The number one reason most businesses fail is that there is no market need for their product. “Businesses succeed because someone can solve a real customer problem,” said Prakash Iyer, leadership coach and author, while delivering the 7th Raghu Pillai Memorial Oration at the Madras Management Association recently.

“Solving a real customer problem trumps ‘I have a great idea’,” Iyer said. Success, he added, is all about the ability to give up what we think is true.

Speaking on the theme ‘the role of leadership in entrepreneurial success’, Iyer busted a myth that today’s entrepreneurship is all about the young. Sixty per cent of people who start small businesses are over 40 years old, he said. “The truth is that people who start businesses are those who have worked and gained experience,” Iyer said. The successful young people are the outliers.

Iyer talked about the ‘shadow effect’ which can impact an entrepreneur. There are many things that make an entrepreneur successful in the initial days: out of box thinking; passion; hands-on approach and, of course, being an expert in the industry they are in. But, as the business grows bigger, the very traits that help one succeed can militate against the entrepreneur. For example, Iyer said, being hands-on can mean he/ she is becoming a micro-manager.

Other ‘shadow effect’ traits that Iyer pointed out are being passionate (can become stubborn); somehow getting the job done (disorganized and disregard for processes); subject matter expert (closed to learning); sense of urgency (impatience, carelessness); I can do it all (not a team player!). “All things that can make an entrepreneur successful can also have a flip side. At one stage they need to bring in somebody who will make a good leader,” explained Iyer.


(From Left) Gp Capt (Retd) Vijaykumar, ED, Madras Management Association with Janaki Pillai; KLA Murugappan of MMA Managing Committee, Prakash Iyer; Nalini Padmanabhan of MMA committee and Ganesh Chella, co-founder, Coaching Foundation of India


Iyer outlined some lessons that entrepreneurs can draw upon:

Ask for help : Entrepreneurs always think that they are the smartest guy around and can’t confess ‘I don’t know’. If you don’t know, it’s okay to say so and ask someone, said Iyer.

Find a mentor : Entrepreneurs shouldn’t feel alone in their journey, as it often becomes so. It would help if they seek out a mentor who can be a sounding board.

It’s okay to fail

Build a team : If entrepreneurs have a leader in them, they can build a team, said Iyer.

Find balance:  Entrepreneurs need to find an anchor in their lives and separate what they are as a person from their business. “One’s life needs an emotional underpinning,” explained Iyer.