Book Review: The entrepreneur’s craft

Vinay Kamath | Updated on January 20, 2018

Title: Failure To Millionaire: How I Created a Successful Company And How YouCan Too! , Sivadas Raghava, Sage India, Price: ₹395

Serial entrepreneur Sivadas Raghava offers practical wisdom for wanna-be entrepreneurs

B-school graduates are generally not successful entrepreneurs, they are taught to manage and not to take risks, or so goes the adage. Of late, a slew of entrepreneurs with MBAs from top B-schools have been proving this maxim wrong by spawning successful ventures. Sivadas Raghava, a 1983 batch MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, one of the top B-schools in the country, and also a batch mate of the present IIM-A director, Ashish Nanda, is one, but, as he says himself, it took him 17 years to be an ‘overnight’ success.

In his book, Failure to Millionaire, published by Sage India, Sivadas catalogues his trials and tribulations, his hard luck stories, his mistakes, the grind of entrepreneurship, trying out venture after venture till he and his partners hit paydirt.

Falls and more

Nine startups, six failures, a couple of moderate take-offs and one complete success which finally proved to him that quitting a plum job to plunge into entrepreneurship was the right choice he had made.

Raghava writes, warts and all, on his failures, the mistakes he made along the way, the imprudent, in retrospect, projects he embarked on, the hard luck stories, and the frugal early years.

When Raghava struck out as an entrepreneur in the mid-1980s, the business environment wasn’t conducive for the professional manager wanting to set up shop on his own; you were either from a business family or thrived on the Licence Raj regime.

Getting funding for a good idea wasn’t easy; there were no venture capitalists, no angel investors, no incubator cells, no entrepreneur eco system as it is today. You either had the cash or raised it from family and friends; even banks would look at you suspiciously.

And, as he writes, his family had an apoplectic fit. “At that time, there was a huge price tag to becoming entrepreneurs, especially for professionals with my kind of background,” he writes.

Looking back, he says he was was a bit foolish, “chucking up a good job with a leading private sector company, with no business background or support, and just an all-consuming desire to make a success of being an entrepreneur.”

But stay the course he did. And, there is no guarantee of success, but the fire in your belly must drive you, he writes.

Becoming an entrepreneur requires arduous work and there is no organisation supporting you; you are your own man, which struck Raghava forcefully when he set out on his own.

Many learnings

Raghava meticulously catalogues his entrepreneurial journey and the takeaways at each stage of his entrepreneurial life cycle.

For an aspiring entrepreneur it will be a useful read to avoid the missteps he made. A burning desire to be an entrepreneur is all very well, but that by itself is not enough. One needs a good business idea, validation of the concept and preferably a beta customer, he advocates.

Raghava writes that he learnt a valuable lesson in his very first venture: making motor pumps. He invested 50 per cent of his savings and the project turned out to be a disaster. It started with the fanciful name they gave themselves: the Flamingo Group, which, in his own words, sounded like the name for a night club. Coimbatore was the land of perhaps over 100 motor pump makers and their product was not unique.

“The first lesson we learnt was the importance of making ourselves unique and differentiating ourselves. We learnt about USP in case studies at business school, but our experience taught us to translate this to marketplace realities. It’s simple and obvious but many people make this basic mistake of not defining the USP of a product or service,” Raghava notes.

From this disastrous first venture, which didn’t douse his passion luckily for him, Raghava transitioned through many other ventures, winding down the unsuccessful ones, or selling the moderately successful ones, till he and partner (also his classmate at IIM-A), Chandu Nair, founded Scope eknowledge Centre, and rode the KPO boom.

In between, to keep some funds coming, in their early years, Raghava and his partners even structured and taught courses to MBA students of Bharathiar University in Coimbatore. Scope was among the first in the knowledge process outsourcing space to several key clients overseas. They ran the company for 10 years before selling it to Raman Roy of Quatrro.

Social being

Raghava’s style is anecdotal and conversational, dipping into his long entrepreneurial career to illustrate the points he makes. The book is interspersed with fables and stories which were key the learnings for Raghava in his formative years as a young entrepreneur.

They are useful reading for aspiring entrepreneurs as well. The book offers key takeaways from each stage of Raghava’s growth as an entrepreneur; each of these is different at different stages of the entrepreneurial life cycle and Raghava has been through that not once, but several times.

The book offers practical advice on various business issues one could face: marketing to business development and managing operations to fund raising and managing finances.

Lastly, Raghava stresses the importance of not being troubled by just that: stress. He talks of the importance of a work-life balance. As he says: “After all, you have only one life. Do you want to spend nearly all of your 24 hours at work? I think it’s important to have a holistic life and enjoy the process of entrepreneurship…”

His advice is to include physical exercise as part of one’s day, partake of a healthy diet, meditate, and make social contributions, for “small acts of social service go a long way in improving one’s general well-being.” An MBA from a top B-school can indeed succeed as an entrepreneur and Raghava shows how.

About the Author: Sivadas Raghava is the director and global head of services at RSI Content Solutions, USA. He is an innovative entrepreneur and a serial entrepreneur. He has a post graduate degree in management from IIM-Ahmedabad.

Published on May 29, 2016

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