Guts and Glory of being an Entrepreneur

Sometime in 2017, a distraught Paresh Masade went in search of companies that might acquire his startup. His co-founder and long-time collaborator had recently quit, leaving a vacuum in the company. “I hit a low point in my career, and it was an emotional time for me,” recalls Paresh. “I considered closing down the company.” Two years on, he is still running the startup, Vaave, which has grown to become the market leader in alumni management software.

Around two years ago, Phani Kanth Vooka, co-founder of TV2Z, was spending sleepless nights. He and his team were under immense pressure to achieve the optimum pricing model for their business, without missing targets. “Resources were tight and we had to provide the best pivot at the best price,” recalls Phani Kanth. “As we could not immediately scale up the team in the initial days, I had sleepless nights until we got our first customer.”

Walking the difficult terrain

No one said being an entrepreneur is easy. The entrepreneurial life is fraught with uncertainties, and not everyone is equipped with the tenacity to overcome the risks and roadblocks that come with the territory. Phani Kanth followed the uncharted path when he quit his high-paying job at Microsoft to start his own business. “I knew that there would be many challenges that I would need to face as an entrepreneur,” he admits. “But I was confident that each challenge would make me a better person.”

Radha Krishna, founder, Augumented Byte, found his way to entrepreneurship when he was put on the bench at the MNC that hired him soon after his engineering degree. Quick thinking on his part to make a strategic career move motivated him to learn AR (Augmented Reality) during his downtime and apply it to different use cases. Eventually, the entrepreneurial bug bit Radha Krishna when he decided to put in his papers after eight months. His Eureka moment arrived when he applied AR to resolve an internal navigation problem. But before venturing out on his own, he had to take his family into confidence. “Initially, I didn’t tell my parents about what I was doing when I was on the bench,” he explains. “Later, when I shared my entrepreneurial aspirations with them, they advised me to play it safe.”

Radha Krishna’s family backed him on his vision after being reassured that he would return to a corporate job if nothing worked out in a year. His friends, too, pitched in by bearing the cost of travel and accommodation when Radha Krishna travelled to different cities to pitch the product to prospective clients.

Finding the courage from within

Unlike most first-time entrepreneurs, Abdul Rahman Janoo, co-founder, Tericsoft Technology Solutions, didn’t have to work hard to convince his family. Since he hailed from a Gujarati business family, they didn’t have any misgivings about his chosen career path. However, they did expect him to sustain his expenses. A few months into his journey, Abdul Rahman was compelled to find a corporate job as he was unable to pay his bills. He finally made bold to quit his job after deliberating over his decision for two months. According to him, the most courageous decision he has taken till date was to found his startup three days after his marriage!

Radha Krishna believes one of the more challenging aspects of his entrepreneurial journey was to find the courage to turn down the offer to partner with a big company as this might have jeopardised his stake in the venture. This lesson has stayed with him, so much so that it has become his success mantra. “Make it a habit to say ‘no’,” he advises entrepreneurs. “This, alone will empower us and give us the much-needed confidence to succeed.”

Overcoming societal taboos

On a lighter vein, Paresh recalls the time when his parents encountered difficulties while seeking matrimonial alliances for him. “Since Indian society still views entrepreneurship as something of a stigma, it wasn’t easy convincing prospective in-laws about the suitability of my chosen profession,” he says. “Our society’s mindset has not changed in this regard.” In what could be considered as the universe’s quirky sense of humour, the woman Paresh eventually married, turned out to be the daughter of a self-employed professional. “This has worked in my favour as my in-laws understand my entrepreneurial way of life,” quips Paresh.

Failing is okay

Each of these entrepreneurs — from T-Hub’s Lab32 program — who have struck out on their own, has learnt to take failure in their stride.

“Initially, we were solely focused on customers and didn’t worry about the profit margins,” explains Phani Kanth. “In the long-term, we realised that good margins should be maintained for profitability because customers don’t like to see increased prices on a later date.” As a strategy to face failure head-on, Phani Kanth urges founders of startups to adopt a proactive approach and include a ‘Plan B’ in their existing business plan. “However, entrepreneurs should accept that entrepreneurship is a risky journey and be ready to accept the failures that come their way,” he says.

Abdul Rahman is no stranger to failure. “In the past eight years of my startup journey, I was a part of five startups, and most of them failed,” he says. “The reasons ranged from the absence of a strong, experienced team, funding issues, and problems with product-market fit, among other factors. However, each of these failures taught me a lot and made me stronger to face tomorrow’s challenges.”

Quitting is not an option

Despite such follies and bleak moments, quitting has never been an option for any of these bold entrepreneurs. According to Radha Krishna, being a part of the Lab32 program inspires him to deliver his best every day. “At Lab32, we have multiple startups working on different products and sharing resources in an open cabin system,” he says. “Every morning, I feel pumped when I see this vibrant ecosystem.”

Finding a support system

Paresh believes entrepreneurs will do well to have a healthy emotional support system in their hour of crisis. This advice assumes significance in light of the recent trends that suggest how an increasing number of entrepreneurs have mental illness as they battle severe anxiety and depression in their day-to-day lives. More than the fiscal health of their startup, entrepreneurs, and the community around them should ensure their mental well-being to prevent them from crumbling under pressure.

Paresh revisits the time when he felt a state of despair after one of his co-founders quit. He is grateful to his trusted mentors who were a bedrock of support at the time. “I shared my feelings with them — about what I was experiencing at an emotional level,” he says. “I still remember this line from one of my mentors: ‘The sense of failure and disappointment you are experiencing right now, you will not experience it even if you pursue an MBA from Harvard! Just enjoy the moment and stay with it.’”

Phani Kanth believes that entrepreneurs shouldn’t allow their emotions to get the better of them. “Each day, as an entrepreneur is learning — you will meet different people who come with their expectations. Keep cool and don’t allow your emotions to make decisions for your business,” he says.

According to Paresh, in the mayhem of finding one’s feet as an entrepreneur, the real glory lies in the ability to chase the next milestone. “While money is important, we entrepreneurs live for something more than that. There is no full stop to entrepreneurship; it is all about the journey,” he signs off.

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