11 Lessons For Budding Entrepreneurs

I just got to know that I am one of  Top 100 participants chosen from among 6000 applicants across India to be part of an all-female startup incubation program called Women Startup Program (WSP) 2018 by the NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) supported by Department of Science and Technology – Government of India and Goldman Sachs.

Women Startup Program 2018 by IIMB

In round one during Feb/Mar 2018, I had to complete a massive online MOOC and I have to say, it wasn’t the average online course experience at all.

Suresh Bhagavatula, Chairperson of Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development at NSRCEL has designed online modules including bite-sized videos that force you to look inward, find your core, brainstorm venture ideas, pick one that you are passionate about, create a lean canvas, validate the idea with potential customers, talk to hundreds of people and get their feedback and finally create a 3 minute video pitch that articulates your idea.

In round 2 during April 2018, 300 women were shortlisted based on their video pitch to attend a 5 day boot camp in IIM Bangalore and other satellite locations based on proximity. Yes, this was the first time I was meeting with so many exceptional women entrepreneurs. All the women without exception had a high level of drive, professionalism, and came from a diverse set of backgrounds and skills. Some were doctors, dentists, pediatricians, economists, college professors, had earned PhDs in subjects as varied as water science and communication, were IIM & IIT alumni, but almost every single person was a specialist in their chosen area of specialization. The boot camp also had a demographically different crowd and a refreshing tone and attitude to which I was unaccustomed to all through my corporate life.

The Amazing Women in WSP Round 2 Bootcamp at IIMB

The boot camp consisted of engaging, interactive talks about best practices for entrepreneurs, digital marketing, design thinking (my favorite), legal & compliance, and then we stuck around for an additional panel and networking dinner afterwards on most days. One of the highlights from this boot camp was a session by Prof.Sunil Handa from IIM Ahmedabad known for his sought after lecture called ‘Laboratory of Entrepreneurial Motivation’. Prof. Handa floored the class with his vast knowledge, ability to draw lessons from his own rich life experiences, real life examples/success stories and analogies, great foresight and most of all for his blunt honesty.

Although I certainly didn’t have a chance to meet every attendee, the ones I spoke with – and overheard speaking with one another — were driven by passion and hunger. But, as they described what they did, it was clear that women entrepreneurs focused on the why as much as the what. Most strikingly, when asked about her organization, every entrepreneur started with a version of: “I saw there was a real problem out there, and I started my company to try and make people’s lives easier, as well as my own.”

For example, Preethi Rai, a participant I spoke with during the boot camp told me she had created her company Being You, which offers people stories focused on inspirational, responsibly-curated mini biographies, because she was fed up with what the mainstream media is serving people these days in the name of news. First and foremost, there was a sense of societal purpose — and capitalism was used simply as a vessel to see it realized. It was energizing – even humbling — as an entrepreneur to be around so many people with that level of zeal and humanity.

Guess What – My old friend from college Dr. Rajshree SN was there too and we even made it together to the Top 100. Yess!

There was less posturing between the WSP members. There was an authentic desire to help, share, and be honest about each others’ businesses. Usually, when I sit in other workshops with different audiences, there is a wall of defensiveness, either surrounding ideas or reputations. The women I met, were candid and unapologetic about the issues they’re facing and were receptive to giving and getting advice. They were mindful and no one left the discussions to answer “I-need-to-take-this” phone calls, and everyone stayed for every session.

Anyway, in the week leading up to my birthday on March 28th, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past year and all of the things I’d experienced – the achievements, the challenges, the highs, the lows. Reflecting on it all made me realise how much of an adventure it’s been! There have been moments of pure joy and moments where I crawled into my bed and cried about my decision to be an entrepreneur/artrepreneur, because it felt impossible!
At the end of the boot camp and after making my final pitch to the panel, I wrote down 11 lessons I’ve learned over the past few weeks. If you are an entrepreneur or on the way to becoming one, you already know that you need to be a totally crazy person to embark on this journey.

Note To Self : Don’t Forget To Have Fun

To come up with an idea and then basically have zero clue how to actually turn it into a reality, but try any way? I think this is what makes us entrepreneurs pretty awesome people.
I’ve been learning and absorbing so much over the past 2 months and during this boot camp and I want to share the 11 biggest lessons I’ve learned with you.

Probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned. If you want to be an entrepreneur you have to ‘do’. Just thinking up brilliant ideas in your head is not going to help. In fact, your idea does not even have to be unique or revolutionary. What matters are those small, incremental steps you take towards becoming an entrepreneur. The reason entrepreneurs are successful is because they are taking actions to make them successful. You can dream about having a million fans but you’ve got to get on stage and start playing the guitar soon enough.

Make a conscious effort to focus on the positives. Dream with your eyes wide open and visualize yourself doing and achieving the things you want to do. Don’t dwell on the negatives. My motto – Onward and upward.

Look within, listen to your inner voice, find your passion, focus on your strengths and know your weaknesses. The most magical things can begin to happen and you will know exactly what you need to do and exactly what kind of a venture is perfect for your personality.

Yes, there are a million problems to be solved from waste management to water conservation. But, don’t let that get in the way of doing something that fills you with joy and excitement . Your idea might even seem frivolous or meaningless in comparison but don’t pay heed – follow your passion, enjoy what you do, and do what you enjoy.

No one is ever sure!! Entrepreneurship is fraught with risks and it’s a journey down a long, dark corridor, a rabbit hole. Get all the help and mentoring you need but know that you’ll never have all the answers and it’s ok.

Don’t let others define success for you. Does success mean getting funded by Softbank? Scaling internationally? Being on the Fortune 500 list? Or does it mean sustaining yourself and supporting the livelihood of 5 other people? It’s important you define that for yourself early on.

There’s no such thing called overnight success unless you are starring in a Bollywood movie. It takes time to build, it takes times to put processes in place, it takes time to do anything worthwhile. So, relax, enjoy the journey and you’ll get there.

This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Keep doing things everyday, incrementally, slowly, step by step. Keep adding value consistently and it will pay off.

Your amazing idea needs to be heard by people everyday and remember you need to constantly pitch your idea and put yourself out there. Even when you are scared, lazy or tired because people need to hear it.

We all have one life, and it’s really important that we spend it doing things we want and love and dream big!

If you do something and it doesn’t work, then you just try something else! Look at everything in life as one big adventure and experiment.

I’m so grateful to have this year-long opportunity with IIM. I’m eagerly looking forward to the final boot camp starting April 30th and the incubation of my idea afterwards. Thank you for reading this and thank you for being part of my entrepreneurial journey.

For more details on WSP at IIM, click here. http://wsp.nsrcel.org

If you are an entrepreneur or aspire to be one, please do visit the above link for helpful information.