Lessons from the Past 104: Do you Want To Be an Entrepreneur?
I was recently asked if I could write an article on, ‘Do you want to be an entrepreneur?’ which could be a summary of my book written many years ago, titled Entrepreneur – You Can Move Mountains
There are those who choose a steady employee career and will be happy doing this throughout their lifetime, and there is nothing wrong with this. My eldest son opted for this path in life. My younger son dropped out of college and went into the new and growing business of event management, first working for a relative and then branching out on his own. He is still an entrepreneur, though not in event management anymore; he finds it difficult to wholly be an employee. Two different directions within the same family!
So, the first thing to do before you embark on an entrepreneurship journey is to check your attitude and aptitude. This is a good and rational analysis to undertake before you take this critical step. 
On the other hand, many become entrepreneurs by accident. That was the way I became self-employed! I had successfully worked for 14 years as an employee, starting as a management trainee in Glaxo and ending as marketing head for India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And then it happened. 
I had been invited to present the annual budget to the board of Boots in the UK, and the presentation went extremely well. The chairman asked for a telegram to be sent to my manager in India to say – “Walter fared extremely well. Congratulations to Boots India.” When I returned to India, there was a distinct coldness in the relationship between the manager and me – perhaps because he perceived the comment more as a threat than a compliment. After a year of trying to mend fences, I gave up and decided to quit being a corporate employee forever. And through this dark period, I had been thinking of what I could do, and do well, with the talents I had (innate and what I could add by learning). 
I decided I would start a new career as a marketing consultant!
There were hardly any companies offering this service in India in the 1970s. This meant that there was huge potential – which was an advantage. However, most people did not know that there was a need for this service, and awareness had to be created – a disadvantage.
I assessed my own strengths in this area. I had introduced a string of successful products in my corporate career; had the ability to speak and write well; had been a visiting professor for many years at the Bajaj Institute of Management; had worked briefly for All India Radio; had been a member of an English theatre group; had my own house, telephone and car. My main weakness was that I did not have the finances to invest in a large commercial/ manufacturing setup which would require substantial funds, either my own or through loans or partnerships.
I went through the five important questions one must answer honestly to oneself. I have covered these more extensively in my books, and the questions are also part of the attitude and aptitude analysis I referred to earlier.
1. Do you have the ability to take risks? Personal risks?
We take calculated risks all the time; we usually don’t go into the unknown without doing some homework. But still, there are risks. A corporate executive can have the ability to take a decision to risk Rs50mn (million) on a new project, but he may not have the ability to risk Rs10,000 of his own money on a small venture. The dimension of risk-taking changes; which is surprising, but true. This does not have anything to do with having or not having money. Money is not a critical element, but the risk-taking ability is. And it is a natural ability. I feel a person cannot be trained in risk-taking. You are either born with it or not.
2. Do you have intense faith in yourself and in your own abilities?
It is faith that sustains a person. Because when you go into business, most of your relatives and friends and business associates will dissuade you. Perhaps even your own wife and parents will throw cold water on your proposed plan of action. When you have already gone into business, many of your supposed well-wishers will try and ensure that you do not succeed. Once you are even partly successful, all of them will fawn over you. But before that, there will be attitudes ranging from envy and jealousy to downright malice, all cloaked with ‘sympathy’ for the ‘poor chap’. It is not easy to fight these battles on so many fronts unless you have intense faith in yourself and in your own abilities. It is a kind of religious fervour, total dedication and commitment – perhaps not perceptible on the surface, but that burns inside nevertheless.
3. Do you have the ability to persevere?
In the initial stages, there can be many ups and downs. One has to take the downs with as much equanimity as the ups. You cannot shut shop and go away. You have to steer the ship through rough weather and stormy seas. Perhaps you may have to amend the course but generally you will want to go in the predetermined direction. You are the company and this is a great responsibility. It needs the ability to be a doer, thinker and integrator. In corporate life, you can be one of these throughout your whole life, and yet be successful (though only the integrators will reach the top). In your own business, you cannot be just one. You have to be all three. For example, you will be put to the test by our government officials who will exasperate you with the obstacles they create. And if you don’t have the doggedness to persevere, do not even begin!
4. Do you have the ability to change your living standards?
When you move from being a corporate executive to a private businessperson, there are many changes required in your living standards. I always recalled the times when I arrived in Delhi and was received by a senior management team member – with a car that took me to the Oberoi Hotel where I was greeted with a bouquet of flowers! And it later changed to my arriving with no one to receive me, looking for an auto to take me to the Janpath Hotel where I had booked a room, because that was all I could afford now!
Many of us wish we could maintain our present living standards, and yet move smoothly into business. This is a dream. There has to be the trough before the crest. There can never be a transition so smooth that the executive and his family will not feel the difference.
5. Do you have the ability to be wealthy and yet remain humble?
As corporate executives, some people become slightly overbearing personalities. The higher you go, the more people directly or indirectly report to you, and more people listen to you and flatter you or run around doing small favours for you. All heads turn to the door when you enter the meeting room and people move aside to let you pass in the corridor. All this feeds the corporate ego – and you begin to feel this is your due and your right.
But look at the suppliers who come to your office. They are probably wealthier than most corporate executives, but they don’t wear their riches on their sleeves. They are humble, soft-spoken and careful. It is an attitude of mind that has to be developed. If this cannot be developed – it is best to remain a corporate executive. 
Corporate executives may keep talking about getting into business; about the frustrations of working in the corporate sector; about the freedom they need to fly the open skies; to test and experiment with their novel ideas; to strike new paths in a growing country like India. They would like to get into business on their own, especially if they cannot get on with their present bosses. But, in the end, it is not the talking or the excuses but these five criteria which will determine whether the corporate executive will start his/ her own business or not!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)
1 month ago
The point about risk taking is worthwhile- you cannot teach anyone this, either you have it in you or don’t. A practical article for all those who don’t know whether to quit or not when the going is tough and it’s time for a decision.
Free Helpline
Legal Credit