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Before I start, I would like to set the context by sharing Otto Von Bismarck’s famous quote “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Hence, you can make a note of the few lessons from my life, which you may avoid to be a successful entrepreneur.
By the way, don’t you think that the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ have been used a bit too much by the mainstream media? Every other day we see “entrepreneurs” launching a “start-up” and getting VC funding for their game-changing, ‘trailblazing innovation’. Yet, very few of them survive beyond five years. This is something which even I have gone through as I have been associated with a number of ventures, some of which are long shut-down; my case in point - IceNet.
In the mid 90’s, the Internet had already started becoming popular in the US and I saw this as the right time to launch an ISP business.With a master’s degree in Computer Science and experience of working with technology giants like AT&T and Amdahl Corporation, I felt that I had enough technical understanding to enter this field. Additionally, after consulting for many technology firms, I was eager to try running a business of my own.With stars in my eyes, I launched IceNet from Puerto Rico. It failed miserably.
IceNet could not compete with its limited geographical reach and deficiencies in its billing solution which was unable to handle the varied needs of customers. The solution seemed primitive compared with the range of plans offered by our competitors. In hindsight, I feel the main reason for failure was attempting to operate a retail business remotely, a mistake to be avoided at all costs. Another lesson was my understanding of how important it is to design and execute a relevant go to market strategy to ensure success of any start-up venture. However, the most important lesson was - do not let your trail blazing innovation suffer from a bad execution. When it comes to execution, the margin for error in this competitive age has becomevery small.
Thankfully, I have been fortunate enough in my life to grab new opportunities and use my experience from past ventures to make sure that I don’t repeat the same mistakes.. The IceNet experience helped me to successfully launch an ISP from Ahmedabad in 1998 – even using the same name.
Technology is not the only sector I have turned my hand to. During my days in America, I could not help but notice the sheer number of Patel’s successfully running motels. It was even more difficult for me to ignore given that I was a Patel myself. Hence, I launched a motel with five of my friends (all from the IT industry), telling myself that as an entrepreneur I must be able to leave my comfort zone, take risks and enter territories unknown. Having no knowledge and little interest in the hospitality business, we soon met with our friend failure who taught us another valuable lesson: following trends and culture in business is unlikely to help you if you are going against your own conviction. In other words – do not let herd mentality corrupt your rational thinking.
As far as my journey in India is concerned, it has largely been successful. I launched Elitecore Technologies in early 2000 and later on steered Cyberoam. There was a minor crunch during FY 2007-08 when we failed to achieve our numbers at Elitecore. Holding all departments responsible for driving sales and incentivizing everyonebased on the sales targets achieved, is a bad idea! As R. L.Stevensonputs it “Everyone lives by selling something”;however, not everyone is your salesman.
Apart from these learnings, I would also like to point out that although my risk taking capability has helped me launch several businesses over the years, to become a successful entrepreneur one also needs the ability and confidence to stay the course. The perseverance to continue along the tougher path will help you remediate and learn from your own failures, before you move on to another mission. In this world of information pollution, it is easy to get carried away by ‘how to guides’ on becoming a millionaire or entrepreneur. However, success doesn’t come that frequently and never too early. One should be ready to get their hands dirty and there’s no shortcut to success. It’s a long process of failing, failing, failing and not giving up till you succeed and reach a stage where you can write articles like these.