Nandini Vaidyanathan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at ISB, Hyderabad during one of her talks, is an academician, author of the book Entrepedia and a mentor for countless entrepreneurs. In her view, entrepreneurship is what will take India to the next level and contribute to its overall development. Apart from mentoring business ventures, she has also facilitated the formation and growth of many social enterprises. She is currently mentoring 2800 women in Afghanistan, 323 women in Somalia, 325 women in Ethiopia, 2000 women in Ghana, 1500 in Nigeria and over 4000 women in India. Speaking about her work, she adds, “In all of them, the women are illiterate, below the poverty line and single earners. So they started off a few years ago as livelihood entrepreneurs and today many of them have become profitable and have built scalable businesses. Some of their products are being sold on ebay and their whole body language exudes confidence and belies their under privileged background.”
Working with these women and many more entrepreneurs is what gives Nandini the greatest satisfaction of working towards building a better India. In this interview, she expresses her firm belief in entrepreneurship, its power to create a new India and her own contribution to it.
How important is entrepreneurship in making India a better nation?Very important. Let me give you a parallel. In 1975 both Ghana and South Korea were at the same GDP, 380/390. The next two decades saw S Korea embracing entrepreneurship and globalization with a vengeance. Ghana remained a protectionist economy, controlled by the government. In 1995 Ghana remained at the same GDP level, S Korea had gone to 880!
No amount of media and politicians talking about how India will become a super power by 2020 will make it one unless it is backed by a conscious agenda for creating an ecology that is not only conducive for entrepreneurship but actively encourages it.
What is the role of a mentor in building entrepreneurship? How did you become a mentor? Please share your journey so far.
In India we don’t become entrepreneurs because we don’t know how, not because we don’t want to. Internet and mobiles have created so many opportunities for youngsters to take to entrepreneurship at a very early age. Today at 23, you can start a mobile app company with as low a capex of rupees five lakhs, and in less than three years, you can have the audacity to expect a topline of a crore! In the past, in the brick and mortar business, this was unthinkable
Whilst opportunities abound, not many of us are exploiting them because we don’t know how to build a business around an idea. The idea may be brilliant but how effective it is depends on its implementation and at 23, the young entrepreneur may have absolutely no clue how to take his idea into the market place and build a successful business.
That’s where a mentor comes in. A mentor is someone who has either been an entrepreneur himself and therefore understands the passion of the entrepreneur on the one hand and the angst and challenges of articulating his vision in the market place on the other. A mentor may also be a corporate professional who, even though worked as an employee, always thought, felt and behaved like an entrepreneur. In other words, even if he did not bring capital to the table he always took ownership of the road map in the organization that he worked. A mentor is also someone who is well connected and can open doors for his mentees.
This species of mentors is relatively new in India and there are not too many of them that entrepreneurs can go to. This is the reason I wrote my book, Entrepredia,- a step by step guide to becoming an entrepreneur in India. I have called it a pocket mentor because it is convenient to carry with you wherever you go, whenever you need, especially in the startup phase.
As a mentor, how do you make a difference, what is the role you play?
I have mentored more than 600 entrepreneurs in the last six years. I have had the good fortune of mentoring internet startups, bakeries, restaurants, travel portals, chilly manufacturers, chikki manufacturers, branded children’s apparel manufacturers, board game creators, and the like, across the world. What I have learnt is that mentoring is a two way street. It is a mentee/milestone driven engagement and unlike in consulting where the client is expected to do what the consultant asks him to do, in mentoring it is a journey together, where the mentor helps the mentee to discover his inner potential and build his capacity. So it is never that the mentor tells him what to do. The mentee gets to open his eyes to all possible options and then he makes the decision which one he wants to go with.
I have talked about this extensively in my book. Entrepedia is a guide book for those who want to become entrepreneurs, for those who are already in a startup phase and for those who want to become better employees. There is no such India centric book today which mentors you step by step, from why you should be an entrepreneur, how to convince your family and friends, where to look for ideas, how to choose co-founders, howto hire teams,how to write the business plan, what are the options for creating the legal entity to conduct the business, how to protect your intellectual property, how to choose appropriate technology, how to put a face to your customer, how to make sure you have an innovation pipeline, and how to fund your startup, amongst other things.
What are the typical deterrents that work against anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur?
The biggest deterrent is fear of failure. In India somehow our whole identity is determined by our visiting card and if it does not communicate brand value we fear that we may not be treated as equals. Associated with this fear is also another fear that if we fail as an entrepreneur, we may become ‘unemployable’. I have heard comments like ‘if he couldn’t run his own business successfully how can he run ours?’
The failed entrepreneur morphs into the world’s best employee because it may take ten years as an employee what it takes one year as an entrepreneur. When you hire a failed entrepreneur, he hits the ground running.
Read all articles by Unnati Narang here.