Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Entrepreneurship Notes: 3 Issues in Customer Service

Why do so many companies offer such bad customer service, when everyone knows better?

If you think of it, it is really amazing how bad things can be. I have worked with companies which preach the value of customer service all the time, but fail to deliver only too often. And, as a consumer, I am appalled by what I keep getting everyday – not from the start-ups but also from big companies – big enough to maintain customer support departments.

As an entrepreneur, one must know a solution. No one wants to offer bad customer service. So, how most companies end up offering such miserable services? I have heard people say that customers are at fault – they don’t read contracts, for example – but that is as dumb a statement as you can get. The real culprit here is that Marketing Director who devised such a ‘clever’ contract in the first place, so clever that the customers don’t read it.

Bad customer service usually catches up with the provider. We have seen big companies being shunned by customers for this reason – leading to their downfall. Even it catches up with governments these days, and they are desperately trying to improve the act. And, for the start-ups, they simply can not afford it, as for them every onlooker also counts.

So, where do things go really wrong? I have always spent time in a customer facing role, and I can suggest some pointers where things usually go wrong. However, one of the key jobs of an entrepreneur is to be in touch with his/her customers – watching the situation and knowing when things go wrong [for this, count nothing out – including making customer support calls by you or sending a friend posing as a prospect].

So, here is a TOP Three Reasons list – where your customer service may go seriously wrong:

Issues in Proposition
Too often, companies draw up ‘clever’ contracts and product propositions, often misunderstood by the customers. Leave out the fringe companies which do it intentionally. But this is more common than anyone would imagine, and I would say most companies try to do it some way or the other. What is the point otherwise in writing ‘£9.95 a month for Unlimited Broadband [for the first three months, £21.99 thereafter. A Minimum 12 months contract applies]’?

Sometimes, it is only clever marketing – but guard against being too clever. When the entrepreneur approves of such campaigns, the sales guy may take it as an approval for omitting the fine print to those who are dumb enough to ask him.

So, if your customer issues arise more out of not reading/ understanding the terms of service – let’s say, if it is higher than one call in your entire period of existence – it is wise to check whether you are being too clever.


Issues in Communication

This is familiar territory, isn’t it? We all know how bad an impression that Indian Call Centre guy created about such-and-such company, by not greeting properly, or by not understanding the commonest of English expressions [for example, what do Australians mean when they say "Scona rine," an expression phonetically recorded by humorist Alistair Morrison? Answer: "It's going to rain.", OR, What anatomical appendages are used to pay for something that is outrageously expensive? Answer: an arm and a leg]

However, it can indeed be larger than that. The biggest issue in customer service communication is disinterest [and the biggest winner is, vice versa, interest and ownership]. I have seen a client call customer service of a company to say that her software programme is not working, only to be told by the customer executive that ‘but it is working on my computer, ma’am, so the problem must be at your end’. The problem was indeed at the client’s end - her browser was not allowing pop-ups. However, this particular customer was furious about how she was treated.

So, how you solve this problem? By reiterating that customers are all important, all the time! Well, most companies do that all the time, so where is the problem? I guess the answer lies in a common management practise of customer segregation [is the correct term – segmentation? But I do think ‘segregation’ is more appropriate.]

Issues in Segregation
After I started my career in customer support for an e-mail company which had severe service problems and needed customer service intervention too often, we were going mad handling the volume of calls and complexity of the tasks needed to be done. So, one day, the floor manager made this ‘discovery’ – not all customers are equal, at least some of them are more equal than others. I remember being horrified – my middle class upbringing revolted by such a concept – but, as I know now, it is a very well-entrenched management concept.

I wont repeat it, as I know you know it already. But, this culture of ‘prioritisation’, which I learnt subsequently working with a large company for many years, is the single biggest mistake in customer service.

