The Start of an Entrepreneur

Passion. Belief. Courage. Or More?

It feels nothing short of weird, to begin with, when you start treading the path you had been chalking out for months over. The difference now being that there is no regular office routine, no colleagues to have coffee breaks with, no KRAs, no team management, no scheduled receipt of a definite salary in your account. You are for most part of the start, by yourself… and the discipline that comes with it.

I am talking of the start of being an entrepreneur. The point when you leave that job, get out of your comfort zone and take the plunge to follow your passion, your calling. You begin something totally new that you believe in. You spend days and nights working very hard towards it, slowly building your team with a lot of care – identifying the right talent, learning to manage limited budget – which either comes as your own capital investment or is crowd-funded or is a seed investment from a venture capitalist. There is no monetary profit initially, but only spends in terms of your effort, time, energy, money. Some people support you; many do not, including few trusted ones. You learn to take it in your stride and move on. You don’t have any time to waste.

You stop dreaming then, as you start living a reality – that of a mission that you believe you are meant to fulfil. From the time you get that “idea” to the formation of your company, from setting your website to launching your products and services in the market, from the first feedback to getting back to the drawing board to incorporate every lesson you learn… it gets extremely real with every passing day. It reaches a point when you almost get addicted. You are addicted to being a start-up entrepreneur.

Many people, young, middle-aged alike in today’s India are taking the “start up” plunge, as I  too have. At many levels, it makes you wonder if the risk taking appetite of people has increased, or have they been so saturated in their previous jobs or are they just simply confused. Those around offer you a mixed reaction; some look at you with envy, others in admiration. Most often you would hear the words “cool” and “courageous” being used for yourself. While it might truly be both, in reality it most importantly is a test of your patience, self-belief and determination.

To understand this phenomenon further, I interviewed five young entrepreneurs on what it takes to be a start-up entrepreneur in today’s context. Here is an analysis of the responses I got for similar questions that I asked them:

  • Manisha Monga of D’ART STUDIO, an online clothing store started in 2015 
  • Satish Kataria of Catapooolt, a crowd-funding and community engagement platform started in 2013
  • Rohit Shah and Kunjal Shah of GettingYouRich.com, a financial planning firm started in 2012
  • Sumit Sehgal of Butterfly and The Bee, a literary hub started in 2012

These responses are inter-woven with my thoughts as I took the plunge to become a social entrepreneur in September this year with SoCHE Foundation (for environment conservation and social upliftment). In case you too are toying with the idea of starting something of your own, here is what you definitely need to know…

⇒ Knowing the right time or rather creating it

The truth is that you will never know when the time is right. As much as humans wish they had a time machine, they actually do not have one. There is also seldom a cosmic intervention to let you know when you should shift gears in life, or when the moment is opportune to live a dream. The only way out therefore is to recognize your gut feeling and experience through trial and error.

For Manisha, a journalist by profession, it was when she became a full-time mom, after her daughter was born, that she took the plunge.“Travelling to rural places during my college days introduced me to rural arts and traditional weaves of India. I always wanted to do something for the artisans and weavers of our country,” she says. It is then that she decided to venture into apparels. “During my journalism days, my extensive travel to various countries for work gave me an exposure of international markets as well, so the whole idea of creating modern silhouette with traditional weave came into picture and hence the idea of starting D’ART STUDIO was conceived.”

Rohit and Kunjal have a financial planning firm called Getting You Rich, which they started more than three years back. Providing customers the option with having ‘Merawala Plan’, they help families understand money aspects. Rohit and Kunjal jumped into this venture when they felt their corporate career had stagnated. They saw that the potential of advisory business for financial planning was huge and jumped right in.

Satish, a communications and marketing professional, on the other hand had been pursuing crowd-funding since 2010. “What inspired me around this was the fact that indeed crowd-funding could bring a real change in Indian entrepreneurial landscape. Even today, India hardly has 300 active angels – and ironically also has one of the largest concentrations of High Networth Individuals (HNIs). On the other hand, other ecosystems such as Silicon Valley has thousands of people who engage and support newer ideas,” he adds.

