Giving Entrepreneurship A Try?

Posted on July 12, 2011

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I am often asked this question – should I be an entrepreneur or should I look for a job?

Last week I got an email from S, a young acquaintance of mine. In his email, S was wondering:

“… Me and a couple of friends from IIT-D did set-up a start-up. We secured funding from an Angel investor but now the investor has backed out. I am in two minds w.r.t. what exactly i should take up, should i go about finding my self a job or should i completely focus on setting up my own company….”

Equally often I hear this plan of action:

“I am going to give entrepreneurship a solid try for the next 3 months and if it doesn’t work out I will look for a job”.

I can’t say this any more clearly: the choice between being an entrepreneur and pursuing a corporate career is a FALSE choice. You are trying to choose between apples and oranges. It is as false a choice as trying to decide between being a doctor or an actor. Whether you become a successful entrepreneur or pursue a successful corporate career is a function of what drives you, what your mental makeup is and what will give you a sense of fulfillment.

In our times, it has almost become fashionable to be an entrepreneur; so let me list some of the advantages of pursuing a corporate career. Most entrepreneurs:

  • never get to experience the fun and challenges of working for a business of any meaningful scale/size
  • do not have the luxury of time; they rarely can work on projects and ideas that will take over 2 years to succeed
  • can not immerse themselves in one area of expertise; entrepreneurs have to learn to love to wear multiple hats
  • never enjoy the sense of security and the ability to plan that comes from a steady paycheck

If you still believe that you are the entrepreneur-kind but are having difficulty committing yourself to it, ask yourself what is holding you back and then work on plans to get over the obstacle. In my experience, the 3 most common things that stop people from taking the plunge are:

  • Money for Living Expenses: How do I pay for rent, food, transportation, etc. until I raise seed capital
  • Lack of Technical Expertise: I have an idea but am personally incapable of executing the technical steps to turn it into a product
  • Inability to translate idea into a business: I have an idea but what will turn it into a business

Let me make some suggestions to get past these obstacles:

  • Money for Living Expenses: Take the trouble of finding out how much money you really need every month to survive. Be sure to only consider bare essentials; not holidays, clubbing, new gadgets, etc. Multiply this number by 9 and then work towards putting aside this money in 9 fixed deposits each maturing on the 1st of subsequent 9 months. You may have to work at a regular job to put aside this money but once you have the money you will feel a lot more comfortable and better able to focus on turning your idea into a business. If you don’t think you can raise angel/seed money in 9 months, take a hard second look at your idea; it needs some rework.
  • Lack of Technical Expertise: What you need is a technically solid co-founder. Networking is going to be the key to finding one. He maybe an old friend from college, or a friend’s friend or even your technical lead. Alternatively, you are going to have to go to networking events like Startup Weekend, Startup Fridays, etc. or join networking groups like Open Coffee Club to improve your chances of finding your co-founder.
  • Inability to turn idea into a business: Look for mentors: people with functional expertise and experience in running businesses. Be unafraid to share your idea and ask for help in turning it into a business. I, personally, mentor a number of budding entrepreneur, and I know of a number of people who willingly give their time and expertise to help budding entrepreneurs succeed. There are a number of programs like the IIMA’s MentorEdge (I am on the mentor panel of MentorEdge) that can help you connect with folks with experience and expertise. However, remember that mentors can’t give you a ready-made solution. They can only ask the right questions or provide some directional advice that help you think through your ideas better.

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Posted in: On Startups