Starting an Enterprise: Lessons in Kanyakumari

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Are you uncomfortable with status quo? Do you want to change the way things are currently being done? Are you willing to take charge, to mobilize resources and make things happen? Entrepreneurship is probably the right path for you. As the Tata Jagriti Yatra touched its Southern-most destination of Kanyakumari, the aspirations of the yatris only seemed to go higher. At the same time, many of them who want to start their own ventures are not sure where to begin. The CNBC TV 18 panel discussion on ‘Starting an Enterprise: Making a difference’ addressed such concerns amongst aspiring entrepreneurs.

The discussion took place at the Vivekananda Kendra in Kanyakumari, set against the backdrop of the mighty Indian Ocean. One could see the waters extending infinitely, symbolizing the need for young entrepreneurs to set no limits and have a strong vision for the future. The panelists for the day, some of the most innovative entrepreneurs from various fields, reaffirmed this belief and added much more to it. Shaffi Mather, Founder, Dial 1298 for Ambulance, Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, Co-Founder and CEO, Ekgaon Technologies and Vishal Talreja, Co-Founder and Director, Dream-A-Dream were the three panel members, with the discussion being chaired by Ashwin from the CNBC team.

Challenges of Starting-up

Some of the challenges discussed during the session were lack of funding, workforce attrition and conflict amongst core team members. A pertinent question was raised about whether money is a solution to most start-up problems. Shaffi Mather, who started a for-profit dependable ambulance service after a perilous ride to the hospital with his mother, emphasized that not having money is what often helps you improvise more and to get things done in the least costly and most efficient manner!

Vishal Talreja, whose organization Dream-A-Dream promotes ‘lifeskills’ education for vulnerable children in Bangalore, highlighted the perception barrier associated with young entrepreneurs by sharing his own experience, “I started out when I was 21 years old. One of the first challenges I faced was being young. I remember going to a shelter school for training children in lifeskills, alongside their regular classes. They thought we were too young to do something like that. We had to battle such notions and prove ourselves. Within six months, we raised the average attention span of a slum child from less than 5 minutes to 20 minutes.” Adding to this, Vijay Pratap, whose organization provides cell phone based platforms for financial services delivery in remote markets, lightly suggested, “Dye your hair!” On a serious note, he explained, “Your commitment and spirit is what makes people take you seriously. Then, age will not be a criterion!”

Team Challenges

The criticality of teams to business success can hardly be overrated. Shaffi Mather stresses the key factors for building a strong team, “To attract talented people to your team, be passionate about your idea especially when you share your ideas in your wider network. Give your team some control. Though I have been the leading force in my organization, even after I stepped out, my team could carry on well.”

Another issue with many new ventures is that once the initial spark is gone, the team loses the energy and motivation, leading to high attrition rates. Should there be a specific strategy to handle attrition in a start-up? Vijay Pratap feels, “It is a tough job but it has to be done. You do lose steam after a while. Even in our organization, we have had to start from ground zero almost two times in 8 years due to such reasons. The best strategy is to look inside and identify your problems clearly.” An important point made was about sharing both the ‘game’ and the ‘glory’ with your team members to retain key people.

The discussion was followed by an open questions session, wherein enthusiastic youngsters shot up their hands. While only a few could be formally taken up in the session, the panelists were more than happy to discuss more in informal groups later. The event opened up many new dimensions of entrepreneurship, including the challenges that entrepreneurs should be prepared to face when starting up. The yatris who will retain these key lessons will definitely save the trouble of making mistakes that others have made. The Tata Jagriti Yatra has given them plenty of food for thought, once again.

Lessons from the Swami

Apart from the informative panel discussion, the fifth day of the yatra was also marked by a special discourse by Swami Sachidananda Bharathi, Founder, Dharma Bharathi Ashram in the magnificent and majestic compounds of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. The swami shared the story of his life, “After 17 years of life as an Air Force Officer, divine providence has brought me into a new mission. I went through a traumatic experience of seeing death face-to-face in an air accident in 1982. It became the ‘turning point’ in my life. In 2008, twenty-six years after that point, I have once again plunged myself into a new battlefield. This time, my struggle is to be part of the ‘second freedom struggle’ to build a hunger free, caste free and corruption free India.”

The Swami spoke words of wisdom and inspiration to instigate the youngsters to act and advance the objectives of a new India that is prosperous not just economically but also socially and spiritually. The power of his words was multiplied manifold by the place at which he delivered his lecture. The memorial, as he explained, was not just where Swami Vivekananda had begun his medical journey, but also where the ashes of Gandhiji had been brought.  He stirred emotion in the audience and called upon them for a new leadership. “We have an India, but very few Indians,” Swami ji said. How can entrepreneurship develop our nation and give it a new direction? This is something the yatra will answer for the four hundred youth directly and for many more, in various other ways.

- Unnati Narang