One of my all time favorite quotes is from Phil Knight, Nike Founder and CEO “The cowards never started, the weak quit along the way and that leaves us.” If you’ve started your business, you are now an entrepreneur and have made a brave/bold move. A lot o people only think and dream about what you have just done. Chances are that you have had to make sacrifices to take the leap. I personally believe it helps to be a little naive about the risks - after all, had I known all the risks - I never would have made the leap myself. There is also the fact that you are now alone. Your complete future is up to you and no one else - there isn’t a manual to follow or any correct path to follow - it’s all up to you. The last bit about the plunge is what I call the ‘haters’. There are those people who are going to provide you with negative reinforcement the moment you share your dream - no matter how big or small. But trust me, it says more about them than it does you. And many people are on the sidelines waiting to tell you that it was a mistake, you failed and they told you so. Trust me, you’ll need that chip on your shoulder for motivation down the road. It’s ammunition to keep you going when you are rock bottom. If your journey is anything like mine - there are many rock bottoms and they can last years. All the more reason ‘why the mission matters’.
What are you passionate about?
I want to share about the time when I had just launched my clean energy business enterprise and called it `Palmetto’. After we started this company, you will be surprised to read that we had not even made a dime after six months of operation. Personally, I became broke. My business associate was also going through some tough personal issues and he was not able to keep up with the tough demands and the long hours of the new business. I had to go through more personal turmoil when my fiancée who had relocated from the United States to England had to attend graduate school in London. She was also piling on more debt. I was going through a crisis mentally as I was unable to provide for both of us. I used to scrounge through the drawing room sofas on the weekends for any loose change so that I could at least take her out for a cup of coffee. I really felt the burden of financial pressure.
Passion Will Carry You Through
When I look back now, those were not the lowest moments of mine, then. There have been many nightmarish periods since then and it was not at all easy as we were moving forward. What I am trying to say is that all entrepreneurs have to go through their lowest moments and they have to understand that these moments will arrive. In entrepreneurial history, what could have been the lowest moment on record? These moments bring out the `true grit’ in a business personality. When people want to be entrepreneurs, they are not able to cope with or willing to make sacrifices. For some, the risks may turn out to be huge and they can extend much beyond financial risks; they could be risks that can damage reputation, relationships and bring in hardships in the long run. Why do entrepreneurs take all those risks? The answer could be given in one word – PASSION.
Entrepreneurs suffer hardships and extreme circumstances purely for the power of passion. Often, passion and indulgence in it could have a real adverse impact. No one can give an absolute answer about what passion is all about.
My passion is driven by climate change. I have been noticing the impact of climate change on people across various regions of the world. I have lived around the world - India, Caribbean, Thailand, China, United States of America and Europe. I have been actively involved in the rebuilding of communities. I have seen the impact of a sixty-foot tsunami when those gigantic waves hit Sri Lanka. I have seen severe forest fires in California. I have seen disturbing droughts in Lao and extensive population dislocation in China. The commonality of those experiences? The adverse impacts of climate change. My passion is climate change mitigation - to make a difference in the world on a positive environmental note.
I discovered that my passion was unique. Every entrepreneur would say the same about his or her passion, too. Each entrepreneur has some interesting story to tell. Every person has a strong reason on why he or she takes a huge leap and starts a business venture. But, some entrepreneurs who became extraordinarily successful had some problems while believing they were part of the solutions that they had created. However, when the going becomes tough, these entrepreneurs go back to their passion statements or their purpose statements to summarize why it was all worth it for them. When that purpose loses its sheen and it becomes no longer worthwhile, that is generally when people close up shop and go on to try something else. It is perfectly alright. You always have to get up and try taking the shot again. Whatever is done at a later stage, it is always wiser to be in sync with your own passion statement.
You probably embarked on this journey because you believed you could do something that no one else has accomplished or you could do it better. That’s how most ventures start, after all. While it sounds cheesy, It’s important to give the following question a lot of thought - “do you really fucking care?” What I mean is - when things hit rockbottom, are you going to care enough to keep pushing, fighting and doing everything you can to be successful. I believe that many entrepreneurs think it would be fun to start a business - they take big risks (and oftentimes, take risks with other people’s money - i.e. investors) and when the risks outweigh the rewards they quit. They quit because the reward (i.e. the mission) doesn’t matter. This is ‘why the missions matters’
We’ve all heard about income statements and balance sheets, but that doesn’t matter when you are in start-up mode. Your main metric is cash (also known as liquidity) and cash flow. First, cash - this tells you how long you will be in business. If you divide your cash by your budgeted monthly operation expenditure (OPEX) then this tells you how long you have before you go out of business. Scary thought, right? I’ve been in many situations whereby I only have 1 week working capital - i.e. I didn’t know how I was going to cover payroll. In those cases, you need to manage through the crisis and focus on getting more cash! (this needs a lot of discussion and is unique to each situation - for example, you don’t want to raise cash through debt if you cannot repay the debt). Cash flow is created after a sale of your product or service. Cash flow can help add to your cash position so that you have more time to build your business. If you have a cash flowing business then you have done something right! I suggest you analyze it and assess whether or not you can repeat it. If you can repeat and it is scalable then you have a real business!
At my Company, ‘scrappy’ is a fundamental part of our culture. On any given day, you could find a c-level taking out the garbage or washing the dishes. Why is that important? Because to be successful, you have to stay humble, hungry and scrappy! The moment you think you are too important, the universe (specifically, the business universe) has a way of reminding you how little you truly are - So, I prefer to stay scrappy and keep hungry. Another way to say this - you aren’t too good for anything. You’ll need to be aggressive and hungry at all times to find success. One way to think about it is like this - if you aren’t onto of things and have a deep driven hunger to success and achieve your mission then someone else will - it’s just how it works. Someone else is always out there trying to take your idea, your market share, your customer, your employees, your livelihood. You are going to have to fight every moment you are in business. If that sounds like too much for you then I’d suggest you consider another career path.
If you start a ventures then you should be prepared to be the marketing director, the bookkeeper, the financial controller, the salesperson, the strategist, the ‘everything’; unless you have lots (I mean lots!) of cash then you should be prepared to rollup your sleeves and do it all. Frankly, that’s part of the excitement for most entrepreneurs. (As you scale your business, the hard part will be to let go - and let others take over.) This can be overwhelming if you don’t break the tasks into small bite sized chunks. among my key recommendations is to focus on minimal viable product (the MVP). You want to focus on your product and, usually, sales as much as you can. After all, you need cash and cash flow (From sales) to stay in business - you want to limit your time on administrative items that are not going to directly drive your cash flow. So, while it can all be fun and exciting, be sure to manage your time carefully.