When a distressed customer calls in, it is your interest and empathy that matters. You inject strategy and legal niceties at that point of contact, I can assure you that you will out of business soon. I have read CEOs talking about missing the human factor for their customer service issues – basically meaning that their excellent processes are failing to deliver customer satisfaction because of a ‘human failure’ at the point of contact. Dig deeper, and you will see that too often than not, customer segregation is steeped into the culture of the company, and they have strategically ‘de-humanised’ the process of customer service.

I am writing for start-ups and for my own start-up, and hence this summary about surviving the Customer Service challenge : don’t be clever. Be human, be transparent – bring the spirit of the corner-store in your enterprise. Don’t segregate, remember the morale of Sainsbury’s story [They were known to be phenomenally rude to the small suppliers, only to discover that over time, those small company executives went on to manage large companies, and did not bat an eyelid to forget the ‘special relationship’ the retailer may have enjoyed when the going was good]: today’s small company executive may represent your biggest buyer tomorrow. Every situation is different, but there is one simple principle – be human.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Entrepreneurship Notes: 2 What's Wrong With Business Plans?

Did you know that 94.5% of all failed businesses globally lose the plot at the business planning stage?

Well, I did not know – I invented this statement. There is neither such statistics available, nor is such a survey possible. However, I got away asking this question to many business owners and executives. Some nodded in agreement, some argued [‘I thought it would be more’], some made a note in their writing pad and some said they saw this before – in a study, but they don’t exactly remember which one.

This is what is precisely wrong with Business Plans. Having lived through the experience [see why I failed in Netprotraining.com], I know the longer you live in this make-believe world of ‘Business Planning’, the more likely you are to lose the business.

So, what should the entrepreneur do? Go ahead without a business plan? Will the bank managers or investors be impressed?

Not at all - A business plan is an extremely necessary component of the business, and will always remain so. However, it is important to be clear in one’s mind what a business plan is, and what it isn’t. Only such clarity can save the exercise of making a business plan from being counter-productive.

Well, no pretensions of expertise – I have only failures on my side so far – so I shall say three top things what a Business Plan is not. I do think this is the most important bit, as the process invariably plods one the wrong way.

1. Business Plans are not actual Profit and Loss statements of the business for years to come

At the planning stage, you can hardly get your numbers right. So, despite temptations and pressures to do so, stay away from spending too much time on this. The key is to create a BUSINESS MODEL – a structure identifying revenue streams, necessary overheads and variable costs, and identifying a level where the business will be sustainable, and where it will be profitable. The BUSINESS MODEL should do precisely what the multi-year projections tend to undermine, highlight the market forces that may alter the premises and figure out whether the business can sustain [for example, by cutting overheads] such changes.

Nothing wrong with those detailed year-by-year projections people work out – just that they tend to divert attention from the real thing and gives the plan an air of finality, a mistake to be avoided at all costs. I remember making this business model which said we must have 20 students a month to break-even, and about 25 to earn a decent return on capital, but then spent a month working on ‘whether we can reach 50 students a month’. You do that once you are in business, not before starting.

2. Business Plans are not to SELL your business, but to run your business

Admittedly, you will have to make a business plan when and if you intend to sell your business. But, that is not why business plans are made – they are essentially blue-prints for running a business.

However, as more and more business plans get made for VCs, this is often forgotten. A friend argued that this is irrelevant, as the key objective is to make the business attractive and profitable.

But, as you will see, there is an important distinction between making a business attractive and making a business look attractive. As we all know, our actions, beliefs and statements are mostly guided by our economic objective most of the time – hence, such a distinction matter. This results in providing for too little in costs, projecting too high revenue, and usually both.

3. Business Plans are not about numbers and strategies, but it is about people and their aspirations

The other thing I have learnt the hard way is that business plans are not about numbers and strategies. The markets are too dynamic for any of these to be correct and viable before the start of business. It is, indeed, more about people and what they wish to do. Any experienced VC looks for this – as I have been repeatedly told – and essentially they look at whether the founder/ entrepreneur see this business aligned with his abilities and aspirations. The business plans are more about showing your heart is into it.

