Alok Kejriwal

Entrepreneurship as a Career

In the mid 60's, Marwari men who had migrated to Mumbai and other metros, had made big fortunes by sheer hard work and untiring perseverance. These seasoned men had straightforward ideas about how to educate their children. Typically, the sons (there were at least two, if not more), were to become engineers or doctors.

These were career paths chosen by illiterate fathers - not because it meant better education for their children; but because it was a sure shot path of making more money compared to 'hard business'. In that age and time, businessmen were actually converting their children into professionals as a better career choice.

Circa 2012. An elderly person I met told me an interesting story. He said that when his son was about 10 years old, he asked him, "Papa, get me a car with a 'lal batti' (red light)." The man told his son that cars with red lights could not be purchased. They were assigned to really important government officials and to get one, the boy would have to work very hard, pass extremely difficult exams and finally land a job that earned him an official lal batti car.

The boy kept quiet. Many years later, the gentleman received a call from his son who had been living away and said he was dropping in to meet him. When he arrived, the father saw that the son had a lal batti car! He had slogged to study to become an IAS officer and finally got that job that got him the car he had always dreamt of!

My prediction is that in the next decade or so, you will hear refreshingly different stories. These will be tales of people who had 'entrepreneurial' ideas, chased them and became big successes.

The fairy tale, "I wrote an idea on a paper napkin in a restaurant, went out and made it a billion dollar Company" will no longer sound like fiction. Heck, the dude will even show you the crumpled paper napkin to prove his point. The time of making Entrepreneurship a career is here and now. And these are the compelling reasons:

Taking home a salary

Most start up entrepreneurs survive on fresh air, black coffee, e-mails and conference room air-conditioning. They don't dream of 'salaries' because there is no money to be paid out. If they have bootstrapped their startup themselves, it's illogical that they will pay themselves with their own money.

To quote Bob Dylan's eternal song phrase, 'the times they are a-changin'…

New 'accelerators', 'startup incubators' and 'angels' (jargon to describe folks who encourage startups) are now funding entrepreneurs with decent startup capital that allow entrepreneurs to take home a decent salary. Of course, the cash is not what the person may have earned if he was employed at Oracle, but it's not zilch either.

Hence, "doing something on your own" is not going to be working for charity. It will mean getting paid for it, even though it's working on your own idea and making sure that you remain your own boss. This will greatly encourage young people to think of entrepreneurship as a short, mid or even long-term career option.

Look Papa, I do business!

Saying that you "do business" was anathema in India for many years. Bollywood movies classified "businessmen" as those evil brutes who wore three piece suits, smoked like chimneys and drank the blood of factory workers. But today, being in business is no longer a 'crime'.

The litmus test of this paradigm shift is to examine the job the 'first graduate' of the family takes up. For years it was a government job. Then it became "private service". The software revolution made sure that the first job the newly minted graduate accepted was 'IT'. But today, many graduates from families (whose parents have never been to a college before) are actually jumping into entrepreneurship.

Doing your own thing is no longer 'frown material'. The young graduate has senior friends who tell him about the banality of corporate jobs and how stifling it becomes. This young man is fighting family pressure and breaking the coconut of his own business, rather than working for a corporate first.

The second digital revolution

The industrial revolution created a massive wave of entrepreneurs all over the world. Textiles, cars, steel, cement and paper all came from industrial roots. In India, only a handful of families could garner 'men, land, money and machines' to start big businesses. Not only was money scarce; getting licenses to start something as silly as a socks factory (that's what my grandfather started) took lots of "connections", favors and trips to New Delhi).

Today, a second hand laptop can create a Facebook.

The second industrial revolution is the digital revolution. And it's being led by sharp men and women who have brilliant ideas - not Birla, Tata, Ambani… as a surname. Given that most of our kids are being educated in English and have access to cheap technology power, it will not be difficult to imagine an army of entrepreneurs creating mini businesses that are self sufficient.

Imagine this - think of the late 90's STD and ISD booths - in the next few years you will have 'Digital Booths' run by your watchman's son who will offer many digital services from his small kiosk. He and his friends will be India's grass root entrepreneurs!

The world is just a click away.

For years, India exported polished diamonds, mangoes and Hawaiian Shirts. I say Hawaiian Shirts because for a long time, Indian garment exporters could not understand western fashion trends and failed to win orders of formal wear. Indian garment exporters exported the classic Hawaiian Shirt because that was always in fashion (it was also the cheapest garment to sell).

The world has now shrunk to a screen and thousands of Indian software exporters are servicing clients all over the world. There are fifty Indian software exporters who execute orders for Japanese and Korean clients! I run a gaming Company out of India and everyday teens from every country in the world download our games (except for North Korea and Siberia).

Given that all things are now digital and standardized, starting a business sitting in India for a global market is no longer 'impossible'.

All things said, being an entrepreneur and a successful one was never easy; but this age and time makes the pursuit worthwhile. And as the news of successful entrepreneurs begins to hit the daily headlines, Entrepreneurship will soon become the hottest career option for millions of Indians.

Believe me when I tell you that the doctor, engineer and lal batti car owner will now wish that their children become entrepreneurs!

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