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6 BIG tips from the 'reluctant entrepreneur'

By Ram Kapoor
Last updated on: December 14, 2006 15:20 IST
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Uh oh, they're staring at me again. What? Never seen a blond haired, pony tailed b loke tapping away on his Apple Powerbook? Okay, so this isn't Silicon Valley, but hey, it won't be long before the entrepreneurial brigade overruns even an Udipi restaurant in Singapore.

Honestly, there is no alternative to entrepreneurship. Working for a company in this stock market driven, quarterly focussed environment? Puh-lease, give me a break.

So why is this article entitled 'The Reluctant Entrepreneur'? Why not 'The Passionate Entrepreneur'? Or even, bless you, 'The Successful Entrepreneur'?

Well, for starters, I wasn't successful. Nor did I see myself as a natural born entrepreneur. I wasn't the guy who could sweet-talk Eskimos into trading raw fish for two-door refrigerators. (That's my evil twin, another story altogether. . .) And though the advertising agency I set up didn't get a call from Sir Martin, I did manage to keep it profitable four years in a downturn. That's not unsuccessful either. Like everything in life, it depends on your definition of success.

I believe success is doing something that gives you the freedom to live your calling. Now, phrases like this are more prevalent in the self-help section of a bookstore, but the reality is, unless entrepreneurship is your calling, don't seek it out. If it taps on the window, shut the blinds. If you see it coming down the street, duck into the nearest dark alley.

Entrepreneurship: It's not a business plan, it's a calling

The question to ask yourself is, why do you want to be an entrepreneur? Where does the drive come from? What's your personal motivation? It's better to be clear at the outset, rather than tackle the weighty q. at 4 am as your computer breaks down (again) just before a critical presentation that could sink or save your business.

(Money? Don't kid yourself. The odds are stacked 99 to 1 against you. May I recommend an MBA? Or, sigh, an engineering education?)

Entrepreneurship is all about passion

Entrepreneurship is all about passion: Not the Sophia Loren kind, more like Erin Bronkovich. (Sorry.) Passion is the one quality I have seen in plenty amongst all my entrepreneurial friends.

They truly believe in their vision of a better widget. In the words of Anita Roddick, charismatic founder of 'The Body Shop,' "There is a fine line between entrepreneurship and insanity." In fact, many entrepreneurs have opted out of highflying careers to sink their teeth into the proverbial pie.

The sheer opportunity cost of their decision would be overwhelming for any ordinary person. But then, an entrepreneur is no ordinary person. He or she has armour-plated skin (to handle rejection), six hands (office boy to chief evangelist) and eyes behind the head (you never know how fast the darn future is creeping up on you).

And while it may not make for a pretty picture, this Darwinian evolution is essential to survival.

Change. It's the only constant.

As an entrepreneur, you need to be flexible. Chances are, the business plan you carefully prepared at the outset will need to be junked three months down the line. And rewritten every month thereafter. That's the way it is with entrepreneurship.

I have a friend, one of Asia's top-notch database marketers, who chanced upon the rental villa market while on vacation in Bali. Now, he's on his way to expanding his villa empire on this gorgeous Indonesian paradise. He's moved smoothly from measuring people's buying behaviour to planning their vacations.

Another husband and wife team I know started a Web design company, moved into consultancy, email marketing and then back to Web design, all in one year. Ironically, they make more money designing banner ads today.

Of course, you are unlikely to discover these opportunities unless you are a risk-taker. Steve Jobs was. And he suffered for it. But he's come back and uncovered even more opportunities where others could see only lawsuits.

Before you bungee jump into entrepreneurship, get a clear sense of your risk taking ability. What life stage are you at? Kids in schools? Spouse at home or at work? A supportive spouse can make all the difference.

After all, he/she is your personal coach and cheerleader. Make sure you take a joint decision. Else you may find yourself successful and single. (Sorry, that is not my definition of success.)

Be the water that cuts the rock

Another virtue that defines an entrepreneur is persistence. A friend of mine has been through five startups in five years. Each time he got it to the right level through his enthusiasm and boundless energy.

Each time fate intervened and he had to bail out. He is currently looking for his sixth big idea. Think about it, can you motivate yourself in the same manner?

Of course, if you are disciplined, it can make all the difference. Now you know why I couldn't hack it. ;-)

One of my successful entrepreneur friends makes a call log and phones his contacts and business associates on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Another comes into his single-desk (with coffee machine) office at 9am every day and leaves at 6. Even though he has no boss to report to.

Yet another systematically plans lunches with contacts weeks in advance. Not sure how his stomach is holding out but business couldn't be better.

Before you build a business, build a network

CISCO is right. There is no substitute for the human network. Your network of friends and supporters will be your lifeblood when you strike out on your own. These could be friends from school or university, or colleagues and business associates who hold you in high regard. If they are on your digital rolodex, chances are they will be useful to you.

This was one area I had a lot of trouble with when I started out. I felt that if I asked friends for help, I would be "using" them. I thought there was a clear conflict of interest. As it turns out, there is no such thing. I found I was able to help my friends achieve their business objectives better whilst also generating business for myself.

I wrote and produced a coffee table book for one friend. It turned out to be his legacy to the company when he left them a few years later. Another friend who asked me to do some b2b work ended up having it praised by his regional management.

The key thing is to believe in your ability

The key thing is to believe in your ability. Once you do, so will others. Imagine the upside. You get to work with people you know, like and trust. Plus you get paid for it.

So if you want to be an entrepreneur, go ahead and make the leap. This is one of the most conducive climates ever for an entrepreneur. Even a reluctant one.

Not sure if you're cut out for it? Imagine Richard Branson eking out a living as Head Clerk in an Insurance Company? Chances are, he would do it in the nude.

The author is an entrepreneur and an IIT alumnus.

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