Many of us aspire to be entrepreneurs but can only wish to have either the guts, ability, or opportunity to develop and sell the one game-changing (read world-changing) solution. But like you, I don’t know where to start.
Luckily, today I got to speak to one of the two product developers of our Specialist Diploma in Food Entrepreneurship Programme, Kaushik Swaminathan. He is a capable writer, and had experience in three startups before his current position. We gathered a treasure of valuable insights, wise (and very personal) beliefs and advice, based on real-life experience, that we’d like to share.
He is inspired by people around him who has what it takes to build a product based on sheer will, determination and an incredibly strong belief that their product is the answer to improving quality of living around the world.
Q: Hi Kaushik, thanks for doing this.
A: No problem at all, man. It’s my pleasure, and passion.
Q: Let’s start with the basics: What is an entrepreneur?
A: Have you heard of this phrase ‘a sharp eye’? I believe that, an entrepreneur, is someone who observes the world with a keen eye, and has the unique ability to see beyond things that exist in the market.. They think about what people want that is not currently available in the market and provides that gap. A solution. A product or a service that will transform your life and the way you live, for the better. This incredible level of observation and to react is one of the unique traits that makes an entrepreneur, or at least I think so.
Q: What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
A: One of the most important requirements of an entrepreneur I think — being a risk taker.
Q: I knew an entrepreneur takes risk, but isn’t it better if you play it safe?
A: People generally turn away from risk and failures. They want to be comfortable and successful in life. But running a startup is always risky, and failure is around the corner, every corner. An entrepreneur needs to break away from that stigma and be comfortable in a working environment where risk has a common presence. The most successful entrepreneurs often associate Failure as his or her best coach in the stressful line of work they’re in. Because such a feat requires a lot of physical and mental energy, I feel those who are amongst a younger age tend to be more willing to take risks.
BUT, that doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs are mavericks and always go in head first without thinking. If you are less of a risk-taker, I strongly believe you can build your business ideas through other means. But you definitely cannot fear failure, they are the greatest knife-sharper, or product-polisher.
Q: So, an entrepreneur is a thinker? Or a doer? I’m confused
A: That’s a great question. I think a good entrepreneur needs to be both. I know, I know. Such a cliché answer. Imagine a thinker, you’re probably thinking some sort of philosopher, strategist or consultant — he or she won’t effect a big change. Imagine a doer, you’re probably thinking of a factory worker, or even a soldier — he or she might not have the ‘bigger picture;. To be a great and successful entrepreneur, you need to be both. You need to be able to effect change, and consider strategies to do that at a level where you can reach anyone, everyone. That’s why I think an entrepreneur needs to be a thinker and a doer.
Q: Why do you think both traits complement each other?
A: Thinkers are strategic, and are able to think of solutions instead of just concepts. But we can’t just be a thinker without the ability to carry out these solutions and concepts.
That is when the trait of being a Do-er comes in.
Do-ers physically(or digitally) make that step to build the product, talk to people within the industry to learn and build the concept. Think extroverts – they gain energy from collaboration and interaction with people around them.
Q: Extroverts?! I’m an introvert. Can someone like me who has the personality traits of an introvert be an entrepreneur?
A: Definitely! Even though the traits of an introvert tend to prefer being less outspoken. I believe that social skills can be cultivated, even if it requires a little more time. You find that unfair ‘advantage’ extroverts have is the natural ability to speak to people comfortably.
What is most important, however, is that the person is able to stick with their original idea when things get tough, perseverance and determination is key to success. They need to have an obsession for their product. They need to be obsessed.
Q: How long would I need to spend to pick up these skills that an extrovert might have naturally?
A: If I was an introvert, I wouldn’t waste my too much time picking them up. My advice would be to find a co-founder who has strong personality traits of an extrovert to help balance out the synergy while you build the business idea. You’ll be surprised how common, or uncommon, this is.
Q: Why do you think entrepreneurs, as a career path, are more popular in recent years?
A: One reason — People want to be their OWN boss. Especially with the increasing amount of resources and technology advancements available, we can now easily do an infinite amount of things than before. Essentially, you have more resources to work with, and less of a consequence to deal with when you fail, compared to a decade or two ago.
Q: But isn’t it tough being the boss of a business?
A: Of course it is. Entrepreneurs are masochists. They enjoy the struggle and the challenge. They want to prove people wrong and achieve things that others believe they are not able to achieve. They want to do anything and everything except the status quo. Don’t you think that’s tough? I do.
These people are more hardworking than the most diligent persons you know. They win risky small battles every day to amount a grander victory over time.
Q: What the sacrifices of an entrepreneur?
A: Most likely – attention to everything but their obsession. Everyone else takes a hit. Forget family nights, date nights, or movie nights. An entrepreneur spends every lasting second and every ounce of energy developing their business idea. Doing the next thing in their task list so they can start distributing their revolutionary product around the world.
Sometimes, support from their loved ones can make or break them. You hear recently that Elon Musk is not doing pretty well due to his long hours in the office. He doesn’t see the sun for days, and often sleeps in his office. Someone like him believes that they need to give their everything to their obsession, they believe it will change the world to a better place.
Q: Sounds like a tough life. What about their family and friends?
A: To the family of friends of an entrepreneur, I would like to reach out to you. Give your support. He or she might not have time, but with your support they can change the world.
Q: Based on the knowledge that you have shared, you seem like someone with the traits of an entrepreneur, have you done a startup before?
A: I have ventured into investing funds in startups about a year ago, back when I was in New York. I did run small projects as well, one of them being a news publication focused on college students. I personally like challenges and how it pushes me to step out of my comfort zone to achieve greater things. I do sometimes wish that I’m back in that world. This is my way of doing it – creating a product to empower entrepreneurs-to-be.
Q: Do you feel that startups need to be based on a completely original idea?
A: Most of the times startups are borrowed, but usually an original idea sits somewhere hidden. Take like Chope or Grab, they’re often compared to their rivals like OpenTable or Uber. But the novelty of having the same service in the South East Asia region where such they don’t exist is original. You can’t operate the same way as in other regions. That’s why Uber eventually relented to its rival Grab in Singapore.
Q: What are some examples of good startup(s) in Singapore?
A: My favourite is GRAIN. They saw that the younger working generation have long working hours and little time to cook, but that they are concerned about what they eat. GRAIN works with chefs to curate a healthy menu and provide these foods to people via food delivery, on-demand. I think that’s incredible. And no, I don’t work for GRAIN or get any commission for saying this.
Q: Who are some entrepreneurs who you look up to?
A: My easy answer to this is Jeff Bezos. He was a genius of his own. He knew that the possible sales of people going to a physical bookstore is limited to the stock it had, thus Amazon was born. Buying from an online bookstore, you are not limited to stocks. The sales theoretically, is infinite. What I appreciate about him is that, instead of becoming irrelevant, Amazon now has branched out to retail, electronics, and basically when you want to buy something conveniently online, you think – Amazon.
Q: Lastly, is there anything else that you want to add:
A: Join our specialist diploma in food entrepreneurship! If you’ve gotten this far into the article, I think you fit the profile of an entrepreneur. What are you waiting for? The world ain’t going to change itself.
For more information on our Specialist Diploma in Food Entrepreneurship Program visit https://www.at-sunrice.com/professional-programmes/specialist-diploma-programme/specialist-diploma-in-food-entrepreneurship/