[Note: This article is part of The Junction Series. Sanjay Mehta will be speaking at “The Junction” in Jaipur in January 2017. Get a deep dive into angel investing, entrepreneurship and more with him. Learn more about The Junction here!]
Storytelling is the most ancient way of passing down history, legacy and education. Even before paper was discovered, stories were told from generation to generation. Even today, the popularity of reading or listening to stories is incomparable. In an age of mobile games and Xbox, fables and fairytales have not lost their charm.
The fables of Aesop, or closer home Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra, have left a deep impact in our young minds, so much that we still remember the morals and use them frequently to teach our children or juniors. Not just that, we all have our own way of interpreting them according to the situation we are in.
Sanjay Mehta, the serial angel investor applies these stories to teach entrepreneurs a lesson or two about building a startup. In the previous post, he shared lessons from ‘The hare and the tortoise,’ ‘The turkey and the bull’ and how entrepreneurs could utilise these lessons in navigating the roller coaster ride of startup life. Here, we bring the conclusion to the learnings that can be gleaned from grandma’s tales.
“Don’t Wait For Crisis, Be Prepared From Before”
The story of the ant and the grasshopper is a fable well known. The hard working ants gather food throughout the summer and store them for the cold, wintry days. The grasshopper is busy making merry and chirping under the sun, while the ants keep working. He finds them silly and says winter is far off. However, when winter arrives, the ants have enough to eat while the grasshopper finds himself dying from hunger.
The lesson learnt from this story is -as an entrepreneur you might not need something just now, but don’t put it off for later. It could lead to dire consequences.
Sanjay says, “Don’t wait until winter to look at a problem!”
The timeline of a startup company can be very busy. But maintaining deadlines and completing tasks on time is crucial for any startup. Procrastinating or leaving work for later could have bigger repercussions than imagined.
“Imitating Big Companies Blindly Can Put You In A Spot”
The next story in this series is the story of the dog with the large juicy bone crossing a bridge. When he stopped and looked at his own bigger reflection in the river, he barks excitedly, losing the bone.
The parallel drawn here is that of a small company imitating the spending habits of a larger enterprise. When the dog barks he loses his bone, which essentially means that if a smaller company spends like a bigger one, in order to become like them, they will lose the results of their own hard work and efforts.
“One must aim for bigger dreams, but they should also take into consideration their own inventory of possession and spend accordingly. Blindly following other entrepreneurs or companies in order to achieve success like them, might put a startup into a big mess. Basically, cut your cloth according to your coat”, says Sanjay.
“Keep Building Your Goals Persistently”
Now who doesn’t know the fable of the thirsty crow, who put stones in the pitcher so he could drink the drops of water created by the splash? The perseverance of the crow is something we all should learn from.
And this is Sanjay’s next lesson for entrepreneurs. The journey of an entrepreneur is laden with obstacles. But with patience and by being persistent they can achieve what they want. It might not happen right away, but with time, just as the crow managed to quench its thirst, so can the entrepreneur taste his own success.
Keep on focussing on your goals and build them persistently. In the startup world, it is easy to lose focus, when success is hard to find, but even in those trying times, it is important to remember the story of the crow who reached the water at the bottom of the pitcher. It just kept putting those pebbles in the pitcher and therein lies the solution. Entrepreneurs might need to do multiple iterations and it might lead to the right result.
“Where there is a will there is a way” is the moral of this story that till date motivates people across the world.
“Ideas Are Essential But Know How To Execute Them As Well”
The famous story of “Who would bell the cat” teaches a crucial lesson to startup owners. Being innovative is no doubt good. In the startup world, everyone talks about creative ideas. While it is good to have several great ideas, it is equally important to implement them.
The story, where one mouse came up with the brilliant idea of belling the cat to hear it when it comes was great. But then the older, wiser mouse asked, “Who would bell the cat?” and the mice were flummoxed.
“So nobody knew how to execute the idea, hence a brilliant idea might be not so brilliant if it is unexecutable,” opines Sanjay. It is not enough to have several big ideas, but if there is one that is good as well as realistic and achievable then there is nothing like it!
“Lead By Example”
The story of a young crab and his mother who was trying to teach him how to walk can very well be a great example of how people should lead by setting an example. The mother crab finds out she can not move forward as well but was asking her son to do that. She realised her mistake and apologised for it.
Similarly, in a startup environment, it is vital for leaders to do things that they want the employers to follow. People always learn by watching than by listening, this age old saying goes true for infants, toddlers, children and even adults. You can’t expect people to follow “Do as I say and not as I do”.
In a leadership position, you need to live up to the expectations that you set. You can’t expect your employees to put in extra hours when you are not doing it yourself, for example.
“Being Modest Is Necessary”
Remember the story of the bull and the bee? The bee who was so full of himself that he thought that he should inform the bull of his coming and going. The bull was obviously oblivious to the bee’s existence and the fact that he was sitting on the bull’s horn.
“You are not as important as you think,” states Sanjay, matter-of-factly.
Similarly, in the startup ecosystem there are several large bulls – be they competitors or investors. It is important to stay grounded even after you have tasted a bit of success. As an entrepreneur, giving yourself undue importance is not recommended. If you do that, then you might lose focus. Think of it, even the most successful entrepreneurs and industry leaders are humble all the time.
Compare yourself to the likes of Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg. If they can be modest, so can you!
“Failure Might Be The Pillar of Success, But If There Is An Option, Avoid It!”
The last lesson in this series is derived from the story of ‘The Lion, The Ass and The Fox.’ They went hunting one day and got a good amount of meat. The Ass divides it equally and faces the wrath of the Lion, who attacks the Ass and adds him to the pile of meat. The Fox knows it is his turn next and he takes a very small portion and keeps the larger part for the Lion.
“The moral teaches us that though failure is not the end of the world and we should learn from our mistakes, and if it can be avoided, then we must do it at any cost,” concludes Sanjay.
These fables and the morals derived from them are valuable for entrepreneurs starting out, or even for more established players. All that matters is, one listens to good advice where one can get it.