By Mohit Saxena
Lately, I am being increasingly questioned, especially by college graduates, about how they can take the start-up plunge. In answering this question, I would like to tweak it: “Am I truly ready to take the start-up plunge?” When you answer this question around readiness, the second part around “how” will automatically flow through.
Firstly, an idea that is not backed by a problem, cannot take you very far. It may still be a good idea, but its reach and impact is further strengthened, when it solves a problem that several are seeking solutions to. Validating this upfront, both on your own and by a set of trusted and experienced people, such as your mentor, a sample set of potential users is a right place to start! Eric Ries proposes similar strategies in his model on “The Lean Start–up”. A quick tip here is to look for ideas in areas of projected trends and unexplored paths rather than in ones where there is already a lot of clutter. Herein, it is also important to understand your objective in pursuing this idea. Often, when the objective is questioned, I hear responses such as wanting to take risks and raise funds for the cause. These are classic recipes for a failed initiative, which not only result in wasted time and effort, but also pull down your motivation. To start with, validate not just your idea but also your objective to work.
Once this hypothesis check is done, introspect your passion to work on the idea. This is something that you will wake up to every morning for the next several weeks and months; one for which you may have to give up your lucrative corporate job for; or, the one that you are working on fresh out of college without much industry experience. Although the drive may seem strong to start with, there will be several occasions along the way, where you may experience randomization, feel direction-less, overwhelmed and even demotivated. Such a litmus test to question your motivation to work on this problem, will give you the reassurance that this is indeed what you are cut out for.
The value of self-introspection cannot be under-estimated in this evaluation process. You are your best judge in determining your strengths, areas of improvement and gaps that need to be filled. A conscious competence evaluation builds not just your end to end capabilities, but also your mental maturity to take up any challenge ahead of you.
Also, understand that the start-up environment is not an easy path to success. Very few hit the jackpot in the first attempt. Don’t count on their roads as poster paths that you will encounter. Similarly, while failures are important to learn from, don’t go with a mind-set that you will fail and that it is okay. This attitude sets you up for failure from the get go. Understand that there is a thin line between losing a glorious battle and going in with a mind-set to fail. Another wrong notion people have is that it is fine to drop out of college, to follow the foot-steps of Gates, Jobs and Zuckerbergs of the world. Today, if you want to join their organizations as a college drop-out, your chances are very low. To give another analogy, as you watch your favourite player ousted from a game, you can easily make the call whether it was a genuine failure or a careless one.
With the above taken care of, you can focus on how exactly to bootstrap your start-up effort. The special mention here is that, if you are not ready on these fronts today, it is absolutely fine. Working on a start-up is not an obligation. This is an important message for today’s millennials, especially those in their crucial years of their college education, to understand. It is absolutely fine to explore start-up initiatives your colleges are associated with but there is no need for anxiety – and the start-up world is not the only place to quench your career anxieties. The world is right here. Problems are here to stay. While it is true that India is now the new land of opportunities, don’t be concerned that you will miss this ‘bubble’. You may find yourself ready for the start-up world in a few years down the line. Or even if you don’t, it is completely fine. You need to understand that you can make a difference wherever you are – whether it is in an established enterprise, a start-up or an organization that is somewhere in-between.
Wherever you are, organizations need all kinds of people – strong execution players are as important as the visionaries and founders themselves.
Their contribution in taking the company to the next level is equally, if not more worthy, than founding the company itself.
I see not just the young crowd but even industry veterans grappling with this question of ‘Start-Ups vs. Established Players,’ to stay relevant in their workplace. When an educated call is made, at-least along the lines discussed above to start with, we not only help ourselves and our careers but also the industry at large and help ensure what we are experiencing now is not a bubble and that it is here to stay.
Mohit Saxena is CO-Founder & CTO on inMobi, where he is currently heading the technology group at Global mobile ad network InMobi. He is responsible for providing strategic technical guidance to the business and leading the operational and development teams that are involved in building high performance and geographically dispersed scalable/fault tolerant enterprise systems.