Entrepreneurship for students II: 11 things to do before you leap

Ok i know your embarassed they made you wear a gown and a dorky looking hat with a horse tail kind of thingy hanging from it. And I know you are beyond furious that they actually made you go on stage infront of your entire class in that ridiculous outfit to accept your degree. In short your triumphant emergence from the drudgery of student life is celebrated by embarassing you infront of 500 people and then expecting you to pose for pictures to capture this moment for an eternity. Yup convocations can be painful, but hey you get to laugh at all your other friends while they are onstage and you get to throw those dorky hats, so it doesn’t suck that bad. On the flipside all you have to do now is decide what to do with the rest of your life. No sweat, this is only like the most important decision ever which can screw your entire life up, yey! While you are pondering over the “what next” sweating like a pig(did anyone actually see a pig sweat(get back to me if you have)) you have this great itch for entrepreneurship that is begging to be scratched. Ever since you saw some crappy article on some blog this itch has only grown. Finally you decide entrepeneurship is for you and want to jump into the madness and insanity that is a startup. Not so fast buddy, undecide what you have just decided. There are things you need to do before you take that leap.

BTW this part is the shameless self promotion of my articles in this series so feel free to skip ahead.
Entrepreneurship for students I : 11 reasons why you need start now
Entrepreneurship for students II : 11 things to do before you leap
Entrepreneurship for students III : 11 Myths about student entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship for students IV : 11 things to expect before you leap

1. Introspect

At the risk of sounding redundant please let me repeat what poorna and I have already said “Know thyself”. Ask yourself “why you want to be an entrepeneur?” Not surprisingly that question has all kinds of right and wrong answers.

Right answers
1. I have a passion for building a good company.
2. I have a great idea which if executed well will make me a lot of money.
3. I love the entrepreneur life style.(this can be a wrong answer too given your knowledge of the entrepreneur lifestyle)
4. I want to invest my time for exponential Rate of return even if there is risk instead of the steady Rate of return that a job provides.
many more…….

Wrong answers
1. Steve jobs was an entrepreneur, I luv steve jobs.
2. Tom, dick and harry are doing it why can’t I?
3. Hey the job title ‘entrepreneur’ sounds cool.
4. Because suman(or anyone else) told me to(very bad reason).
many more……..

It’s very important to be aware of all your reasons to be an entrepreneur. It is also important to scrutinize these ideas to withstand the stupidity test. People who are risk averse, easily influenced by others, afraid of failure should understand what entrepreneurship really entails before they decide wether it is their cup of tea. Realizing that you were not meant for entrepreneurship after a couple of months in will really spoil your day.

2. Get your shit together

Entrepreneurship and being an entrepreneur is a luxury and privilege few students can afford. Most wannabe entrepreneurs are kept at bay by the realities of everyday life. A typical graduate in india is expected to support his family. He/she is expected to earn and pay off the umpteen loans and needs of the house. When the vehicle, home and education loan come calling and expect you to pay up every month, starting your business might not be a good idea. Your first responsibility is to your family and the people around you. which means you have to hold off your dreams until “more important things” are taken care of. Don’t count on a steady stream of income when you are an entrepreneur. So get your financial affairs and responsibilities straight and fulfill them before you think about entrepreneurship. For the lucky few of us that needn’t worry about anyone else except themselves, consider yourself really, really lucky and make the best of your situation.

3. Round up the gang

The lone founder is a creature seldom seen in the bootstrapping startup circle, and with good reason. Being an entrepreneur is like being an entire office all by yourself, you need to be the clerk, programmer, boss, accountant, marketer, evangelist and a million more things. Though an enterpreneur is supposed to be a generalist rather than a specialist, not everyone can do all things well. A co-founder or a bunch of them will lighten the load on your shoulders while increasing your venture’s odds for success. The team can afford to have specialists so you have the “horses for courses” option. I also find that the more intelligent people there are around the harder it is for bullshit ideas to survive. For the student entrepreneur a support structure is also very important and vital reducing the cumulative downtime of individuals(if ur down ur buddies will kick ur ass to happy town). What im getting at is that a founding team is essential and a good idea for a student entrepreneur. As a general rule the older you are past your college years the harder it is to find co-founders. So get your team together.

4. What do you want?

It is important that every member of team be aware of what every other member on the team wants and expects from the planned venture. This is the step where most prospective co-founders are filtered away. There are certain core values, beliefs and perspectives that all the co-founders must share, and any compromise on these would most likely lead to conflicts in the future when they will be much more detrimental to the venture and will be harder to diffuse. For example if you believe in bootstrapping and your co-founders think that external funding is the only way to go then that doesn’t exactly seem like a good match, Similarly if you want to grow your company and your co-founder wants to build something and flip it then that doesn’t exactly spell ‘two of a kind’. This does not mean that different perspectives are undesirable, often conflict is a good thing and different perspectives aid in complementing each other to achieve the common goal. The short mantra is “like minded in core, complementary perspectives otherwise.”

5. What’s your business?

This is a not a toughie, before you begin your business you must know what your business is(I know my phrasing sounds stupid and condescending(what do i care, its my blog hehehehe)). Sit down and decide what you are going to do. Are you going to make and sell software? What kind of software? Do you want to get into E-commerce? If you dont have a narrow idea which is a good place for any startup to begin with, then formulate a broad business plan like “I am going to turn man hours into money(software services company)” or “Im going to turn patentable innovation into money”(selling high IP solutions). Validate your business plan or idea as much as you can before you get into it. You must answer questions like “Will people buy this?”, “Is our product unique?”…..

