That entrepreneurship can be a brutal journey is well understood by now. Founders also concede that when the chips are down, the struggle feels more personal because the battle is mostly internal. However supportive great friends and family are, their “you will be fine” and “don’t worry too much” assurances are often insufficient motivation for snapping out of a funk.
If not from the people closest to them, who are most invested in their success and welfare, where do entrepreneurs access the motivation to dig their way out of a hole? Interestingly, many entrepreneurs say that the heroic tales of struggle and achievement in cinema are often a powerful source for inspiration.
A young entrepreneur, who did not want to be identified, said, for example, that in the darkest days during the first two years of starting his healthcare venture, he would watch a particular scene from the 1976 movie Rocky over and over again. The scene is essentially a dialogue between Rocky Balboa, the boxer played by Sylvester Stallone, and his father, who tells him, “It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit but still keep moving.” The Delhi-based entrepreneur says this scene was a go-to booster shot for motivation on several occasions, including the day his chief technology officer quit and yet another investor refused to fund the start-up.
Or, there is Anirban Das Blah, whom I remember speaking to a couple of years ago. He was so inspired by the 1996 film Jerry Maguire that when he founded his talent management venture in 2009, he christened it KWAN. The word signifies both prosperity and love in the Tom Cruise-starrer movie, set in the ultra-competitive world of sports celebrity managers in the US.
In an era where binge-watching television series has become a legitimate intellectual pursuit, cultural inspirations from movies are useful ground for organizational behaviour and leadership research, believes Aloke Bajpai, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ixigo, a travel search platform.
Bajpai, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has had an eventful decade running Ixigo, which he co-founded with Rajnish Kumar in June 2006. There are enough twists and turns in the company’s journey to rival cinematic drama. But Bajpai says that the ties that bind his entrepreneurial innings to the movies are even more fundamental. In 2005, after completing his management degree from the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (Insead) business school in France, Bajpai was deeply conflicted. A go at a global corporate career was within reach, but the itch to come home and be an entrepreneur was getting stronger. He had spent the years before Insead working at Amadeus, a travel firm, in Nice, France. It had kindled his ambition for a business in travel search. Yet it wasn’t an easy decision, much less so than now, when entrepreneurship has become a more acceptable choice of vocation for many like him.
It was around the time that Swades was released (December 2004). The Shah Rukh Khan-starrer told the story of an Indian scientist working at the US space agency Nasa who decided to give up his scientific career in the US to work in a village in India. The powerful come-home peg of the story hit home. Bajpai confesses that he must have watched the film nearly 50 times in a span of six months as he made up his mind to return to India to start a business.
With the unique missionary grandeur that first-generation entrepreneurs seem to muster up so well, Bajpai says that Mohan Bhargava’s story of giving it all up to transform his country resonated deeply.
Bajpai isn’t alone when it comes to Swades. Over the years, many entrepreneurs who have left comfortable jobs abroad to dig their trenches in the messy earth of India’s entrepreneurship landscape have said that the movie played a big role in their making that choice.
As a new week begins, think about your celluloid inspirations. What are the movies, characters and stories that have influenced your entrepreneurial journeys (and lives)?
Surviving Start-ups focuses on the stories of the people (parents, siblings, spouses and friends) who make up an entrepreneur’s world. The columnist is the spouse of a start-up entrepreneur and draws from real-life experience.