Saturday, 22 May 2010

When to jump

The question I am most frequently asked by students of business schools and engineering colleges who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs is – When is it the right time to become an entrepreneur? Should I do it straight after college or should I work for a few years first?

The truth is that there are success stories of all sorts. There are those who have done it after working for a few years as managers in companies – the Infosys founders are an example. Then there are people who have done it straight out of college – my good friend Kunwar Sachdev of SuKam invertors is one such. And there are those who have dropped out of college to become entrepreneurs – Bill Gates is the most famous name that comes to mind. There are people who do college and entrepreneurship side by side – Michael Dell’s story of how he founded and ran Dell from his college room is famous. Finally there are those who became entrepreneurs without even going to college or completing their school education – the best known story in India is of Dhirubhai Ambani.

There is no one right answer to these questions however you can always find an example to support whatever point of view you support.

The argument in favour of becoming an entrepreneur straight out of college is that once you are in a job and you get comfortable with the idea of a regular salary you will find it extremely difficult to quit do a start up. This is especially true if you are from a premier institute and earning a high salary in a well known company. It becomes worse if some years have elapsed since you finished college and you have now bought a car and a house and have EMI’s to service. And later on when you have got married and started a family it becomes nearly impossible to quit – you crave security.

The single largest reason why people give up on their entrepreneurial aspirations and continue is a job is delay in breaking out after college.

The argument in favour of working for some years in a job before becoming an entrepreneur is that you improve your reality check. It is well known that the Indian education system does not provide a great reality check to students. It takes several years of working after college for graduating students to figure out how the real world actually functions. You learn to work as a subordinate before you become a boss and that experience is important when your company scales up and you are managing a larger team. You acquire skills on the job that you would have otherwise not have. You meet customers, get an insight into their needs and an understanding the market. You get to know about business opportunities. You learn about processes and good practices that are useful years later. You build your network and credentials. In summary, working for a few years will increase your chances of success once you do become an entrepreneur. The flip side is that if you get into a good job and work there for a few years you may never actually quit to become an entrepreneur.

My view on this is that you should become an entrepreneur only when you are ready. I had worked for five years before I quit and became an entrepreneur. And in hindsight I would not do it any other way. I needed those five years to learn and mature and become a better people’s person. And you will know when you are ready. You inner voice will compel you to do it.

The other time to become an entrepreneur is when you have such a compelling idea that you are totally convinced that it is now or never. Bill Gates often cites this when he talks about his decision to quit college and found Microsoft. He could see the PC age coming and he just had to be a part of it but felt it would pass him by if he spent another three years in college. He just had to do it then.


the big k said...

Awesome post! I really like the way you put it. I was faced with the same challenge; but the corporate world (IT job) sucked the hell out of me that I knew I had no future there.

I quit after 3.5 years of corporate safe, secure job and I feel wonderful about it.

I hope I'll have a chance to work with you in future.

Looking forward to more such post.

PS: May I request a post on "Things to consider before quitting your job and starting out?". It would be wonderful!

Beyond said...

I was inspired after reading Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry. And it is wonderful to find you here expressing and guiding.
Thanks Sanjeevji.

S N S S PRAVEEN said...

As you have aptly described, it is very important to understand oneself whether one is ready for a venture or not. However, owing to the newly adopted ridiculous fee system of the PG colleges the very idea of entrepreneurship is taking a backseat. I come from the same MBA institute where you did your MBA long time back and I have personally seen many of my friends ditching the idea of becoming entrepreneurs just because they have mammoth loans to clear. The very institutions which ought to develop the entrepreneurial instincts in people are killing the spirit. Is there a solution to this???

Aaditya Jain said...

Sanjeev Sir,

I can relate this post to myself so much "it is now or never", phase of life I am into.

I believe if ppl can relate to wht u have written, its an awesome blog.

U r words r straight from the heart.

Just wish to know before u started u r venture did u have this feel "it is now or never".


Spandan Jasmin Tolia, Founder said...

Great points succinctly explained.

Anirudh said...

Many people argue that entrepreneurial drive dilutes when a person finds a job and when he is getting good amount of pay. Such people just had a wish of becoming an entrepreneur but those people who had a wish of becoming an entrepreneur will always dream and work for it. Even if the package and everything are more and his living is luxurious some dissatisfaction will be there in his mind and that probes him to jump out of the cube in the office to the vast land of opportunities.

Mr.Bikchandani you said we don't have good educational institutions but is not that an exploring and untouched region. If one comes out with an idea to start good institutions won't he succeed and can't he become a pioneer. As no student would say no to quality education when it is offered it can be a good business idea to start with. If not direct education one can offer the supporting services.

Student PGDM

Anonymous said...

well the post is great.. there is no specific formula that can say that one is ready to start his/her own business.

Ashish Mittal said...

I really love reading about you and your posts. I was first introduced to your kind and bold personality when I read "Stay hungry, Stay Foolish". Thanks for this nice post. I have certainly picked up some new information from here.

Utpal said...

Hello Sir, This post is just like a talk you gave in on TiE meet a year ago. Practical and 'the way it is' style of delivery of your points.

I have been trying to start up my own venture since i left college but have not been successful. I am working for the past 3 years and have been working for my own venture in parallel. And it is not easy, having a job and working to breath life into something new. And I have been lately contemplating on leaving my job to put the focus back on the start up and have been regretting not starting as soon as I passed from college. But then this is my story and my circumstances do suggest I should have done it just after college.

Another aspect of a new venture is having the right partners. I have been unsuccessful in getting someone interested in my idea for joining hands. One reason could be that I have not been convincing enough and second reason could be that I have not run into the right candidate.

Hoping for good days ahead. And hoping to be guided by your blog. Keep posting! Thanks.

Unknown said...

very helpful post.I'm also facing dilemma in my life.I'm in third year of my course in computer science.I decided to choose to be an entrepreneur when I was in 6th grade.I tried my luck in stock market , build couple of websites and tried many small things.When I talk to my friends about my business ideas,they think that i am mad.Even my parents are not in support of this. Now I think ,I cannot live without business. It was my childhood dream to become an entrepreneur and it's not about money.

dr.shraddha said...

Awesome post .I liked the part when you explained that you worked 5 years before quitting and that work made you more ready to start your own venture.Honestly i think in today's competitive world we need degree , experience , practical skills , exposure and right contacts to start a venture . I think it was possible in past to be successful without education and exposure , i mean we have lot of stories of famous people who did it from zero. But is it really possible now? I guess from here onwards a enterpreuner's success will not only entirely depend on how much creative and unique concept he has but it will also depend on his overall professional expereince. So i think a job in big company will be addition and it should not be condemned as bad patch but as a learning experience before starting your own company.I mean I am just a amateur thinker but i feel , an Corporate job is stepping stone and not a obstacle.