As a product manager, I meet a lot of interesting entrepreneurs and successful businessmen. I met a really interesting owner today. He has a really large penthouse on 5th Ave in New York and employed only 5 people. His company solves, what appears to be, a very simple problem. He has been doing this for the last 18 years and he is really good at it. So good that he is now solving completely different and far more profitable problems for his customers.
Then I remembered a two week ago meeting with another successful friend and then another plug-in developer doing really well for himself.
These meetings make me feel inadequate. I often wonder if I would do better on my own as a business owner. These guys don’t seem any smarter. They are different because they are more ambitious. They are willing to take risks or were in a situation that they had to take a chance and make it work. And so they did. Then I remember “survivorship bias“. I’m meeting the best that have made it. I do not see the many that tried and failed. Just because I see folks hat ave made it… I believe I can do it to.
Its hard to throw a big paycheck away now in the hope of making a larger payoff. Plus, for me, now.. money is not in the equation as much as it was before. Finding something really fulfilling. Starting a business just for the money does not seem that attractive. I’d rather work on something that I enjoy or believe in.
I had a great meeting with a potential partner in the UK today.
At the dinner, we all answered this question, “What would you be doing, if you won the lottery today”?
This is a fantastic interview question and also a great getting to know you question as it forces introspection. I was surprised how honest and sincere my answer was. Here is what I said:
” I dont think money is as issue for me today so winning the lottery will not change my behavior too much. I think I will still go to work. I have a great job. I dont think I appreciate what I a great job I have because I have been doing it for so long. But, I also think I might quit my job and join my dad in his business because no amount of accolades in my current job will compare to spending the few remaining years I have with my father.”
I think I made some people cry at the table.
Others followed this up by their own stories of how they shaped their own careers contrary to what their parents, especially their fathers wanted them to do. One person’s dad wanted him to be a professional football player but he decided to pursue cricket and software after he reached 5’10” and stopped growing while other goalkeepers continued to grow. Another guy told me how his parents wanted him to join the restaurant business but he decided to go anothey way after seeing the pain involved in running a restaurant – even after he paid will own way through and earned a degree in restaurant and hotel management. The fourth person on the table recounted how he wanted to be an artist but his father asked him to consider a more economically profitable career. He chose software then and then instead of picking a highly paying job at a telecoms firm, he decided to work for a small visual effects company that was doing work for Jurassic Park. Its only now, at forty, that he is beginning to pursue art again. His father still does not approve but he cares a little less about it… just a little less than before mind you.
We also discussed how selfish you have to be to be an artist. You put your work before everything else. Friends, family, wife and children included to be the best you can be.
Its really interesting… the impact your parents advice has on your career and how an honest answer opens up the table for more sharing. I think we all felt a connection at the end of what could have been a very ordinary business dinner.
The longer you stay at a job the weaker your muscle to hustle gets. This makes you less and less suitable for leading a startup.
As you get comfortable in a job or go up the corporate ladder, most of what you do it write emails. You set up processes to control and monitor the day to day so that you have time work on the plans tomorrow. You rarely:
Meet customers, especially the unhappy ones
Try to promote yourself or your product
Face criticism, skepticism publicly
Cold call and talk to strangers
Get beaten, get up and go at it again (muscle)
You also don’t realize how much effort and time it will take establish new products or services.
Most long time employees, looking to start a company need to be honest about their ability to hustle. They have to realise that they will not be able to make the same amount of money they will with the amount of effort they put in their jobs, especially if you have been at the same job for a while.
Most employees, me included, do not appreciate enough the monetary reward/effort ratio and moan about our jobs more than we should.
I’m firing on all cylinders and accomplishing a lot both at my job and at my dad’s manufacturing business. New products, that I’ve developed seem to be taking hold and I know enough about them to fix issues that arise during production. Further, I was able to find a good vendor for VKE to help us bring our new analog meters to life. This vendor seems accomplished and should be able to allow us to differentiate significantly from the competition.
There is perhaps nothing sadder than sitting in a morning commuter in a foreign land seeing people trying to make it to work. It’s especially sad in Tokyo as most “salary men” and “office ladies” look tired and jaded. It reminds me of the Dave Mathews Band song called “Ants marching“. It has poignant lyrics. His metaphor compares the working class to ants in a line.
All the little ants are marching, Red and black antennae waving, They all do it the same, They all do it the same way.
Even more impressive at the simply spoken but deep lyrics in this verse.
Goes to visit his mommy She feeds him – well, his concerns, he forgets them And remembers being small Playing under the table and dreaming.
I guess its depressing for me because I think that maybe I’m the ant and I dont even know it. Maybe I’m living someone else’s dream.
The salary men and office ladys often sleep with each other. I mean, on trains, without even knowing it. Leaning on each other yet silently pulling away as they realize they are invading someone’s personal space. I think Japanese salary men and women have Ninja powers to sleep at will and in any position. It is hilarious to see some of them type feverishly into their cellphone and the be completely asleep 2 minutes later.
Mass transit in the summer in Berlin is also worth talking about. Non-Airconditioned trains in and around Berlin remind me how hard life must have been in East Germany. Young and carefree germans drinking on these trains and their mannerism seems no different than a young and loud American in Brooklyn. They can make you feel old. Older than you feel before seeing them.
Transitioning to business – A whole new set of responsibilities
Dealing with government departments is a big part of managing a manufacturing business in India.
Our manufacturing business is neither big nor small and we get hit from all sides. Customers want reduced prices and these can’t be delivered if we comply with all government departments. Our small time competitors take greater risk, do not pay excise and that alone saves them 12.5% on costs.
Now…. We have to deal with the following departments:
at both the factories. Both factories need a full time accountant to maintain books and manage compliance issues. This also adds costs as all departments want to be paid off on a monthly basis.
So.. the choice is to invest now in hiring this support staff and setting up controls so that we don’t falter or continue to “wing” it. I prefer the former.
I’ve read so many motivational blogs and books that encourage you to quit your job and be everything you think you can be. Here are some examples of these works:
John Acuff’s Quitter Conference: http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/events/
Four Hour Work Week: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/
Personally I’ve found a lot of the ideas in the 4HWW fantastic and original (dreamline and the dreamline worksheet) but some of them don’t work if you already live in a low cost economy like India and one is just wrong. This is when Tim Ferriss says that everyone hates their job. I don’t.
Here are the reasons I stay at my job:
I can significantly impact the life of millions of users of my product as they use my product 8hrs a day or more. I can’t have that scope in my own small company
I can compete globally on a level playing field with the best in the industry yet work out of India
I can be very creative and work with a very capable team. I may never be able to build this in my company
I make a great living without any of the risks that come with starting a business or owning an established business
But I want to temper this enthusiasm too. Here are the issues I wrestle with when I think about quitting:
I’m not building a personal legacy yet. This blog is my first attempt at building a presence independent of my employer
I have a lot of support in a large company, will I be able to succeed on my own? Am I becoming too soft working for a large company, is the challenge gone?
I dont think the company can give me the level of ownership I want in the long run. This is mostly because of structural issues. So maybe I should quit
As you can see I keep wrestling with this question. And I dont have the answer right now. Perhaps I feel that time to quit is not now and that I will intuitively know when it is time to pursue something new. I’m coming up on 10 years at the same company now. I’ve been lucky to play different roles in this company every 3 years and that made these 10 years really wonderful.