Friday, 19 February 2010

Hail the entrepreneur

One of the largest job creators in the world is, well, you. You don’t need to necessarily work for somebody else – you can work for yourself. Millions do. Entrepreneurship is truly a magic bullet to overcome unemployment.

Entrepreneurship is a long and complicated word. It hints at some grandiose big startup ; it doesn’t need to be. The largest number of entrepreneurs run an organization of 1 – themselves. It’s the corner shopkeeper, the street trader, the plumber, the carpenter, the doctor, the taxi driver, who are truly the greatest of entrepreneurs. They don’t moan about unemployment. They don’t demand 6 weeks of holidays a year. They don’t demand travel privileges in first class. They just work hard and earn their own living.

Entrepreneurship need not necessarily need huge capital. It doesn’t need breakthrough ideas. It doesn’t need a MBA. It however needs commitment, guts, hard work, luck and some breaks.

I’ll tell you the story of an entrepreneur I know. He comes from Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. He came to Bangalore, a few thousand miles away, to try and earn a living. Without real qualifications, he did not stand much chance of a job. So he took to being an entrepreneur. He made snacks and came to the office area in the evening and sold it to hungry office workers. He didn’t have a place to sell from; nor had he a roadside stall. Instead, he brought his stuff to the staircase in the office building and caught the attention of the smokers who usually inhabit this place. Little by little his business grew. Come rain or shine, he was there. The office folk started to regularly buy from him. He was meticulously polite. He was always there, everyday. He looked upon each person buying his stuff as “God” – who was enabling him to survive. Little by little he grew his business. He started doing well with a steady clientele, a steady income . So much so that he caught the attention of a catering outfit who found him an ideal candidate to run one of their shops. He is still humble, polite to a fault and still looks on you as “God” when you buy something from him. He is truly an unsung hero and he shows the way how to overcome unemployment.

In this entire series on jobs, I have been preaching that governments should do this or not do that. Entrepreneurship is one area where my position is that governments should do nothing. Just stay out of the entrepreneur’s hair. Not do like what has happened in Europe - any entrepreneur there will tear his hair out trying to follow a million directives from Brussels and a million more from his own country. Stop putting barriers in front of entrepreneurs and then let them find their own way.

This series on creating jobs has dragged on, but I submit that this is a justified topic to examine in some detail. One of the most degrading of situations is to be unemployed. One of the most "punch in the pit of the stomach" feeling is losing your job for no fault of yours. Being gainfully employed is fundamental to any person. Besides the economic necessity, it brings a sense of identity to a person. Some measure of social standing. An anchor in this difficult world.

Full employment is not an utopian dream. It is something every society must strive for. It is possible to achieve this to a large measure. It is a holy grail worth toiling for.


Srivats said...

Yes i too have felt this several times,everytime i buy a flower from the road side shop near the temple or buy plants, fishes, food etc. I always think that I am part of the chain to helping entreprenuers around the place. It feels good to buy from local vendor than from wallmart , IKEA (no offence). That personalised touch is what makes the difference.

I am not sure how I would fee being jobless in few days :) ur words have hammered me . hope to keep me occupied.

gils said...

having a job for everyone..i think is achievable..having one that pays...hmm with some difficulty yes..thats also possible...having a job that pays as much as u want??!! i think there is no such long as ur wants are limited..i think jobs will be available in plenty for everyone.

Satish said...

I am a smoker and have in fact bought snacks from the very guy you were referring to Ramesh, both when he used to sell things on the staircase as well as after he started as part of the contractors team. I think it is wonderful that such people work and earn of their own initiative. However staying in the UK, I realise that being unemployed is a stigma only in places like India. Here it is no big deal and the Government in any case provides the dole if they are unemployed - so big deal. India's population is its biggest asset but at the same time its biggest liability too unfortunately.

Sandhya Sriram said...

very nice comments from GILS indeed. how true.

on a different note -
It is not that there arent enough entrepreneurs, as the government dosent bother about them, the tax authorities dont bother about them, they have their free will to ideate and grow. There is no dearth of ideas as well. some of them are very innovative. There is no lack of people, we have so many aspiring entrepreuners.

