Should you? Shouldn’t you? I get asked this question very frequently, whereever I go and talk to college students. Surprising? No. Interesting? Yes. Without doubt – more and more people are considering entrepreneurship as a career option along with the other ‘normal’ choices – medicine, engineering, design, journalism, and MBA.
But when I got asked the same question this weekend at BITS Pilani where I was one of the panelist on “Startups – Issues and Challenges” during a convention on Energising Entrepreneurship in Academia through Innovation, I thought to blog my thoughts in the hope of reaching a bigger audience. To begin with, I will mention that while it is very lucrative to start as early as possible (there is a school of thought which tells students that you can start either now or after you are 40), one also needs to be sure that they give themselves a fair chance to succeed. Let me make a few obvious statements first:
- Starting just after college does not guarantee success OR failure. And the same is true for a person who has 30 years of industry experience.
- There isn’t really a right or wrong time to start. Seriously! It’s all in the mind and in the minds of those who matter to you.
- The entrepreneurial eco-system in the US is very different from any other country, including India. So, yes, take inspiration from the US examples but don’t assume that to be a rule.
- Being entrepreneurial is different from being an entrepreneur.
Now, let’s talk about the basic skills required to be an entrepreneur:
- Multi-tasking and team-work, with the maturity to be a facilitator than being somebody who can execute well.
- Passion and Risk-taking
- Craziness and ‘thinking outside the box’
Before you decide on whether you are ready to take the plunge or not, you need to evaluate yourself on the above criteria. The second and third points will mostly hold good (if that is not true – you should not even think about entrepreneuship in the near future or may be ever) but you need to know if you can really motivate a team working with you. Can you do multi-tasking – when you wouldn’t have worked ever on many of the tasks you will be carrying out then? Are you ready to work on something where you will have to spend most of your time on things that you are not ‘trained’ at? Do you have the patience to be a facilitator than being somebody who knows execution (being a good facilitator is a much harder job)? If the answer to all these questions is a strong (and honest) yes – you are ready, otherwise not. Nothing will still guarantee the outcome but, if you decide to go ahead on it, don’t let the thought cross your mind ever again then that you could have done better if you had a little bit of experience.
To summarize, my suggestions to those who want to start are the following: When you don’t have an industry work-experience, there is always a possibility of self-doubt on whether you have the correct skill-set to pull it off. If you have doubt – it’s always a good idea to wait. Give yourself some time – it’s always beneficial to work for a few years (your will still have a lot of time), gain some experience and ‘master’ one area that you know is essential for a business. There are so many unknowns in a startup - if you can reduce one unknown, it is a major win and more than compensates for a wait period of a few years. Always remember that the passion and energy that you will have for your first business is difficult to match for any subsequent business. It’s very important to give yourself a fair chance to succeed. And even though you need to be ready to be comfortable with failure, you don’t have to spend your energy in preparing for it.
In the end - even if you are not ready to be an entrepreneur, be entrepreneurial – there are similarities and there are differences.
Update: Syven has made an excellent comment on this post. It’s very worthwhile to read that comment.