This article has been contributed by Mr. Ajayya Kumar, an ethical Investor, startup mentor, art curator and author. He is currently the COO of Emircom. Besides this, he has been involved in mentoring over a dozen startups.
Being an entrepreneur is never easy. Every day is plagued with unknowns and the Covid-19 has made things worse for many. But for entrepreneurs, uncertainty is their middle name. And those in the startup world, live, eat and breathe uncertainty.
I (Ajayya Kumar) have been an entrepreneur for many years and have seen the world of business change. A lot is written about success stories, but for every start-up that made headlines, hundreds have bitten the dust. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But the mistakes that others made can serve as lessons and learnings for others. After all, what better teacher than life!
Befriend tomorrow. New business ideas are usually based on the ideator’s experience. There’s nothing wrong with that; we are all a product of our experiences. But what many innovators or startup founders don’t realize is that should they reach the implementation phase, their business will be running in the future. So, test your idea, not in yesterday’s world or even today’s; test it for tomorrow. Think of where the ball will be. As management guru Peter Drucker said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”
As of now, the near future is digital. Senior company executives and business leaders have been repeating this ad nauseum for almost two years if not longer. Even if you make something as physical as bricks or artisan cheese or baby clothes, your business needs a digital presence. It is not a need but a must. The scale may vary depending on appropriate requirements and budgeting, but not having a digital avatar is as good as writing an obituary for your startup. So, don’t kill your business even before it’s had a chance to breathe outside of an idea.
Going digital is not the only future-ready ingredient you need to make your start-up a piece de resistance. It is but a tool. Like soft skills, ‘soft intelligence’ is a commodity that is extremely valuable and unquantifiable. Hence the term ‘a a million-dollar idea’. Soft intelligence means knowing what the consumers need/want not only today but also tomorrow.
Many business leaders have mentioned repeatedly that millennials are different from the previous generations. During a hiring interview, they are likely to ask about how your startup is socially responsible and how they can contribute. Someone may ask what the office or workplace environment is like or how many days is work-from-home or even if your HR policies cover mental wellbeing. Such questions are important for the young generation. Your employees are also your consumers, so without understanding one, you can’t understand the other.
Of course, you may argue that your products or services are targeted at older generations or even seniors. Do remember that people who are seniors today were young once, and those who are young today will be seniors tomorrow. Therefore, if you want your startup to be more than a flash in the pan, prepare a foundation that is futuristic.
Talk to people around you, especially those who are young. Listen carefully. Every person has pearls of wisdom to offer. At the same time, remember that successful companies are in that position because they have efficient processes in place. So, while you may be a start-up and everyone looks after multiple functions, everyone needs the basic nuts and bolts of business — functions such as employee policies, accounting, taxation, legal, and others. Even if these are skills that you possess, streamlined backend functions ensure that you can concentrate on ideating, employing, and executing. If you are spread too thin, you will have no time or energy left to think of the future.
If not thinking about the future is a pitfall, thinking too much is probably worse. Many founders spend a lot of time doing research or market survey. That’s all well and good, but not getting off the starting block simply means that you will never run the race. Once your idea has reached a certain level of completion, put it out there. Let your customers give their feedback. Swim or sink, you will know this only when you are in the real world. Walt Disney once said, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
If there is a starting block, there is a finish line too, be it a sprint or a marathon. As a startup, take a moment to think about where all this will end. This is not written in stone; the race can be a long one, maybe even go beyond your lifetime. But for the present, think about where you wish to reach. This is especially important if there are two or more founders or you have investors with decision-making powers. A general consensus helps set the path to the goal. The goal can be reaching a certain level of valuation, listing on a bourse, outside investors having a determined level of equity, or a turnover of some amount. It can be anything, and it can change with time.
A startup’s journey is fraught with dangers and details that can be overwhelming. In all the mayhem and chaos, don’t lose sight of your original idea because that is the one thing that’s unique. Trust your ideas and trust your instincts. Football legend Lionel Messi said about his phenomenal skills: Best decisions aren’t made with your mind but with your instincts. Sure, you must take advice, but listen to yourself in the end. Keep in mind that the Covid-19 pandemic is just a phase. It will pass and there will be other hardships in the future. After all, no pressure, no diamonds.
In the words of the writer, poet, and artist Kahlil Gibran: “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”