With so many tools and techniques and self-help books available in the market, business plans are no longer difficult to make. But it is easy to miss the point, business plans are the business owners’ manifesto for the business – what it is, how it is run and what it will be. I have pledged to myself – the next business plan I attempt to write, I shall stay away from Excel [till the very end of the process, at least] and use the old-fashioned pen and paper instead.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Entrepreneurship Notes : 1 My Mistakes with Netprotraining.com

Now that my plans to get into a business soon have all but evaporated, I could manage to catch up with my reading on the subject of entrepreneurship. Whatever is its practical implication in my life, it is indeed stimulating. Surely, I was thoroughly entertained by Bobby and Sahar Hashemi’s Anyone Can Do It – their story of building Coffee Republic, or for that matter, by the engrossing piece on Sabeer Bhatia’s journey in The Nudist In The Late Shift. The good thing about these is that they are not empire-building stories, they don’t come with the super-human aura of Bill Gates, or the flamboyance of a Richard Branson [I also read Losing My Virginity in last few weeks], or the almost surreal presence of Steve Jobs. The Hashemis or Sabeer Bhatia come across as people like us, a bundle of aspirations, limitations, ‘lucky breaks’ and failures, and makes the subject of entrepreneurship a human story.

This also launched me into thinking about my brief flirtation with an entrepreneurship – my Netprotraining.com years – which was full of excitement, ideas and possibilities, but eventually came to nought. So, thinking back, I compiled a list of what we did wrong [or would have done differently if I was doing it now].

For a start, Netpro had brilliant possibilities. We had a great product – a training programme just right for the time [I met IT Training entrepreneurs in England and India who made millions out of running similar programmes during that time], cutting-edge advantage [We not only identified great curricula, being ahead of the pack, got great pricing deals too]. We spent a lot on infrastructure and got the best-looking training centre in the town, had brand new machines, and kept investing in making things better. We also marketed ourselves well, and generated a steady stream of footfalls right from the start. Yes, looking back – we got lot of things right.

But, we got some key things wrong, and that made all the difference. Some of them were not blindingly obvious, and therefore, I run the risk of making these again. But, I hope that this reflection will make me learn, and I shall avoid these from now on.

Mistake 1: Waited Unduly

We decided to tie up with Prosoft in February 1999, got a company structure in place by 1st of May, and then started trading only on 6th December. We spent all the time in working out numbers on business plan – an excruciating but meaningless exercise – but not on things which mattered, like getting right people etc. Some businesses may take 10 months to start, but not the Internet Technology training business right in the middle of dotcom craze. We missed out big time, and when we finally went to market, the timing was horrible, with two big scams breaking [training companies disappearing with student money] and the first news on dotcom crash coming through.


Mistake 2: Wrong Numbers
I don’t regret the timing so much – because I could do nothing to control it – but I do regret wasting the time on a meaningless business plan. Meaningless, because if I remember correctly we hardly added new ideas after 1st May, but spent all the time window-dressing the numbers. I was jobless at the time – heroically left employment to be an entrepreneur – and was on my credit card all the time till I find finance. Funnily, the investor we spoke on 1st May was the man who went on to finance the venture, but he made me rework the plan and project higher numbers – for ourselves [!] – many times over. Those numbers were meaningless, because by time we opened shop, all assumptions have changed.

Mistake 3: Wrong Aspirations
To this day, when in moments like this, I bemoan Netpro, I wonder what we set out to do. I don’t have a definitive answer. I wanted to have a global career – but surely one does not start a training business to achieve that. My financer, a young businessman with an MBA from Babsons, wanted to build a billion-dollar business in three years. Surely, training was not for him too. He wanted to start and sell off, and was always worried that we are not franchising enough to be saleable.

Mistake 4: People Mismatch
We picked wrong people, on top of it. We wanted to save on wages, and the VC was not keen on giving out equity. So, we ended up inexperienced people, and more critically, inexperienced managers. So, it was a non-starter from day one.

