An Entrepreneur’s ‘Toolbox’ for Building a Successful Business

Entrepreneur

The term ‘entrepreneur’ is often used interchangeably with ‘manager’ and ‘professional’. Hence, much of the advice given to entrepreneurs is indistinguishable from that given to professional managers. I understand the term to mean a person who is innovative and tries to find a different way of solving a problem, which is superior to the current ways, and seeks to build a business upon such an idea. He or she is thus a risk-taker, as there is an element of uncertainty in everything they undertake.

Second, the image of the entrepreneur as a ‘lone ranger’, struggling hard alone against all the odds, is incorrect. Enterprises are team efforts, requiring collaboration of others. The entrepreneur must learn to build a team, and create necessary conditions for that team to work effectively to build the idea into a business that can succeed. In this edition, I will discuss a few tools that the entrepreneur will need to master, if he/she is to succeed in building a successful entreprise. These tools are less about techniques, and more about mindset. The tools I will talk about are ways of thinking or habits that can be cultivated.

TRIAL AND ERROR

This is the most powerful of the tools in the toolbox. This tool appears simple but it’s not easy to use. I will come to the reason for that in the next point, but would like to state here that where outcomes are uncertain because of the innovative nature of the venture or the essentially unknowable character of the future, there is only one way to find out fast whether something will work or not, and that is to try it out. Hence, the question to ask is ‘have you tried it out?’

LEARN FROM FAILURES

In order to make trial and error a part of the DNA of your company, it is necessary that you understand that success and failure are binaries in your efforts to achieve desirable outcomes. In plain language, it means that you must not only learn to tolerate failure but, in fact, encourage your team members also to court failure as well. I recall the constant trials and experiments that went on in our plant, on the shop floor, not just in the labs, as we strove to solve complex technical problems. Our willingness to keep trying helped us solve all problems we faced and put in place a manufacturing process that propelled us to global leadership in a highly technical and competitive field.

CONVEY BAD NEWS FAST

Related to these two points is the willingness and ability to convey bad news fast. Very few of us like to hear bad news. The bad news is often suppressed as team members, who become aware early on that something is not working out as planned, will think twice before bringing it to the notice of the boss. Valuable time for putting into effect counter measures to solve the problem is lost while the news is being suppressed. When the news is finally conveyed, it is already too late for taking effective corrective measures.

FEARLESS MIND

Instilling a culture of fearlessness among team members is a necessary condition for letting people report bad news. Only in an open work environment free from fear will people be ready to speak up their doubts and misgivings about a plan or strategy. Fear of failure prevents a person from trying out a new idea and hence, from learning through trial. This means a management system based on fear can never lead to the building of a world-class business. The insecurity based on fear of losing one’s job is not a good foundation to build a great team. People are not a factor of production, which is to be treated as a cost. Instead, look at them as a resource on which you must invest.

My experience as an entrepreneur, building a startup based in Thiruvananthapuram into a leading maker of hi-tech blood transfusion bags in the world, convinced me that people are a resource and are capable of achieving remarkable results. For that to happen, you need to create conditions necessary for them to exercise their skills and creativity and ideas, in a fearless and confident manner. Don’t waste time searching for the ‘right’ person for the job, ‘who will walk in and do a great job’. Instead, learn to use the people resources available with you.

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