Sense of Purpose: The Entrepreneur’s Magic Potion

Sense of purpose

In my previous article, I wrote about the ‘Cambrian Moment’ in entrepreneurship being here, and that Kerala is in a good position to benefit from it. In this issue I will look at a vital factor needed for an entrepreneurial venture to succeed.

The key advantage of embarking on a venture is that we get focus. And if we stick to it, that will make it work more often than not. That is what entrepreneurship is about; that energy and magic that Goethe describes: “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” ‘Having a Tiger by the Tail’ syndrome is another plausible explanation why mission-oriented programmes work. We have caught this huge beast by its tail, and must hang on to protect our precious life. We will be forced to keep trying different solutions for the problems we encounter, and do not have the choice of giving up. We call this ‘mission-mode’ focus.

But when will we decide to give up? Or, when will we conclude that we cannot make it work? It is when we run out of energy resources, ie, mental stamina. That is when we decide that this marathon cannot be run. Then it is over! Therefore, while focus is a necessary condition, it is not sufficient. I started a small startup in 1987, with few resources and limited business knowledge. I sold the company five years ago after it had grown into the largest maker of hi-tech blood transfusion systems in the world employing over 1000 skilled people and exporting products to over 50 counties.

I was ill-equipped to start a business venture; no technical skills, no business background or experience, no strong motivation to start a venture because I already had a good job, no personal financial stress, and, of course, was not an ambitious person.

Many others who started out with me fell by the wayside. They were hardworking, smart, had good business plans, were well funded, and were probably more business savvy than me. When I look back and analyse why I succeeded, I am afraid I do not have an answer. There are many reasons for outcomes happening, including right strategy, good execution, right capitalization and, of course, a lot of luck. Very few of these were there in my case. While luck certainly played a big part in my story, it is not the full story.

Here is an explanation of why I think we succeeded. After all, I was a 30-year-old IAS officer with few business skills and no technical skills! I had a good job and did not have any great desire to make a lot of money. But a chance meeting with a scientist during a visit to SCTIMST Bio-medical Technology campus changed all that! I was inspired by my hour-long meeting with this brilliant scientist during which he convinced me that I was born to do this project, to establish that an Indian company could build world-class medical products using indigenous knowhow and technology. I recall my friends and well-wishers advising me to do more homework before going for a leap in the dark.

Path-breaking, pioneering and going where no one had gone before me… those things appealed to me. I had finally found a ‘purpose’ in life! It was this purpose that drove me to overcome every obstacle in my path innovating along the way, and convincing conservative financial institutions to keep putting in money into the company when I had run out of resources, and when there were no VCs or startup ecosystem. Today, when I look back and try to tell the story, it appears an improbable and unlikely one. Purpose is the magic potion that will drive the entrepreneur through difficult times and when faced with defeat. That is the magic potion of genius, power and magic that Goethe wrote about. That is what can take an entrepreneur well beyond what he imagined was his limit, and help scale heights he never dreamed he could.

This aspect deserves more attention of budding entrepreneurs. Why do you want to do what you want to do? Is it about money, about being your own boss or about making a name for yourself? There is much talk about words like passion, vision and mission: they are used so often and in such different contexts that they have lost their meaning. We need to rediscover their meaning. And, I hope my story will have helped you do that.