I'm Praveen Suthrum. After 13 years of building and running NextServices, a healthcare technology/management company, the challenges and opportunities in the industry leap out at me. I also get early access to industry trends and changes.

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To stop being a 'wantrapreneur', you need to burn your options

To stop being a 'wantrapreneur', you need to burn your options

Half the battle of entrepreneurship is won in your mind. Many people finish up their careers deliberating whether they must start a business or not. Never actually turning on the ignition. 

I’ve heard wantrapreneurs watch Shark Tank on TV and say, “Hey, I had the same idea. Actually a better idea.”

It’s not about the idea. It’s what you do with the idea. And what happens beyond the idea.

Any longterm entrepreneur will tell you that when your business actually forms, it’s never as you imagined. And yet before you start, you want to get it all right there in the plan.

A business plan’s only purpose (outside of raising money) is to help you structure your thoughts as of now. It helps you think through on the various facets of starting up.

The minute you start executing, your business will need to respond to a wider market. That wider market will teach you what you must do or not.

Startups that fail to listen go belly-up fast. Those that survive continuously adapt. There's no choice.

You’ll never learn swimming by reading about it or lurking around a pool.

You need to jump in.

You need to jump all the way in.

You can’t leave a foot outside the pool thinking, "Hey if nothing works out, I’ll step outside."

However, many wantrapreneurs leave themselves with several plan Bs. They don’t commit the time or money. They don’t even put their name behind it and declare their intentions publicly.

Instead, burn your options if you want to really be an entrepreneur. 

It was Sun Tzu who said in the Art of War, “When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.”

Leaving no options worked well for me. I started up while pursuing my MBA in a top 10 school in the US. With a heavy student loan and plenty of peer pressure, I knew starting up would require a mental fix more than anything else. I needed to burn my boats and bridges.

Here are some of the steps I took to make sure that I wouldn’t be able to turn back.

  1. I spoke often about my plans with friends, colleagues and family. When someone asked me about my plans after MBA, I’d say I’m starting a company. Even without any idea about what exactly it would be or even having the money for it.
  2. Once I found co-founders, we got our first investment from a close family member of mine. We also raised money from a professor I was close to. Also from another close friend. I knew I’d feel miserable if we didn't do something meaningful with their money.
  3. I invested money into the company from my student loan account and credit cards. If my company wouldn’t make money, I knew it would end up being a very expensive financial mistake.
  4. I didn’t sit for any job interviews despite a lucrative job market.
  5. We leased office space for a year even without a real client. We hired our first employee. This automatically brought reality to our business. I’d feel really stupid shutting it all down.

If you notice, I steadily removed my options, increased my stakes. Wickedly, I trapped my mind into starting up.

I no longer could give myself excuses. That there was no one in my family doing business. Or, that I had no savings. Or, that I had no time. Or, that I had many well-paying jobs at hand.

When I look back, I realize that it was the public commitment that mattered the most for me. Speaking to everyone I knew about my plans. Verbalizing over and over again made it into a reality. By doing so I was seeing myself as an entrepreneur through the eyes of others.

So dear wantrepreneurs - stop wanting to become entrepreneurs some day. Simply start being one now. Once the monkey is on your back, it’ll never go away. No amount of practical, rational reason will ever make that monkey disappear.

No one will be able to tell you whether you will succeed or fail. But surely your future self, with an older monkey still gnawing on your back, will remind you that you never even tried. That you remained a lifelong wantrapreneur watching yet another episode of Shark Tank. And that would be the biggest failure.

This article was first published in The Economic Times.

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