Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to be an 'Entrepreneur' in Ten Easy Steps

If I could tell you that I wouldn't be jobless and writing this!
Life wasn’t too complicated when the word 'Entrepreneur' didn’t exist in our vocabularies. Back in the nineties we used to call them business wallahs. Our salaried, government employed parents would utter the term business wallahs with the same disdain as they would riksha wallahs or pan wallahs. The prototypical business wallah would be a pot-bellied glutton making pig-like noises as he would count his pilfered money beneath his desk. At least that was the image we would conjure up. So no surprises The Family convulsed, repulsed as if I was Sleeping Beauty turned werewolf and my shoes were turning into wolf-knuckles and my body into the pot-bellied pig-like glutton, when the first time I decided to ‘do-business’. This notwithstanding that this was 2007 and by then the IT companies had changed the middle class Indian vocabulary from business wallah to Entrepreneur. Mom, it’s not muck-eating pig we are talking about but a handsome, black stallion galloping inexorably forward in the grasslands, mane flowing with the wind a la Bryan Adams’ Spirit of Stallion. It’s beautiful! It’s..err.. uber cool! It’s Entrepreneur, Ma! Say it with a French accent!
So what does it take to be this Entrepreneur? The zillions of How-To books and gazillions of How-He-Did-It newspaper articles will tell you that it takes a brilliant idea, tons of midnight oil to burn, and belief in the ‘power’ of your idea. They warn you that there are going to be some gnats who’ll tell you your business isn’t worth half a cow’s manure but don’t let the gnats stray you off your course, young stallion! They will fry their feet and put them in their mouths when they see how wrong they were about you! Your chest swells with pride and self-worth at reading these things. Revenge of the underdog! And so I was already imagining imaginary critics writhing in remorse while imaginary photographers were clicking a picture of me sitting with great poise on a Chippendale sofa with an 18th century painting in the background in my Indo-western-merging-cultures outfit flanked by some of my other handpicked brethren in business suits, all posing for the article “Giant Shoulders of Young India: How Ten Indian Entrepreneurs are Changing the Face of the Economy”.
Here is what is too unglamorous and unsexy to be published in any media that takes itself seriously. There will be the day when you quit your blood sucking job. If you were not too much of a prick (which I was) to your now ex-boss, there will be a farewell party with all your colleagues asking you half-jokingly for a job and secretly thinking you to be Don Quixote making a fool of yourself who will have to come back to them later for a job but at the same time envying you for your confidence and boldness despite being the silly ass they think you are. You on your part will act all shy and humble about their mock job seeking overtures, secretly pitying them for being dogs on leashes who will never taste blood on street (that didn’t sound very appetizing, did it?). Thus an evening of pretences shall be played out and you will go home feeling like Google in the making. There will be the morning after when you will be ebullient, ecstatic even, at your first brush with freedom. You will wake up, read the news paper after ages over a cup of tea which you will have leisurely brewed for full fifteen minutes. You will whiff it, sniff it, sip it, let it sink in that you are finally free to take your time. What shall I do! Join that dance class, take that week long holiday to the Himalayas to begin my enlightenment, re-bond with The Family, buy new jogging shoes? It is like a dream where you just realized that it is a dream and there is still fifteen milliseconds of sleep time (5 minutes of dream time if you have seen Inception) to go before the dream comes crumbling down and you can do whatever you want in these 15 milliseconds. You are like the crazy shopper in those crazy shopping games where you pick all that you can in a minute.
Soon the euphoria gives way to mild anxiety. The alarm will start ringing somewhere far off, but surely penetrating the dream. Of course you were going to start burning the midnight oil that it takes to be one of the ten entrepreneurs changing the face of the economy. It’s just that you don’t know where or how or what to begin. Did you say what to begin? But you just quit your job knowing what to begin! It seemed right then. Yes it wasn’t exactly detailed down to a T because they (popular wisdom, zindagi milegi na dobara) said it’s now or never and so just do it. So you just did it. And here you are, morning teas getting longer, colder. Newspaper readings prolonged till all that is left is classifieds. A couple of hours of Facebook which you tell yourself is business networking. You know at the back of your mind that maybe you should do this or do that. But something mind-bogglingly self destructive in you keeps you from just doing that. Mornings spill over to afternoons, afternoons to tea time again. More tea. More keeping yourself busy with things that do not really matter. Sun sets with a thud as does your heart and night spreads over like the guilt of a wasted day. That is when a reproaching part of your self will try to shake you up and get you doing some real work. So from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m you will try and salvage whatever you can. The morning after will be when the sun is already ninety degrees. The mysterious, insidious spiral of strange inertia and fear is winding its arms around you. Shadowy dreams half bright half smokey tease you- sometimes pushing you into mad, frenetic activity to fight..fight what?..your own self? Sometimes sucking you deep into miasmic zones of confusion. Before you know you will start getting strange requests from your aunt, wife, husband, mother-in-law, grandfather, neighbour’s son. Why don’t you pick up the sari from the dry cleaner’s? Why don’t you wash a few clothes while you mentally refine your B-Plan? Why don’t you represent The Family at Guddu’s wedding since..well..everyone else is busy (has a real job). Since you are ‘working from home’ anyway, it won’t hurt to have the house painted. And if you are a married woman you might as well have a few kids now that you ‘have the time’. This is as far as it gets from the strapping black stallion prancing away in the green fields. This is more like a goat bleating away in the backyard. This is like all the sexiness in the word ‘Entrepreneur’ accelerating at dangerous speed to thunder-thigh-auntiness!
Maybe there are different kinds of Entrepreneurs. Or let’s just say people who quit their jobs to start something of their own. The ones who are running towards something and the ones running away from something; the kinds who work like a clockwork and the kinds who write pointless pieces of anecdotes like this when you should be pitching to clients; the merciless swords that cut through and blaze their path and the dandiyas that play to whatever tune is playing. Before my metaphors get more obscure, I should get to the point, which is that.. well I don’t really have a great moral of the story. Just that there is some distance to be covered between quitting jobs and becoming an ‘Entrepreneur’. The inexplicable self-defeating tendencies that need everyday management, the little to-dos of the day, the waking up doing potty on time sort of seven good habits of highly disciplined children are the real unromantic challenges they won’t write about in bestsellers.  Perhaps the ‘Real Entrepreneurs’ of the first kind do not need to be aware of these ‘personal hygiene’ practices. Like Maybelline maybe they are born with it. But for those who need to make that journey from left-my-job to Spirit-of-Stallion-Entrepreneur, unfortunately it isn’t going to be a frictionless world where one Newtonian push of inspiration can keep you going. Failure may not be as glamorous as “Oh I had a great idea but no funds” or “I gave up too soon and now look at the other guy” or “There were some ideological conflicts between us”. It may be as embarrassing as “Well I just sort of didn’t do the important stuff because I was feeling a bit odd and kinda lost my way somewhere..dunno”.  Of course a lot of disorder and moodiness gets passed off as ‘Mad Genius’ – the script of an erratic, whimsical, flamboyant, ruthless, undisciplined guy around which many in the Creative Industry try to orchestrate their lives. Some people also like to call it ‘Artistic Genius’. Indeed at the risk of treading the fine line between ‘Mad Genius’ and simply mad, I am rather tempted to shift from being the uber smooth ‘Entrepreneur’ to the ‘Mad Genius’ since I’m somewhat a natural at erraticness and indiscipline anyway. I can wait for my moments of creative sparks, while I watch The Simpsons for inspiration. Only this time my imaginary claim-to-fame article will need some heading-change - “Method in Madness: Ten Creative Geniuses who Dared to Do Things Differently”! 

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