The Journey of Tech Entrepreneurship – A Founders Experience

Starting your own business is everything you imagine it would be, exciting, rewarding, exhausting, terrifying. It’s certainly a schizophrenic experience – with unpredictable twists and turns. The highs are so exhilarating, and the lows are deeply distressing. This balancing act can only be managed if you have a clear purpose, deep passion, and the grit to preserve (when many would quit!). 

I would like to share moments of my own personal journey as a founder –  in the hope that it helps you accelerate your awareness of what it takes to be a tech founder. 

So here goes… After cutting my teeth in the corporate world – across a variety of leadership roles – from sales, marketing to product – and working for some of the largest brands in Technology (Fujitsu) and then Strategy and Research (Gartner), I decided to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. 

Anyone who dives into this magical world of entrepreneurship must have a strong ‘WHY” – and be clear as to the reasons for this choice (at least at the outset ). 

I had two clear reasons; 

a. I was always wired to ‘do my own thing’ … I felt it in my gut. It was just a matter of time. In fact, my corporate career success was largely attributed to this mindset. I was always seen as an ‘intrapreneur’( a type of corporate entrepreneur who exhibits a maverick or outlier  mindset and behaviours) who challenges convention and has the courage and confidence to make tough decisions. Destiny gave me the reason to change, and I grabbed it with both hands. 

b. I was at the right stage of my career – at the age of 34 – where I was fortunate to have had over 14 years of corporate experience under my belt and was blessed to learn from and mentored by incredible leaders – who gave me the right roles and opportunities to thrive!  This gave me confidence (and financial security – for a while 🙂 to go and create my destiny.

Here are 12 extremely important lessons learned along the way. (That no one really tells you). 

  1. Make Friends with Uncertainty – it will be your best friend (eventually!) 
  2. Entrepreneurship is the hardest, most arduous, and most rewarding experience of your life (it is not for most people – so don’t do it unless you have a ‘calling’) 
  3. Don’t over-educate yourself about what it takes to be an entrepreneur – let your destiny unfold and trust yourself and the universe (it will help you) 
  4. Surround yourself with people who motivate you and support your new entrepreneur life (avoid the nay-sayers, fear gifters and anyone who will create doubt) 
  5. Focus, Focus, Focus . Distraction is your enemy. 
  6. Find mentors, coaches, therapists, energy healers, and anyone who you feel you can trust and will listen to you without judgement… you will need it 
  7. Enjoy the ride – enjoy the moments of unbelievable success. Savour them. Celebrate every time you learn something new
  8. Your spouse or partner needs to come on this journey with you. Keep them close. Thank them. 
  9. Mistakes are normal – make as many as you can early on . They will ensure you grow, mature, and thrive as a leader and decision maker 
  10. Only take investment from experienced / or well-informed people –  those who understand the upside and downside of ‘start-up investment’ – your start-up should not be the only one in their portfolio 
  11. Always find time to do what you love – music, socialising with friends, holidaying, spending quality time with the family – this will keep you sane, and in flow 
  12. Break Rules – this is the only way to stand out from the crowd and truly innovate 

There are at least another 50 lessons that I’d love share with you. Drop me an email on malhotra.ma@gmail.com – I can share the longer list with you (with the subject ‘Can I have the long list of Entrepreneur Lessons Please?’

To give you as much value as possible, I have provided more detail on three of the twelve lessons above. 

Making friends with uncertainty 

Perhaps the most important and powerful thing you can do when setting up on your own venture, is to accept that you will need to make friends with uncertainty. This was my first survival lesson. It’s taken me over 6 years to truly embrace and practice this lesson. It took many successes and failures to build resilience (and a few burn outs in the process) to understand the true meaning and importance of this lesson. 

Today we are all experiencing an unprecedented environment where uncertainty has become the default . The covid pandemic has forced the entire planet to go through a major metamorphosis  – at personal and community level. No one has been spared. The sudden shift, from physical living (going to work, eating out, drinking in bars, meeting family), to digital living (buying products online only, using social media all the time, watching hours of Netflix, immersed in WhatsApp messages) has forced us to form a new set of habits, needs and wants. We have changed. Our values have augmented. Our relationships have altered. Our trauma has made us appreciate more and love more. Our opinions are stronger than ever and even define us. And so much more. 

The world of business has changed too. Alot. It has gone through major metamorphosis – although the corporates like to call this ‘Transformation’. Popular terms such as ‘Digital Transformation, New Business Models, Digital Ecosystems, Platforms’ have hijacked the old business vocabulary. Tech is now so cool. Tech people are now so cool (can you believe it!). Digital is the new buzz word. And with such big shifts, corporations have had no choice but to make friends with uncertainty – or in other words become comfortable being uncomfortable.  

