I, Entrepreneur (2020)
Stop Selling. Start Helping.
— Zig Ziglar
Sure, we are all creatures of cosmic dust, part of the infinite cosmos. But we are equally creatures of commerce and technology, producers and consumers in the same breath. The first man who figured out that he could barter his food-growing or tool-making skills for goods and earn a surplus became a capitalist and began honing his commercial and technological skills. He was the first entrepreneur—a start-up founder who boot-strapped his venture with human capital. Entrepreneur-ship is the life-blood of our “progress”. As this life-blood pulsated through humanity, slowly at first and then accelerating with every major technological break-through, it has brought us into the digital era, where, as Bill Gates put it, business is @speed of thought.
But laissez-faire version of “capitalism” we see around us—the overarching framework of free enter-prise and entrepreneurship—is broken in many respects. The idea that individuals are free to choose businesses and own private property, that consumers are sovereign and businesses have to compete for them, and that profits and shareholder value are the ultimate incentives—these ideas have come a full circle with their share of problems. Like the naysayers of climate-change, who refuse to see anything seriously wrong with our environment today, there are the naysayers of capital-ism, who consider it ideal in every way. For them, a free market is an embodiment of perfection. For the rest of us, there is an ugly face we cannot hide from. They say we are possibly the first generation to witness the effects of climate change, and probably the last whose actions can save it. I feel the same is true for capitalism—that we are the first generation to bear the brunt of its excesses, climate change being the first and most severe. Perpetual warfare in the fight for global resources is another. Increasing inequality between the rich and the poor leading to mass global migrations is a third. Un-sustainable global growth is fourth. The list goes on.
How then should one be an entrepreneur in today’s milieu? Would there be any point to this journey on what is fast becoming an uninhabitable planet?
I believe there is a way to turn the tide. And that way involves understanding the power of three keywords in any person’s entrepreneurial journey—conscious, social, sustainable.
Conscious is all about your self-awareness. As a conscious individual, you can look inward, introspect, and appreciate the same ability in others. We are eight billion individuals on eight billion journeys, no two of which are identical, not even with any of the cumulative journeys of those who walked the earth before us. With consciousness, you find the true internal motivation for doing a start-up. If you believe that life’s aim is to help others, and that the bigger you become, more is the responsibility you shoulder, then you shall make a significant difference by becoming entrepreneurs solving “real” problems that the world needs solving.
Social says that what we do will have an impact on others, whether good or bad. We are all connected through relations of family, friendship, religion, state, brotherhood and sisterhood, and that ultimate bond—humanity. No business is an island.
Sustainable takes into account the impact of all that we do on our surroundings—the flora, fauna, and the environment. The reason we need lots of conscious, social entrepreneurs is because so many of our problems of sustainability are not being solved by governments, corporates or CSR funds. All such problems are opportunities for potentially scalable businesses while causing real impact on the lives of many. Put together, an entrepreneurial journey is worth it and meaningful when it is positive for our inner selves, helps others and is good for the biosphere. This book has a mission. To motivate you to become cofounders of start-ups, and then help you walk the talk on each of the aspects I just mentioned.
Part I talks about what it means to be a conscious entrepreneur, and of people who have achieved tremendous personal growth through their ventures. No doubt each one of us must discover for himself or herself what is the most meaningful thing we wish to do with our talent and time, yet looking at other journeys is rewarding and useful.
Part II is about the social conscience—is everyone just a faceless consumer reduced to a net present value for your business, or do you owe something more to society through your actions?
Part III is about this gigantic engine in which your start-up is a cog, what that engine produces and where are we collectively headed. How, if every cog is aligned the right way, the result is astounding progress, and if not, our fate is sealed. Why even the last cog matters.
Part IV is about the boot camp which no founder escapes, irrespective of success or failure. It is about the founder’s journey—introspection on the motivation to start, the learning curve, the elementary principles, the soft skills, the killer instinct and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Part V is an Appendix of ideas and case studies to showcase social start-ups who have nailed it or are close to nailing it. It highlights how sustainability problems themselves can become massive growth markets for start-ups. For instance, how non-biodegrading problem-atic plastic dumps on the planet can become a 500 billion dollar market for recycling.
My own experiences as an entrepreneur have shaped my understanding of these objectives and made me “pivot” on more than one occasion. Yes, we will need millions of entrepreneurs going forward if humanity is to achieve its destiny. However, these millions of ventures—these start-ups—must sustain and be sustain-able. The central question regarding growth was never ‘How much?’ but ‘What kind?’. Those who mistook it for the first have brought us to the brink. It’s time we pulled back.
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