Before you take advice from me or anyone else to quit your current job and go for a STARTUP to “live your dreams,” breathe for a moment and then slap yourself in the face.
And after that, ask yourself a question.
As an “entrepreneur”, how do you see yourself?
Do you see yourself as someone who has risked it all to pursue their passion? Someone who quits their day job sleeps on friends’ couches, works out of a garage, and eats ramen for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sacrificing comfort, security and even stability all in the name of dedication and commitment.
I am sorry to break your dream. But this is not practical.
How Non-Conformists Move the World, organizational psychologist argues that successful entrepreneurs are not the extreme risk-takers we often imagine them to be, but rather the more conservative individuals who are more apt, not less, to hedge their bets.
In short, becoming an entrepreneur requires a solid plan (passion + time+money+resources) to see you though.
And quitting a job without test-driving entrepreneurship will be as disastrous as participating in formula car racing without knowing how to drive a car!
That said, is there a logical way to check our preparedness? Is there any way to check if we are really serious about being an entrepreneur?
There is. And it is a 4-step process called Q.U.I.T.
• Q-Question your Passion
• U-Understand Your Reputation
• I-Investigate your skills
• T-Test the waters
Q- Question Your Passion
The 1st step is to firm your passion and confirm whether it is “true” or “false”.
These are some of the ways in which you can do it.
Is your Passion your own or imposed one?
Your friend “seems” to have the same experience and skills as you. He has successfully created a wonderful startup and is now on the way to go public. You are “mighty” inspired by him and feel that you “have it” in you to replicate his success.
Now just go back a step and think
Your goals should only be based on your unique skills, capabilities, and persona. While Tom can “inspire” you, his definition of success can never be your definition of success. If you are just thinking of “copying”, then you are on the wrong path here.
You need to know “what you want to do” and “what is your potential”. That is the true test of your passion.
What is your passion?
Sometimes you just want to launch a startup to “prove” a point. You just want to show to your world, your friends, and your colleagues that you are made for “bigger things” and you have the mettle to go the entire way. You believe that once your point is “proven”, you can again go back to the cushy comforts of your job.
You can never be more wrong than this.
A passion has to be the end goal. It can never be a “stop-gap” arrangement. If you treat it like that, your startup is already “finished” before it has started.
Is your Passion only a Passing Fad?
Technology Trends are like Fashion. They come and go every day and there is a constant disruption. But amidst all this disruption, the one thing that remains constant is innovation. Startups which have the mettle to constantly innovate and stay ahead of the disruption curve survive the game. Others just wither and die.
You need to ask yourself an important question here: Are you a casher or a changer?
A casher just cashes on the current market trend, makes some money and exits. There is no real passion involved here. A changer on the other hand, constantly “reworks” his product and stays ahead in the game. Your passion is a “true” one if it is that of a changer.
U- Understand your Reputation
Once you have confirmed your passion. The next step is to understand the power of your reputation. Your reputation needs to be Steller enough to shoulder the burden of your unknown startup. Some of the ways you can do it can be as below.
Is your reputation self-made or company made?
You have executed some brilliant projects for some top-notch clients across the world. The clients hold you in high esteem and you are regarded as one of the “top” professionals in your field. You feel your outstanding reputation is the key to help you find customers for your startup.
Now just go back a step and think about your “reputation”
Are your customers praising you or your company’s “brand”? Are they of the opinion that your company’s “outstanding management” and “support capabilities” have enabled you to give outstanding service for them?
Have you received subtle hints from the grapevine that they would like to work a “little more” with you beyond your company.?
Your personal reputation should always be based on your unique abilities and talents independent of “company provided” facilities or processes. Your “potential” customer should be able to recognize this ability in you to proceed further.
Their “belief” in you should be absolute whether you are working for a big company or your own startup.
How Trustworthy are your contacts?
You have vast experience and have worked with some top names in the market. In due course, you have steadily built up an enviable list of high profile contacts across the world. You think this is the right time to “leverage” those contacts.
Now is the time to audit your contact list. Analyze and categorize your contacts into 3 groups.
• High profile contact: approachable for “business”
• High profile contact: not approachable for “business”
• Casual contacts
You should have at least 40% of your contacts approachable for “business” to make a good start. This will not only help you to give that initial traction but will also build up an early stellar reputation of your startup.
Always remember making a great product is not enough. You also need “customers” who can vouch for the product based on your “reputation”.
I- Investigate your Skills
Once your passion and reputation are proved beyond doubt, we come to the meat of the problem-the skills you have to take your startup forward. We require three types of Skills here.
Core Skills are your “bread and butter” of your start-up. They can range from anything between AI, robotics to our boring PHP. These technical skills are the foundation for the great product that you are building and it is important that you and your co-founders have “near-perfect” expertise in these skills.
Do a thorough audit of your core skills and map them on a scale between 1 to 10. Majority of the skills going above 8 would mean, you are good to go.
These are soft skills like leadership, team building, resourcing, and negotiations. But these are very very important. So if you have worked all your life in building great technical stuff and never had the “experience” to manage a project or a team, you might have a serious handicap here. In that case, you need to get these complementary skills from your co-founder.
Everything from ideas to finances will be hazy during the initial days of the startup and it is very important to have strong management skills to optimally use the meager resources and get the maximum out of them. So never underestimate its importance.
One of the benefits of working in a large organization is that you have multiple teams “supporting” and we often take their support for granted. We only need to focus on our “core” project and execution and the peripheral details of HR, Finance, Process compliance, Immigration gets taken care of by other teams.
Now things will change drastically.
You need to take care of these functions also and it is important for you to get a deep-dive understanding of these functions to perform effectively. These “supporting” functions have the potential to make or break your startup so you need to get yourself trained in these areas also. It will be great if you can find these skills as complementary in your co-founders.
T-Test the Waters
Now if you have reached so far successfully, it is time to test the waters. We need to utilize all our “approachable” contacts whom we had identified earlier.
What do the “Feelers” Say?
You have a “gem” of an idea. You feel it has the potential to disrupt the market. You feel this is an “important” gap to be plugged in the ecosystem.
But what do your “potential” customers think about it?
Will they invest in your product?
This is where “feelers” can help you. A feeler is just a brief description of the idea along with the top 2–3 potential benefits. This can be either an email, a short presentation of even a casual discussion at a coffee shop.
The basic purpose is to get a “feel” of the customer’s mind before proceeding forward. Care should be taken here only to reveal the “what you are doing” part keeping the “how” part in vague details.
If 70% or more of your contacts show interest in your idea, you are on the right path.
Show a Demo
This is the trickiest part as you would not have the infrastructure ready for it yet. But it is worth investing time and effort if the “potential” contact is going to become a “confirmed” customer. Such customers will be visibly excited by your idea and cannot wait till they see it “working”.
You can plan a prototype of “limited version” for these customers which just showcases the meat of your product. This will not only build the customer confidence but will also build the confidence of your own team and give them “something” tangible to start working with. These demos are highly useful for negotiations with angel investors also.
Bringing it all together
Many of us were raised with a belief that we can be anything we want to be and fed with the idea that if we pursue our passion, money will follow. Most of us buy this mantra, but in real life, things are never as simple as they seem.
And one of the more irresponsible interpretations of “following your dreams” is the assumption that your happiness depends on it. Never equate happiness with passion. You are entering into an unending loop of frustration and despair by doing that.
Real life requires rationality, logic and perennial inspection and improvement of our own self.