THE EXPERIENCES GAINED & LESSONS LEARNED
Let me take you on a short trip down the memory lane of my entrepreneurial journey – my obsession to explore the insecure world of entrepreneurship, the circumstances that prompted me to step into the business arena, my initial challenges, and my proud achievements. I share with you the lessons I learned during the course of my journey from being a satisfied, salaried government employee to the adventurous ride across the entrepreneurial maze. Many exciting verticals, many tough challenges, many seeming points of no return, and many exciting moments of victory – this is my story. I want to utilize my experience and share the knowledge to next generation entrepreneurs as Business Mentor India, Business Coach India, Business Coach for Startups.
The Transition from the Safe to the Unpredictable
After my graduation, my next natural progression was to seek a “good” and “secure” job. I hit the proverbial jackpot by landing a government job, which was the ultimate ambition of any budding professional in my times. The initial days of transition from life as a student to life as a government official were quite exciting. But eventually, the thrill of a government starting wearing off and monotony started settling in. I soon realized that the repetitive work, the endless paperwork, and the routine pace were not my cup of tea.
I wanted to explore the thrill and excitement of the uncharted territory of entrepreneurship – at least as far as my family was concerned! No one in my family had ever ventured out of the comfort zone of a salaried employment. So the very thought of planning, setting up, and running a business on my own sounded super adventurous, not to mention, the freedom of doing what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted.
I thought I understood the risk involved in making this move – which was quitting my secured job. Entrepreneurship was the key to let my innovative and leadership skills fly high.
But I did not realize then that I had grossly underestimated the extent of risk taking in the entrepreneurial setup.
My First Misstep and Precious Lessons
Although my entrepreneurship journey spread over two decades, with a tremendously successful technology service initiative, my initial experiments made me realize the harsh reality of the entrepreneurial world.
My first venture was in trading. I initially started a business that I thought I understood well – household consumables. I then moved on to readymade garments and then to fuel-optimizing gadgets.
My first two ventures suffered grossly from my complete lack of experience in the business landscape. With no understanding of business and a few family members, friends, or mentors to guide me down the right path, I had to face multiple challenges.
I was proud of my education and prouder of my ability to gain knowledge. I thought that all the management books, which were my guides and reference points in those times, would come to my rescue.
I did find support from my well-wishers who gave me some sound advice to sail through immediate challenges, but these too were just short-term breathers that did not eradicate my persistent problems.
I soon realised that the path I was on was not taking me anywhere near my dreams.
What were these challenges?
These were an entire list of organizational, operational, marketing, employee-related, monetary, and legal issues that I initially thought were subsidiary, which could be sorted out by some experts whom I would eventually hire. There was always time to think about all these secondary points.
It turned out that these were indeed the core focus of every entrepreneurial initiative:
- Knowing your target market
- Knowing your target audience
- Evaluating whether your service/product was the key to any of their specific problems
- Competition assessment
- Choosing the right team
- Associating with the right partners
- Bringing in legal clarity for every association and business activity – from registering the organization to defining shareholder agreements
- Setting up procedures, protocols, and documentation – for operational clarity and conflict management
- Organizational structuring
- Organizational focus and positioning
- Complete operational management – day-to-day operations to finance and HR
This list was by no means exhaustive – there were many other hurdles that I had not even considered when I set out on my entrepreneurial journey.
I soon realized that academic learning and practical applications are a world apart and cannot always be sorted out by management gurus.
Entrepreneurial Lessons Successfully Learned and Applied
Being a graduate with science background and with very little exposure to business from both a family perspective and personal experience, I faced challenges right from day one. I realized that the only drive I had to make my initiative a success was to make a change in my life.
I hadn’t thought through the process – the whats, whens, and hows – in detail. I learned the hard way that building a business from scratch was not an easy job at all.
Lesson 1 – The power of mentoring
The first lesson I learned was crucial – I realized that beyond books and generic seminars, I could gain immensely from the business-specific advice and guidance from people who were experienced and had travelled through the entrepreneurial journey across multiple verticals.
This was not the age of digital maturity and we really could not search for mentors online at the click of the button. We had to earn their confidence and then prove to them that I sincerely wanted to learn the tricks of the trade.
Lesson 2 – Letting go of my ego
This led to my second lesson. I realized that to learn, I had to first change myself. To succeed in business, I had to first acknowledge the need to learn. I had to appreciate that there were gaps in my understanding, rather than live in a wonderland assuming I knew everything about my business.
My ego had been preventing me from taking advice regarding key strategic business and legal decisions. I could not admit that people out there knew more than I did. There was also a sense of shame – what if people thought that here was a person who wanted to do business but did not even have a basic knowledge of the entrepreneurial world. The social stigma of being spoken of as a failure was preventing me from approaching people for guidance.
I worked seriously on changing this outlook and succeeded!
Lesson 3 – Working on my weak points and applying the right corrective and preventive actions
India was in its early entrepreneurial days in the 90s, and the business ecosystem was just expanding. So any formal concept of mentoring was not in place – budding entrepreneurs had to seek out multiple mentors from their busy counterparts through close observation. Organized learning and mentoring was practically out of question. Thankfully, the scenario is much different now – with Startup India extensively expanding the entrepreneurial landscape.
I chose to learn by following specific specialists in different areas of expertise. During those times, it was difficult to find one experienced business guru who would teach me the various aspects of business. So I learned all the nuances of entrepreneurship from a robust team of experts by observing their approach to doing business.
The results were stunning – my business initiative in healthcare technology services took off exceptionally well, right from organizational structuring and operational streamlining to legal and regulatory compliance.
Lesson 4 – Deep dive as a team, accept your mistakes, learn from them, and move on
The learning curve for the later lessons in entrepreneurship was quite steep. I realized that a smart way to ensure consistent growth was to not fear mistakes and challenges. I started enjoying challenges, experiencing them and learning from my mistakes.
I realized that for a successful entrepreneurial initiative, your customers should be at the heart of all your efforts, but that’s not enough. Your colleagues and employees are also equally important. Hence, they should be able to understand your organizational vision and work towards achieving these goals.
Being the Entrepreneurial Sponge
Transforming into an entrepreneurial sponge brought to me the best of learning experiences in the business world. I asked, listened, observed, analyzed, experimented and soaked in all the learning. I drew inspiration from the success stories of entrepreneurs and learned from my mistakes and from those made by my fellow entrepreneurs.
I realized that I would certainly be making mistakes. But now I was not scared to make them anymore – in fact, I was actually determined to make mistakes that would help me reach my destination easily. My learning from my experiences and my mentors helped me gain expertise in quite a few tricks of the trade such as capital generation, building expert and well-engaged teams, and governance.
Adding Entrepreneurial Mentoring to My List of Life Experiences
I’ve learned a lot from my more than two decades of entrepreneurial experience. The confidence with which I am managing the technology service vertical that I am currently specializing in has made me realize that my tough journey of self-mentoring could happen with any first-time entrepreneurs.
Many life and professional coaches and mentors guide you through packaged experiences. But the entrepreneurial journey has many surprises that you cannot be ready for with pre-packaged solutions. This is why I thought of sharing the knowledge and experienced I gained from my journey with my fellow first-time entrepreneurs.
I’ve hence embarked on the phase of my journey – that of an entrepreneurial mentor – a Sarathy – who travels beside you and answers your immediate questions and concerns, gives you frank answers and opinions, and points out possible hurdles, and details essential entrepreneurial requirements.
Do get in touch with me to explore your journey with Sarathy!