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Tag Archive : entrepreneurial spirit

Let’s talk about entrepreneurial stress

It has been fourteen days since VG Siddhartha took his life. In that time, the entrepreneurial ecosystem has heard arguments from several vantage points to understand the cause of the stress that led to his untimely demise. It is stomach-churning and thought-provoking stuff.

Various arguments attempted to place the cause of VG’s entrepreneurial distress onto a multitude of issues. His close political affiliations, the stress that different business bailouts had put on his balance sheet and even his battles with the income tax department. His balance sheet was funded using debt and private equity; therefore, the private equity guys were to blame as well. However, to place the blame on any one person or phenomenon is to oversimplify a very complex issue i.e., the effects of entrepreneurial stress. 

The one silver lining of this somber episode is that it has got us all talking about entrepreneurial stress. It is a real thing, and there is an excellent chance that an entrepreneur close to you is under this stress right now. Yes, even the most successful ones.

In the Indian ecosystem, a successful start-up founder is treated as a demi-god. The media can quickly relate that entrepreneur into a Tony Stark-type invincible personality – capable of resolving any situation and turning almost anything they touch into gold. The price of this success is steep because the lens of failure is brutal. Ask any of the high-flying entrepreneurs that witness a reversal of fate – the fall from grace can be cruel and lonely. 

The truth is that an entrepreneur undergoes the same level of stress as that of a high-performance athlete. Another reality is that this stress will not vanish. 

The first step to dealing with entrepreneurial stress is to admit its existence. This step is most difficult because it hacks away the cloak of invincibility that entrepreneurs take painstaking effort to build. However, unless we admit that this stress exists, we cannot act on its causes. Ray Zinn wrote a great post on Stress and the Entrepreneur that delves deeper into this.

The next step is to identify the factors causing stress. There are internal factors that the entrepreneur can control and external ones that they cannot. It could be the nature of the business (like running a stockbroking platform), an environmental factor (like the transit time from home to office) or a personality trait (like procrastination and putting off decisions). The factors that can be addressed, should be acted on immediately and earnestly. The factors that cannot be addressed can be overcome through several methods, which high-performance entrepreneurs utilize to channelize their stress positively.

Lastly, once the stress factors have been identified and dealt with, an entrepreneur needs to build a core group of people to fall back on. The people invited to this core (aka inner circle) play a critical role, and they need to be educated on the things not to do.  

This post is one of the toughest blogs I have written because I have had my personal experiences with entrepreneurial stress, which kept clouding my arguments. I kept reverting to the times in my career when I stared from the cliff of despair into the depths of failure. I know today what I did not back then. Even then, I sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and slightly burnt out. It usually shows up with the burning sensation in my eyes, persistent pain in my back and a marked drop in my physical stamina. 

Initially, I did not know that it was stress. When I could self-diagnose, I took a short vacation, reduced my meetings load or delegated more. The awareness helped with resolution. However, the VG Siddhartha episode has awakened me to change my stance from a reactive one to a proactive one.

So should you.

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Are you prepared for the Journey of Entrepreneurship?

A quick disclaimer:

  1. The use of he is for both sexes
  2. The views below are totally my own without any intention to hurt anyone’s sentiments or beliefs. Any reference to that effect, I apologise for as it is not intentional.
  3. There are adaptations below from the Bhagvad Gita that I am currently studying, however, there is no intent to preach religion.
  4. When I study the Quran or Bible I am sure that there will adaptations of those holy scriptures in my thoughts and writings

So here we go…

When I read about the young techie in Hyderabad ending his life when his venture/app failed, it shook me. In the glitz and glamour of OYO-s, Flipkart-s and Freecharge-s of the startup world, the new age entrepreneurs & those around them should be well aware of the mortality rate of new businesses and it is only when something this tragic takes place do we get the time to introspect on the reasons & preventions.

My intent here is not to delve deeper into a disturbing & tragic event. Nor do I wish to suggest what the departed or his loved ones could have done better/faster/earlier but in the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

“It is idle to adjudicate upon the right and wrong of incidents that have already happened. It is useful to understand them and, if possible, to learn a lesson from them for the future. It is difficult to say for certain how a particular man would act in a particular set of circumstances. We can also see that judging a man from his outward act is no more than a doubtful inference, inasmuch as it is not based on sufficient data”

My only wish is to provide a platform to discuss the mortality of startups and what separates an entrepreneur from the rest.

So first let me define what a start-up is in the words of Neil Blumenthal, cofounder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker.

