Being an Entrepreneur
No jargon’s, no serious talk. I want to start with something lightheaded, and something close to me. I considered naming this, ‘Ramblings of an entrepreneur’, but then I realized, I don’t ramble. This is not aimless talk; being an entrepreneur, what it took for me is what this is about.
This is a question my brother and I get asked a lot. How does it feel to be a successful entrepreneur? How did you know what were the right decisions to make to attain success?
We tell them, ‘It makes me feel complete. I am glad to have been able to make a difference in the lives of so many, we wanted to make a difference in Rural India, and we have done that.’
..which is true, but here is what we don’t always tell them, ‘You don’t always know if you are making the right decision, we didn’t; but that is a part of being an entrepreneur. We won’t claim that every single one of our decisions has succeeded, but as an entrepreneur, you learn along the way. When you take a wrong turn, you learn from it, and make sure that you don’t do it again. To take every failure to heart and give up is a wrong attitude. It is okay to admit to your failure and move on. Every new mistake comes with new lessons, which move you up a rung towards your climb to success. Success is not something to be ‘attained’. Success is a journey, not a destination. And along the journey, you do meet a few hurdles, which is perfectly okay. Also, don’t always take failure to your heart and success to your head. Don’t.’
Listen to your instinct, but stick to the rules. The corporate world has some time-tested rules, stick to them. Be The Fountainhead, but stick to some rules.
Work for money, unless you are a not-for-profit organisation. You cannot run a business without being profitable. Do good along the way, support charities, but keep your business above profits. That is the simplest thing to remember in a business. You are already doing your bit in the society by running a successful business, remember that. Employment opportunities, GDP, economic growth, industrial growth etc., are the kinds of sustainable development that you are giving to the society by running a successful and profitable business.
Competition is good. It is as easy as the fact that you run faster when someone is chasing you. Encourage competition, appreciate it, and try always to remain one step ahead of your competition; try to beat them with your business efficiency; don’t resort to unhealthy and backhanded moves to get the better of them. If your product is good, it will sell itself.
Find a niche. Create a new need for the market, and sell your product. When we started our Suguna Foods business, there were many poultry farms and chicken consumers. However, what we realized was that the economy would benefit from the model of poultry contract farming, so we carved a niche by integrating all the activities and entered the market space with the new farming model. The rest is history. Try not doing something that someone is already doing. The market already has that; you give it something new; something that it already doesn’t have.
People. They are your most important assets. Build your contacts, expand your network of connections (not just on LinkedIn), and maintain a personal relationship with each one of them. Be it your employees, customers, suppliers or officials. Your team of employees are the most important asset you have in business, trust them, and be trustworthy to them.
Brand your product, even if it is a service; like Facebook. Even Microsoft doesn’t let me write ‘Facebook’ with a small ‘f’. Get your name out in the world, and do your name proud with your product.
Corporate Governance is important, even if you are a family business… especially if you are a family business! Business needs discipline, and remember that the employees are watching you. Like children at home, employees learn from what you do. Make rules not just for your employees, but also for yourself.
Don’t pinch. Reward your employees what they deserve, maybe a little more. Price your products justly, and you will do fine.
Don’t get emotional. Don’t be emotionally attached to your ventures or employees. If your business is continuously making losses, be prudent enough to see that you have to let it go, so that it doesn’t weigh down your other ventures. Don’t be emotionally attached to it. Same goes for a dishonest employee. You’ve had him for 20 years in your business, but he has recently taken to making unofficial profits from the business? You have to let him go, or the workplace will be polluted with the ‘dishonesty disease’.
Be ethical. Be ethical towards your employees, your business, your competitor, your family, your supplier, your country and to your customers. Above all, be ethical to yourself and your conscience.
Outside money. Before raising money from the public, or bringing in money from outside to the business, ask yourself if you really need it, and if you are ready to bear the responsibility of handling others’ money. It comes with rules, restrictions and interferences so don’t do it unless you need it. Make sure you have more money put in your business, than others’ do.
Appreciate arguments; don’t expect everyone to agree with your line of thought all the time. A healthy argument brings out new learning. Respect the fact that everyone is different, and that more than one line of thought could be right in every situation. Give your employees the liberty of their own way of thinking.
These are not rules to follow. These are just some observations from my experience. Remember that being an entrepreneur is not always fun and frolic, it is a roller coaster ride with the accelerator and brakes in your hands. Use them well to keep the ride moving well.