Entrepreneurship requires you to be many opposing things, simultaneously and consistently. We at EGK Foods, stand on the cusp of raising our first real round of funds so, I would love to share what I have learnt so far.
I was once an amateur online poker player, therefore, I can broadly describe my journey in terms of an online tournament. When you start a game of online poker, the stakes are much lower. The case is similar with a start-up. So, it’s important to play fast and delay gathering as much information as possible. Experiment as much as you can because it will cost much less. If you lose make, sure you lose small. As a long term strategy, it’s important to lose small and win big. It becomes difficult to play carelessly when the stakes are much higher, deep in the tournament, and it’s the same once your company has scaled up.
From employee to employer, the things that I have learnt have been different at every stage. These are my thoughts on a few topics that I feel are important.
Being a college dropout, I always assumed that I knew less than the person I was dealing with. This very basic premise set me off on the path of extensive fact and data backed research. I try to apply whatever I learn to test whether it holds true for me. I am flexible enough to change my opinion if I am proved wrong. Learning often requires experimentation and failure. Failure is something that is still stigmatised in our society. As an entrepreneur, failure is the most important tool for success. It is a critical part of learning and success.
A many time failed serial entrepreneur myself, I know how hard it is to start up, especially for the first time. A lot of people have great ideas, but are too comfortable in their space or afraid of failure or are just not able to take that final step. These are the people who say that they had the same idea when someone else has already executed it. If you don’t execute it, that idea isn’t yours anymore. Even a mediocre idea that has been executed, is a million times better than one that sits in your head forever. There is no point of an idea without execution!
Entrepreneurs often start by believing that the assumption that they have made is correct. I started off with the same attitude. Over time, I have made a subtle change to the way I look at things. I now look at things with the perspective that I am probably wrong in my assumption. I test my assumption in the real world and then decide if it is correct or incorrect. I find that it is much easier to accept that your assumption was incorrect if your initial premise was the same. While running a startup, this is often one of the factors that will decide your failure or success. Being able to iterate for optimal product market fit with the least amount of time and resources is what will set you apart.
Lots of entrepreneurs are extremely dedicated and hardworking but the honest truth is that just being those things is often not enough. When you are working for a company, the rules are completely different as compared to when you are running one. It’s easy for your peers to ask you to take that Friday night off or go on a weekend getaway. When you’re an employee your free time is your own. If you’re an entrepreneur, all your time belongs to your company. Any time away, is the time you have consciously chosen to spend away, and should be used to freshen the mind and body. It is best if this is done in as less amount of time as possible. Your competitor, I can guarantee you, is not taking any time off. I barely take any time off as I always feel I’m catching up with the companies that have existed way before EGK did.
Just as in sports, momentum is a very important concept in business. If you are lucky enough to get some momentum in terms of sales andgrowth, its important to keep growing. Momentum once lost, is extremely difficult to get back.
As an entrepreneur, you have to learn to let go off all that is holding you back, especially in terms of sales. There is no one who can sell your idea with greater passion and belief than you! If you cannot get comfortable with this concept, the way forward is going to be very hard. As an entrepreneur, you are required to sell your vision to different people at different times. Clients, vendors, bankers, employees and basically anyone else who is involved with your business. I use every resource available to me just for the possibility of taking the company forward. That’s what I feel is required when starting up.
India is a very traditional market. Internet penetration is still very low. Also there are business that have worked very well in the offline world. Often this is completely disregarded and leads to disastrous consequences. The easiest example is the so called ‘Food Tech’ startups, who completely ignored the existing database of buyers at home (anyone who cooks in the house), and instead put fresh MBA graduates in charge of their purchasing. If the existing database was monetized at 1/10th the cost, the result, in my opinion, would be that the startups would still be alive. It’s important to take into consideration the domestic consumer and their habits, as that is probably who you are selling to.
Traditional and conservative mindsets are something you, as an entrepreneur, are bound to come across. These are the people who tell you that things have always been done a certain way, and that there’s no need to “fix” an already working system. The truth is if there is a system that can be made more efficient then there is every need to change that existing system. People get comfortable with how things work and then they don’t want to upset the processes and systems that are set. Expert opinion is often taken for fact. It is not fact and history has proved that, more often than not, experts are wrong because they are unable to consider all factors. Don’t let these so called experts discourage you from changing things.
When looking for feedback, your friends and family are obligated to give you supportive feedback. It is difficult to be blunt and completely honest with your close friends and family. This is common human nature. On the other hand, we live in a world, with vocal haters, and this is one of the best resources you have as an entrepreneur. Listen to them, prove them wrong. Every sale we make at EGK is proving each and every one of our haters wrong. Look for criticism more than compliments. That is what will help you grow your business.
Ego and temper is something that I personally struggle with. It is not easy for me to admit that I am wrong. Nor is it easy for me to admit failure. I am infamous for having a temper. I have found that when any of these two interfered with my decision making, whatever I was trying to build, broke. There is no place for any of this if you want your startup to succeed.
All of this, is of course, my humble opinion gathered from 12 years of professional experience. Being an employer in a business has a lot of unprecedented stress and pressures involved. Startups nowadays are considered to be very sexy to work with and seem to be trending, but the truth is that often the hard work and sacrifices that are required of you are inhuman. There is a very real dark side to entrepreneurship that is not often talked about. It is important that during the inevitable tough times, you learn to stay positive. When our sales were down earlier in our journey, that’s when we learnt what ‘audacity of hope’ really meant.
I try to learn as much as I can from the people that I consider much smarter than me. I read a lot of books and watch a lot of videos. I highly recommend videos of Elon Musk, Jack Ma and Vinod Khosla.
If you’ve made it this far into the article, thank you and I welcome any feedback or comments that you may have. Even if you think I’m wrong please feel free to tell me.
Signing Off : #OnionKnight