Entrepreneurship is romanticised as hell. Seeing yourself quoted in leading business publications gives you an adrenalin rush. Building a brand or disrupting the market with a whole new product can be extremely exciting. Listening to Steve Jobs’ graduation speech at Stanford University on YouTube could give you that final push. From college students to top management professionals, it seems everyone wants to take the plunge. Let’s get this straight, successful entrepreneurs are often celebrities; Narayana Murthy of Infosys garners as much public attention, if not more, than say an Aamir Khan.
On the other hand, aspiring entrepreneurs understand that it is really hard to start up. For every person you know that succeeded, you’re also aware of those who failed. The odds are completely stacked against you. Researchers have constantly written about how the fear of failure is the biggest reason why a majority of highly skilled people don’t startup. They want to insure their future before taking big risks. For younger people, the backup plan is usually anything from pursuing an MBA to going back to their previous jobs. Experienced people worry about financial security and even about whether the respect they have earned over the years through their careers will be eroded by a failed startup venture. And frankly, our society still stigmatises failure.
Last year, when we interviewed Narayanan Vaghul, former chairman of ICICI Bank, he suggested that one of the ways this fear can be overcome is by trying to build an organisation that can make an impact. He reasoned that if the idea enthrals you, you would do whatever it takes to make it work; keeping in mind the impact it can have. Hence, you worry less about your own failure and work towards building your offering. Over-simplification? Perhaps. But this certainly offers a suggestion to entrepreneurs, who don’t startup because of the fear of failure.
Over the last 32 editions of The Smart CEO, we’ve featured over 100 entrepreneurs in our Starting Up section. As the name suggests, the section is dedicated to featuring early stage companies. Over 80 per cent of the entrepreneurs we’ve featured here are youngsters with less than eight years of corporate experience. In our section titled Growth Enterprise, dedicated to featuring mid-size companies with stable cash flows, we’ve featured another 80 or so companies and, even here, we’ve noticed that the founders often had less than 10 years of experience before starting up.
Based on our own knowledge of entrepreneurship activity in India, it is possible that more and more youngsters are taking the plunge. But that’s certainly not the whole story. Senior professionals are now realising the impact they can create through their own startups and slowly but surely more experienced professionals are going the entrepreneurship way. Gone are the days when CFOs and COOs transformed into consultants and advisors post-retirement. Several of them, young at heart, mingle with the younger bunch of founders at entrepreneurship conferences to not miss out on the action. They do not hesitate to get down to basics and get their hands dirty. In fact, they understand very well the merits of doing so and are prepared for it.
In this cover story, we’ve identified seven such senior professionals who decided to turn entrepreneurs. Each of them had a variety of reasons to startup. For Tarundeep Singh Anand, former managing director of Thomson Reuters, the opportunity to build a business school based on his own management experience of leading fairly large companies was exciting. Ravi Kiran, former CEO-South East and South Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group, says he was enthusiastic to startup simply because of the number of new aspects he could learn. While his work experience was handy, the prospect of using his lessons from the past and simultaneously exploring unchartered territory were stimulating. Today, he is the founder of Venture Nursery, an accelerator for startups and Friends of Ambition, a management-consulting firm focused on advising firms in Tier-II and Tier-III towns in India.
For Rahul Bhalchandra, founder of YLG Salon and Spa, his experience as head of the wellness business at Future Group taught him several key lessons. He understood the importance of inculcating the value of customer insights into day-to-day operations. He had the opportunity to build tremendous scale as a senior professional and setting up YLG gave him the opportunity to replicate the same for his own brand.
For all these experienced professionals we spoke to for this feature, there was a variety of reasons that pushed them to take the entrepreneurial plunge. But there were also a few common aspects that emerged. Each of these executives was highly driven to make an impact in society – be it through offering quality education, mentoring other startups or for that matter creating jobs. As Vaghul once mentioned to us, this opportunity to create something meaningful and long lasting might just be the single biggest reason why successful, senior executives are now joining the younger brigade in the entrepreneurship world.