A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Indian Institute of Management, Trichy, on entrepreneurship. (You can find my presentation here, and my reflections from the talk here). I also had a chance to speak one-on-one with many students at the institute, as well as those at NIT Trichy, the engineering college they share a campus with.
One question I got from many students was this: "I have a great business idea. Should I start up now, or wait and gain some work experience first?"
Let's assume, for the moment, that their business ideas were indeed great. Then, what's the right answer to the question? It's clearly an important one for the students who lack worldly experience, making it possibly a risky choice.
But hidden inside this nuanced question is a far more basic one: why should you start up at all?
Why start up at all?
Granted, there's a lot of hype surrounding startups. If you are someone who hears only reports of Flipkart raising billions or SnapDeal buying Freecharge, your glasses will be rose-tinted. But 92 per cent of startups fail, and most of the survivours meander without decisive success. So, don't start a company in expectation of a massive exit alone. Or even a small exit.
The journey of building a business is long and arduous. Even uber-successful Elon Musk compares it to 'eating glass'! It doesn't make sense, if all you have at the end of it is a minuscule probability of making some money. Especially when well-paying jobs are available.
So, why start up at all if the expected monetary return isn't high? Here's my opinion, based on the last two years I've spent trying to build a sustainable business.
So, despite the lack of income, there's definitely value in trying to start a company. But should you start one now? Or, as the prevailing wisdom in college campuses/steady jobs seems to be, should you wait and take the plunge later?
Should you wait?
Some of the main reasons you hear from people waiting their turn at the startup lottery are:
All good reasons. But incorrect ones. Here's why:
Thus, you don’t gain any specific advantage by starting up later. You're much better off diving into it now, when you're young and less risk-averse. So, what are you waiting for?
I'd end the article now, but this answer leaves me a little unsatisfied. You see, a wise man once said: 'There are good reasons, and there's a real reason'. Experience, resources, lack of an idea - all these are great (but wrong) reasons. So what's the 'real' reason? What if you really need the money? What if the above reasons are just excuses?
Specifically, what if you want to start up eventually, but would be really comfortable if you took a job and earned some money first?
Well, you're in luck, pal as this is a false question. You don't need to choose between a job and starting up; you can do both!
Validate the idea (or the MVP if you will) in your free time, while working at your day job. Flesh it out gradually, observing user behaviour and feedback on each iteration. If it catches fire, you'll quit on your own.