Dr. Harsh Mishra, Founder, iSEED has been teaching entrepreneurship for more than a decade now. He has been a prof teaching business strategy and entrepreneurship in several US universities and moved to India to start an institution that will focus on imparting crucial entrepreneurial learning to early stage startups. An IIT Delhi alumni who earned his Doctorate from the Fox School of Business (Philadelphia, USA), Dr. Harsh has works with several thought leaders in the entrepreneurship space and helped entrepreneurs in the NCR ecosystem to grow their ventures.
From his decade plus experience, he shares some great insights –
What should a student prioritize post college – getting a job or starting one’s own venture?
Entrepreneurship is emerging as an equally competitive option to placement or working for someone else. The time is now different and is right. Jobs are shrinking. Quality job or a well paying job is not an easy game. Doing a startup now has a more supportive environment, a better ecosystem, better funding opportunities. The govt is excited and serious and feels the necessity to promote entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial experience gives you more holistic knowledge than a specific job.
Share one fact about the startup world very few people know about and one myth way too many believe to be true.
Fact: That one needs a really great idea to pursue the path of an entrepreneur. In truth, and in most cases, one needs to feel the pain and come up with a heartfelt well conceived solution or an idea and then polish it .. like a diamond is polished to bring out its shine .. its intrinsic potential.
Myth: That you can jump into entrepreneurship because many are doing it and build a startup somehow. At least here, we can do away with the “jugaad” side of our heritage. In reality, entrepreneurship requires getting into a certain mindset, at least come up with a basic preparedness, a certain commitment. Go in with the mind that it will require persistent hard work, patience and openness. It’ll become like an adventurous expedition on a mountain trail. You will change your life will change. Above and beyond challenges, you’ll taste victory and satisfaction like never before.
How can colleges help in promoting entrepreneurship, do you think there is something wrong with what is done by colleges to promote entrepreneurship currently?
Just like individual entrepreneurs, colleges should not again do things out of fashion. They should recognize the “time” and give it a strategic priority and commitment. They will need to re-invent themselves .. reconfigure .. re-incarnate. Any college of any kind can take the lead in nurturing entrepreneurs. They just have to do the right things to prep. It’s not too hard or impossible. A few people on top have to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset of an institution. They can’t teach entrepreneurship otherwise. The governmental support is increasing day by day and is abundant if a college knows how to do it with a sincere mind of the leaders. Since startup realities are interdisciplinary, teaching any discipline can embody entrepreneurial preparedness. It will require a few committed teachers to begin to set the tone. The curriculum just have to be sensitive to the entrepreneurial realities. Soon enough the learning they impart will have to acknowledge the kind of knowledge that is futuristic and relevant for entrepreneurs. Just a matter of time. They will have to come up with job-creators beyond job-seekers.
Is there a checklist one can follow in terms of finding the right co-founder?
- Check the alignment with the idea.
- Check the concrete commitment level.
- Check the selflessness in favor of the idea. The team player and the initiative level.
- No part time co-founders as far as possible. Initially OK, but soon enough they should come on board and do the risk taking. Else, you will land up with a true one man team which will come to haunt later and it wouldn’t be lucrative for the investors to invest in just one person.
What should one look for in a mentor?
A mentor is like a mirror. He or she should show you the potential side of you as well as help identify the gaps in the journey ahead to be filled.
There are three sides to mentors:
- Spiritual side to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of courage, wisdom, persistence, personal guidance etc,
- Learning side to bring the awareness of the larger map in the journey with potential bumps and directions ahead,
- Experiential side to bring domain specific knowledge to run the engine smooth and vibrant.
The mentoring can be from more than one person who is committed and it can be structured. Either you structure the diverse inputs yourself which is much harder – or you engage with an institution like iSEED which can have the basic approach of unifying the diverse mentoring into a structured gain. Mentors generally like to see that their advice if taken after a genuine discussion is respected and implemented post-discussion. Else, they may loose interest. It is natural to expect various useful leads or contacts coming from them, but that is not the prime purpose of any effective mentorship. That’s just the icing on the cake. If they are deep into your venture, they will do whatever possible within their domain of influence. Make sure you give them concrete stake to keep their involvement level high. Things that come free also have the limitations and are of shorter duration.