Mistake 5: When your heart is not in it..
The mother of all mistakes – by the time we secured the finance, I lost the game personally. I was aware of the market turning nasty, and also the protracted negotiation with the financers ate up my excitement. I gave away too much of the company and control – thinking back, not because I had to, but because I was almost sure that we lost the plot. I accepted defeat before we even started.

Looking back, I wonder why Netpro survived as a business for as long as it did, or did well at least for a period. I am tempted to think that if I stayed on, we would have still made it. But, no, above everything, I remain painfully aware of these mistakes, and I still know, for all my enlightening, all of them are very easy to repeat [I almost did, last year].

Friday, May 12, 2006

Poll Results in West Bengal

I saw a lot of messages on other message boards yesterday on why LF won this 7th term. The reasoning is widely varied - ranging from rigging [somewhat mute this time] to indoctrination of people of West Bengal.

I do think these armchair experts are in denial, they can not quite figure out why the LF can not be dislodged in WB. I never voted my local LF candidate, but was always of the opinion that rigging alone can not produce such a consistent majority over such a long period of time. As far as the 'indoctrination' theory is concerned, I take offence as this undermines the intelligence of the electorate, and has an 'anti-democratic' slant at the very least.

I would believe that the LF keeps winning because they are the best available alternative. They have delivered a consistent and stable administration, and have contributed in making lives better for a lot of people. They have also won two big strategic wars - first, when they were losing way in the midst of various corruption scandals, by installing an untainted CM and giving a make-over to the whole administration, and second time by staying low key and effectively allowing the opposition to dis-unite under personality battles.

This said, I do not think that such an unchallenged stint is good for people of WB. While the CM is doing a great job, his whole administration is not as effective, and hence it needs the checks and balances, at least a more effective opposition in time for the next election.

And, how? I guess the big problem is the current opposition - this whole personality cult around Mamta Banerjee. I am just hoping that this election will serve as a reminder that Mamta Banerjee is probably the best thing to happen to CPM in many years. Till such time the opposition keeps pitting this fire-breathing self-obsessed past-sell-by-date opportunist against a 'seen as efficient' administration and a transparent, focused CM - it is only going to get better for LF.

In summary, I do think people in WB are pragmatic and they have chosen the LF for practical reasons, and not ideology. It is time we confront the reality. It is also absolutely necessary that we have an effective, policy-oriented opposition, which has its own vision for WB and own ways of doing things. So, time for everyone to think - and time for the opposition to take a strategic make-over.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Google Trends

Have you checked out Google Trends yet?

This is the new service from Google, which allows you to see overall trends in usage of search terms, for regions, cities, languages – over a period of time.

Google Search, being what it is, an entry point to the world for most people online, is a powerful indicator of social trends. Meant for marketers, who can optimize their marketing campaigns [especially in terms of search engine marketing] – but this is a service which throws open an enormous possibility of social research. And, also, such things are also entertaining.

You can access the service at http://www.google.com/trends

Here are certain things that I learnt:

Searched on ‘Training’ and it seems most searches originate from Delhi, India.. trainers in Delhi, you seem to be a lucky lot.

‘University’ – 7 of top 10 places go to US cities, and the other three to India, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. Are you surprised?

‘Tower Bridge’ – I wanted to see how accurate this is, and 9 of top 10 places are in UK – quite understandably. Stuttgart stands on the 10th – made me wonder why – and my guess is that Stuttgart’s famous Television Tower and pedestrian bridges have something to do with this.

But, ‘Iraq’ has fewer subtleties – all the top 10 places searching for Iraq are in US, the top one being Washington. Mr. Bush is definitely having a busy time.


Things like this tell you a story, don’t they – a global story! Have a play, discover, it can be quite useful. It is wonderful for marketing too, I have now discovered that Online Learning is twice as popular a search term than elearning in UK, and trying to change a few things on our website. I am sure you will soon have your share of profound insights too.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Life Beyond BPO

I must be wrong – I have been discouraging an old friend of mine to get into BPO business. I told him that in Fast Company’s list ‘5 jobs that won’t exist in 2010’, the jobs of Indian Call Centre worker ranks third. But, then, I saw him getting disappointed, and I backed off.

