The Entrepreneurial Journey, Step #1 Know Yourself
My day job allows me to interact and learn from a wide range of entrepreneurs in various stages of their journey - from folks who have been contemplating to “screw the man” for many years to serial entrepreneurs who have created millions of dollars of value and are hungry for more. Each entrepreneur is unique with their own passion, ideas and motivations to pursue their dream. However there are a few common threads that are visible. Through this platform I hope to share some things I have learnt from entrepreneurs that I work with. Please note that all ideas shared here are my own, and not those of any organization/institution I am or was a part of.
The first question that often pops into ones head as you think about entrepreneurship - “Is it right for me?” and “When is the right time to try something entrepreneurial?” There are also the million dollar questions. Are you naturally inclined to create something on your own? When should you jump in the game? Interestingly early-stage investors also rack their brains thinking about the same question – are they backing the right team and is this the right time to take this idea to market! While I’m not sure if there is a blueprint for an entrepreneur, there are certain hints that might make you want to rethink the move, or the kind of opportunity to pursue –
- “Try it out for few months/years” mentality – If one follows companies like Instagram, it is easy to believe that entrepreneurship is akin to a roulette table. Bet your chips on the right idea and you might have millions of users in a few months and a billion dollar exit in a couple of years. Of course, for every success story there are thousands of companies toiling away for many years. Imagine if you had jumped into the mobile VAS space 5 years ago –India had 200 million mobile subscribers and expanding rapidly, users were hungry to try new products and services, and mobile operators were pushing VAS as fast as they could. Fast forward to today and apart from a couple of larger players, most companies continue to pivot and innovate to find success. Undoubtedly, it’s a long term game!
- High fixed costs – Each of us have a different level of tolerance to financial risk. Some need a regular salary no matter where they work. Others can live without income for many months. Knowing where you lie on the spectrum will help you decide not just when to turn entrepreneur but also what kind of startup will be right for you. Do you have high fixed costs (think loans, personal costs etc.) that need to be paid no matter what? Maybe a later stage, well-funded company might be better suited for you today. Banking on institutional funding to sustain your current costs, while practical, can be challenging. What will you do if funding suddenly dries up? Take risk, but be realistic.
- Helper versus Doer: In a market where most things are getting created for the first time, startups need people with the ability to do things, often starting from a blank slate. A startup I work with is aggregating offline services and bringing them online. None of the founders have done offline sales before, nor is there a clear leader in their vertical to emulate. In such a scenario, everything from how to build the sales pipeline, managing cost of acquisition, negotiating contracts, determining revenue sharing etc. has be to figured and then executed. Are you someone who likes to roll-up your sleeve and dig a path, or are you great at running on an existing path faster than anyone else? Similar to the point above, figuring out your strengths will help you make the right choice and minimize failure.
Now assume you’ve crossed the first hurdle and decided that in fact starting something on your own is the way to go. You might have a few exciting ideas bubbling in your mind and you might try to figure out which one to pursue. Or you might be striving to find your unique idea, behind which you could then focus time and effort. What tools are available to research your ideas? How much time do people take to decide on “the idea”? Who should you definitely connect with at this stage? I will share some thoughts on this in my next post.
Nishant Verman has 8 years of operational, finance and entrepreneurial experience across Asia and the US. Prior to Canaan,Nishant was co-founder at Groovebug, a personalized music platform for the iPad. Nishant was part of team since inception and focused on multiple aspects including product development, venture funding and launch. Previously at Microsoft, Nishant was a Senior Business Development Manager for the APAC Online business. Nishant focused on strategic partnerships in India and China, including Microsoft’s partnership and investment in Affle, a mobile ad platform. Nishantjoined Microsoft in their Corporate Development team in Redmond where he was involved in acquisition of aQuantive and Tellme.