Little did I know when I started the Proficorn series on my blog a year ago that I would end up with a hundred posts! And yet – here we are. A 20 Mile March of my own – driven by the decision to write daily. While the writings have covered diverse topics in marketing and India’s political economy, the proficorn series where I have written about my experiences as an entrepreneur is the one which has been a consistent theme. I have dug deep into my past for stories and learnings to share – hopefully these can help others given that it’s coming from a practitioner who has failed many times more than has succeeded. I have written as candidly as I can so that there are meaningful takeaways and actionable insights.
Entrepreneurship is on the rise in India. As success stories abound, there are many who want to walk down the path of setting up their own business. While there is a great romantic view of entrepreneurship, what I have tried to also present is the reality of the entrepreneur’s journey. The freedom that comes from running one’s company has to be also seen with the rocky life that startups (and their founders) experience. Worries cannot be left at 6 pm – they continuously stir the mind of the entrepreneur. Rarely a day goes by that goes according to plan – new fires arise even before old ones are extinguished. And in all this, one has to, in the words of Dan Bricklin, “like the feeling.” My hope is that these writings bring to life what an entrepreneur goes through.
I have thus far not raised any external capital through my nearly three decades of running diverse ventures. I have tried many times without success. This forced me down the path of focusing on profits as the only way to grow the business. In doing so, I built two proficorns (a word I coined) – companies that were private, profitable, promoter-funded and valuable. I also had success with a non-tech venture in the form of Niti Digital which helped the BJP achieve a majority in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – guess that can also count as a proficorn of sorts!
Today, with easier access to capital, the temptation for a new entrepreneur is to raise money early and constantly. My pitch is that there is a different path also available to build a business – and one that is the default for most entrepreneurs. It is just that we do not read or hear stories of such entrepreneurs. They are the true unsung heroes and also need to be celebrated. To risk everything one has, to devote years of one’s life in the search for making the world a better place, entrepreneurs who choose to not raise capital are fighting far greater odds stacked against them. There is no “other people’s money” to lose – it is all their own.
It is definitely doable – not raising external capital and building a valuable business. While the option of not raising capital may not be available to everyone, if one has a choice, tread the path to being a proficorn. The time not spent with investors will be spent with customers. The time not spent on making MIS reports will be spent on imagining tomorrow’s world. The time not spent chasing valuation will be spent in building a company to last. The time not spent burning cash and rushing for the next round will be spent in a more peaceful frame of mind without the pressure of finding an exit for the angels and Series A VCs.
I hope I have made the case for a proficorn stronger through this century of posts. It is not a path for the faint-hearted. But is a path that will leave you freer and more fulfilled. Because if you do not control your destiny, the investors will.