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In the beginning, there was darkness…

Three years ago, I a brand new, first generation entrepreneur, was 46, broke, in debt and in the middle of a really messy corporate break-up – perhaps the lowest point in my career. Being down and out, I found two great companions – humor and introspection. The first kept me laughing as I examined my follies of the preceding months. The second taught me a few things. To confess (after all, this is a confession), I also derived great solace in having a business partner, who was worse off than me.

As I reflected, I discovered that none of my management lessons and readings had actually prepared me for the pitfalls I fell into. Most lessons were by successful people, who had sailed the corporate waters with élan. Whilst they did casually point to errors, I wished I had spoken to some who had fallen and could, therefore, share the real pain, the avoidance strategies and more importantly, the methods of scrambling out of these pits!

Therein lies my qualification as the author of this blog – for I, dear reader, confess to having jumped into more gaping pitfalls on my way to entrepreneurship, with eyes wide shut, than anyone else that I know of! I think it is as important to hear from someone who has been down there, as it is from those who are up there! I decided to become an entrepreneur in August 2006, as a Colonel in the Indian Army posted at Dehra Dun. I remember being excited about BP’s visit to our place (name changed, to let egos be). BP was a fellow student from IIT Kanpur when I was doing my M Tech there. He was a Ph.D. student, and a sharp one. We became friends at the tennis court.

BP visited with 2 friends in tow and a business proposal in hand – starting a Software Services company at Noida, near Delhi. He had brought along a tall, unshaven character with unkempt hair (Sanjeev Kumar – everyone called him Sankum) and another one named Keshav – shorter, hyper and looking more like a Hindu priest than a businessman.

I at the time was toying with the idea of quitting the Army – after 23 glorious years, but I was feeling the urge to explore the world some more. Under the circumstances, BP’s arrival was a God-send. That night, we drew up plans for the venture – we’d make unique products for India and build a company bigger than Infosys (that was BP’s ambition – he actually looked down upon Infosys!) We would be partners – Sankum, Keshav, BP and I.

I decided there and then to quit the Army and to join these folks in business, with careless abandon committing the FIRST CARDINAL SIN of business – Be as, if not MORE CAREFUL in choosing a business partner as whilst choosing a partner for life! This is so common that I am sure you have heard it before. But the problem is that this particular pitfall looks so nice and easy that everyone ignores the warning and jumps in nevertheless. I did. “What’s there for a partnership?” I felt, “I am honest, fair and well-meaning, and so is he!” And that is all that seemed to matter.

Sadly it wasn’t! When you marry someone, you commit yourself to share practically everything, and to stay together, in happiness and in misery, “till death do us part!” So is it in business.
Shouldn’t your business partner be someone with whom you’d be happy to spend the major chunk of your life? Should you not share the same ‘vision’? Should your paths not match – similar value systems, shared concerns? Partnerships, like marriage, start well. Then they fall apart when the partners start pulling in different directions. It is important therefore to visualize these divergences in advance.
However, just as it is difficult to get out of a poor marriage, so is it very difficult to get out of a bad partnership. The baggage you accumulate along the way is just too much. That makes the decision even more important.

I would like to pitch a couple of signposts here – along the road to entrepreneurship – to help act as beacons while pointing to this or that.

Sign-Post 1: “To share the partner’s hat, don’t decide just-like-that” You may be lucky and find a business partner in waiting, or you may end up searching long for one. Either way, give the decision the consideration it deserves.

Sign-Post 2: “It is best, to apply some test” A person might make a great friend hang out with but not a good business partner. You must re-examine the other in the ‘business’ context.
Ignore words. Words mislead, even if meant to be true. They mean different things to different people.
Someone claiming no wants in life could be imagining a 5-star room!
Look at actions, especially under stress. Stress brings out the unguarded.

Stress both under failure and success are important. They evoke different reactions – ‘fear’ and ‘greed’. Either can make a person go berserk.
Ask! Everyone has a past, and that past is a ‘better predictor’ of the future than most other things.
In future posts, I’ll share in actuality, how each one of these problems manifested itself in my entrepreneurial journey. But in the next post, however, I shall touch upon something else that is equally important – in fact much more important than you might consider it to be – Intuition!
Intuition matters & Listen to your Wife!!
So long for now,

Your friendly failed entrepreneur…