To be honest, I ended up encouraging him in the end, connecting him on Ryze and leading him to the Outsourcing forum, in case he manages to get a lead. But, yes, deep down my heart, I was not convinced that BPO is a good start-up opportunity anymore, if it ever was.

I am not exactly sounding sane, and I am conscious of that. But, I have my reasons, and I must try to make my point in the assumed privacy of my blog. So, here goes – my laundry list of reasons why someone planning to launch a business now should start thinking beyond BPO.

Reason 1: It isn’t easy

Providing Call Centre Support or Accounting etc isn’t easy. Remember, when you take on your US or UK clients’ order, it comes with a Service Level commitment which isn’t easy to meet. You need a workforce that is cheap [so that you can maintain the cost advantage] and able [so that you can deliver service]. Now this puts you up for a competition with IBM, Accenture and EDS as you start up, not the best competitive landscape one hopes for, I suppose. Too many business plans get drawn up without factoring this in – a fatal mistake! The inevitable equilibrium is reached by settling for a second tier workforce, neither meeting the customer’s requirement nor earning a nice profit, as eventually the costs keep rising too.

Reason 2: It isn’t new

I guess it is essential for every successful business venture to start with a question: what value can I deliver? No, I am not a believer that all business ideas have to be new, fresh out of the oven. But, there has to be a clearly identifiable value-add, an answer to this question: why should this business exist? I am sure it is okay even to have a pedestrian answer, something like ‘there is not a single decent curry house in this locality’, or ‘I know how to sell an event like this’, or even ‘I do great designs and I must let people have that’. But, saying ‘I think there are lots of potential in the BPO market and I shall put up a shop and see whether I can get a trickle’ – nah!

Reason 3: It isn’t sustainable

Well, you can point out that you can build competencies / specialisms by being around in a business. True, if you count contacts, market knowledge etc – just being around in a business, you can accumulate the value-additive inputs. But, then, BPO isn’t a very sustainable business that way, it is cash hungry – you must get good people paying good money, and keep service levels high. Otherwise, you will not get anywhere with contacts or knowledge. So, if you are trying to get your feet wet, this is not something you should be looking at.

What Offended My Friend?

I told my friend this is a good time to start a BPO unit only if he knows someone in one of the Industrial Promotion Boards or other various government agencies and can get some low cost loans out of them. I have seen such scams in Bangladesh, where the World Bank created a fund for such new businesses [dubbed EEF], dispersed a lot of money for BPO units – given out as equity funds which the entrepreneur must buy back after 2 years – and ended up funding over-costed units, where the promoters removed the low cost funds from the business and invested in shares or other items of luxury. Did anyone pay back? I doubt, because bankruptcy of the business was an easier alternative. But even if some people did, they did not earn their money out of BPO.

I did not mean to offend him though. The government is always very bad at spotting opportunities and promoting them, so it is actually a bit of an enterprise spotting the idiosyncrasies of public policy and earning an arbitrage from adjusting it to markets.

So, Isn’t India Going To Shine Anymore?

I didn’t say that at all. I am certain – India will become far more powerful an economy that it ever was. But, that will not be because of outsourcing in its current format. Nor it will be for big companies like IBM or Accenture setting up large sweatshops in Indian cities.

It will be because the entrepreneurs like my friend will eventually discover the life beyond BPO. They will create the new wave of software and services – I have already come across entrepreneurs in Calcutta, Bangalore and Mumbai talking about investments in Web 2.0, Software as Service concepts, e-Business enabling services for domestic markets, e-education and rural telecom projects, ideas and businesses which will spawn a new generation of service business-owners in India. These people are not only looking at the western market, and does not want to remain low-paid clerks; they are looking at markets in China, South East Asia, Africa, Middle East and domestic market in India, and trying to be the best in their own classes and categories.