“A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed”

The key word is that success is NOT guaranteed. In fact, it is a well-known fact that 90-96% of all businesses fail to make it to their 10th anniversary. Even those that remain very few are in the same company or capital structure as they had first started out. Companies get bought, sold, merged amongst a host of other possibilities.

Next, let’s define who is an entrepreneur?

I found this amazing post written on entrepreneur.com that sums up the definition of an entrepreneur better than I can. One of my favourite quotes in there is that:

“The entrepreneur is the person in charge, the leader and the person to look to for leadership. He or she is the one that pushes forward and inspires a team to follow. The entrepreneur is the one that sits in the driver’s seat, and has the ability to change direction, accelerate, slow down or even stop a venture.”

So, in essence, the entrepreneurs are the creators of a business and not the other way around.

What an entrepreneur practices is entrepreneurship or as I like to call it – the entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that the entrepreneurial spirit is that unseen thing within an entrepreneur that finds opportunity in adversity. It is that innovator or imitator part of the entrepreneur that keeps him/her awake at night writing the way he/she believes is the way things should be and not as the way they are… The entrepreneurial spirit exists in everyone… Only the ones that can identify, nurture and grow that spirit become Entrepreneurs.

So it is not possible for entrepreneurs to be successful at entrepreneurship or not… the fact that they are cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit itself is proof that they are on the path to becoming entrepreneurs. Their ventures, projects and ideas may fail but the entrepreneur wins each time he practices entrepreneurship… win or lose.

Just like an athlete that does not win a good medal does not cease to be an athlete an entrepreneur who fails in gold venture does not cease to be an entrepreneur.

So what separates an entrepreneur from a “wantrepreneur”?

  • He identifies himself as a separate entity from his business 

In legal lingo, a business is a separate entity from the promoter/founder. However, It has been rare for me to find an entrepreneur who did not identify his venture and himself as one person therefore when the business is bad it automatically means that he is a “bad” entrepreneur.

This not only affects his objectivity towards the venture it starts affecting his personal confidence, personal relationships and the person who had the “idea” is reduced to a ghost of what used to be an entrepreneur.

I do not have to look very far to find such an entrepreneur – I could see him in my mirror not so long ago!

It is therefore extremely important for entrepreneurs to don the hat of a 3rd party who looks AT the business versus IN the business to fix the problems from a macro level. Too often in the daily grind of the business, the entrepreneur loses the role of the entrepreneur and just becomes an employee who is going through the motions. Just like a doctor could not identify himself with the disease that he is curing neither can the entrepreneur fix a problem that he does not see objectively.

When the entrepreneur can identify where the venture ends and where they start is probably the FIRST step to being the entrepreneur.

  • He is not fearful of failure of the business 

A good entrepreneur is not fearful of failure. He knows that 90% of all businesses fail in the first 5 years and that he can only do the actions under his control to build a successful business. He can prepare a well thought out business plan, hire a good team, motivate them, get the financing, ensure that prudent business practices are put into place, he can sell his product/service to the best of his ability and he can pivot his plans based on the feedback he gets.

He cannot, however, force the market to accept his services and ensure the success of his business – that is outside his circle of influence as the Late Stephen R Covey used to say.

When the entrepreneur does not have the fear of failure hanging over his head he makes decisions that are best for the long-term sustainability of the business.

  • He is not swayed by the boom & bust cycles of a business  

If a business is an ocean then the waves are just a temporary characteristic of the business. Just as we cannot define the ocean by gale force winds that shatter the shore neither can we define a business by the success or failure cycles that it goes through?

It is the duty of a business to sail through these cycles just as it is the duty of the entrepreneur to steady the ship and keep the brethren informed & motivated to fight through the tough times as well as humble & vigilant through the good times.

It is an exercise in failure for anyone to engage in the battle of entrepreneurship without fully understanding the course that lies ahead. The people around the Entrepreneur should also keep these things in mind and try to steer him clear of their own unfulfilled ambitions of entrepreneurship… celebrating wildly in his success and heaping pressure on him during the failures.

An entrepreneur is made of steel so when he starts he is just like the iron ore has to burn itself to molten liquid to purify itself before it takes a final tough form as steel… so does the entrepreneur.

So in closing let me remind all who are contemplating an entrepreneurial plunge, it is truly one of the most satisfying journeys of life and the trials and jubilations of the journey is what makes it enjoyable… if some ventures didn’t fail the successful ones would not know that they have succeeded and therefore even participating is part of the spirit of entrepreneurship… and if an entrepreneur loses one race he can always dust himself off and take a new plunge with better planning… as only ventures fail, not an honest entrepreneur.