Even though he launched crowd-funding in India for the very first time in 2010, he had to shut operations within a year as it was beyond its time for consumers to understand the concept in India then. Believing in his vision, he patiently waited till 2013, when he launched his second venture – Catapooolt. Today Catapooolt is India’s premier crowd-funding and community engagement platform – endeavoring to bridge innovative entrepreneurial ventures with communities who may want to be part of these and support them.

1915839_402793098141_3403784_nEntrepreneurship is a true roller coaster, where each day will give you highs and lows. For example, it is extremely difficult to find your co-workers who could be sharing the same level of passion and conviction as you. I guess my drive to get into entrepreneurship was to do something more meaningful – and also work for a larger vision. Eventually… its all about persistence and that big dream that you want to live through!

– Satish Kataria, Founder and Managing Director, Catapooolt

⇒ Knowing the challenges and quickly tackling them

As an entrepreneur you are bound to face a lot of challenges – both internal and external. Some of the typical internal challenges are sustaining yourself financially in the beginning and convincing your family; external challenges include building a team that shares similar passion, finding investor partners etc.

Sumit started his professional life by joining his family business. Even though he was born with a silver spoon, family disputes forced him to quit the business at a very young age. Without any capital and financial support to fall back on, he slipped into depression. To start afresh, he had to prove his merit to a lot of people in his family. When he first had the idea of a literary company, he spent a lot of time to network with the right people in the sector. He worked very hard to get projects and ensured they were successful. Once the quick wins came in, he went back to his family, and finally convinced them to invest in his company.

As Satish adds, “…what helps an entrepreneur is your self-conviction at the end of the day. If you need a well-paying job, then the corporate set up is perfect for you. However, an entrepreneur must definitely do prudent financial planning to ensure that the family is able to run the kitchen for at least a period of next twelve months.”

Manisha, Rohit and Kunjal on the other hand, grappled with sector specific challenges at the start of their respective ventures.

For Rohit and Kunjal convincing clients for a payment fee and following up on it – when the basic investment advice in the country is free – was a huge challenge. “When I realized that cash flows are the reasons nine out of ten startups don’t succeed, I had to change myself. Regulatory factors did make it difficult and forced us to change the course of the journey. We understood the difference between the ‘price’ and ‘value’ of our financial planning discussions; which eventually helped to convince the clients to see the larger value. Now this is not as significant a challenge anymore,” he says.

Apparels being an unorganized sector, for Manisha finding and managing the pattern masters and the tailors was a herculean task. With lot of trial and error with different masters and tailors across North India, she now has a team that can produce premium quality products.

12376728_10208269672202393_2793566195623812066_nThe following qualities are must in an entrepreneur: Risk taking ability; quick decision taking capability; always ready to get your hands dirty; being optimistic and passionate about what you are doing

– Manisha Monga, Founder, D’ART STUDIO

⇒ Knowing your core strengths and what inspires you

From books, to people to incidents to your own self; entrepreneurs seek inspiration from different corners, especially if you are a social entrepreneur like me. My inspiration to start SoCHE – Solutions for Clean and Healthy Environment came when I was learning pottery.

One day while doing ‘coning’ and ‘centering’ of the clay – the very basic of pottery – I could not get right. My teacher then asked me to clear any thought off my head and try again. I realized then that the clay was responding to me exactly how I was treating it. As I became gentle and soft with it, not only did it respond to me positively; I could mould it into a beautiful shape. The same goes for environment, you respect it and it provides you enough in return – we as humans just miss this critical link and take it so much for granted.

As a sustainability professional, I was always inclined towards environment conservation; I just knew then that I have to do something bigger and more meaningful hereon to connect the missing dots. This thought finally took shape when I founded SoCHE this year. Today I tell everyone that it all begins with a thought… Soche ke to dekho!