How to manage studies while starting up (given so many people like to start ventures during their college times)?
There is no need to sacrifice studies for one’s venture idea at least in the beginning. If you become very clear of your future involvement with your venture, you can begin to manage your time batter and give more time to it. There are college drop-outs who are not unheard of. Make sure you’re wholehearted and your idea has crystallized to a certain level before taking such a call. There are examples from student entrepreneurs emerging who finish college and have solidified their entrepreneurial idea by the time they graduate. They go right into it after college after preparing sufficiently during their college time itself. There are no set rules one way or another. It all depends on the extent of your involvement – whether the bug has already bitten you and your heart is in it.
Should one approach the market with just an idea first and look for feedback or build a MVP first and then approach the market (as often people fail to see the value of a product without actually using it)?
Market connection is defacto eternal requirement for entrepreneurship whether at an early idea stage or while building your MVP beyond the prototype, and even further from the MVP stage. It gets more focused and formalised as one goes forward. Initially it is good and perhaps essential to get a sense of the market at an emotional level, i.e. feeling the pain of the market personally, big empathetic towards the market pain and being a messiah who solves the unsolved problem that would substantially help them in a fundamentally different and innovative way. Later once you have developed a prototype of your idea, you need to still be open to get the concrete feedback from the market. If you’re less open, you may miss the signal and pay a substantial cost later. It gets a little more painful at this stage if the market feels quite differently about your product and demands a substantial change in your product.
How and where can one find genuinely valuable feedback for his/her ideas?
The starting point of getting feedback is an honest self-reflection and introspection … specially if you have felt the market pain yourself. The early feedback also comes from your classic customer who wears the narrative of your customer and fits your definition as close as possible. You get valuable feedback from your chosen mentors, investors, and from the ecosystem. But though you may have genuine feedback in front of you, it is not easy to identify, imbibe it or act on it. The entrepreneurs need a perpetual openness to feedback. They need to be substantially attached to their ideas but still not be self-possessed.
So many companies and individuals nowadays are starting their own accelerators, incubators, training institutes, a majority of them are doing it just for getting “startup cred”. How do you differentiate yourself from such people/organizations?
We are the first to recognize the value and need for systematic entrepreneurial learning, development of the appropriate mindset and the value of structured and long-term handholding. We have been a startup ourselves hence fully identify with this space. We’re the first private institution in the country focused 100% on critical entrepreneurial learning that will enhance success rate and substantially reduce issues and reasons that are known to bring unnecessary failure. We’re committed, connected and close to the ecosystem, have innovative learning methodologies that revolves around your own idea and, in a sense, methodologies that always begins and ends with the entrepreneur and his/her startup idea. We occupy a space different from any of those categories of players your question specified. Indeed, we resemble them to some degree. In our programs, we don’t make you knowledgeable about entrepreneurship rather make your startup happen. We go along a great length as your companion on your journey.
People compare entrepreneurship to swimming, no matter how many books you read about it , you cannot learn swimming until and unless you actually try it. Can entrepreneurship really be taught? If yes, at what stage during one’s education should entrepreneurship be introduced?
Well if you pay careful attention to great swimmers or the Olympic synchronized swimming teams, they each come from a rigorous learning regimen. They have a coach, mentor, curriculum and have sound theories behind them. They learn spiritually, intellectually and physically. It’s not possible to excel without such an environment of rigorous learning and practice.
It may not be exactly like that of an olympic winning team, however, broadly same is true about entrepreneurs. Their lonely journey can cost them heavy if they go all alone without mentors, focused programs or supportive teams. Leaving a few exceptional cases, even the big successful entrepreneurs we know actually came from a rigorous learning regimen and rich experiential environment. They teach and learn. They interact intensively. We make these interactions structured, deep, and organised; drawing from a vast pool of learning from the vast, global, localized and specific entrepreneurial world.
You can learn more about ISEED and its offerings here: www.iseed-edu.in