If you grew up in the “dinosaur” era where a career was about permanence and one long haul, you will surely be well versed with what I am about to narrate. Wonderful carefree days at school and then get to the best possible graduate school and then it happens seamlessly that you board a career flight with one of the largest corporates of the time. The journey has begun and it is a safe and guaranteed flight till the end of your career with near assured upgrades to different classes within the plane, well served and treated with care and style. These were standard journeys, just that each one of us boarded a different jet but alighted at the same time to retire and shared similar experiences. Sounds very cinematic and it was perhaps a happy routine.
With liberalisation the seeds of opportunity were thrown all around and the courageous took to nurturing the seeds and began to experience what was it like to be an entrepreneur. What was it like to be the owner of your jet and have the joy of taking several young professionals for a ride aboard your own Aircraft One! Over the last 25 years opportunities have grown millionfold and entrepreneurship is growing in this country. Men and women of all ages are able to dabble with entrepreneurship and the support structure is growing as well.The single biggest advantage has been the ease of communication and reaching out to customers and the shrinking of distance by the virtual world. Dreaming was a new habit and the taboos around it diminished fast enough.
While the challenges of any business are unique and daunting, I intend to dwell and focus on the specific challenges of entrepreneurs who have had long years as a corporate professional and are now pursuing their passion and interest in their second innings as an entrepreneur.
You may be in your mid or late 40s and may have had a fulfilling career but you see that your thrill quotient at work has been steadily declining. Or, you have hit your ceiling at your present workplace and feel that there is more to do. Or you feel like doing something beyond what you have been doing all these years or, simply put, you are looking for a recharge of sorts. Very often you would have bounced your idea off close friends and they will suggest you to take an entrepreneurial route. They may even give a bag-full of ideas, possibly joining hands with you as a mark of assurance! You evaluate it for some time and decide your next move while life continues. There are some reasons why a transition to entrepreneurship after continued success elsewhere can tickle your nerves.
Becoming an entrepreneur when you are young is fairly logical today and you have a long life ahead of you with youthful energy and you are unencumbered. You want to prove something to the world and embrace a fast-paced life etc. The equation changes dramatically if you encounter the same situation about 25 years later. Here is what comes in additionally for you to juggle with:
- Loss of identity: In the corporate world one of the good things is that you don a halo that does not belong to you and yet you feel it is yours for all the time to come. The society respects you and your globetrotting lifestyle may inspire awe in many, your title and the respect and attention it brings are something that you would need to forget for a good long while if not indefinitely. The societal respect unfortunately hinges on your “success value” in career and your identity makes many befriend you. The longer you have been in this part of your career innings the deeper are the depths you will need to get yourself out from. The first truth is to have the courage to hang those halos where they belong and move along unarmed and recreate the same halo over time. It is a kind of zero reset though you will leverage your past halo. In a nutshell, be prepared for a long spell of anonymity.
- Pressure from family or friends: Your success in the current pursuit is not only enjoyed by you, but by your family and at least a few dear friends. The privileges go beyond monetised conveniences. When you contemplate a switch to run your own company, they feel the nervousness first. They may also think that you are not quite suited for doing what you are setting out to do and fear the worst. They would do their own research to counter your assumptions about the new venture, only because they want to dissuade you. It could be due to risk aversion, unwillingness to rock the boat or quite simply, cynicism about new ventures as a career option. The more you sound hesitant, the more quickly their cadres will swell. Pontificating is the easiest trade and it works pretty well if you are half hearted. At an age when the tribe around you is more dependent on you, expect the pull outward to be manifold stronger.
- Financial insecurity: Your corporate life and successful career had brought in a fair amount of abundance of wealth and you have bought your home, seen off all or most of your children through school, cultivated some investment habits etc. Financial stability of this kind can be rattled and upset by your entrepreneurship bug. Your savings will go towards your dream venture, rock the monthly pay cheques and you will stay in a cash burn situation for several months if not for an indeterminate period of time. Sounds risky for many but it is a stark truth. Forget your business class travels and holidays perhaps and welcome budget airlines etc.
- Possible health hazard: People often relate to health concerns as an offshoot of work-related stress. Moving from a happy and cushy corporate job to running your own business is seen by “others” as extremely stressful in a way that affects your health. Long working hours and sleep deprivation are all likely to part of your new routine. No holidays and worries and responsibilities of many others whom you will manage to bring under your umbrella will be seen as spikes of stress affecting your health. Under such assumptions your family will not be far behind in accepting this possible negative effect on your health! What they will discount is the immense joy of working for yourself with the buck stoping with you and you are now only bearing the burden of your own mistakes. Are you capable of handling this change in routine and working hours etc. which may have some correlation to your health?
- Inertness: To put it more subtly- laziness. I have known many friends who have discussed becoming entrepreneurs but refrained from doing any spadework. At best they were all talk without an action plan. The willingness to put some money on the table is the first sure sign of your readiness to take a plunge. “Deskies” can talk till the cows come home on the subject but are happy to stay on the sidelines and wait for the boarding pass that may never ever come by. They do not mind ruing over missed opportunities years later but frankly it is best that such inert ones remain on the sidelines. Ensure you are not one of them.
- Past experience of others: Even if you are contemplating becoming an entrepreneur for the first time, your memories of others who started and ‘failed’ cannot fade. They can daunt you and your courage may falter. The real reasons for the failures may not be even a point of discussion but the results will be loud and clearly visible. Unsolicited advice and “Gyan” especially if you are in India will be plenty (out of misplaced good intentions most times). History will be invoked to deter you but remember that there is no such thing as a fail-safe business. Logic and instincts will approach you simultaneously asking you to choose one over the other.
Some of us went through these hurdles in our mid 40s but pushed ahead with our ventures – mine being a more conventional one, but no less risky than any. It is the satisfaction of learning many life lessons and tools in the bargain that make the journey worthwhile. Your set of goals and pursuits changes dramatically. Success in business is one factor but you discover time and how you can use it to do a dozen other things you love to do for just the sheer joy of doing it are some fantastic offshoots making the journey even more worthwhile. The pursuit is ongoing, slow but you know you are the driver and you alone are responsible for where you are heading. Many, like me, in this phase of life will agree that we did what we did because we liked it and could not care much about the caveats above. It is a process that involves patience, articulation and a lot of convincing to get past the hurdles.
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My professional experience over the last 23 years has spanned the areas of heavy engineering, investment banking and Lifestyle Consumer Retailing in India and across South East...