My tryst with entrepreneurship started on a rather wierd note. Back when I was in school, it was an incredibly twisted word with an equally twisted pronunciation.
From the time that I can remember, I've been a creative person. So as kid, cardboard boxes lying around would get wheels added and get turned into toy buses; There'd be NO electronic or electric or mechanic device in my house that I'd NOT opened and put back together (mostly in one piece) ever after I'd found how to use screw-drivers. By the time I was in high school, I was playing with diodes, LEDs, capacitors and soldering irons. But there was one tool that I'd admit had provided a really wide canvas - the humble PC. I would've been eleven when I wrote my first program in BASIC - all I can remember are the green pixelated dots that formed the characters on the 'screen' of its monochrome display (I'd reckon, most mobile phones today have screens and processors that are an order of magnitude better than those). Anyways, by the time I graduated as an electronics and communications engineer, I'd made my mark as a hobby programmer (thanks to a few of my seniors who'd introduced me to C++ and VB), I even got offers from a few schools near our college to develop custom software for them (While I did a few demos, none of the 'deals' materialized) and it felt good!
I had a dream of being able to do this as my vocation - but then it had to remain a dream. Personally, it was an intention to completely express a God given talent - creativity. I consider myself compulsively creative - almost a software artist and so when I got a chance, I thought that the best way to express it would be in the freedom offered by an entrepreunial context. Creating, understanding and solving give me an 'adrenaline rush' - my highs.
My choice of not joining a regular IT company (I was even placed into one through campus recruitment) was more providence than a real 'choice' because at that time I really did not have anything else to chose from. My association with Tandem Infotech (a 30-40 member strong IT company which was a part of my friend Jayadev's Tandem Group) was supposed to be a stop-gap arrangement till I'd found something else (I'd even written the GRE). My initial role there, as a consultant, was to come up with an anti-piracy solution for their cafe management software. Along the way, I got to work on a few mobile games as a part of an international project and then in late 2002/3 (after a brief crisis), it was decided to spin off the then nascent mobile arm into an independent division and eventually into a separate entity in which I'd also be a significant stake holder (if not, I'd probably have looked elsewhere for a living).
And thus started my real rendezvous with entrepreneurship (though the new company Tinfo Mobile actually got registered only in 2005). Its been a wonderful journey. I have learned a lot though I'd admit I haven't earned as much ;-).
Here's a gist of my most important takeaways:
1. Be optimistic, but expect failures - they are bound to come - in droves.
2. There will be the occasional good times - most projects do go right, media spotlight etc...
3. Not every entrepreneur ends up with a money-spinning juggernaut of an enterprise.
4. The entrepreneur's role gives one a chance to work against all conventions and established norms.
5. Money does not grow on trees. Ideas alone cannot seed money trees. Ideas can grow into revenues, if combined with
- people who can implement it
- people who can sell it
- money to fund the above two
- money to market it
- lady luck / divine providence.
6. Abraham Maslow was right.
7. Work towards customer delight and at the same time NEVER promise what you're not confident of delivering.
8. A satisfied customer is your best asset and an unsatisfied one could prove to be your undoing.
9. Let go when you must! Nothing lasts for ever and there are no guarantees.
10. Avoid getting emotions involved in taking pure business decisions.
11. The core team must be dedicated to a plan and a goal. People with other commitments and other goals will inevitably stall progress.
12. While one needs to multi-task, there would be one thing that one is really good at. Just creating an environment where people are free to do what they are best at is a good strategy.
13. Factors like aesthetics, design, location and packaging do matter.
14. Never stop learning.
And finally, as I'd mentioned in an article earlier: An added advantage of being an entrepreneur; borrowing Edison's words after thousands of failed attempts at his inventions - "At least I know 10,000 ways this will not work!" :-)
(In my next article, I plan to review another article written on why certain people might be more successful entrepreneurs than others.)