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Much has been written on entrepreneurship, by entrepreneurs and for them. Yet, I still couldn’t resist that temptation, probably because entrepreneurship is a very personal experience, and also a state of mind.
Entrepreneurship is the activity of setting up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope for profit – Oxford Dictionary
August 1977, Pune, India, 13 years of age – I desperately want to buy The Sherlock Holmes Omnibus. It is beautifully bound and very expensive. I cannot ask dad till the end of the year. He has already paid for my new table tennis racket. I have tons of books (350+) and most of them are very popular among teens, especially the Hardy Boys series!
- August, 1977: Started a library today; modest fee, no deposit and great books
- August, 1977: Had 53 friends sign up on the first day! That poster in class really worked!
- September, 1977: I already achieved more than 50% of my target!
- October, 1977: Bought the Omnibus today! Wow!
- November, 1977: Diwali is so exciting! And we are going on a trip!
- December, 1977: Closed the library. Still have some money due and some books have gone missing; will need to write those off!
And what did I learn from this sojourn?
- Passion gets you thinking: I really wanted the Omnibus
- Necessity is a great driver of invention and discovery: I didn’t have the money to buy what I wanted
- A goal makes you stay focused: I just didn’t think about the idea, I executed it until my goal was accomplished
- Knowledge helps you win: I knew books, I had a ready market and capital in the form of books
- Goals need to evolve, or you need to shut the business down
Remember learning to swim? I learnt it the hard way – an enthusiastic instructor threw me into a well, jumped after me, and brought me up after I had swallowed half of the water in the well! I never became a good swimmer, but I learnt enough to survive. Entrepreneurship is a bit like that – you cannot keep on talking, planning and thinking. At some point, you need to take the leap (or be pulled in) to get started, and then you discover whether you are made for it.
Fast forward 20 years to 1997, when I started my first company, a friend pulled me in – I left a comfortable job and jumped! I still remember my first day in the office as a real entrepreneur (Those days, I didn’t even know how to spell the word!). Our office was a 10x10 room with just a table and us. We looked at each other and said now what?
Believe it or not, we didn’t have a plan – only the confidence that IT in Pune was growing, and we could easily make money. Not the best way to start a business, but as somebody said, if you don’t start, you won’t reach. It was important for us to get started. So my first real trip on the road to entrepreneurship started with a “now what?”
That promised to be a bumpy, exciting ride and boy, did it deliver! I have lived through a few of these trips – I remember working for a startup in the Bay Area at the height of the Internet boom, executing on crazy ideas, seeing a lot of money thrown around (I cannot complain, some of it came my way too!), and then it ended in a crash. The VCs pulled the trigger overnight. At that point, I learned a very important lesson – failure teaches you more than success does and accepting failure is very important for one’s sanity.
Often, the journey is more important than the destination. I was lucky to be part of another startup – BladeLogic. It was exactly like riding a Royal Enfield in Ladakh; cold weather, icy roads, coffee to die for and Maggie noodles that taste better than a meal in a Michelin star restaurant! And then you get to the top of the world with the wind in your face in Khardung La, controversially the highest motorable road in the world!
BladeLogic was a fun-filled (at times, chaotic) journey. BlackBerry became an addiction then (I can still sometimes feel the discreet vibration of an incoming email years after I gave up using one). Going public on NASDAQ was one heady moment. There was a lot of learning along the way – you take risks with impossible odds, but more times than you expect, a risk pays off.
We took risks, and we pulled them off. You learn to depend on people – and to tell them that you depend on them. So they not only deliver, but also become your friends for life! Sometimes you do mess up. Things seem to be too complex for everybody except you, and it is easy to forget that people will also change, like you did.
The biggest thing I have realized after spending more than 25 years into this entrepreneurship business - the journey never ends! After BladeLogic got acquired, the next stop was Icertis, and what a journey this has been!
Five years and counting, I’m having as much fun as ever before. So, as Mark Twain said long before I experienced it for myself "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."