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'You need a band of believers to succeed as an entrepreneur'

When you're an entrepreneur you're always straddling this thin line between penury and
survival. Early on, my common quip when people asked me what I did for a living was:
"I'm an entrepreneur," and then I would add seriously, "hurtling down penury lane."

My response would elicit laughter often of the unbridled kind. It would help camouflage
my own reaction which said: "No really, I mean it."

Entrepreneurship is like that. There are highs and lows and they come in different shapes
and sizes. Because you wear different hats the outlook depends on how quickly you
switch hats. If you dwell long enough on the one hat, you're sure to eventually take a
deviation down 'Negativity Lane.'

It is part of the entrepreneur's DNA. You're always looking for something to go wrong.
When things are actually stable (they're never hunky dory), you walk around with this
fear writ large on your face -- 'Something must be wrong!' On occasion you actually feel
relieved when a crisis arrives. At least the expectation of doom evaporates for a brief
while.

• From rags to riches: Story of a design firm

But what keeps you going is the tremendous support you get from people around you. It's
the time-honoured humane tradition of helping the underdog that takes precedence over
all other motives.

You also need to shamelessly reach out to those who can help you. Your experience is
enriched because you encounter so many who are willing to help out without any
expectation in return. The support could be just waiving a charge for a service 'or'
actually offering up valuable time to guide and advice you through a crisis or a problem.

That makes the whole experience much more rewarding. It also sets the stage for you to
be a better human being and in turn find ways to give back to the community (of
entrepreneurs) later on in life.

Family support is the maker or breaker of the whole idea of entrepreneurship. All other
problems will take care of themselves if you have strong support from your family. I have
always enjoyed terrific familial support. If you have a founding team, familial support is
essential all around.

If your co-founders walk into work everyday without this support, your business takes a
few steps back. It's not a bad idea to meet family members of the founding team and seek
their support. It's time well spent.
It's also imperative that your partner/spouse is employed/earning and keeps the home
fires burning. Why? Because it is not a given that you'll earn anything substantial for
some time to come. It helps if you and your team have some funds put away for the rainy
day.

If you are pumping all those rainy day funds into your business and you don't have a
partner who works, it'll test your resolve as a team and as individuals.

Above all you feel humbled by all the unquestioning support that you get. You hope
you'll get a chance to pay back someday. But there are no guarantees. So you wonder
how to show your gratitude in the interim.

I often find myself rehearsing a speech I'm going to make someday to this growing posse
of unquestioning believers where I name out each one of them and acknowledge their
contribution. Or in the acknowledgements to a book I might write to share my
experiences.

And then it occurred to me that I could begin this right here and right now. The list,
however, is a rather long one. So let's dive right in.

The Tinkerer: I never assembled or built a thing in my life. And I find myself heading a
product innovation company, a veritable tinker shop. I owe it to my father, the
quintessential tinkerer.

He was a mechanical engineer, but toss him anything broken and he would use the most
rudimentary of tools and common sense to fix things. That's a life lesson I don't forget. I
take it to work everyday.

Innovation doesn't mean an ever-expanding budget. The constraints bring out the best in
a person.

The IBM'er: We never met when we both lived in North America. He had worked with
IBM for 30 years before returning to India. I met him through the Gaijin I talk of next!

But the relationship we struck was special. When I told him I was going it on my own,
his eyes said it all -- "I'm gonna make 'you' successful!" A month into our experiment, he
took me to the office of the chairman of a well known company.

They were friends from their childhood days in Lahore. He proclaimed that I was his son
and demanded that his friend give our company some work. That got us off in the right
direction. The IBM'er is not with us today. But on days when I have questioned the
proposition I remember him and that fateful day, and tell myself: "Gotta make it count!"

The Gaijin!: The first time we met was in Tokyo. He spoke Japanese more fluently than
I could ever hope to. He would speak passionately about our business with his network of
friends and investors, Japanese and other, like he knew it inside out. He didn't! But he
was a true believer.

He was also a door opener par excellence. Nothing touched me more than watching him
make late night calls after a long day's work to help me out.

Some of our early breaks are purely due to his bull headed-ness and can-do attitude.

The Venture Capitalists: It's not a given that a believer who happens to be a venture
capitalist will fund you. But help you they will. I've lost count of the number of times I
sought help from friends and believers in the investment fraternity.

They truly gave meaning to the expression '2 degrees of separation.' Time and again in
our early days, I would read articles in the press and reach out to them and others in the
circuit and, voila! within a couple days I would have the name of a person to go after.

The Bean Counter: A finance head in a well known company, the Bean Counter would
spend late nights helping me with our business plan. He set me up with a bank and a
small line of credit when we had no financials to show yet.

A phone call is all it took. He then proceeded to set me up with a company affairs expert
par excellence who was a believer in his own right. Much later when we did go in for
venture funding, the due diligence was much easier thanks to this upfront groundwork.

The Energizer: A management consultant, he would walk into our team sessions and
turn things upside down. We would think we had the discussion going in the right
direction and he would begin by questioning the very basis.

Several 'why's' later we would have the proverbial light bulb going off. He also taught us
some early hard lessons about learning to see things through and the true meaning of
ownership.

The Real Entrepreneur(s): The Real Entrepreneurs are those who provided
unquestioning financial support. The worst thing an entrepreneur can carry to work is this
albatross of denying his/her kids the little things or the knowledge that he/she's taking a
plunge which might put the family in jeopardy.

When I was battling with business issues my wife's ability to support the family was
pivotal.

Neither can I forget the small but significant infusions from several other believers in our
early days. They didn't really ask much about the proposition. It was all about belief.

Above all, entrepreneurs need to find that balance between positivity and objectivity.
Believers provide that balance. When you're down on yourself and questioning the whole
thing, they bring in that air of positivity that pulls you up. When you're getting carried
away, they bring in the objectivity to ensure you stay on track.

It's a fine trapeze act in itself and if you're planning to be an entrepreneur, you can start
by putting up a banner outside your home: 'Wanted a Band of Believers!'

Believe me, they'll come.

Satya Rao is founder and CEO of Axiom Consulting, a product innovation


company. The views expressed are his own. He can be contacted at
satya@axiomconsult.com

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