At the recent Wharton India Economic Forum held in Mumbai, Ronnie Screwvala, UTV founder, shared insights into what it takes to be an entrepreneur. He has dabbled in various businesses from being an actor in theatre to setting up a cable TV business, selling toothbrushes, working for over two decades in the media and entertainment sector and has now launched three businesses -- digital, online education , and sports. Yet, he says, he does not like the word 'serial entrepreneur'. “That sounds like serial criminal,” he remarks.
Here are his 10 guidelines to start-up entrepreneurs:
- Focus: I don’t look at anything on hindsight. But if there is one advice I would have liked when I started my entrepreneurial journey, it would be Focus. You can create value through focus.
- Be opportunistic: When you are young, you can get away with a lot. Ask naive and stupid questions. It is the age to knock on doors like a travelling salesman even if you are the Founder and CEO. It is important to be opportunistic in the initial stages.
- Be innovative: I have launched many ventures. It is incredible to be able to add value to a venture. For me, to get into the education space online now is empowering. Getting western models here will not work. Localisation of content and pedagogy is important.
- Have a risk-taking ability: Be blunt about taking risks at different stages of your entrepreneurial journey. The badge of honor seems to be able to get funded. We did not get Private Equity in the media business for seven years. When I am reinventing myself, the DNA is to be frugal.
- Solution-oriented approach: When you have this approach, you find solutions to almost everything that crops up and find you can get by.
- Hiring and team building: If you don’t have money, learn to inspire. Ninety percent of the people working for you are not interested in the ESOPs - Employee Stock Option Plans. They come to work with people they can learn from.
- Set an organizational culture: This has to be put in place in the first three to four months of starting the organisation. If you get the culture right, then you get the right people to work for you.
- Stay the course: Entrepreneurship is not an experiment or outing. You cannot give it a time span of say two years or any such deadlines. That is the recipe for disaster. You cannot shut down your venture when it is not working. I had a three-month window to get into entrepreneurship as my father wanted me to be a Chartered Accountant. Serendipity led me to media, entertainment, etc. I was able to exit the media and entertainment sector after over 20 years because I stayed the course. If you think you have no choice and stick to the venture, it will build resilience. I don’t believe in Plan Bs very much. If you have a Plan B, it means you have no conviction and that you will exit soon.
- Stay curious: You may not have domain expertise, but be curious to know and learn everything. I think the oft-used word `humility’ is a cliché. I don’t know what it means. If you are a strong and sharp listener, it will see you through a lot. It will take the swagger and arrogance out of you. Arrogance is what will see you out [of the venture].
- Analyse failures: That does not mean you should evangelize failure. People still think that part of the reason that some opt to be entrepreneurs is because they failed in everything else they tried or attempted. Or it is like, Oh, you did not get a job? So you are an entrepreneur. If we feel comfortable about failure, it will be a different ball game. We do not have an expression for that yet. It is also not taught in B-schools. Who are the role models? Always, successful people. But failure is what is going to happen in any venture. Face that reality.