When we look at successful startups, the founders always have a great story about why they started the company. These inspirational stories are usually a variation of “I wanted to solve a problem that bothered me so much that I quit my job to start a company!” Irrespective of what inspired the entrepreneur to start a company, there are a few key ingredients that go into every successful startup.
1) A clear sense of purpose. Solve a pressing issue in the market or provide a product or service to an untapped market segment.
2) An ability to execute or translate the idea into a product and provide exceptional service or customer experience.
3) A big dollop of good luck.
As you can imagine, getting all the key ingredients needed to conjure up a successful startup is no joke.
It will be an understatement to say that the startup scene in India is exciting. In fact, India is going through a startup revolution!
In a short span, India has over 4200 startups making it the world’s third largest base of technology startups.
The media has played a big role in promoting this growing trend. Startup founders are no less popular than cricket heroes and probably have the same following as some of our Bollywood stars! It’s not surprising. They were once the underdogs, yet they created successful businesses and minted money for themselves. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
In addition to that, a growing clutch of online news portals have become very popular, especially among the millions of young Indians who are now hooked to the internet. Many of these news portals focus a lot on stories from successful entrepreneurship ventures.
This is precisely the question I was grappling with last year. I had a great corporate job in the mecca of startups, Silicon Valley, USA. But because of my visa status, I did not have the freedom to start a company in the US. To add insult to injury, I was living in the Silicon Valley where you are an outcast if you are not working for a startup!
I am sure many of you are considering taking the plunge to become an entrepreneur and taking destiny in your own hands. Looking back at my own story about why I took the plunge, I realised that there are a couple of issues that can sway your ability to think clearly when taking the plunge to become a full-time entrepreneur.
When I was feeling uncomfortable with a regular job and wanted to start my own business, I suddenly started noticing inspirational stories and news items about successful entrepreneurs! I felt as if a divine power was sending me a message!
I starting noticing inspirational quotes from entrepreneurs on feeds from LinkedIn and Facebook. I started watching Shark Tank (A reality TV show where startup founders pitch for investment). I was hooked!
Looking back, I might have become a victim of what psychologists call ‘The Selective Perception’. According to Wikipedia, “Selective perception is the process by which individuals perceive what they want to in media messages while ignoring opposing viewpoints. It is a broad term to identify the behavior all people exhibit to tend to “see things” based on their particular frame of reference.”
The constant stream of motivational quotes and posters turned my brains into mush! “Don’t be a slave to the big corporations”, “Follow your dreams”, “Never have any regrets in life” and the list was endless. What made it worse was how successful entrepreneurs are lionised – “How this woman became multi-millionaire by selling pins”, “This man skipped dinner and eventually started a Rs. 200 crore company”. You get the drift. When you are vulnerable and you start noticing that random people are running successful businesses, you tend to start questioning yourself: “What am I doing in this 9 to 5 job?”
Selective perception is not the only issue that can end up pushing you to start a company for all the wrong reasons. Blind patriotism and ‘marketing spin’ by other products and services ranging from ‘Startup Incubators’, ‘Startup Meetups’, or even slogans such as ‘Startup India, Standup India’ can push you into thinking that you should become an entrepreneur because it’s your duty!
There are a set of people who wear India on their sleeves, back pockets, or any other crevice that they can find in their body. They literally ooze patriotism. Their sneeze is a tri-colored spray. They are motivated to spread their opinion and do so very well.
Coming back to my own situation, I was definitely swayed by the patriotic NRI crowd! Some Indians and NRIs have made it their profession to extol the virtues of using Indian products and how India can become a superpower if only every NRI or Indian can give up on their selfish dreams and come back to the country or start a company. Talk about irony!
I am not saying that being patriotic is wrong. You just need to watch out for how your patriotic feelings and emotions can cloud your judgement about starting a company.
Looking back at my journey to become an entrepreneur, I was definitely influenced by the barrage of inspirational quotes, entrepreneurial success stories, and the urge to do something worthwhile for the country.
I eventually started Jodi Logik late last year and as I am grappling with this beast called ‘entrepreneurship’, I am glad that I did not start Jodi Logik just because I was swayed by all the hype and cheerleading!
I realised that starting and running a startup is a bigger challenge that what I had anticipated. Luckily, while there was an element of patriotic duty and ‘follow the heart’ syndrome that led me to start Jodi Logik, I had already done my homework about arranged marriages in India and I had the clarity I needed to start a company for the right reason, namely, to solve a pressing problem or address an unmet need.
I am left wondering how many first time entrepreneurs plunged into something without the due diligence needed to start a business. All the inspirational quotes and patriotic feelings will evaporate quickly when your life savings are on the line. All the cheerleaders that egged you on to start on your own don’t bail you out when you are boxed into a corner.
This does not mean you should not follow your dreams or become an entrepreneur. Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Do a thorough homework. This includes:
1) Identifying a gap in the market in terms of unmet needs or emerging need.
2) Understanding customer preferences or opportunity that is scalable.
3) Making sure you have the right skillsets or a team needed to get off the ground.
4) Ensuring that you have the money needed to sustain at least one year of running a business without external funding.
5) Making sure you have the conviction and self-belief to go through the daily ups and downs.
It is not a great idea to do something just because others have been successful. A classic case is plunging into an e-commerce business just because it seems to be the in thing. By all means, follow your dreams, be patriotic, create something, stand on your own, make a difference. Just make sure you start a company deliberately and with conviction.