We are all set for life beyond BPO, I suppose.







Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Failed States Index 2006



For all the optimism about India’s economic progress, one must keep watching its back – the region seems to be entering an unstable, violent phase, next only to Central Africa in terms of its regional stability.

Why do I sound so grim? Look at the Fund For Peace Failed State Index for 2006 and you will discover almost all of India’s neighbours in Top 25 Failed States in the world. Pakistan at 9, Afghanistan at 10, Myanmar at 18, Bangladesh at 19, Nepal at 20 and Sri Lanka at 25 – do not paint a rosy picture of the region at all.

India itself is at 93, somewhat cosy, but slightly worse than Libya in some of parameters [OK – oil money, I agree!]. Bhutan at 39 also does not look too good – especially when citizens’ quality of life is the professed aim of the state over economic growth.

Does this index say much? Depending on where you stand politically, you may or may not attach great value to such studies. Fact, however, remains that the region IS indeed unstable. To get anywhere near India’s aim of becoming a developed country by 2020, we need to sort our own house in order first; in this case, we mean the neighbourhood.

Am I talking of a solution? There is no easy solution perhaps. This is a nuclear region, with a history of hatred and division. But it is time for Indian policy makers to sit up and work out a clear, balanced and unambiguous policy towards its neighbours. If the region continues to sink in chaos, India will have no choice but to keep spending on military hardware and fences [isn’t that what we thought about Bangladesh?], instead of education and health.

One does not easily become rich in a poor, violent neighbourhood – or at least, let me say, in cases of countries, it does not work that way.  

Monday, May 01, 2006

Five Myths About Entrepreneurship : Conversations with My Brother

My brother is teaching a course on Entrepreneurship these days. I must clarify – this is not an MBA, but a subject taught in High Schools, perhaps as a part of another, broader subject.

I found this to be a brilliant idea – implanting minds at a rather early age about a career option, and also encouraging creative thinking in an indirect way. I did sit up and listen, and immediately engaged in a conversation on what is being taught, and how people respond to it.

I must admit I was rather disappointed with the curriculum. While the idea of teaching about entrepreneurship is bold and creative, the curricula seems to have been written by people who never had the slightest intention to be an entrepreneur, or to put it differently, wished their own child become one.

Two minutes into the discussion, I found myself rather exasperatedly explaining to my brother what I think are the wrong ideas being taught. And, after two hours – he suggested that I write this down, and he would add my perspectives in his classroom lessons, though, sadly and expectedly, he has no powers to change the curricula or affect the examination papers.

So, this is why I write. These are what I would call five systemic myths about entrepreneurship that we grow up with, whether we attend a class or not.

Myth 1: Entrepreneurs are Adventurers

Well, they are not. This is the most damaging myth about entrepreneurship, as this causes maximum number of failures.

To start with, I am not undermining Adventurers. They are the pioneers; they have created the civilization, as we know today.

Also, there are certain common traits between entrepreneurs and adventurers. Both tries to go beyond the obvious, and both are in the business of creating possibilities. Both thrive on risks – though in various degrees and kind. And, both, to be successful, need to be very persistent.

But, there is a significant difference. Entrepreneurs, while thinking beyond the obvious, must conjure a vision what it is going to be like; the Adventurers are under no such obligation. For the adventurer, it is necessarily about the journey, but an entrepreneur must know and have a strategy to reach his goal. And, therefore, while risks need to be taken, the entrepreneur must know what they are going to be like and what needs to be done to circumvent them – the adventure, by definition, is about not knowing the risks and taking it in one’s stride.

Myth 2: Entrepreneurs come from Entrepreneurial families

When my brother mentioned this, I initially thought this is a mischief; someone inserted this in the textbook intentionally. But, as I would discover – this is a rather widespread myth.

