If you are someone who has still not felt the itch to start up and are largely unaffected by the Digital India transformation, it is ok. But some others may be excited to join the mad race. However, before embarking on this journey, remember the startup ecosystem is not for everyone. I have seen a lot of people leaving big corporates in the banking, FMCG, consulting sectors and even tech companies and failing miserably at starting up. While reasons can be many for the failures, from personal to professional, I have seen a few large patterns over the last six years spent in the ecosystem to deduce why startups are not for everyone.
- Ability to Unlearn & Relearn: A person wishing to start up has to go through a mindset overhaul. You have been successful till now in your career garnering a wealth of experience at these big companies. You may have planned and executed in a certain way, communicated and managed people with a certain authority and power. And you are proud of your style and demeanour as those have stood you in good stead all these years. For example, in a traditional organisation seniority and authority comes largely with age and experience, and a boss is typically the father figure for employees. They are not accustomed to open criticism and irreverence. However, when you join a startup, a much junior person can be your boss because of being the founder or having joined the company early. Their energy and eagerness to grow fast without worrying about bottomline may be at complete loggerheads with your wealth of experience of slow, steady and profitable growth. Hence, unless you are someone who has the ability to unlearn and relearn, startups are not for you.
- Running marathon @ speed of sprint: Startup, by its very definition, is a high-speed growth environment that demands energy and time. While this on one hand may affect your work-life balance and health, on the other hand it can be intellectually draining, as you may have to ‘fail fast, fail cheap’ to sustain business. Weeks and months of burning the midnight oil may have to go down the drain in seconds. Also, as you charter virgin territories you may not have a best-practice model to follow. Unless you are someone who has the gumption and stamina to run a marathon at the speed of sprint, startups are not for you!
- Enablers (or lack of it): While working in big corporates, many systems and processes have become so commonly accepted that they become invisible. For example, departments like travel desk, facility management, cafeteria, training, IT, HR etc., that are a given in all big corporates, may be non-existent depending upon the stage of evolution of the startup. You may be accustomed to a certain kind of comfort and luxury for, say, business travels (hotel, food, airline, cabs) which you may have to let go. And just like separation makes one realise the value of true love, the lack of these enablers in an early startup can be an irritant and pinch you. If you are someone who cannot compromise your lifestyle choices, startups are not for you!
- One Man Army: Again by its own design, starting up is about taking ownership and handling multiple roles and responsibilities as per business needs. You may have to play multiple roles of a foot solider, a captain, major and a general as per the situation. The ability to adapt to various roles with fuzziness unlike big companies with defined roles and responsibilities can hamper your sense of achievement and accomplishment. If you are someone who likes clarity and certainty more than ambiguity and chaos, startups are not for you.
- Money, Money, Money: No big company was built because the founder and employees wanted to make quick money. It became big and successful because it had a larger vision for its existence. Also, the founders had faith in the startup throughout its ups and downs and helped it come out strongly and closer to its purpose. Success is a journey and not a destination. However, if your goal is to earn quick bucks, startups are not for you!
If you have come so far crossing all the above hurdles, then startups are definitely for you especially now. Like in the era following the invention of the steam engine or the era post liberalisation of 1991, contours of a new and mobile economy are being laid. Watching Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveil his vision to the world through Digital India and Startup India, how can one be on the sidelines of this digital transformation of the country? Twenty to 30 years from now when we all look back, we all be awed and amazed to see what we have built for India and for the world.
Happy starting up!