I am an average 20-something university student from a middle class Indian family. In my final year of university, I was bitten by what they call the “startup bug.” My batch mates around me were applying for jobs feverishly. On the other hand, my co-founders and I were working on our startup idea without respite. And with the decision to not apply to jobs, came its fair share of fears and insecurities. I’ve said this a million times over – I think the most difficult part about being an entrepreneur is “deciding” to take the plunge.
Especially so when you come from the average Indian middle-class background. Most of us have seen our families struggling to meet ends and understand the importance of money and a regular paycheck. We are scared that we are throwing away the promising future we have created for ourselves in IT companies, consulting firms and investment banks by the virtue of an undergraduate ‘engineering’ degree from a good college. The risks seem too high, and it seems to be a more prudent decision to do a Masters degree and get some experience before starting up.
Personally, I went through moments of deep insecurity when I decided to take a plunge. I have made frantic phone calls to my best friends searching for support and validation, more than once. In this post, I’m detailing some of the stray evil voices that floated through my mind screaming, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it” and how I applied some logical reasoning to quiet them.
Voice 1: I need to get a safe and respectable MNC job out of college as that is what I am expected to do
Well let’s get this straight; startups are not the most “safe” investment of your time. Basically, working for someone else who promises to deliver you a paycheck every month is a much “safer option.” It is the difference between putting your money in a safe fixed deposit for a 1.5x return and gambling it in a Poker game for a 10x return.
But is this completely true? Maybe 20 years ago, an MNC job was the safest route to a comfortable lifestyle. But it’s not really the same anymore. I spent the summer working in an Investment bank, and in the 2 months I was there – 4 people in my department were laid off. (People at a vice-president level having worked in the company for at least 5+ years, nonetheless). You could be the next one to be fired, no?
Voice 2: If I fail, I will never get a job and will be poor and hungry for the rest of my life
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Lets be honest, startups are a high risk- high return game. But how much of the risk really exists? Are you going to starve to death if your startup fails? Probably not.
We tend to overthink stuff – If my startup fails, and I lose all my money, and I can’t ever find another job cos’ I’ve failed in my startup, and my family will throw me out and and and.. oh, come on!
Yes, I might fail in my startup but that does not steal away from me my academic degree, my ability to work hard, and more importantly what I’ve learnt from running my own startup. So failing once is really not going to be the end of the world. (At least, I naively believe so currently!)
Voice 3: My family has survived without my income for 21 years, but now suddenly the heavens will fall apart if I don’t earn!
Now, this is tricky. A question you need to ask yourself is: does your family really need your additional income currently? Or is your income just a nice-to-have? If you’re a 20-something, chances are that this is the only time of your life for you to be as free of financial commitments. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to take the risk when you need to send two kids to school.
Also, I’m assuming that most people do want to make money off their startups. So according to your plan, when are you going to be able to make a steady enough income to sustain yourself? Multiply that time period by 2 (If you think you need a year, you probably need 2) – and ask yourself if you can afford to give yourself that time.
You could also consider working part-time/taking tuitions during your startup to at least cover for your own expenses during your startup phase if you do not want to become a liability. At Social Cops (www.socialcops.in), we raised money via various student business plan competitions to buy ourselves some time to focus on our startup full time without becoming liabilities to our parents.
Voice 4: My family will not support me, no matter what I say
This is where it is important to have a heart-to-heart with your parents – explain to them what you’re doing, show them your passion, show them your dreams. Be practical about it. Ask for support in a clear time frame (e.g. ask them to give you a year to prove yourself. If in a year, your startup is not going anywhere, promise them that you will find a job). Most importantly, show them how happy you are following your passion. Parents like it when their kids are happy J At least try to convince them before you give up! If you can’t convince your own family about what you’re doing, chances are that you won’t be able to convince anyone!
Voice 5: What will the neighbors/family friends/relatives say?
To be honest, does it really matter what your neighbors, uncles and aunts say? Neighbor aunty would do a flip if she found out about your girlfriend, but that doesn’t stop you from falling in love, no? Reality is: Everyone is bound to tell you that your business model won’t work. People will tell you that you’re going to fail. The best advice I’ve ever been given is “Stop listening to the critics. Just do your shit, and be passionate about it.”
Six months into my startup, the evil voices in my head have almost disappeared. Today, I’ve accepted the risk and the uncertainty that comes with a startup. I’ve accepted that I might fail. And somehow, this mere acceptance of what the future holds has replaced fear with a sense of conviction. I do not know what might happen in the future – but I do know that if I do not take this plunge now, I will definitely regret it when I’m 40 years old. And with the comforting thought that I am living a life without regrets, I brave on.
This post is the first in a series column where I hope to detail my thoughts and learning from the journey so far, and the journey to come. We’re starting the pilot of my startup in New Delhi, in about 4 days time and it’s an exciting time ahead. Wish us luck!
[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Prukalpa Sankar. She is the co-founder of Social Cops (www.socialcops.in) – a web and mobile platform that aims to create a connected collaborative city.]