Dare To Dream

While virtually everyone in corporate jobs, and even an increasing number of college students, at least vaguely, dream of becoming entrepreneurs, not many give shape to their thoughts. The desire gets overwritten by the comfort of a salary routine. Only a fraction of such people rises above the resistance, and start planning for their own ventures seriously.
For others, it is a mystery how these entrepreneurs dare to risk it all. The world belongs to those who dare.
This blog will decode the various facets of entrepreneurship.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Serial entrepreneurs are always on to the next big idea. What keeps them ticking ?

SERIAL entrepreneurship is looking at companies like the way one would look at a product. Just the way one launches a product, builds attractive features and attributes in the product, invests in creating value, makes it appealing, prices it correctly and manages it through the product life cycle stages, one needs to follow a similar strategy with ventures. So, a serial entrepreneur while being passionate about the business and being deeply committed to the idea, does not lose sight of the fact that this needs to be nurtured and managed to create value. Else, most businesses will eventually become irrelevant or will only be moderate successes. “This scientific and clinical approach to value creation and monetisation is what you will pass on to the next generation,” says K Ganesh, founder of TutorVista, an elearning company. A serial entrepreneur has the pleasure of being able to enjoy the joys and thrills of creating something. This is like an adventurer discovering new land or climbing new peaks. Each venture brings in a new excitement and fresh success, feels a serial entrepreneur. It is like conquering new peaks and moving on to the next adventure. No matter how good the last success has been, it is done and over with. “How are you going to satisfy a curious and adventurous mind with past glories?” A serial entrepreneur is usually more adventurous from an entrepreneur who sticks with his project. Once a serial entrepreneur tastes success in one venture, the urge to try his hand at another one is very strong. “The regular entrepreneur is probably the kind of guy who is happy with his achievements from his project and gets into a comfort zone, thereby reducing his urge to experiment with something new,” says Sushil Wadhwa, founder, Platinum Incentives & Events. The biggest advantage of being a serial entrepreneur is the knowledge that he gains from the various ventures, not to mention the financial benefits that come out it. He is also more ‘hands on’ than a regular entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is all about passion—you cannot be having two businesses where you are committed to. You can be an investor, board member or a mentor, but where you are going to be spending your total passion, entrepreneurial bandwidth, most of waking-up time as well as dreaming time has to be in just one venture, adds Ganesh. So, if you can get to do that in your current venture, then you need not sell. But, if you dream about something else all day, you should move on, say experts. Whether you sell your current business or maintain it depends on a lot of factors — what is your need for capital, whether the current business will do equally well without you spending time, what is the value you are getting if you were to sell, what do you see the future value of the business likely to be and what are the risks in continuing the current business. Sometimes, you sell because you get a deal that is hard to refuse. At other times, you sell because you don’t see a much better option giving challenges of the business and environment. When Ganesh started off his first venture in 1990 with four friends pooling in Rs 93,000 for a computer maintenance services business, he never thought he would become a serial entrepreneur. He ran it for eight years, but also realised that like product-based businesses have life cycles and one need to plan the business objectives, stages and exits right from the start. So from second venture onwards, he paid close attention to these aspects. Creating something new, being among the first few companies in a new, emerging space, proving to critics that it’s indeed a viable idea and can be profitable too, are all fundamental to the ongoing entrepreneurial drive, says Ganesh: “This drives me to keep starting new ventures.” Manish Sabharwal, founder of TeamLease, a staffing solutions provider, feels the same way. “I’m not sure I can call entrepreneurship a drug, but the addiction effects are pretty similar. I have never met an unhappy successful entrepreneur, but met many unhappy successful employees of other companies. My first venture India Life was much more pre-mediated; I think we were very lucky with TeamLease by being in the right place at the right time. So, we had planned to do another venture, but it also just happened.” Sabharwal also believes doing a second venture is much easier if we consider credibility, brand, network and access to capital. But, the most difficult and important part is getting a good team. “A key element of entrepreneurship is putting a team together and you have to kiss many frogs before your find your princess.” Platinum’s Wadhwa started honing his entrepreneurial skills for running his family business of restaurants, and being a hotel management graduate was of help. But, the family business was not a very exiting venture for him and so he decided to start something on his own, albeit on a smaller scale. After that, it was a ride of ups and downs. “But I was determined to carry on,” he says. His stint in a friend’s company exposed him to the MICE segment. Raman Roy, founder of Quatrro, refuses to differentiate between entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs. Though a serial entrepreneur himself, he feels that every entrepreneur is a serial entrepreneur. The biggest mistake is that people define entrepreneurs as those who own their businesses. “Entrepreneurship is all about the risk taking ability and the ability to look into the unknown. Some call it self confidence and some sheer stupidity,” says Mr Roy. To him, Bill Gates is also a serial entrepreneur. “Can you possibly say that he only started Microsoft? The launching and executing of various ideas, products, versions are all like starting new ventures.” Says Sridhar Iyengar of Bessemer Venture Partners, “In essence, all entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs. Some start multiple things, which succeed or fail.” Unfortunately, most serial entrepreneurs don’t think that the trend to become a serial entrepreneur is catching on as it takes up a lot of time, and needs a lot of conviction every time you start a new venture. That quality is not very commonly found, they agree. There are many instances where people try to become serial entrepreneurs, but fail, and prefer to go back to a professional career to earn their bread and butter. Entrepreneur mentors like Iyengar think in India where “failure is worse than death” people only want to deal with successful entrepreneurship, somehow belittling those entrepreneurs who tried but failed. He believes that in India we also put a premium on the “he/she stuck with it” entrepreneur, effectively thinking of those who leave for whatever reason as quitters. Every venture need to be started keeping in mind the general space and opportunities, looking at what will be needed to make a success in the field, analysing whether one can gather the critical resources required to succeed in the space and then going for it. Most serial entrepreneurs after their first venture, start off the next only after analysing at least four or five different opportunities before honing on specific one to launch. Once you keep your antennas up and ready to listen, ideas will start cropping up. The opportunities are limitless. What is the key is to quickly filter on the few that you can focus on for detailed evaluation, say experts.Ganesh looks at entrepreneurship like playing poker. You have certain cards in your hand. You can either pack (fold) or remain in play. Entrepreneurship is about deciding whether you have a strong enough hand, that is, high value cards for you to take a call and remain in play. You will never know till end of the round whether your cards were really good enough, whether somebody had even better cards but you take all probabilities into account and take a decision, he says. However, there is a downside to being a serial entrepreneur. As Ganesh puts it, “You lose hair faster, age prematurely, are seen as a crazy maverick by most people who cannot fathom why do these people subject themselves to all this again and again — that too voluntarily.” Sabharwal of TeamLease feels the biggest challenge of doing it the second time is the expectations. The first time you have nothing to lose and everything to gain so have much less baggage. The second time you have conceptions of who you are and what you have done and others have expectations of what you will do. This opening balance can be a gift and a curse, he says. But, everyone need not be a serial entrepreneur. There are people who are good at maintaining and growing businesses to greater heights day after day which can be equally challenging and even tougher. But, the key is the mindset and what makes a person tick. Future serial entrepreneurs need to do their homework first, and then start something new. It’s easy to get carried away by your own success, and other peoples, but it not necessary that each time you will find success. “So have an appetite for failures too, as they are the true stepping stones towards success,” says Wadhwa. So, with the clear road map to value creation, monetisation and exit, one can plan, grow and nurture the business and navigate the company on desired path.

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