Are you asking the right question? Are you asking the right question?

Almost every entrepreneur knows all too well that it’s important to address the how, what and when of starting a business. But, are they missing the obvious? Binod Shankar of Kaplan Genesis Institute opines…

It’s a eureka moment! Your friends and family think that your latest brainwave on the business front is the next best thing since sliced bread. Do you – march ahead, all inspired? laugh at them?think about this a bit more?

I think we all know the answer. But, what is there to think about I hear you chorus? I am not talking about crunching the numbers and thinking of profits and cash flows at this stage. It’s not about preparing the business plan. No Sir. Not yet.

Spreadsheets come last, although a lot of the time I find people ultra-keen to start working on the “model”. Some people like the look of a neat, well written, professionally bound business plan at the outset, supported by some impressive looking numbers. I mean, “Net revenue of US$ 5 million in Month Three, increasing at a CAGR of 5.3 per cent for the next 24 months” looks precise and hence both compelling and comforting. Excel is …err…. seductive.

But stop right there.

I am talking about WHY you started, not WHAT you will do or WHEN or HOW. This is the most important question you must answer before toddling off into the challenging world of entrepreneurship. And, please don’t say passion. I swear if I had a dollar for every time a wannabe entrepreneur said that word I would now be the owner of several islands in the Caribbean.

Think I’m being too harsh? Let me explain.

The conventional wisdom goes like this. Find something you are passionate about. Then you will become a success. And, success will lead to fulfilment. A simple, elegant formula that apparently applies to careers as well as entrepreneurship.

Hmm. Let’s examine this.

At various stages of my life, I have been passionate about being a jet fighter pilot, a special forces soldier and a rock star. That doesn’t mean I would have been even half decent at any of these. Lots of beach fanatics are passionate about surfing but I doubt whether they can make a living out of riding the waves. The globe is generously littered with people who were passionate about something, naively started a business founded on passion and bombed big time. Research has shown a feeble link (if at all) between your interests and success.

So, passion alone doesn’t cut it.

What about being passionate AND good? Surely a combo of liking something and being good at it must count! Turns out that being merely “good” isn’t enough. Because these days you must be outstanding, insanely good, exceptionally great, to stand out and succeed. The difference between you and the competition should be 50 per cent or more for word of mouth to gain traction. And if you can’t do this better stay at home and watch TV.

Even if you are brilliant and succeed that doesn’t mean you will find meaning and purpose in your life. Why? Because you can fall in love with and succeed in building and selling widgets, the world’s biggest widget maker with millions stashed in a raft of properties, stocks and bank accounts. But I know quite a few self-made millionaires who didn’t quite get the fulfilment they were hoping for. The alchemy for transforming money into meaning is not available on Amazon. Not yet anyway.

The alchemy for transforming money into meaning is not available on Amazon. Not yet anyway.

Hence, the math of “Passion + Ability = Success” and “Success= Fulfilment”, the recipe for success in life that most of us grew up believing, rarely works in the long-term in a career or in entrepreneurship.

So, what works? This whole passion thing is very inwardly focused, almost selfish. Who gives a toss at what you are passionate about? Or even good at?
What really matters is how valuable is your product or service? What big problem does it solve? What gap are you filling? In other words, will people pay good money to buy your products or services? Why does your company exist?

The WHY is so important.

Simon Sinek talks about this a lot. Why is Apple such a phenomenally successful brand? Because they are driven by something more fundamental than success. In the case of Apple, the quality of the user experience has always been the top priority. If Apple were like everyone else, they would say, “We make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?” Instead, Apple says, “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” Massive difference.

This is the WHY, the DNA of Apple. It’s the purpose, the cause that inspires them. If you know the WHY, you will figure out the WHAT and the HOW. The HOW (simplicity, attention to detail, owning the technology etc.) is simply the way Apple makes the WHY happen and is hence secondary.

When I co-founded the financial training company Genesis Institute in Dubai nine years ago, financial success was the last thing on my mind. Of course, I was passionate about training and was pretty good at it, having tried my hand on a part time basis for 12 years. The WHY was to make a big impact on students studying for the CFA exam. The HOW was mainly delivery of high-quality classes and a far superior learning experience. Commercial success came, as it usually does because we were fanatically and consistently focused on achieving the WHY, whether it was in rigorous faculty selection or the close monitoring of student feedback.

There are many upsides of knowing your WHY. It makes decisions so much simpler, because your constitution, the charter, has already been set. It also makes hiring and retaining the people easier. And it gives you resilience and endurance; as the Philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, once said: “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any how”. All that is fine. But how do you find out the WHY? Big fat hint: It’s NOT about making money.

Look at your past, and identify the times where you were naturally at your best, where everything went perfectly when even though it wasn’t a commercial success, you loved being a part of it. The times that made you come alive. You may find that there is a pattern. You may find that the thing that was driving you in each of those times was the same. This is your WHY.

So, close the spreadsheet, kick back your heels, and spend some time journeying into your past and thinking about how you can make an impact.

Trust me, it is worth it.

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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