Stepping into Entrepreneurship
Thinking Out-of-the-box is a cliche we hear associated with Stepping into Entrepreneurship often nowadays. I did my schooling from one of the best schools in Middle East and have heard the teachers expounding on out of the box thinking; but it is not something that we were ever encouraged to put in practice. Many a time the society and our schooling stigmatizes entrepreneurship and stifles our interest, forcing us to walk the accepted path forgoing any risks. In the world that I grew up, a startup business man did not have much of a social standing. Startups did not have the “Cool Factor” it has nowadays. We were encouraged to take up government jobs or join an established IT Company or be a doctor. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Non Resident Keralite kids in Middle East had two socially accepted choices for graduate studies, Engineering or Medicine. Everyone else was considered to be on a path for professional failure. I took the accepted path and much to my family’s relief got admission in one of the Engineering colleges. My college life had its ups with academics & good friends, which otherwise has no commendable achievements.My dream of being an entrepreneur though predated my college life and I took my first steps towards it only during my final year .Couple of my enterprising friends and I started off with an idea involving handling chemicals in demand for the construction industry. It was a time when Construction industry was booming in India and in Middle East. Before it took wings we ran into trouble when trying to attract investment. I was not properly guided on approaching Banks or other financial firms .I did not have any contacts who could fund a project like that even though I was trying to raise an amount less than 0.5 million as seed fund. Finally in desperation we created a project report and took it to my family. This was the first time my family heard of my interest in entrepreneurship and their reaction was a Big NO, but more importantly they used every influence they have on me to stop proceeding with our idea.
Soon after finishing my engineering degree I was off to Mangalore to undertake training at a leading institute there as “encouraged” by my family. My second business idea had its origin in Mangalore. I had been on a visit to my friends coffee plantation and I was stuck with the unexplored tourism possibility of the place .This time again tried to convince my family in vain to support it. As in previous case my family turned down the request and asked me to first excel in the profession for which I was trained. My takeaway from the two previous failed attempts to start a business was that for next attempt I have to arrange my own sources of funding instead of relying on family backing.
After a year’s stint in Mangalore I landed a job in TCS and was posted for training in Trivandrum. I spent my next few years in TCS “Excelling as a Professional”. Even when working the dog hours in an IT company I did not lose my dreams to be a Businessman. Sensing an opportunity in the textile industry, I had looked into leasing looms to manufacture clothes, which my company would distribute directly to the market. It went well for some time but issues cropped up as I was trying to split my attention between a fulltime job and a business that soon led to the shutdown of the business.
My next major move was my movement into Cognizant Kochi a year later. I had not realized it then but my different attempts at business and my experience in a fast growing professional company taught me the importance of professional networking and personality improvement and also helped me gain clarity on what I want in life. Like any other professional, I too was in the comfort of my employment and had to battle the emotional struggle of another possible failure before I made that decision to chase my passion again. So, it all got back re-kindled, when i met my business partners living with similar interest 3 years back. By then, I atleast knew few “Don’ts” before starting a business, which for my partners who is new to the game was an added boon. So, we pondered over numerous thoughts before we together finally gathered courage to make the first move and co-found ZoftSolutions a start-up venture for providing software solutions.
The firm got kicked off in 2014 with a shoestring budget and with a very talented team of 4, each having years of experience in the corporate environment on all aspects of project delivery. Well, that was the resounding problem statement, all that we knew was how to deliver projects successfully. We had disruptive ideas but simply lacked the experience in building a business from ground up. We definitely had to learn couple of those lessons the hard way. So, like any other team who is new to the game, we too made typical mistakes like making announcements with a half-ready prototype and by doing so, we got competitors on our back after the unnecessary coverage of our product. So by then we knew that it is not the cheetah like aggressiveness that matters the most here, but the strategic planning of a Lion that should get us on the lane of success. So, we were in no rush to push with the ROI and gave ample time to research and develop a strong team. Building a strong team was one of the most important things, as we won’t have been able to come to this AS-IS state without that.
We then had to confront mixed emotions of excitement, inspiration & insecurity before we finally got things ticking. We were excited seeing similar startups making it big way and at the same time felt insecure when we heard another biting the dust. I later realized that it’s the litmus test we have to face at each stage, be it scaling up on our resources, planning our operations, getting the right minds to guide us and most importantly making the right calls. We had meditated our way up without giving ears to unnecessary fears to grow into a fully operational company with a technically fit team and strong financials. When I look back, it’s all been a learning experience; we were having that road trip which shaped us, so that we are stronger & wiser to tackle bigger challenges.
And the biggest realization of it all is that there is no magic formula to success of a startup ; it’s all a team game of highly supportive investors, a strong in house team, good network of friends & family . We need to get this team in order and we are good to go miles.