Smart Question time!
Question: How can we determine which corporation will embrace or ignore the digital revolution?  Answer: often bucket into four digital archetypes; Dominators (those who seek to own industries and supply chains), Disruptors (those who invent and innovate before others, and lead), Darwins (those who accept disruption and adapt) and Dwindlers (those who ignore disruption and eventually fade away) – based on their level of digital IQ, maturity, and ability to adapt. Source and Copyright: Af Malhotra (www.afmalhotra.com

Another huge area of transformation – that has affected us all – is remote / virtual working. Amazingly, working from home (although it had teething problems at the outset) has led to the same or higher levels of productivity, while keeping us engaged and fulfilled. There has been an extraordinary rise in demand for digital skills – from cyber to AI – and new job roles have emerged from nowhere. Technology has catapulted demand for Talent and forced businesses (of all sizes) to Trust this paradigm. We have seen new ways of hiring , retaining, and attracting talent. Salary and  compensation packages now have ‘Home , Remote, Anywhere’ in the job location criteria – even for CEO and board level positions!!! (Tip : Do a search for CEO roles on LinkedIn and read some of the descriptions, you’ll see how things have changed so fast). 

All of this seismic activity has also led to what many have termed the ‘Great Resignation’ ( people leaving highly paid executive jobs to take time to stop and reflect, and then decide on a new and more purposeful career path – where spending quality time with the family and doing things that evoke happiness is more important than the job title or salary package), or even the ‘Great Reshuffle’ (people frequently change jobs as their market value increases and demand for digital skills peak. We see this in hot tech regions like India and Silicon Valley). 

There is another unstoppable trend that deserves attention. The start-up world! It is the home of all things innovation. It’s cool. Its purpose driven. It’s the ideal landing pad for ‘Darwinian Executives’ who aspire to become ‘Disruptors’. During and Post Pandemic, the world has seen a meteoric rise in the number of start-up unicorns (a start-up with a $1b market value). Fast growing Start-up ecosystems like India have seen over 75 unicorns being born during the pandemic. These are eyebrow raising statistics and very hard to ignore. Alongside this, the supply of money from venture capital funds has reached an all-time high. In other words, right now, your idea has the best chance of getting funded. What are you waiting for? 🙂 

With such extreme levels of change – that is difficult to keep up with – we have an important choice to make. We either adapt and embrace or ignore and erode. You may think I am dramatising the situation. I promise you; this is the reality. The velocity and intensity of technological advancement (and the socio-economic transformation it brings with it) we will experience over the next decade is equivalent to have we have experienced in the last four decades or more. It’s going to be epic. Still don’t believe me, or can’t imagine what I am saying? Well, just spend the weekend watching any of these Hollywood movies – Ready Player One i.e., Metaverse, Elysium i.e. What happens when we cannot control climate change and AI takes over ; Terminator – a classic. i.e., Robots and AI own humans…. etc. 

So, in short – Making friends with uncertainty means accepting that you and everything around you will change (always). Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame, is a clear example of someone who embraced such uncertainty, and who once famously said, “If you decide that you’re going to do only the things that you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table.”

Mistakes are normal – don’t worry!

When starting out, you will hear lots about business models, revenue, innovation, and funding. It will be overwhelming at times. That’s quite normal. Let me attempt to cut through such noise and give you my own personal experience. Like most, it began with a dream, an idea and solution – that could solve a problem for someone or make something better. Experience has taught me that often the simplest ideas (when executed well) have the greatest uptake, attract the largest sums of venture capital, and end up succeeding. The bigger and bolder the dream – the clearer the purpose, the higher the passion and the stronger the perseverance. Once you have decided to take the plunge and build a company, that’s when amazing things can begin to happen. You have your idea, and you slowly begin to build a team around you of likeminded people who also believe in your idea and goals. 

Of course, it’s unlikely to ever be that easy and you will likely make lots of mistakes. This is because it’s a non-stop learning process, with perhaps the biggest lesson being that of humility. When starting out, being humble will give you a whole new perspective, one that allows you to look at the world differently and accept setbacks more easily.

Be a rule breaker

One of the most amazing things about being a start-up is there are no rules. You can do anything you want. You can build a product today and launch it tomorrow, it might fail, might succeed. If it works, you win. If it doesn’t, you take it on the chin and dust yourself off. You must look at it as a learning process, one that allows you to move forward and overcome your fears.

Fear is an important issue and one that most entrepreneurs are more than familiar with. Their journey is often up and down. Some days you will think you’ve cracked it, other days, that you got it all wrong and should pack it in. Furthermore, everything often takes longer than you think, and of course, whatever you estimate in terms of costs, the likelihood is you need to double it! As such, I cannot stress the importance of raising as much cash as you can. 

The journey won’t be easy, and you will face many situations that make you think about quitting. You must remember that such events and feelings are normal and that these must be embraced. Alvin Toffler, the American writer, futurist, and businessman, famously said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn.”

If you are thinking about starting up on your own, I wish you nothing but the very best of luck and hope you are rewarded for your bravery in making friends with uncertainty.