Have you wondered what goes on in the heads of entrepreneurs? What makes them tick? The New Age Entrepreneurs provides a peek into the lives of thirty successful entrepreneurs-including N.R. Panicker of Accel Ltd. Ramachandra Galla of Amaron. and M. Murali of Sri Krishna Sweets-who established flourishing businesses borne out of innovative ideas. These trailblazers delved into diverse industries. ranging from information technology to luxury hotels and Indian sweets.
With snappy, insightful, and motivating tales - interspersed with interviews and vivid profiles- The New Age Entrepreneurs IS a collection of vignettes of men who made their own rules and set standards for others to follow.
This is the fourth year in a row where CII has brought out a book on the general theme of innovation and entrepreneurship. When we started three years ago, our intentions were two-fold. First, we wanted to showcase entrepreneurial activity in Tamil Nadu to attract investors, incubators, and entrepreneurs to the state to strengthen the entrepreneurial eco-system. Second, we wanted to inspire prospective entrepreneurs by showcasing compelling stories of successful entrepreneurs. We brought out our first publication Star Trek with stories of 101 entrepreneurs.
The following year, we decided to focus on the innovations that fuel entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship and innovation, though used synonymously, are widely different. Not all innovators who become entrepreneurs innovate radically. The process of innovation is, therefore, as worthy of mention as that of entrepreneurship. Furthermore, while mainstream innovators and inventions are often widely publicized, there are several innovators with wide and far-reaching social impact that emanate from rural areas, academic environments and small and medium industries that often pass by, unheard of. We decided to showcase 25 such innovations through our next publication Breakthrough. Once again we intended to inspire innovators with this book.
For ages, a debate has raged on about whether entrepreneurship can be taught. Though one school of thought holds that entrepreneurship can be broken down into discrete principles that can be inculcated into curriculum, others opine that entrepreneurship is based on an 'urge' that can often not be articulated, let alone taught. In truth, we believe that the answer lies somewhere in between. It is not Nature or Nurture. Successful entrepreneur might well have seeds of creativity embedded in their DNA, but can also be guided on their path towards success. In short, successful entrepreneurs are not people who do different things but also who do things differently to carve out a niche for themselves.
With this objective, last year we brought out the CII - Entrepreneurs Handbook. A book, which attempted to be a reference that entrepreneurs can use. It is not and does not purport to be a comprehensive guide on how to become a successful entrepreneur. Each issue was taken up in this handbook to be dealt with in considerably greater detail by the experts and stalwarts with a belief that potential entrepreneurs could enhance their livelihood of success by familiarizing themselves with the content of this book, and the lifecycle of an entrepreneurial venture.
One step further, this year, CII SR Taskforce on Entrepreneur- ship and Innovation is bringing out a book on success formulae of entrepreneurship in collaboration with Mint portraying the success stories of entrepreneurs from the southern states who have created a niche for themselves both in terms of innovation and a proven track record. I am sure this book will be the Bible for the budding entrepreneurs who can learn a lot from their role models.
The success gene: Does it exist?
AI; you read through this fabulous book, you are bound to be amazed at the diversity and variety of entrepreneurs covered here. Entrepreneurs who are diverse not merely because of the different sectors they represent but also because of the different paths they have chosen to success. For me, what stands out is the effort to distil the secret sauce behind each success story into a compelling insight that informs as much as it provokes thought.
In these couple of pages, I would like to focus the spotlight on a topic that has intrigued me a lot in my journey with entrepreneurs. What's common to successful entrepreneurs? Does an entrepreneur DNA exist? Is there a code that typifies the attitude and behaviour of path breaking entrepreneurs that, selfishly, would help us identify the next set of market leaders? At Sequoia Capital, we are privileged to have been early investors in more than 50 companies in India- some of which feature in this book-that today gives us a rich source of material to look for answers.
Single-minded focus and passion
Successful entrepreneurs bring a burning focus and passion to the business they are building. We notice that they rarely have personal interests and hobbies because they spend all their time, outside of family time, thinking and building their businesses. When entrepreneurs start having distractions, especially in the form of serious personal or business interests outside their main business, it is usually a 'red-flag' for us. It is easy to dismiss these driven individuals as 'quirky' because they may not be as well-rounded as the ideal VP- Business Development we meet in large corporates, but this single- minded focus leads entrepreneurs to build great companies.
All young companies face challenges. Many of them reach 'dead ends' multiple times in their journey. We rarely see a company with a bar graph that does not depict this journey. The best entrepreneurs we know refuse to give up-they climb dead-end walls, create options out of nowhere, and find sources of succour for their companies to tide them through the bad times. It is important to highlight that this tenacity is best accompanied by the choice of the right market to demonstrate it in because there is not much value to be created when you operate in small or unprofitable markets.
'Customer service is not just a department'
This now-famous quote is from our well-known US portfolio com- pany Zappos that was recently acquired by Amazon.com. Successful entrepreneurs bring a maniacal focus on the end-customer to their companies. Be it a B2B or a B2C business, this focus on the end- customer frequently helps separate winners from the also-tans, even in categories with seemingly low product differentiation.
Attracting and empowering talent
It cannot be a coincidence that the best entrepreneurs also attract the best management talent. These entrepreneurs learn very early that they cannot do it all by themselves and go about building teams that can help them execute their vision. Many of the entrepreneurs I know have, at different stages of their growth, struggled with empowering their management teams and have found it tough to let go of control, but have soon realized its virtues and gone on to create multiple leaders within the organization. Another important aspect of making their team feel empowered is to generously share the rewards of success as the business scales up. This allows the entrepreneur to create and distribute ownership of the company across the organization, and is the best way to incent teams.
Being an entrepreneur is no lifestyle job. Many tough decisions have to be taken and being a leader is an essential characteristic of success. Having an unwavering focus on the end objective even as you navigate day-to-day vicissitudes calls for true leadership. Taking tough and unpopular decisions, especially in times of pain, requires the entrepreneur to feel lonely at times, and the successful ones have repeatedly demonstrated this ability. 'Feeling lonely', however, does not mean alienating the team; successful entrepreneurs are able to take the uncommon path and inspire people in that direction.
'Everything is not core'
Removing and deleting chaff takes tremendous thought and effort. Whether it is products, people, or markets-the best entrepreneurs bring a razor to their view on what is required for their business.
Simple as it sounds, we have seen that the ability to remain lean and focused on what's core for a business usually separates the leader. The tough choice between thoughtfully sowing the seeds for the next stage of growth through investments versus a tactical move that can generate incremental revenue is the real test that differentiates the truly successful entrepreneurs from the not-so-successful ones.
While I have attempted to layout six stand-out similarities among successful entrepreneurs we have partnered with, I must conclude by recognizing the innate individuality of everyone of these founders. Each of these entrepreneurs has a unique story that stands out, and a unique set of qualities that deserve mention and respect. To create a successful business out of nothing requires creativity, innovation, and a desire to be different that makes them strong individuals who stand out in the crowd. I see this book as an ode to these successful individuals and hope that we see many more such wonderful success stories emerging from India in the future.
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