Whenever entrepreneurs come to me and ask for advice on how they should start their company, I think back to many pivotal moments in my life. There is no teacher like experience, but a truly wise person will learn from others who are further down the road.
Here are four key lessons in my life that I hope you can learn from as you walk your own journey.
1. It takes work to learn
I grew up in Cuddalore, a small town in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The resources I could get my hands on for learning were very limited. If I wanted to buy a book, I literally had to go to another town. Anytime I wanted to learn something about programming or business, I had to put in a lot of effort to find resources and people who would support me.
The most important factor that decides the success of any organization is its ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn as quickly as possible. This doesn’t just happen. You must put a lot of hard work into seeking out teachers and new insights. Ask questions, educate yourself and share knowledge.
Curiosity and necessity drives us to the next stage. Never stop learning.
2. A degree can get you a job, but only skills give you leadership
After I finished my secondary education at 17, my father insisted that I help him run his business instead of pursuing a college degree. Instead, I enrolled myself in a computer programming course offered by a small institute in my neighborhood. I ended up getting hired for a job later on despite having no formal degree, and I got many double promotions because of my desire to build both technical and personal skill sets that no one else had.
When applying for a job, you should be able to demonstrate the skill. However, when the time comes to be a leader, you need to have mastery in many different skills. By focusing on the most pressing needs of the business, over time I built up the essential skill set that a leader must have to lead effectively.
3. Leaders must be the first to sacrifice
In the early 2000s, my startup faced some huge hardships. Our product was not generating a lot of revenue, and the company ran out of money to pay its employees. I ended up using credit to keep afloat and even sold my car to keep the lights on at the office. While many of the core team knew the struggles we faced and went without salary for some time, we kept things positive for those around us. I didn’t flaunt my sacrifices and only told others after we gained stability in our business.
There are ups and downs in every entrepreneurial story. It takes a lot of work to get the flywheel moving to a stable state. If employees see their leader having second thoughts on a huge decision, even if it is the right one, employee morale takes a hit.
In a new business, employees always look up to the founder to guide them through the right path. You should be the first to make sacrifices to keep the vision going.
4. Know when to move on
The first software product that we built was an alternative to Microsoft Excel. The second venture was a cloud platform where businesses could build tools online for themselves. It was not until our third product, Kissflow, that we started seeing a constant source of revenue.
Each time we pivoted, it was hard to abandon the hard work we had invested, but it was always the right decision.
The key moment in any entrepreneur’s journey is knowing when to walk away from an idea or product. You shouldn’t give up at the first sign of trouble, but you should know when you are in a dip that you need to push through, and when you are starting a tailspin.
Take it away!
All business owners and entrepreneurs have a burning desire to build their dream company. Although it is important to have this drive, you should also be knowledgeable to lead your organization.
The best way to learn anything is by experience. All these moments have been turning points in my professional career. Now that you know my experiences, you will have a clearer vision for your business. Have a great journey ahead!
Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single, unified platform. He is an expert and renowned entrepreneur on a mission to democratize automation and create an immersive work experience for enterprises of all sizes. He has three US patents to his credit. Suresh is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology startups and spends a significant amount of time in the startup ecosystem mentoring young companies. He co-founded SaaSBoomi, Asia’s No. 1 & largest SaaS Conference.