A successful founder is one who sticks with an idea without seeking early exit3 min read . Updated: 20 Mar 2019, 09:54 PM IST
All things being equal, the ability to stay the course makes all the difference in a startup
Cockroaches might be unsightly and repulsive, but they are a lesson in resilience. They can live anywhere, survive without their heads for a couple of days and even tolerate high levels of nuclear radiation. (No, they didn’t survive a nuclear explosion as is believed.) It’s no wonder that while species have appeared and disappeared, cockroaches have thrived through the ages. While chasing success, it would pay well to look at the cockroach for inspiration. Because, the journey of an entrepreneur will be strewn with failures and successes and the most resilient ones are the one who will eventually make it to the top.
Today, if I am privileged to even write this article, it’s not because of success, luck or being savvy, it’s because I stuck it out through many, many failures. I am not saying that hard work, smartness or opportunity can be trivialized, but all things being equal, the ability to stay the course makes all the difference. It is the basic criteria and requirement for a business or an entrepreneur to eventually succeed.
This is not to be mixed up with a situation where your business has no margin and no market, yet you stick with it hoping that someday it will magically boom—no way! For that you need to have the judgement to ascertain whether the business itself makes sense. “The key is not to call off a business, but to call off an idea. The company and idea have to be separated where one can start with X and do something completely different i.e. Y . Quick adaptation is the solution vs live or die," says Peyush Bansal, CEO of Lenskart, an online eye-wear brand.
All around us, we see that the rewards lie on the other side of failure. Yet, no one can say for sure how far away you are from hitting gold. Like I always say, you can’t time success, you can’t time failure. But if you believe in the soundness of the business and your own ability to overcome its challenges, staying the course is your best strategy.
Hesitations are an integral part of an entrepreneurial journey.
First there is the hesitation to be an entrepreneur. Next, after two-three years of major setbacks like including going bust or near belly up, one would be tempted to quit and say ‘This is not for me’. But at that point, you don’t know if you are three days or three years away from success and that’s why it is imperative to not give up.
An entrepreneur simply cannot afford to be obsessed with timing (except if you are faced with an offer to exit your business). Yes, you create timelines and self-imposed deadlines—“Either I succeed or return to my conform zone"—and that timeline is bound to run out but it’s not a reason enough to quit.
“I’ve seen more than enough instances where we thought it was a dead end, but the key was to give it a final shot. Sometimes that last pump can revive even a dying business," says Radhika Aggarwal, co-founder of ShopClues, an online marketplace.
There are many highly rational people who by virtue of their background, education and experience are very calculative about entrepreneurship. To them it’s an intelligent decision to devote three years of their working life to a business idea to see if it succeeds or just quit if it does not.
I would advise them not to give those three years as well, because three years are not enough to reach a conclusion. You may have had a fabulous first year, then a disastrous second year and in the third year you make a recovery. How are you going to conclude anything with these graphs? Intelligence and logic doesn’t replace guts, resilience and self-confidence to stick it out.
If you’re an entrepreneur struggling to stay afloat at this junction of your life, examine your business dispassionately, and make the plan for the long haul. Easier said than done, but do it anyway. Stay true to the process but don’t try to time it. Your rewards are on the other side. That’s been my personal experience all through my journey.
Entrepreneur 4.0 is a column where successful Indian entrepreneurs discuss various aspects of startups.
Ronnie Screwvala is a first generation entrepreneur and chairman and co-founder of upGrad, an online educational platform.