Starting on your own6 min read . Updated: 29 Dec 2008, 05:27 PM IST
Starting on your own
Multimillionaire entrepreneur and owner of the stockbrokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co., Christopher Paul Gardner was once penniless and homeless. At different times, he, with his two-year-old son, had to take refuge in a church and the washroom of a subway railway station. He was interning with stockbroking firm Dean Witter Reynolds at the time, at no salary. From there, he went on to become a businessman of international repute and was the inspiration for the film In Pursuit of Happyness.
So, what saw him through? Passion, perseverance and self-belief. Or something more? “Passion only goes so far as to be a springboard," says Vijay Anand, organizer, Proto.in, a platform for budding entrepreneurs. Manak Singh, executive director, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), a non-profit organization that focuses on promoting entrepreneurship, is poetic. “It’s like the fine art of storytelling—from the concept, vision, execution, results, customers’ response and critics’ comments," he says.
Managing an enterprise takes more than money, grit and passion. Here are a few things that can take you a long way.
Be ready for challenges
Most successful entrepreneurs do their homework well to ensure they have the answers before problems arise. Strategizing for the future always pays. Says Ravi Shankar, organizer, Proto.in: “For an entrepreneur, there are no defined roles or processes. It gets rather easy to lose focus on key areas."
For M. Mahadevan, managing director, Oriental Cuisines, planning for the future paid off. In 1979, the marketing teacher at Jain College, Chennai, used to work part-time with a hotel, where he learnt the tricks of the trade.
Cost monitoring and a bit of ingenuity add up to profits. When Vrinda Rajgarhia of Sweet World, a candy store with a turnover of about Rs8 crore, saw that mall rentals were going up, she cut the store format to 25% of its previous size without reducing the number of candies on display.
High inflation was putting pressure on Mahadevan’s profit margins, so he started cost-cutting without compromising on the quality of food. He reduced the size of the napkins, started using thinner packaging cardboard, kept six workers instead of eight with 10% higher salary, and gave big doses of motivation. The ingenuity also lies in adopting concepts that are scalable, says Mahadevan, whose business spans 13 countries. “My confectionery and bar ventures are easy to replicate, personnel can be trained in six months and growth is fast," he says.
Have a financial strategy
“Starting a business sans a financial plan is like starting a fire without having the wood to fuel it," says Paris-based Francois J. Montrelay, a strategy and corporate finance adviser. Entrepreneurs should have discussions with their shareholders, bankers and financial advisers to manage their financial growth.
The questions to be asked are: Do I have the money to finance the project? Do I have proven and profitable business models that can be scaled up? Would my business be as profitable abroad as it is at home?
London-based Lucian Tarnowski, managing director, BraveNewTalent.com, a job networking site, has global ambitions but is in no hurry. The 24-year-old has put at least $400,000 (about Rs20 crore) as initial capital in his venture and is looking to have about $1 million in his account before he spreads his wings. “I will expand when I have a solid client base," he says.
Man management is as important as money management. Says Tarnowski: “Any business is only as good as the people it can get on board. I always hire people who are more experienced, capable and talented than me." It’s also important to keep the team motivated.
Says Rajgarhia: “My employees are the key to my success. We train them on an ongoing basis and encourage them to have a proactive approach towards the customers."
“In a world where everyone has multiple choices, the first impression is crucial," says Sanjay Jha, executive director, Dale Carnegie Training India. The Institute holds two- and three-day programmes for entrepreneurs, at Rs15,000-25,000. Grooming is not about appearance alone. It involves conversational skills, good humour, knowledge of important events, the ability to deliver a high-impact presentation, and good leadership.
“Mindset grooming" is important, too. “Traditionally, the Indian entrepreneur’s mindset has been one of survival," says Singh of TiE. The Indian entrepreneur needs to differentiate between making money for himself and creating wealth for many, between linear growth and exponential growth, and between an organized approach and an unorganized one. One’s attitude to scale, failure, exit, innovation, profitability and adaptability play an important role. “These are very challenging issues given the socio-economic upbringing of most aspiring entrepreneurs in India," says Singh.
So, do you have the qualities to start off on your own?
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