Entrepreneurship is a much more celebrated term today than it was till the 1980s. The world has turned around to look at people who have executed innovative ideas to create value. Entrepreneurship as a career choice has gained social acceptability among the educated middle classes in recent years. I have been on this path for nearly 20 years now. Friends have always ribbed me about the fact that I preach entrepreneurship, but we started a job site— Naukri.com.
Today, entrepreneurship is going beyond mere social acceptability and even getting to be fashionable as a career choice. A large number of people are doing start-ups, many because of a herd mentality, taking inspiration from stories of entrepreneurs who founded successful companies. This is a worrying trend.
There is a misplaced sense of romance about entrepreneurship. I would like to caution those considering a start-up that the early days of struggle of successful entrepreneurs seem romantic to observers only in hindsight. When you are actually going through it, there is a lot of pain. And for every poster boy success in entrepreneurship, there are a hundred who are still struggling. The failure rate is high.
The first thing to understand is that entrepreneurship is not about getting rich. Sure, if the company you start does become successful, chances are you will make money. But, that’s a happy incidental outcome. It should not be the main object of the endeavour.
If you want to be an entrepreneur in order to become wealthy, my suggestion is, don’t. There are very few entrepreneurs I know who succeeded without a long period of financial struggle, belt tightening and personal sacrifice. More often than not, success will take longer in coming than you think. There will be times when at the end of the month there will not be enough money to pay the office rent and employee salaries, but you will somehow scrape though.
There will be times when you yourself will not be able to take home a salary for months. There will be years on end when you will be financially the worst-off person in your batch from business school.
During these years, you will need to make compromises on your lifestyle—the house you are able to afford, the car you drive, the holidays you take, the restaurants where you eat and the schools your children go to.
And all this without any guarantee of success, in search of the big idea, hoping for venture capital funding— years without any light at the end of the tunnel.
During times like this only your passion, your commitment to the idea and your stubbornness will see you through. So, before making the jump ask yourself a question: “Will I love doing this for the rest of my life even if I am not financially successful?” If the answer is a clear yes, then you have passed the first test of commitment.
Then, when is entrepreneurship a worthwhile career to pursue? If one in hundred will succeed, surely it is an irrational thing to do.
You should become an entrepreneur only if you believe that that is how you will find fulfilment.
Entrepreneurship is about freedom, creating, a chance to build a brand, an institution, showing the world a new way of doing something, being your own boss, creating a legacy that will outlive you, identity, making a difference, obsession, ego, having a shot at something big, doing what you love, innovating, doing things your way…
Whichever way you want to put it, it is about finding meaning in your life.
Yes, it is an irrational thing to do—if you are well educated and you have a good career ahead of you as a professional manager.
It is an article of faith. A bit like religion. Or as my friend Nikesh Sinha eloquently put it: “It is like falling in love”.
It’s an irrational choice.
The author is co-founder and chief executive officer, InfoEdge (India) Ltd, which runs the Web portal Naukri.com. He will write a monthly column on careers and enterprise.
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