Work hard, leave the rest to a divine plan...

Source: Sunday Times. Saaz Aggarwal looks at two young individuals and tracks their lives as they move from jobs to entrepreneurship

Anu Malhotra and Preetal Swami had always dreamt of running their own businesses. Anu had worked for several years for a multinational company in Mumbai, while Preetal, after stints with organisations in various parts of the country, was now number two at a smaller private limited firm in Chennai.

Anu and Preetal often felt that the efforts and ideas they put in at work were bringing a lot of benefit to others but hardly any to themselves. They felt that they would never get the kind of wealth and prestige that they deserved unless they set up on their own. They also felt constricted by the corporate hierarchy, and realised that it was only as independent entrepreneurs that they would really be able to do things their own way.

In addition, the whole idea of entrepreneurship—of conceiving a vision, of following one’s own path to implement it, and of all the adventures doubtless in store was immensely appealing. About 10 years ago, they finally took the plunge and started enterprises of their own. Things went well for Anu right from day one. She chose a business with which she was familiar, and it grew like a dream. Clients of her organisation, familiar with her competence and style of working, brought their custom to her. She knew the market, the workforce, vendors and industry best practices all very well, and they hung together.

Preetal picked a line which had just begun to throw opportunities into the market. Initially working on software services for retail organisations, her company began to develop their own product in the field. As a pioneer in organised retail in this country, she not only learnt a lot, but her special visionary skills helped her create an organisation which became a market leader with a strong brand identity. However, being an untested field, funding was a problem and Preetal soon ran into financial difficulties.

Today, seven years later, Anu’s business process outsourcing business is thriving. She employs 350 people and caters to three tier-2 European clients. Preetal, meanwhile, was unable to sustain her business and accepted an acquisition bid from a larger software firm with relief. Today, much in demand by head hunters and recognised nationwide as an expert in her domain area, she has settled into a highly paid job through which she was able to service the debt her company had raised in around 18 months.

Here are some of the lessons on wealth, prestige and freedom, the mirages of entrepreneurship, that this experience gave them:

Anu: “I’ve learnt that real wealth is less about money and more about attitude and lifestyle. So many people have a lot of money—far more than they could spend in their lifetime—but they’re miserable, unhealthy, and weighed down with bad relationships.”

Preetal: “As my business grew, I was often unable to pay staff salaries on time. There was a very strong feeling of gazing up at the sky, praying as the dark clouds approached, that this time they would bring rain! I came to believe that there was some kind of divine plan, and the best that any one could do was to honour opportunities with hard work and enterprise, but that the results could never be predicted.

“When people talk to me about savings, about investment, I feel amused. I have learnt that this type of security is illusory, and I take refuge instead in the certainty of an existence in whose plan we are all provided for.”

Anu: “I think prestige has to do with how you feel about yourself, and it is this which projects on how others feel about you. So to achieve prestige, we should build our self worth—perhaps by learning how to relax and enjoy being alive, and to spend time doing things which one is good at, and therefore likely to achieve success at.”

Preetal: “I agree. But I’ve also learnt that one can do this both in your own business as well as while working in an organisation.”

Anu: “Freedom! Are you joking? I dream of the moment I’ll be free from all this! Here I am, juggling market expansion against existing customer requirements, employee attrition rates, vendor quality issues and supercilious queries from my investors… I’m answerable to so many people—the only freedom I have today is to choose my operational strategies!”

Preetal: “My fixed monthly pay packet gives me an exhilarating freedom that I missed for years! Besides, I’ve also found that, by bringing your own resources and ingenuity, your own individual genius to the job, you achieve much of the satisfaction of entrepreneurship without its rugged rock face aspects.”

Spirit of adventure, the common sense to anticipate turbulence, the resilience to retain your balance when it occurs, and the fortitude to stick to your mission regardless. A viable business idea, with a clear vision of the outcome you intend to achieve. Intimate knowledge of your field: Ground-level logistics, clarity and insight on business processes and industry best practices, sufficient experience to forecast future trends, and the ingenuity to innovate as you go along .

Excellent presentation skills which will bring you funding and talent, and assist in building your brand. Seasoned problem-solving skills as well as the skill to convert threats into opportunities. The ability to manage people, money, change, and—most important!—your own moods.