this. I remember a talk by Kanwal Rekhi at IIT Mumbai, earlier this year. Where he clearly contrasted second ventures of very successful first time entrepreneurs (and how they were not doing that well, as comfort zone had set in) and how he valued the not-so-successful-first-time-entrepreneur’s second venture. Because if the first time had meant lesser success due to a myriad of circumstances, but not for want of trying, then the entrepreneur has a bigger motive this time. To show others but most importantly to himself that he is no less, and he can be successful. That brings in more hunger and more determination.
  2. When an employee walks away without giving adequate time, you are upset but not shocked. And words like ‘betrayal’ do not exactly come in the head. You have seen enough and more. That there are all kinds of people. After doing all that you can, to make life good for your team, and more importantly, give them the freedom to speak candidly to you about leaving etc., people may still behave peculiarly. Suddenly the ‘father may get seriously ill’ or ‘the family may get transferred’ or they may ‘develop a disease that requires hospitalization’ and due to which reasons, they have to leave the job right away. You almost want to tell them that ‘do away with the charade’. But you don’t. And accept this as one of those things that happen. In spite of everything that you do. And you go ahead and look for replacements and life goes on!
  3. There is excitement and enthusiasm but celebrations don’t start before the cheque actually clears in the bank! You have seen enough near-misses to know that being almost there is not good enough. A great client contract, an investment or any other such good news is only true and worth celebrating, after the deal is done or the contract signed. Or whatever.
  4. In my case, specifically, there is a lower dependence on the valuation story and more focus on making and running a good, profitable business. The first time around, we actually stopped a profit making activity after we raised venture money, and pursued only a valuation game. This time around, there is clarity that profits and cash are king, and must be nurtured and protected and grown. And valuation, if it happens (and it will!), it is good, but it should not be made the be-all-and-end-all of the business activity.

Well, so here I am, serial entrepreneur. On this second journey. More exciting than the first in many ways.

What’s your story? Are you on your first? Second? Fifth? Done and retired in Bahamas..? What??

The thought has been in the head, ever since Nandan Nilekani decided to take up the position to head the UID project.

That has life turned a full circle for him again? Starting as a developer, then perhaps leading software projects, then teams, then company, then success, IPO, more success, being CEO / MD.. and now again, leading one project?! Albeit, a large one, for sure.

Of course, there is huge prestige involved, it’s a big one for the country and it is very honorable work that he has chosen to take up. I appreciate it wholeheartedly, and it is clearly a choice he made.

Which made me think about many other entrerpreneurs, some of whom I know personally, and others whom we read about, and their lives post-success. Where success, for the scope of this post, is defined as that first large piece of gain – IPO or being acquired for a princely sum, etc.

Let’s talk of the biggest icon of them all: Bill Gates. He’s only worked for one company all his life, his own, Microsoft. He lives it, breathes it, he is consumed by it. He has fought many hard battles, taken on strong competitors and enemies, the legal battles, and what not. And kept the flag flying high for many many years. And now, as he chooses to use his energies for other more noble pursuits, that is the choice he makes. Like a typical analytical mind, a well thought out, logical decision. To make use of all his resources – his time, his money, his connections, his skills – to leave the world a little better. Awesome choice. Except that he needs his “fix” too. He cannot quite completely disengage himself from Microsoft. So that one-fifth of his time, that opportunistic dig at Google whenever he gets a chance…that cannot go away.

So we know about Mr. Nilekani. What has the bigger Infosys icon, Mr. Narayan Murthy been upto? He has been offered or invited to get into politics. He has of course been the bigger visionary, one who can articulate his thoughts extremely clearly, who is clearly outspoken on issues where he has conviction. A huge inspiration to youth. It appears that between giving talks at various Universities, paying his respects to Infosys every now and then, perhaps doing a bit of venture investing and helping shape the lives of his children, he hasn’t quite found a true calling in the ‘after life’. It may yet come. And true to stature, it should be something remarkable. We wait and watch the space.

There are others, especially tech entrepreneurs, who have gone the traditional route – become VCs or work as VC fund heads. Quite the Silicon Valley way of things.

Only I suspect, they do get a little itchy sometimes, to get into the action all over again.

You can’t really keep an entrepreneur away from the action for long. There’s only so much golf and so much traveling that you can do, before you want “in” once more.

So I see a friend, who post-success went about investing in few ventures. But now spends serious time again, on his own new venture. Almost like startup days all over again. Just a little more comfortable, I suppose.

** At this stage, I remember Kanwal Rekhi’s thoughts. That a successful entrepreneur often does not make a good second-time entrepreneur. But perhaps, a not-that-successful first time entrepreneur makes a great second-time entrepreneur.

In case of the former, he is now used to a good car, a plush office, and other perks, which he believes he deserves. After all, having got the money, why should be continue in garages? But that often, also leads to a lesser “hunger”, a lower drive if I may. And that becomes an undoing of sorts. And Kanwal mentioned Sabeer Bhatia’s name as an example!

And how, for the latter, there is something left to prove. That how the first time might have been an abberation, and how they want to prove to their own selves first, and then to others, about their abilities. The hunger is far more.. **

That was a digression, though.

Coming back to this successful entrepreneur then, other than that additional comfort that he may be enjoying and the fact that the first success gives him that extra visibility, he is working on another major idea. Back to what he knows best. Working on creating an enterprise.

Then there is this other gentleman, who in addition to managing a great VC fund, seems to be now directing his energies to make India a better place. Not by joining politics or doing community service, but focusing on creating a nation and a people, that could potentially be more aware, more balanced in views, more questioning, more participative. And from there, would emerge a better nation. And I presume, like in his consumer facing venture, here too he knows, that nothing happens overnight. You have to chug along, get your first adopters, your first converts, and then gradually multiply.

Having gone through building a consumer business, that calmness and confidence of how numbers can grow and then multiply, should ensure that he doesn’t lose patience in this more noble venture. Again, a good direction of the inherent energies that exists within. And not conflicting with any interests, since entrepreneurs would be pitching their business plans to him every day (in his VC avatar) and going back to running a commercial venture, could have those sorts of risks.

So what will I do in that after-life? After my success? 🙂

Have a lot of thoughts, but have kept them all at bay. First things first. Get that significant success 🙂