I have been an entrepreneur since 1994. I started my business while I was still in a regular full-time job (in 1983), with the full knowledge and blessing of my employer and paid for it by working on my business during my vacation and unpaid leave. I worked at learning and building a management consulting business for 12 years. I invested every available paisa (cent) on books and train fares (3rd class – a bare wooden plank for a seat) and every available day of vacation leave, interning with one trainer or another. I did not take a single day off in 12 years. Then in 1994, I started my own company (Yawar Baig & Associates www.yawarbaig.com) in Bangalore, India with all of Rs. 3000 ($40) in my pocket and a dream in my heart, of becoming an internationally recognized leadership trainer with a global business. That in my view is typical of being an entrepreneur – to dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” Since 2003 I have a business with clients on three continents.
It is this innate aspiration for excellence that I believe is at the root of all successful entrepreneurial activity. It is the desire to differentiate. To be different in a positive way. To stand out from the crowd; not to blend in with it. To express your identity in a unique way such that it is recognized and honored. That is the meaning of ‘Branding’. Without that you are a grain of rice in a sack. Excellence is to take responsibility not only for your own well-being but that of others. To lead others on the road which will not only help you to make your dream come true but to weave the dreams of others into the fabric so intrinsically that when they look out on the achievement of your vision, they will also see their own visions becoming reality. To leave behind a legacy by which you are remembered with affection and your passing regretted. Entrepreneurship is to always act with this consciousness about the long-term effects of our actions. To be willing to give an account because we know that we will be held accountable.
Entrepreneurship is all about spirit. But first we must recognize our purpose and then we need to consciously accept it. That is the scary part. But that is the threshold that must be crossed to demonstrate that we are in and not out. Without crossing the threshold of owning responsibility for our own lives, we can’t expect anything to happen. We are never compelled to make one choice or another. But the doors that open, the vista that unfolds before our eyes and the road that beckons ahead all depend on the choice that we make. Behind each door is a different destiny. We get to choose which one we want to open and walk through into the world that it opens for us.
Choices are not always easy. As a matter of fact, all the important ones are difficult. The most difficult thing is to choose between two apparently good alternatives. But the choice must be made. Everything else depends on that. We complain about difficulty. We forget that difficulties come to test us so that the prize can be given once we surmount the difficulty. Success goes to those who can overcome difficulties. Each difficulty resets the bar and creates a new definition of excellence without which we would have been lulled into a false sense of security which hides fatal flaws. Only winners get medals, remember? Those who fail are relegated to the garbage pile of the detritus of history.
Every time we stand and say, “I am ready!” a challenge will come forward. If we see the challenge and run away, then we are back to square one. It is only when we take a step forward towards the challenge that we actively make the choice which will lead to victory. Notice that I use the word ‘will’ instead of ‘may, can or probably’. That is because I speak as an entrepreneur who knows that every time you take a firm step in the direction of the challenge, victory has already been written. The first step is a sign of that. When we take a step towards a challenge and we don’t succeed, the answer lies in the way we took the step. It was not a firm step with conviction. It was a step with one eye looking backwards over the shoulder looking for escape routes. We did not burn the ships upon landing on the distant shore, with the resolve that in this new land, we shall make our home. The burning of the ships is symbolic because it signifies commitment. Commitment that we will live here in our new homes, or we will be buried in our new graves. But there is no going back. Commitment is the line we cross between wishing and doing. And that is what I mean by the first step. Entrepreneurs take it with conviction. They don’t look back.
I believe very passionately and firmly in the fact that in the end, it is quality that scores over everything else. I know that every entrepreneur worth the name shares this belief with me. I have met many along the way who cut corners, pretended to be what they were not and compromised quality for short term gain. Most of them no longer exist. Those who do, live with a reputation that constantly sabotages their effort. I believe that everything that we do or choose not to do defines our brand and reflects our character. Therefore, all initiatives and effort must be measured against this standard to see if it stands up to the mark. Compromising standards and values for gains is a very expensive bargain and adds no value at all. Indeed, the most profitable way to run a business is to work to the highest standards and become the benchmark in the industry against which others measure themselves. Then you can claim a premium where your competitors are busy competing on price.
They say that old sailors never die; they turn into foam. So also old entrepreneurs never die; they turn into tales. Tales of dreaming of things that never were. Of risks that others wouldn’t take. Or wins where others only feared failure. Entrepreneurs, like mountaineers, live for the journey, for the climb; not simply to stand at the top. If the latter were the objective, it would be easier to do it by helicopter.
Entrepreneur’s lives therefore are peppered with tales that inspire others to walk the uncharted paths of the Last Frontier – the Frontier of the Mind. Like explorers of old, true blooded entrepreneurs have the urge to see what’s beyond the next mountain.