It’s been some fun filled years as a ‘digital’ entrepreneur. With a couple of good hits, some misses and a few big bets, I have chuckled, cried and framed these 11 learnings to carry with me all my life.
1. Just an ‘Idea’ is worth a ‘dropped cricket catch’
An idea by itself, despite its greatness, is worthless. Nada. Zilch. It’s all about massive and backbreaking execution. When I founded Contests2win in 1998 (first ever brand contesting site in the world), I thought that my idea would take the world by storm. Nothing of the sort happened. It took me a good 2 years just to convince people to meet me so that I could explain the idea!
I purposely say ‘dropped cricked catch’ because not executing a great idea can be as painful as dropping a cricket catch – you will not be able to forgive yourself. Example – the Winklevoss twins who had the original ‘facebook’ idea and innocently assigned someone else (hmmm…we know who) to execute it.
2. Don’t be a textbook.
Even God would be confused if she examined the crazy and unpredictable entrepreneurial world carefully. No one understands how some concepts become such global hits and neither can one analyze why the most brilliant ideas and execution failed. For example, I used to ‘check in’ once in 2 months in a hotel room on my travels. So, if you told me to ‘check in’ to my own house on an Internet map twice a day, via my mobile phone in return for virtual ‘ownership’ of my own home, I would have laughed at you like a jackass. Today I check into my home address like a fiend on Foursquare and fight like a marine to preserve my ‘mayorship’.
Don’t go by theories and textbook case methodologies while planning your business. Just take your best shot at your great idea and execute like hell. Then whether it snows or shines, it won’t matter.
3. Be ready to build the Suez Canal
It took 10 years to build the Suez Canal and it takes the same time to build a business from scratch. Even the biggest stars in the Galaxy – Yahoo, Facebook and Google were built painstakingly. Makemytrip.com (a star Indian travel portal) took 12 years to IPO. If you have the misconception that you can build a great idea into a huge business and then hope to exit in a couple of years and buy an island, I suggest you take a boat trip to the island and buy a shack. It will be the faster way of getting there and owning something on it.
4. Don’t play Rambo.
Unlike Rambo, trying to beat the world alone would kill you. Find a team that not only compliments you but also is better than you. They will allow you to – get financing; sleep at night and also get acquired. And sure, if you are a brilliant hermit and just can’t stand people, then write haiku poetry. At least that will help you attain nirvana.
5. Go back to the Altar and Marry again – this time your co-founder.
A VC recently shared an interesting joke with me. He mentioned that since a start-up venture takes 7-10 years to build into a Company of significance and given the fact that an average American marriage lasts about 5 years, the co-founder becomes more important than the spouse!
Employees are those whom you hire and can fire.
A co-founder is someone who can hire and fire YOU.
6. VCs are like God Parents
VCs are good godparents. They are rich, experienced, and very well connected. They can get things done. They have ‘seen the world’. VCs have a method of working and sometimes can be rightfully conservative in matters of corporate responsibility and ethics. VCs also demand respect and are selfish for your ‘Company’ (pun intended). So, go to VCs, explain to them your needs and then choose them very carefully (yeah, unlike parents, you can actually choose these godparents).
Be more honest with them than you can be with your spouse or your parents. And be patient with them. Make your ‘Company’ work for them and win along the way.
7. Spend your money like it’s a debt from Don Corleone
Think of all the investments (your own and that borrowed from VCs) in your start-up as debts that need to be paid back to Don Coreleone (of Godfather fame). You know what he does when you don’t pay him back.
I am not suggesting not to spend money – I am saying spend cash with ‘returns’ in mind – calculated on everything you spend on. The returns may be revenue generating or for creating assets that can be valuable later. But don’t spend on vapor coz that is something Don Coreleone will cut your throat for.
8. Enjoy a slice of Cake. And let others eat it too.
Imagine hosting a birthday party, inviting lots of friends over, cutting a large cake and then refusing to share it!
Don’t fight over equity dilutions. Give enough to Investors, partners and especially your employees so that the party becomes meaningful. If you have a meaningful exit after a few years, the slice that you kept for yourself (oops ate) will be worth more than the effort you put in!
9. Be a mechanic. Dirty your hands
When I joined my father’s factory and asked him a technical question, he didn’t know the answer. He had to ask his ‘jobber’. I didn’t like that and I traveled to Italy to become a ‘jobber’ myself. That greasy, dirty, hands-on experience on knitting machines partially made me who I am today.
Learn the nitty gritty of your business before you hire people to run different aspects of the venture for you. That will help you to understand the moving parts of your business and fix things immediately when they break down.
10. Go to a movie everyday
Going to work should be like going to a movie everyday. And here I am not exaggerating the emotion. Even on the darkest days of all start-ups and businesses, there is a pleasure of having done ‘something’ that felt nice, worth it or just painful pleasure. No matter what the result. If you can’t enjoy your work and it’s become like some crappy job, then you need to press the reset button.
11. Don’t be Marc Zuckerberg. Be your ‘Ownbook’.
Businesses, like people, have a destiny of their own. So many factors working within and out of your control can create successes like you never dreamt of or will just bust you.
Emulating someone and hoping that you can be ‘as’ or ‘more’ successful than him or her is a complete waste of time and emotion. Do your utmost best, be humble to everyone, tackle every challenge that comes your way and respect your circumstances. Then, if it works – wow! If it doesn’t, try again.
You and I, and every entrepreneur will have our own book to write. Who cares what it’s called and how many pages are in it?
All images are actual game art – courtesy Games2win.com.
Special thanks to Suresh Saroj of Games2win.com for his help with the images.
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