The Entrepreneur Inside Us

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Infosys is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Started in 1981 by

seven people, it has turned into a billion dollar company. But can such a

success story be repeated or better still, be outdone? This is not just for the

IT sector but also for the entire gamut of engineering and technology. It is

impossible to build Brand India, without having a whole lot of successful Indian

entrepreneurial ventures leading the fray. It is not enough to have Infosys,

Wipro, TVS, Bajaj, TCS, Reliance, NIIT, and a few others and be content. The

much-touted slogan, “India is a land of employees” can be proved wrong only

if more Indians are willing to set up their own companies.


Now Is The Time

Unlike a decade ago, most engineering and technology graduates are not

burdened with “better safe than sorry” mentality that their parents'

generations were stuck with. This is giving rise to a new breed of entrepreneurs

and new companies. Take the example of founder-CEO of Paramount Airways, M

Thiagarajan. He is a 29-year-old engineer. He is the youngest CEO of an airline

company in the world. He hails from Madurai, a city more famous for its

Meenakshi Temple rather than its entrepreneurs. Many of us can start our own

companies if we wake up the entrepreneur in ourselves.

There are two types of entrepreneurs. First are those who build a company

from scratch and would never sell it like the Infosys team and second are those

who build and sell like Sabeer Bhatia, the man behind Hotmail. Both are required

to set up top-notch Indian companies.

The latter type is especially more vital, as most people are afraid of taking

risks. They fear starting from scratch but would not mind buying a running

company. This attitude is very much peculiar to our Indian mentality of buying a

house rather than building one. So if you are good at building and selling, you

can't ask for a better time to be an Indian in India as you can rake in money



Challenges That Inspire 

For those who think that they can quit their jobs and start your own

companies, there are a few things they need to consider. It is great to be your

own boss, but remember you will have to work harder, be more disciplined and

organized than ever before. Don't think you can sit back in your seat and

watch money pour in or expect instant gratification. Also, if you manage to get

the capital, then you need to understand, India doesn't have bankruptcy laws,

which means if your venture fails, then the money goes with it too and the banks

and investors will be after your life, even if it is your own relatives.

However, the challenges can be met if you follow these five steps before you


1 Plan

It is important to raise enough capital to meet the company's needs

for at least the first year including bank loan payments.


Get a good team:

Build a trustworthy team with different talents-marketing, collection,

conflict resolution, and day-to-day management. Get a good and honest accountant

instead of making one of your friends the accounts keeper. Most importantly one

person shouldn't invest more than the other partners should even if they are

your best friends, at least in the first ten years. This is business and not a

friend's reunion. Keep your private and business relationships separate. Also,

reward your employees as you grow and don't be stingy with bonuses.   

Know your market:

If you are starting a company in a particular field, study the market,

customers, and competitors. See if it can add anything extra to your company

that will give you the edge and sell this edge to your customers.

Be prepared: If

you make a profit in the first few years, save most of the money for the tough

times, as there can be eventualities. It is not sensible to go on a spending

spree. While it is true you need to reward yourself, it is also important to set

aside amount for the times when payment is delayed. 


Get a mentor: This

is important, though most people don't realize it. A mentor could be a retired

businessperson with contacts, your professor, a fellow competitor who has been

in the field for long, a sensible relative or friend, a finance professional,


As the saying goes, the difference between the poor and the rich is in their

spending habits. “The rich reinvest majority of their income and spend what is

left over. The poor spend their income and invest what is left over.”

So the mantra is to reinvest, reinvest, and reinvest! It could be in a

new machine, a new technology or in your employees by sending them off to

improve their skills in another field. This will only increase your company's

assets and value.

Enterprising Entrepreneurs

To be an entrepreneur it is not necessary to build a company in the

traditional sense. If some of you are grumbling, over the product type that he

doesn't have a product but still wants to start his own company. One can even

start a no-product company. One could start a consulting firm instead. He could

be a home-based consultant, an Internet consultant, or someone who telecommutes.

Alternatively, he could do online projects or be an “expert” speaker at

various forums. For most of this, one would need some work experience under your

belt and one would need to specialize in one particular area. His/her success

rate depends upon his/her responsiveness. Repeat orders show that. The

person's reputation matters a lot. In addition, this sort of company is very

low on investment, but one has to work hectically without expecting much

workplace related benefits. However, it is extremely satisfying and is ideal for

people who find it hard to get back into the workplace after taking a break to

pursue something else. 


Then there is the services sector. One could start a company to satisfy

specific needs in an area. This requires small or large investment, depending on

the customer needs. It could vary from machine/equipment rentals, machine

processing for small—medium companies, customer services for large companies

to building septic tanks for houses in a developing area. In a country like

India, needs vary from area to area, which is a huge advantage.

If you are the inheritor of an already established company, diversify and

start up in a new field.

If none of the above ideas work for you, remember, you are a customer of a

wide range of products and services. If you find a product or service less than

satisfactory and know how you can improve upon it, start your company. No, I'm

not talking of manufacturing new motherboards but customer statements, product

recycling, machine refurbishing or a new design of an already available product

that has the “extra” edge to the old one be it price or improvement.


Encourage Research and Innovation

It is true that not all of us can be inventors. But most of us can be

entrepreneurs. For those who would like to start a product-based company or

belong to already established companies, but would like to diversify, it is

extremely important to encourage research. You don't need a whole lot of money

to do this.

Follow the five steps:

Hook up with a local

university or your old university or a technical institute.

Create annual

scholarships in either your name or your parents name or in your favourite

professor's name. This will encourage budding scientists to think and not

“mug and vomit”. The amount can be 5% of your annual income or if you would

like to give it in your company's name, which should be fine too. 


Try out the final year

project reports of the students at your local college in your company if they

are product oriented. We have a lot of them collecting dust in university


Hold annual contests in

your local schools and universities to solve problems with attractive prize

money. If it works, this could be your company's product and you get automatic

media coverage too!

5 Keep

in touch with your professors and other academics, who may ask your help for a

promising student or students' project.

Remember, engineering and technology are diverse and not confined to IT, so

try an inter-disciplinary approach. Even if you are not starting a company,

follow the above five steps to encourage innovation and who knows you may become

one of the primary shareholders in the next big venture.

Become an entrepreneur or help a budding entrepreneur and innovator to

flourish. It is not tough to start a company in India. Don't wait to become an

entrepreneur. Start young. If you are 25, don't wait until you turn 40. If you

are 40 already, don't wait until you turn 60. Start small, think big, and

persevere. Wake up the entrepreneur in you.

Deepa Kandaswamy

The author is the founder-moderator of the IndianWISE e-group