‘Road to entrepreneurship has more thorns than roses’: Rajesh Jain

When you start your own business, you transition from an employee to an entrepreneur.
Rajesh Jain
Rajesh Jain

When you start your own business, you transition from an employee to an entrepreneur. This means embarking on a very different journey — without safety nets, where failure is but a mistake away. 

From employee to entrepreneur 
Many years ago, I met a friend I had known for a long time -- enough for me to discuss his work and career. While the work he was doing continued to be interesting, I sensed restlessness. There was a feeling that perhaps he should look at alternatives — maybe a career at another company. I suggested that he look at doing something on his own as an entrepreneur. He had obviously thought about it, but something was holding him back. Having spent over a decade working for large companies, continuing on that path was easier. It was a predictable future. To consider working at a startup, either by joining one or creating one, was a path that was different and unknown. Perhaps, the security of a job outweighed the risks of entrepreneurship. 

It has been just the opposite in my career. When I left India for further studies in the US, my father told me that if he was able to return to India in the mid-1960s, I could do it too in the 90s! The difference is that his entrepreneurial career took longer to start after he returned from the US because of family compulsions. I did not need to wait. 

So after over two years of working, I left NYNEX, returned to India, and set out as an entrepreneur. It has been a mixed scorecard. But I could not think of living any other way. Give me the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey with its mountains beyond mountains instead of the security of employment.  I understand that not every one of us can become an entrepreneur. But there are many who consider it. Just like those living abroad who consider returning to India, contemplating entrepreneurship is also like the ‘year N+1’ syndrome. It keeps getting postponed to the next year and that next year rarely comes. With the passage of time, it keeps getting harder to do.

As I talked to my friend, I realised that the transition from an employee to an entrepreneur is one of the toughest decisions anyone faces. What should I do? How will I start? Where will I raise the capital? What if things don’t work out? What will be the impact on my family? Is this the right time? A million questions keep popping up. While the answer to each question requires deep introspection, there are some common facets of this transition that can be abstracted out.

Just like driving down Route 1 along the California coast, the entrepreneurial journey has its mix of tricky turns and magical moments. The road to entrepreneurship has more thorns than roses, but it is an expedition well worth taking at least once in a lifetime. This is what I told my friend, and this is what I’d like to share with you.

The decision to be or not be an entrepreneur is an intensely personal one. It needs to be discussed and debated with family and friends. It depends on each one’s appetite for risk. There is never a right or wrong answer, just as there is never a right or wrong time. The fundamental decision must come from within. 

I also believe that once the decision to leave the world of employment and move to the world of entrepreneurship is made, we need to burn our bridges. If we have the option of going back to the safety and security of predictable employment, it will be much harder making the entrepreneurial option work. In a sense, as we close one door, other doors open. But we must close all those doors. To make the new venture succeed, one has to fight knowing that there is no way back.

(Excerpted with permission from ‘Startup to Proficorn’ by Rajesh Jain, first published by Jaico Publishing House in June 2023)

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