Again, this is saying doctors come from family of doctors. True sometimes, but not always, as one would agree. Extend that and say – good doctors come from family of doctors – and you will probably discover the extent of absurdity.

I don’t deny that entrepreneurship needs some early moulding of character, and this is why I was so excited about training on entrepreneurship. Also, entrepreneurs need role models like all of us – inside family or otherwise.

Can we say that being from an entrepreneurial family in any case enhance the chances / success rates of becoming an entrepreneur? I would think, not at all, though family businesses are so common, and this myth usually defines succession plans across the board. But, in such cases, failures are as common as successes, and lots of times, vision of the future, the defining characteristic of an ‘entrepreneur’ is missing in the heir-apparent. Without this, the person tends to become a manager, protecting the founder's legacy, and eventually loses his/her way when an industry change happens.

Myth 3: One should try to become an entrepreneur only after achieving a high level of professional skill or success

Like the other myths, there are some truth and a few favourable examples, but there is also over-generalisation to the extent of undermining reality.

So often than not, brilliant entrepreneurial successes have been brought about by ordinary people, indifferent pupils or unsuccessful employees.

People, by nature, are good at certain things – but this is no guarantee that this will mean an all-round ability. For example, thinking beyond the obvious may not be an asset in school, nor ability to take risks is greatly appreciated in most ‘industrial-age’ corporations or public sector enterprises.

Modern life is a sequence of accidents under the garb of some kind of irreversible rationality. This sequencing – patterns designed and defined based on the experiences of times past – is always anti-creative. The entrepreneurship is also about breaking this sequence, and becoming what one is NOT destined to become.

This would also necessarily invalidate Myth 1 and 2, as you can see.


Myth 4: Entrepreneurs bring fresh new ideas to market

So often than not, they don’t. There are invention-based enterprises, which come at the back of a new discovery. [I am tempted to see a pattern and say – usually by university-to-enterprise business-people, but I shall refrain from generalisations]

But, mostly, entrepreneurship is about looking at ‘better’ – as opposed to ‘new’ – way of doing things. An HBR study by Amar Bhide looks at where entrepreneurs get their ideas from – an overwhelming 71% say that they have replicated and modified an idea encountered through previous employment. Contrast that with accident [‘Swept into the PC revolution’] at 5% and other reasons like ‘built casual interest into business’, ‘wanted as an individual consumer’, ‘happened to read about’, ‘developed a family member’s idea’ or ‘thought of during honeymoon’ at 20%, you will know that it is not even about accidental creativity. Sadly, the ‘Systemic Research for Opportunities’ of the business school variety does much less better at 4% in spawning entrepreneurship.

Myth 5: Entrepreneurship is an individual quality/ attribute

As in ‘some people are born entrepreneurs’. Very true, but one must remember that many people – born entrepreneurs – never finally become one.

This is a matter of belief for me – it is important to have an entrepreneurial society to foster entrepreneurship. The social milieu – which includes the education system, the financial environment, the approach to risk taking, the acceptance of failures, and also, I suspect [amateurishly] the use of language – has a direct and profound impact on entrepreneurship.

No matter how hardworking the entrepreneur is, how bright an idea he may have, or how ‘indomitable’ he is – he will still better chances of building a world-beating success in California than in, let’s say, Normandy. I disagree that this is only about resources – clusters, as I heard you say – and would strongly believe that there is a strong cultural element in this.

My interests in Entrepreneurship run deep. I do see this to be the motor of capitalist progress, and only hope in sustaining a dynamic society. This is even more important today than a century ago – because today the resource distribution [e.g, energy, media, finance and people] and public policy [e.g, governments’ willingness to make concessions for large foreign investors over local business and innovation] are more skewed against enterprise than ever before. But, here is a point – small, start-up entrepreneurs generate more employment and contribute far more positively in a nations economy than either foreign aid or investment.

Time now to build an entrepreneurial society! The high school curricula reflect the demand, but sadly, reflects the social bias and propagates counter-productive mythology about entrepreneurship.

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