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The thrills and spills of sailing solo

Adrenaline, ulcers, joy, devastation, bliss, manic depression, chagrin and euphoria are some of the phenomena in the journey of entrepreneurship.

Ashish Gupta | Print Edition: January 25, 2007

Adrenaline, ulcers, joy, devastation, bliss, manic depression, chagrin and euphoria are some of the phenomena in the journey of entrepreneurship. As someone fortunate to have been involved in several start-ups—Junglee (now part of Amazon), Tavant Technologies and

Daksh—let me talk about the soft aspects of entrepreneurship. I can’t identify any one aspect as most important. So here is a potpourri. One can infer many patterns from these points.

First and foremost, it is not necessary to be an entrepreneur. There are no universal passions; so why should entrepreneurship be an exception? Peer pressure and desire to get rich are two frequent terrible culprits. There has to be passion for the task at hand. Then there is the issue of personal trade-offs. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be a little irrational. On the one hand it requires belief in things that few other believe in, and on the other it requires suspension of belief in probability and mortality. Most start-ups die—so if one gets too sophisticated about risk, few companies would start. Being an entrepreneur also takes a toll on personal life. When three people take on the world, they will not lead a balanced life— often negatively impacting their health, relationships and hobbies.

Given the above trade-offs, frequently the spouse of an entrepreneur has a harder time. The entrepreneur has the support of a team and its passion to building a company, while the spouse is holding everything else together singlehandedly.

But the advantages are just as many. The emotions in a start-up are so intense that it is addictive. It is addictive to experience the thrill of being in a small boat whose future rests in the hands of a few people, and the next wave is all yours to ride on or capsize under. It’s like being a Lilliputian— every object that would otherwise look small, suddenly takes on gigantic proportions. A Rs 10,000 contract would be the largest the company has seen. Each new team member is a huge addition to the company, each departure a huge blow. To a paper boat, the smallest ripple looks like a tidal wave. As a result the highs and lows of being in a small company are incomparable. Becoming an entrepreneur also accelerates the learning curve tremendously since there is so much to do and so little time and resource. Similarly, startups offer unparalleled professional growth opportunities. As a company grows from three to 300 people, leadership opportunities abound with no room for intellectual dishonesty. Good entrepreneurs are nearly always ruthlessly honest with themselves and colleagues. There is no alternative because the customer and market are faceless and merciless, and cut no company any slack.

Entrepreneurship makes crystal clear several lessons of the Bhagwad Gita. The environment usually demands your best, a complete focus on the job, and provides little time to worry about controlling the outcome of your actions. It brings out the most intense focus in most people, even obsession. There is little time to play games. As a result it’s a great environment
to make friends for life.

(Ashish gupta is Managing Director, Helion Ventures)

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