Entrepreneurs must surround themselves with positivity to fulfil that sense of purpose undeterred. They need to know what they bring on the table honestly, their core strengths; understand the gaps and then collaborate with the right partners to build their organization, their teams, their brand, their work. At the end of the day, what ever is the nature of the enterprise, if it doesn’t bring value or a sense of gratification to the founders, it most certainly will not to the other stakeholders.

“Anita Dongre! This woman always inspires me,” says Manisha. “Queen of Prêt is how the fraternity and media addresses her. She started with supplying heavy embroidered Indian wear to boutiques of Mumbai for almost 12 years and then she decided to create her own labels, thus her company – And Designs India Limited – was born in 1998. She launched her first label AND. With her perpetual hard work and focus, today she has created so many successful brands.”

Rohit and Kunjal on the other hand have been inspired not only reading Rashmi Bansal’s books; but they also spent enough time observing various advisory models prevalent in the market. “We noticed topmost financial planners around, doing business with lot of integrity and client focus. This inspired us to stay put,” they added.

Sumit, as a freelance writer met authors Sujata Parashar and Manjiri Prabhu who saw his passion towards books and literary work and encouraged him to consider starting a venture of his own in this field. “It took me almost three months to come up with the idea of one-of-its-kind literary hub. From the beginning I had this gut feeling that this initiative will work and this is what I exactly want to do,” he says. Today, Sumit even has his first book My Chameleon Soul published.

12191677_10154280792744838_6877535607827550870_n
I was thirty-four, when I realized where my passion is and what I am
meant to do… Reading and living life of other characters fascinated me a lot. For graduation, I wanted to do English Honors but was forced to do B.A. Pass. I always wanted to become a fashion designer but ended up joining our family business…It was later when I was doing certified course in Creative Writing English, that I met several authors. Some of them became my guide, they would often share issues of the publishing world and even invite me to book launches. It was an exciting and fascinating new world for me. This was the calling I guess. I followed my gut and life came a full circle.

– Sumit Sehgal, Author and Founder, Butterfly and The Bee

⇒ Knowing the business model, taking it beyond passion

Passion for any entrepreneur is the bedrock for the start-up. You will obviously end up working on a business idea which you feel passionate about. While passion might be the raw material for the recipe, one that will also sustain you through, it is equally important to use the correct seasoning to make it a great meal finally.

“I guess two most important ingredients are a scalable business model and right team to get started. Once I could establish these and get a strong co-founder on board, I also managed to get some seed funding into the business and thus was able to kick it off,” says Satish.

Talking about his journey, Rohit recollects that it wasn’t picture perfect. “As an entrepreneur, we must figure out a viable business model. It takes couple of iterations to get this right. Being able to focus, strategize, have a tough talk, being able to say no, taking measured risks, going against the crowd are some areas I found to be critical. It was difficult for me, as an example, to be tough with clients. The pricing model has to be completely restructured. To survive, I was forced to change. Good learning, personally.”

1492249_658451424206615_995475892_oThe excel sheet business plans look good there only. Always have a Plan A, B and even C. Look out for progressive changes. Celebrate small wins. Keep achievable targets. Be strong on cost management. Focus on result-oriented spends. Keep incremental targets for recovery of spends from business. Look around to collaborate with like-minded people. This is likely to be a faster way to grow. I am sure you will be having a great product or a service. But most importantly, are you working on the right segmentation?

– Rohit Shah and Kunjal Shah, Co-founders, Getting You Rich

To conclude, being an entrepreneur is like cooking a meal, you need to know the pulse (of the market) and turn on the heat of the stove accordingly (the IDEA); let it boil for a limited duration else you might over-cook it (the INCUBATION); and finally add quality seasoning and dress it with finesse for the final presentation (the LAUNCH). In this process, take feedback as much as possible, experiment with the recipe from time to time, learn from failure and make that innovation last. For a true entrepreneur is never shy of disrupting the norm. You just need to get started!

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