Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lessons for an aspiring entrepreneur - Part 1

As an aspiring entrepreneur, my mind is usually plagued with hundreds of doubts. These are issues that any other aspiring entrepreneurs can easily relate to. It’s as if the decision to turn towards entrepreneurship, as opposed to a regular corporate life, wasn’t hard enough; we now bear the burden of a million harder decisions. Sometimes, questions like what to start, when to start and how to start, can get so overwhelming that we begin to question our initial decision to start something in the first place!

These doubts had kept my mind whirling until I had a chance to meet Gokul Rajaram a few days back at a mentorship session organized by NUSEA. Gokul is the Product Development Director for Google Adsense and also a mentor for NUSEA (refer below for further details on Gokul Rajaram). The points that Gokul mentioned over the course of our discussion seemed to instantly clear my cloudy vision of the future and put things in place. These are some of the things he spoke about:

Choose a space

Gokul said that the first step for an aspiring entrepreneur to take is to choose a space. A space is a broad industry or technology area. Mobile phone software, for example, is a space. Gokul emphasized that it is essential to focus your efforts to a particular area, even before the brainstorming stage. This would help the aspiring entrepreneur focus on understanding the market trends and customer needs of a particular area and thus avoid being overwhelmed with information about other areas. This made a lot of sense to me. I have been trying to brainstorm on a number of ideas for a startup lately and all these ideas are from diverse fields. And what I have realized is that, while evaluating these ideas, there are too many factors in the equation and these can keep you from approaching a single idea in a decisive manner. Factors like your interest and proficiency in the area come into the picture. On the other hand, if you chose a space based on your passion and expertise, you can begin to concentrate on other aspects like technology, market demands and customer needs.

Passion over fashion

Another point that is closely related to the previous one is the importance of passion. Gokul recalled his experience as soon as he graduated from MIT. He noted that ‘optical networks’ was the ‘hottest’ field in those days and he decided to work at an optical networking company solely for that reason. Within a few months, he realized that this was clearly not his passion. While he was able to do his job proficiently and smartly, he was perhaps not performing up to his potential. He decided to quit and go into computer software, which was his forte. And he never regretted that decision. Gokul simplified this idea to one single question that everyone must ask themselves before starting a company or taking up a job – ‘Every morning, as I get up, will I be excited to head off to work and do that particular job?’ If not, Gokul said, don’t do it. Even as we spoke, Gokul had a number of offers from VC firms to join them as a venture capitalist. “But I just can’t imagine going to work everyday to read business plans!” Gokul said.

Mohan, one of Gokul’s mentees, had this to say after meeting him:

Many a times, we reach crossroads in life where important decisions have to be made as they will affect what we do in future and in turn, shape who we are. I believe most of the time, these decisions are made based on market trends, potential gain factors and even parental and peer pressure. When was the last time you were advised to follow your heart and take the unorthodox path? When was the last time you actually took it?

Meeting Gokul Rajaram, product management director for Google Adsense, and being advised to follow your heart was a refreshing change. He inspired us to live our lives by following our hearts and making decisions based on what we truly feel passionate about. Passion is the fuel for the mind.

Following this, Gokul highlighted some of the key issues that an aspiring entrepreneur has to keep in mind once he/she gets the ball rolling and actually starts a company. These include staying lean, choosing and building a key differentiator, time to market and the equally important art of accepting defeat. I will cover these in detail in the next part of this series. So stay tuned!

Prashant Sarkar.


As Product Development Director of Google Adsense, Gokul Rajaram designs and implements the product strategy for Adsense, the heart of Google’s revenue model. In this role, Gokul defines new features and then works with the Google engineers to implement them. Prior to this, Gokul has taken up various software engineering as well as product management roles at Juno Online, Sun Microsystems and Onetta. As a mentor for NUSEA, Gokul meets up regularly with the NUSEA students to speak on a wide variety of topics ranging from entrepreneurship to advertising.

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1 comment:

Sherene said...

nice post :)