So all the ingredients are there. but the cake dosent bake in many cases. Unlike you i cannot examine such a massive economic phenomena in such ease that even a layman like me connects to this so well.

But i feel that There is no hard rule which could enable this.
maybe soft steps (something which India has never attempted)

set up councelling institutes and help lines with expert care to those seeking needful advise

single window for demand and supply, bring people, ideas and resources together

educate, train, enable, develop, empower, improve the pyramid

now the question is that who will do - every time we need not look @ the government or NGO. we can even look @ corporates. they also need to realize that if they invest in value creation in the economy, they are in turn improving the purchasing power of the mass population and thereby increasing demand and consequently growth - its a virtuous circle.

This series has been quite interesting and thought provoking. I want to call this "A Slim Diet on Economics". Compact, Deep and Truly Magnificent

PS - I first wanted to call this economics for dummies but then considering your other readers who wouldnt fall into that definition, i altered the name. but this one still holds good for me :-)

PPS - nice to see Satish in this space. My First Boss and first guide into corporate life.

PPPS - VVVV sorry about this long one.

Ramesh said...

@Sri - Its amazing to see the difference in attitude between the self employed and those working for somebody else even when they are doing exactly the same thing.

Sri - the commiseration with the unemployed does not pertain to you. You are changing your line - and you are investing to pursue the line which you like to. That's a brave move and one which will surely lead to success.

@gils - As usual a brilliant comment. A job paying as much as you want is by definition an impossibility !!

@satish - Not so sure if the pain on being jobless is any less severe in the UK. Sure there's the dole, but I bet its a big blow to your identity and self respect to stand in the dole queue. Having a family and a mortgage and getting laid off is a disaster for anybody. The Indian situation is more acute, but I feel this applies to any country and sometimes more so in developed countries. If you have nothing, its one thing, but if you have something and lose it, then its worse.

@Sandhya - Nice ideas for helping entrepreneurs, but I still feel if the government stays out of it completely, it is actually better. One of the reasons why India's retailers have been so successful is because the government stays out But then police harassment, hafta, etc are their bane. In my view, lots of vocational training and a free atmosphere to work for yourself will spawn a million entrepreneurs.

btw - I am not sure what's the opposite of a dummy, but its that word that applies to you.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post, and since we are among friends, a more personal comment. I am an entrepreneur, and have been so since mid 2008 or so. Only in the last six months has my idea gained traction, and I have now incorporated my company, called myself MD, hired a couple of people, and started to roll out the product. You are right when you say that entrepreneurship is partly midwifed by need and partly by the desire for identity. In a declining industry, I realised that skills like mine we going to be redundant in a few years, and either I price myself down or re-skill myself. I also realised that my need to shape an organisation and create an ethos was not going to be met where I was. After some agonizing, I took the plunge. It was very hard going. It still is, but what keeps me going is that I have backers who are taking a bet on me. There have been huge bouts of depression realising that I am now without income, and without a viable business idea, burning the family savings. Sometimes the idea itself seems totally unviable.

But you persist - and IMHO it is one of the biggest assets an entrepreneur should have. I only have to look at my wife and daughter asleep while I wake up at 430am, and courage returns anew. There is no going back. This is your identity now, and the past glories do not matter. You look at people who were your contemporaries surging ahead professionally while you struggle to open a bank account, and you have to tell yourself to stop looking around at other people.

In my mind, it is not about the money. It is about the pride that comes from creating something, adding value, and the satisfaction of doing a good job. Professionally, it has been a hugely satisfying experience. I look at anyone who employs two or more people and smile at him. What a noble thing to do, I tell myself. My heroes are some of my friends - two batchmates who now employ 700 people in chennai, or my friend Nirmal Jain who now employs 20000 people after a rocky start and is now India's largest broker.

I am that Chaiwalla, and I am proud to be so. We do not depend on the dole or charity.

Sorry for a very personal post.

le embrouille blogueur said...

Ramesh ... noone could have said this better.Every day of my life now ... I think about starting something.And I know I lack the guts. I get tugged back into the needs of stability and the fear of the unknown. Your post is an inspiration. Thank you. Someday ......