6. Role Play

What role are you and your co-founders going to play in the venture. Who is the people person is he going to be the evangelist and the vp of marketing. Who is the techie/geek does he have the discipline to be the CTO. Ofcourse these are decisions that cannot be taken at the outset but everyone should at the least be aware of their rough responsibilities and ownerships right at the outset like the techie, the money guy, the seller, the lead generator, so on and so forth. However no one should be a specialist and be limited to a small part of the operations of the company, everyone must be involved in everything as much as possible until it starts getting detrimental. The reason for this is that the team should recover and pick up the slack immediately if one of the members decides to leave. So a bunch of allrounders with a bias towards complementary specializations is the need of the day here.

7. Network

It’s never too early to start networking. The network is very important for a startup and it allows you to reach prospective clients while finding partners who you can complement and who can complement you. However one must be weary of the kind of people you need to network with. Often you will come across people that look very good on paper but in reality turn out to be nothing more than bandwidth hogs. The yard stick for any strategic partnership is the amount of mutual benefits. The point cannot be stressed enough, put your connections into perspective. The contact should be beneficial not detrimental and when you are a naive student who is full of energy its pretty hard to differentiate the beneficial and detrimental prospects(its hard enough for the more experienced ones). Help out your peers whenever you can and when you need your back scratched really badly someone will help you out.

8. Mentor

Find a mentor. Better yet find a set of mentors. The tech startup community is by nature very helpful, accommodating and forward so if you prove you will not be a waste of their time you can find good mentors. It is wise to learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Putting your mentors on a pedestal however might not be a good idea and at the end of the day all advice should be taken as just that advice and nothing more. It is you who must consider your every step from all angles and ultimately decide what to do even if it means going against your mentor’s advice. So take all advice from your mentors with a pinch of salt. Also as a rule a lot of advice that people dole out is nothing more than bullshit(including me(not)). One should offer a stake in the venture to the mentor if you think he is valuable enough to the future of the company. However this kind of stake will attract a lot of charlatans and pretenders who can’t add any real value and yet will promise you the sky.

9. The sponge

Be a sponge and absorb all the information that you can about starting and running a business. Your ventures future depends upon how well and how fast you can negotiate the learning curve that a startup requires. Do you know what cost-benefit analysis is? What about product lifecycle? And a gazillion other things. So learn, learn, learn and convert that knowledge into action as fast as possible. Take care that you aren’t caught flat footed on any issues that you should know. If you don’t know ask ex:”should our venture be a partnership firm or a LLC?”

10. The Sitdown

This is probably the most difficult thing you might have to do before you start your own venture, Convince your family that this is a good idea. Ofcourse first they are going to point at you and start laughing as if you just told them that

Ze Look

you would be an astronaut, that is until it sinks in. Once they realize you are not kidding their expression changes and their jaw drops with their mouth wideopen not believeing the words coming out of your mouth. Then you get ‘the look’. What is ‘the look’? you ask. Well it is the most dreadful heart melting expression that makes grown men cry. You know

the sort of look ‘puss in boots’ gives shrek in shrek 2. But don’t let this stop you, explain to them that you have thought his through and tell them what your plan is. Tell them that you know there is risk involved and have not ruled out failure as an option. Tell them this is what you’d like to do and that anything else would make you feel trapped and unhappy. And because they are your family and would want the best for you, they will agree if your idea isn’t something a numbskull concocted on his bad hair day.

11. Get a rich girlfriend

Better believe it, once you start your venture you can’t afford to have a normal girlfriend. For one thing your phone bill alone will bankrupt your company. So get yourself a rich girlfriend if you have to. Infact don’t think “girlfriend” think “angel investor”. Ofcourse it would help if the angel is hot, beautiful and wants to pamper you every chance she gets. And the best thing is you don’t have to get her gifts citing your nonexistent startup revenues.

Anyway my shitty attempt at comedy, and the fact that i could only think of 10 good things and had to fill the list with one sexist thing aside this was a pretty long article. So be vocal about your opinions people and if anything seems like bullshit please call it. Bye Bye.

-Suman

10 Thoughts to “Entrepreneurship for students II: 11 things to do before you leap

  1. Pingback: IndianPad
  2. Hey that’s one hell of a posting made by you guys keep posting blasters like this one, however I have a question for you guys to ask, one thing is that to startup a company you also require a reasonable amount of investment, do you guys know how one can start with building up a capital while you are in the process of developing your company, any ideas or investement techniques which will help for leveraging investment money… actually getting “rich girlfriend” is tougher then i thought…lol ; )

    Thanks in advance

    And keep up the good work !

  3. Hey Ricki, one of the great things about a software startup in most cases is that the investment required is minimal and it can be bootstrapped by doing consulting. Its great if you can find projects to work on that you can later convert to products and capitalize on sales. But As for the question of funding goes, first you need a rock solid business plan with all the essentials from market capture strategy to competitive analysis. Then try some angels (friends, family, rich strangers) for seed funding to get going. Then approach VCs(cautiously) who will only invest if your Business is a high growth proposition which requires a resaonably sized investment. And once you start dancing with them u’ll get the hang of things.

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