What’s the right time to become your own boss

Printed on The Economic Times, Op-Ed page.

Bijaei Jayaraj is happy serving his three-month notice period at MasterCard Worldwide as assistant vice-president and accounts head. Having resigned in January, he doesn't have another job in hand and interestingly, isn't looking for one either.

After all, he is going to start up on his own. He will soon receive his last monthly pay cheque and then be freed into that uncertain stratosphere called entrepreneurship. Mr Jayaraj had been there before. This is his second attempt at being his own boss. The first one had failed. This time, he has put that lesson to good use, and is better prepared. The rush of blood he feels in his veins must be so familiar to a number of entrepreneurs, who dared to quit the safety of a regular job and plunge into entrepreneurship.

While virtually everyone in corporate jobs, and even an increasing number of college students, at least vaguely dream of being entrepreneurs, not many give shape to their thoughts. The desire gets overwritten by the comfort of a salary routine. Only a fraction of such people rises above the resistance, and start planning for their own ventures seriously. For others, it is a mystery how these entrepreneurs dare to risk it all.

Don't ever sleep on a dream, cautions Mr Jayaraj, who thinks his first rash dive into entrepreneurship was still more valuable than passive and idle waiting. He never let his dream wither away. He had this passion for building a business around consumer loyalty programmes and pestered a previous employer to implement his ideas.

The company agreed it was a valid proposition, but stopped short of charting the new territory. Disappointed, Mr Jayaraj just quit in haste and tried it on his own. There was no planning. I thought I would be able to arrange things, but it does not work that way. I was not able to arrange for funds, he recalls. He realised he had tried to overreach in his enthusiasm. He returned to a job, this time with MasterCard.

But in his heart, Mr Jayaraj knew it was just stopgap. He started planning his second attempt at entrepreneurship even as he worked hard at his job. He slowly sewed up the equation: business model, money, people, office space and even a web domain name. His homework complete, he resigned from a job he was performing well at and offered a promising career road map.

This, in fact, holds a lesson for entrepreneurs, say experts. Successful entrepreneurs never leave their profession for wrong reasons, says VK Mathews, founder of IBS Group, who quit as general manager of Emirates to start a technology venture for the air transportation industry. Most executives leave their jobs when they are doing pretty well.

Disgruntled professionals should never become entrepreneurs. For Mr Mathews, the preparation involved extensive research on potential customers who will be his new paymasters. I first focused on who will pay me, he says. Customers have a risk, but they know that they can reap benefits if they stick with a good businessman, he adds.

Mr Mathews had to empty his pocket for starting the venture. Plunge is a very risky proposition. My kids were just four and five years then. I had put everything I had in this venture. But, I was determined that it won't be a half-hearted effort, since I have seen numerous cases where people take leave and try new things just to get back to their old jobs after a while.

Mr Mathews also strongly believes that experience in the corporate world better equips an entrepreneur to manage his/her venture. Freshers may have brilliant ideas but for marketing and arranging funds, it pays to have a corporate exposure. For this reason, potential entrepreneurs must work hard at their current jobs, learn skills that might come handy in business and network intensely.

Phani N Raj, founder of a brand merchandising company eYantra, was working with PwC as a consultant in the US. He had to work with lot of start-up companies and the ambition of those entrepreneurs inspired him to ditch the secure and stable job and get into rough waters.

When the decision came to change from security to insecurity plus the family pressure of dissuading from starting a venture, it became very difficult. But, the love of doing something where my contribution can be directly felt and I can make a difference to the business was too strong, so I took the plunge, says Mr Raj.

His planning period was three to five months. He met experts to ask whether the venture would make sense, what kind of challenges he might face, the possibilities of this venture failing and what kind of people and resources he would need to run it efficiently. He studied some players already in the market and made a monthly plan of expenses, first stream of revenues and tried to fix a revenue-to-expense ratio.

Sahil Parikh, founder of Synage, worked for ClinicalTools a software company in healthcare research. For him, leaving was not so hard because he was moving back to Mumbai, his hometown, and he had set up a deal with them about setting up a team and helping them develop software from India. They became his first client.

The biggest mental relief is your family's support. He planned his leave over six months in advance to complete the work in the company. He started Synage two months after he moved back to Mumbai. During this period he was busy settling down, looking for people, finding a business name and designing the site.

For some like Tufail Khan, co-founder CarWale.com, it was a long dilemma that lasted over a year. But once he decided finally, everything happened very fast. I resigned from Blue Star within a month of making the decision. It's more difficult to leave job when one likes it. Internet was of great help in doing all initial research. He also visited potential clients and discussed the ideas and possible products.

But there is no time frame within which the start-up urge takes expression. For Vivek Pawar, founder-CEO of Sankalp Semiconductor, the course ran as long as 16 years. I used to always think I would start a company after five years, but it never worked that way as it was too long a time. He kept on getting new challenges at Texas Instruments and didn't have time to plan.

At some point, he told himself if he did not take the plunge then, he would never be able to. He quit. Since the vision for my new company was not clear and the entrepreneurship was an idea just based on glamour or wish list, every small or a big issue stopped (me) from taking the plunge. Once the vision was clear, there was absolutely no worry and things fell in place, says Mr Pawar.

KS Kohli, chairman of Frankfinn Aviation Services, never gave up his job as a criminal lawyer with the Supreme Court. It just took a backseat during his ventures. In 1993, he started his first company Frankfinn Medico Infoservices with Rs 40,000, that too borrowed from his friend.

It was just a warm-up to his ambition of becoming a big player in the aviation industry. And he finally ventured into air-hostess training in 1997 and the company was renamed Frankfinn Aviation Services. He says: I love being a lawyer; that's why I never gave it up. I love being an entrepreneur and that's why I took the plunge.

There are some entrepreneurs who say it makes sense to have a backup plan in case of failure, but others disagree. I had assurance from Blue Star in case I ever feel like going back. But, in case of failure, I would have preferred joining a start-up, says Mr Khan of Carwale. However, Mr Raj worked hard to formulate a backup.

The backup plan was to have some more cushion in the form of money and the worst alternative was to take up a job at a consulting company. But, Mr Parikh feels that a backup plan puts you in a comfort zone. So, he prefers not to have one. I decided to go with the single-minded focus and correct course, whenever necessary, says Mr Parikh. However, the flexibility to change with market realities can be a cushion against entrepreneurship shocks.



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