Vishal said...

It is indeed tough to be unemployed and every bit of this series from the master’s pen was eye-opener and inspiration, in hindsight :-)

There are few friends of mine back in my home town who have kept the spirit of entrepreneurship high. E.g. in a small set up of an electrical shop, I can see at least 20 persons, directly or indirectly, gainfully employed. It did not really need huge capital or MBA degree either.

@Anonymous - Very inspiring words, God bless you!

J said...

As LEB says, I think it takes a lot of guts to take the plunge and start a business. For all the successes that get attention, there are also many failures and the venture ends up sucking up all the money and confidence of the entrepreneur. I wonder if entrepreneurs are born or made by circumstances when there is no choice. Also to add to your comment on the full employment dream, I think as a society we should strive to eliminate idle minds who do not feel part of what's going on around them. Very nice series.

helendan said...

ni hao, ming zhi! Entrepreneurship really needs commitment, guts, hard work, luck and some breaks. It all depends on how you face the difficulties. Perseverance will finally lead to success.
I would love to have my own entrepreneurship one day if possible. :)

Ramesh said...

@Anon - Having known a little bit about how you have started this and the sacrifices you have made in doing so, I can, but only, marvel with an open mouth. Its an amazing venture and with risks, but if ever the rewards of entrepreneurship should come anybody's way, it would be yours. Years later, when your venture is a household name, I shall consider it a preivilege that I knew something of it from the beginning. Godspeed, my friend, may you achieve stunning success.

@blogueuer - Thanks. Its indeed tough to take the plunge. But when somebody is unemployed, being self employed is a very viable option. When you have a good job; its a different story of course.

@Vishal - You are very right. For every guy who choses to be self employed, he probably gives a job to atleast a few others.

@J - Oh sure; entrepreneurship is a very risky business indeed. There are a lot of failures. Its a high risk option for somebody who has another line of career. But for an unemployed, its a very viable option.

@Zhang - ni hao xiao Zhang. Glad to see you here - easier to access from the UK no doubt !! Yes; hard work and perseverence are two fundamental qualities. You want to be an entrepreneur ? ; well I can see you starting up the North China Normal University !!

Ramesh said...

@tianqi qinglang - Hey Sunny ; Is that you ??

RamMmm said...

Need to salute the entrepreneur, who have a dream and follow their dreams in spite of adversity and non-cognizance of their efforts. Wonderful comments from your readers, especially Anonymous, which I felt was very inspiring. During one of the leadership programmes in my previous company, there was a discussion on the humble vegetable seller who turns over his money every day in an unsure future (he/she cannot save things for the future. Need to sell everything by end of day that they procure in the morning and if not, it is a wasted investment) and takes risks that we, as the senior management of the company fail to take and hide behind caveats. So, true, in my experience there.

Hats off to that genre of people who blaze their trails and also help people behind them and for those who think that they are their leaders. Bravo!

Ramesh said...

@RamMmm - Yes the vegetable seller is indeed a great entrepreneur. Especially since the consumer he deals with is the "ferocious" maami ! Next time she haggles ten paise off the vegetable price, we must remind her to pause and be a bit more generous !!

zeno said...

If there is one blog, in which the comments do enlighten and add more value to the post, it would be this!

Ramesh said...

Zeno - I am indeed privileged to have such informed comments. Truly jhonoured that readers take the trouble of a very considered comment its invariably much better than the post itself.

Reflections said...

Agree with Zeno.....I have nothing to add[of any value ie;-)] but still wanted to say I savoured every word both in the post and comment space:-)

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - Very much so. The commenters here are a fabulous group. And that includes you :)

Ajay said...

Commitment, guts, hard work, luck and some breaks...very well said Ramesh. As Anon as put it very well, its not just about money. Much beyond that.

Its orgasmic when you have created something on your own, added value to yourself and others who are with you.

Then there are also people who demonstrate entrepreneurial skills while they are working. Creating enormous value for their organizations. I can’t think of a better example than yourselves Sir!!!!!

Ramesh said...

Yes Ajay - its often about much more than money. Hey I am not even in the same page as those admirable people. But thanks - I'm totally flattered.

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