The DNA of a Startup Founder

From the Start-up line
The DNA of a Startup Founder
Employees stand outside the Start-up Village in Kinfra High Tech Park in the southern Indian city of Kochi. Startup Village wants to break the logjam by helping engineers develop 1,000 Internet and mobile companies in the next 10 years.Courtesy: Reuters

This article aims to cover the DNA of being a successful entrepreneur. It aims to de-glamorise the startup journey and extols of the hardships any startup Founder will face in their journey of creating their startup.

Open any business newspaper and magazine, and success stories of start-ups are aplenty. Platforms such as Forbes’s ‘30 under 30’ and Fortune’s ‘40 Under 40’ provide instant gratification to entrepreneurs satiating their ego.

Such platforms do matter, as they help motivate and celebrate all the risk and hard work undertaken by an entrepreneur. But this media hype in recent years has added a ‘glamour quotient’ to start-ups; this perceived ‘coolness’ associated with start-ups has inspired many students and young executives to become entrepreneurs. In reality, the start-up journey is fraught with difficulties and can get very lonely. Irrespective of the type of start-up and the age of the entrepreneur, all start-up founders need to be aware of some of the challenges they will face as they begin their journey.

‘I will try my hand at start-up,’ is never the right approach. I have seen many founders keen to pack up, not because the business isn’t doing well, but because they believe they haven’t scaled up fast enough as their institute peers have and as a result feel it is not worth their time.
- Bhaskar Majumdar

Even when India has woken up to the potential of entrepreneurship, Indian parents remain hesitant when told that their child wants to establish their own business. The pressure of being an unknown and not being under the protective umbrella of a company or government job amplifies the parental pressure already on the young founder. As the entrepreneur embarks on their journey, it is important that they have their family’s support—be it their spouse or parents.

Pepfuels, India's first doorstep delivery system of petroleum products company with leading mobile fuel delivery system. Adversity stares at early-stage founders and they need to be able to take disappointment on the chin.
Pepfuels, India's first doorstep delivery system of petroleum products company with leading mobile fuel delivery system. Adversity stares at early-stage founders and they need to be able to take disappointment on the chin.Courtesy: ANI

IQ, EQ and SQ? There’s also AQ

We all have heard of the intelligence quotient, emotional quotient and social quotient but the make and break quotient for an entrepreneur is the ‘adversity quotient’. This is the measure of the ability to go through a rough patch without losing one’s bearings. For an early-stage founder, everyday adversity stares them in the face, and they need to be able to take it on the chin. We all agree that entrepreneurs exhibit a streak of narcissism, craziness and infectious optimism. But what is not well known is that successful founders need to have a tough mind to go through the ups and down of this ride. Often passionate people tend to be emotional but not so in the case of entrepreneurs.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you must have the audacity to ‘ask’. In a start-up, you are always asking people for something. You are asking your employees to buy into your vision and join you at reduced salaries, potential customers to buy your products, investors to back your vision and media to cover your story.
- Bhaskar Majumdar

While passion drives an entrepreneur, they cannot be emotional. The life of an early-stage founder is akin to a roller coaster ride. On some days, rejections can be rife, making them suffer from a crisis of confidence which toggles alongside the emotional highs, bordering on arrogance, when things go right.

The strangest thing is that in the life of a start-up, the highs and lows can be experienced by the founder within hours. From euphoria to thinking the world is falling apart to back to euphoria, are all part of the daily cycle of an entrepreneur. A good call with a client who might buy your hitherto untested product can send you into an emotional high, only to be shattered within minutes as you hear a rejection, with no reason, from an investor whose funding was vital to be able to complete the product.

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One of the challenges that entrepreneurs must grapple with is the “sheer anonymity” of being a start-up founder. Your work colleagues and your peer group from your educational institutions have the halo of the job and the calling card of the enterprise they work for, which gives them credibility and a sense of belonging. As a startup founder, you are a nobody in the big world and have to get used to this esp. if you have had already had a successful corporate career before.

Aiming for the stars and reaching the moon. The four wheeled moon rover created by Indian start-up company Team Indus being tested. Team Indus had plans to reach the moon before the end of 2017 using the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
Aiming for the stars and reaching the moon. The four wheeled moon rover created by Indian start-up company Team Indus being tested. Team Indus had plans to reach the moon before the end of 2017 using the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.Courtesy: Getty Images

‘Be ready with a Plan B’

‘Entrepreneurship has no optionality.’ It is a one-way street. You must burn the bridge of return else you will look to the escape route whenever you hit a speed bump. Remember, to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must not look at the start-up as an option and always be ready with a plan B. ‘I will try my hand at start-up,’ is never the right approach. I have seen many founders keen to pack up, not because the business isn’t doing well, but because they believe they haven’t scaled up fast enough as their institute peers have and as a result feel it is not worth their time.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you must have the audacity to ‘ask’. In a start-up, you are always asking people for something. You are asking your employees to buy into your vision and join you at reduced salaries, potential customers to buy your products, investors to back your vision and media to cover your story. The other trait that entrepreneurs need to inculcate within themselves is the ability to take rejections. Rejections and living through them are what make the life journey of a start-up founder.

‘Thrive in chaos’

To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to, as the proverb goes, ‘thrive in chaos’. Change is the only constant for an entrepreneur. In this start-up world, where nothing is definitive the entrepreneur must survive and thrive. They must have the wherewithal to present a strategic long-term view of the business to a potential investor or partner knowing well that after the meeting, they will have to speak to employees and request them to bear for a few days as the monthly salary will be delayed. This life of dichotomy and lack of any progressive planning is not for all and one needs to be aware of this prior to commencing the journey.

Entrepreneurs will only succeed when they are comfortable in their own skins. Get into entrepreneurship with your eyes wide open. Be aware of all the warts under the veneer of the start-up glamour, is my personal advice to all founders-to-be. And once you know entrepreneurship is your calling, know how to cross the Rubicon and start off the journey.

ManojBhaskar Majumdar is the Founder and Managing Partner at Unicorn India Ventures, a Mumbai based VC fund. His book "Everything starts from nothing" come out in March 2021, in which he captures the essence of the start-up ecosystem from his first-hand experience and helps navigate those who wish to get their foot through the door.

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