Sunday, August 24, 2014
My Journey as an Entrepreneur and what I have learned along the way...
Yesterday I spoke at an Entrepreneurship Workshop for women in the food and beverage industry curated by FICCI Flo, Mumbai Chapter and Swayam an initiative by them to support women entrepreneurs. The audience comprised of students of S.L. Raheja, Flo/Yflo members and women entrepreneurs - home bakers, confectioners, caterers on The Journey of becoming an entrepreneur. Other speakers on the panel included Masterchef Shipra Khanna, CA Ameet Patel, Partner, Sudit K Parekh & Co and Laxmi Iyer, DY Works.
I am normally pretty good with speaking in public so I did not think twice about accepting the engagement. But as the day came closer, I began to get nervous. And when you’re feeling a certain way, fate conspires to intensify those feelings! I lost my way, discovered I had a broken sandal (should have stuck to my uniform of blacks and flats!). I walked in last of all, totally frazzled because I HATE being late, into a room buzzing over the lovely Shipra Khanna. I quietly slid into a corner seat and surreptitiously stuck my shoe together with cello tape as the speaker next to me tapped away at his Ipad. My nervousness had grown. Put me in an apron, stick a ladle in my hand, give me a food related topic and watch me go… But this was different. I’d be talking to a roomful of women on a subject that I was most definitely not an expert. And I was planning to speak extempore from a set of hand written notes??? What was I thinking… A question I was still asking as Shipra went up to speak.
And then it was my turn. I clutched my handwritten pages together and cautiously took my place at the podium in my taped together shoe. I was visibly nervous and it came through! I spoke okay, certainly the audience liked what I said. From the heart I am told. I said a lot; and yet, I came off that stage very unsatisfied with myself. It’s been nagging at me ever since. I don’t like delivering less than my best on anything.
Then this morning, Shekhar saw my notes lying on the side table where I had chucked them in a snit, last night. “These are gems, they are really valuable” and carefully folded them and tucked them away. I realized at that moment that I am better writing what I want to say than speaking it. So I thought I’d share it all here - what I said, supplemented with things I forgot and a few hind sights…
My journey has been one of serendipity. I chanced upon food writing as a career option and thrived at it. Over the last 15 years I have worked on some fantastic projects, been part of many wonderful start ups and achieved many wonderful things. In 2012 I launched APB Cook Studio. Until then gambling with myself, my time and my earnings meant I had only myself to answer to but here it was other people’s hard earned money and I was responsible for livelihoods.
I am untrained in both food and journalism/writing. So, most of you in this room (or out there) with a hospitality degree already have an edge on me. You don’t need to be trained in the business you want to be in, but knowledge is power. So if you have an opportunity to train, do it, even if it means delaying your plans a little.
Opportunities in the world of food today are endless, chef, restaurateur, food writing, food styling, food photography, food consulting, food PR, wine. There are opportunities everywhere. You owe it to yourself to explore your potential, we would not have been gifted the ability to dream if we were not meant to.
If you decide to start your own venture. Speak to those you love, families and friends. Becoming an entrepreneur means equations change all around. Life as you and your family know it WILL CHANGE. Accept that there will be no holidays (you’ll always be at work in your head). You will need the support of your core group like never before. For women especially mothers, it will mean you are constantly juggling work and kids and GUILT! Your husband needs to be there to share 50:50 in all of it and support you 100%! I would not be where here, today, without the unstinting support of Shekhar, my husband, both of our mothers and our extended families.
My most finite memory of my journey is not of the launch, or waiting for that first inquiry. It’s of standing in the rain, crying, questioning why I’d left my comfort zone and gotten into this. The only plan since then has been to set a target every month and meet it. To never reach that low again. And ever-so-often I raise that target. It’s a good plan because it works. I was asked to talk about business plans. But I can’t. I don’t have one. I never did. A Business plan will work as a structure. You could dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ and still not succeed. Or you could float a paper boat and conquer the world! There are no maps or blueprints to success. But have a plan ‘B’ and a plan ‘C’. Back up plans will help you stay focused when things do not work out instead of getting emotionally dejected. I am allergic to paper work. Ask me to create a dish, write an article and see what I do but ask me to write a proposal and I will sit on it forever. Thank fully I had help!
We all want to be superwomen. But we are just human. Don’t try to do it all. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. And work with them. Don’t sideline financial advisers, legal people or pr and marketing. Timely investments in these will pay off in the long run. Plan finances so you can pay for services you require even if it means waiting to earn/save a little more to meet them. Money saved trying to do a job you aren’t equipped to do, that a professional could do in a thrice, is not money saved! Its YOUR time wasted, your time that your business probably needs in a hundred other ways. Money will be recovered, time and opportunities once passed won’t.
Everyone admires entrepreneurs. And are ready to help. Many offers of help will come. Recognize genuine ones, and take advantage of them. There is a time to be wise. Pride will not bring you business. And there is no loss of pride in accepting help. And pay it forward whenever and wherever you can. I recognize every person that has helped me in my journey. They did it because they could. With no expectations of being paid back. Today I have a personal rule. If anyone asks me for help, I help to the best of my abilities. The positive energy is a return I cannot define.
The world is not kind. It will throw everything in your face. Hurt, disappointment, rejection, competition, pure mean-spiritedness will come at you. Don’t focus on the negatives. Stay focused. Keep your goals in sight and work hard towards them. And hard as it may be, try to keep all that negativity out of yourself. Stay positive towards the world. It has a lot of its own problems. Unhappiness breeds unhappiness. Happiness is the same. On days when I was low, I would wallow in my sadness. One day I turned it around. I spent an hour being nice instead. It soon makes me feel better. Now when I am low I to make other people smile. We are our own medicine. 1 sad person versus even two happy people make the world a better place, no? And value relationships. Invest in them. We are not islands. Commerce in life and work cannot happen without them. One of my biggest assets today is the friendships I have made in the food world. They have listened to me cry over losses, harangue in anger and celebrated my wins. They know they can call on me for anything. And I know I can call on them. Remember bad days end. It might take an hour, a day or more, but they WILL END!
Have you noticed how much of this has been about YOU? I am going to use Eggs as an example because I am researching egg less baking. Eggs perform over 20 different functions within baking alone. There is no substitute for them. But over beat an egg and it will be unable to expand. You are the egg in your business. You are your biggest asset. There is no business without you. Recognize that and look after yourself. Sleep on time, eat healthy and on time, exercise, switch off periodically, plan for and take breaks. (I say plan because if you don’t, you might return from breaks to disasters.) Flirt with your husband, love your kids. Get drunk with friends. Get out, Meet new people. Laugh out loud at silly things, tell stupid jokes, cry over soppy movies, lose yourself in good books. Every time you do, you will come back revitalized. You will approach the things that drain you with new energy. Troubles will seem smaller. And you will realize your space in the bigger scheme of things.
You have read this far? WOW! No, seriously, Thank you. But that’s a good thing. Read. Often and everything. Stay on top of happenings in your line of business. Become a SME in your subject. It will make all the difference in the long run. Don’t let ego make you too big to learn. From anyone! Never ever stop learning.
When I came out of the talk yesterday I felt like I had focused too much on the hardships, lost my way a little and missed a couple of key points. I certainly had forgotten to emphasize the most imp thing. So here it is - I love being an entrepreneur. I’d do it all over again if I had to. All of what I have written so far would not have been possible if I had not tried. In the words of Nanushka, “You cannot make waves if you do not leave the shore”
So take that leap! It’s better to have tried and failed than never trying. And wondering What if? And success? Faliure? Success is in your head. You need to decide what success means to you. I have not defined what it means to me. But I am savouring the journey. I celebrate every small win and learn from every failure. Most of all savour the journey… that’s what you will remember, that’s what you will tell your grandchildren about. The sweetness of the prize is directly proportional to how hard you have fought for it.
Ficci Flo is a Not - for - profit industry body that works to promote women professionals and entrepreneurs. Swayam is an initiative that is a facilitation platform looking to support and nurture women entrepreneurs. You can join the organization through their website - http://www.ficciflo.com.