Author, entrepreneur, and business developer Vik Venkatraman wants you to get his book Inspired and shares his thoughts on the entrepreneurship game.
Hometown: Edison, NJ
Current Residence: New York, NY
Occupation: Author / Entrepreneur / Business Developer
Areas of Focus: Apparel, Consumer Products and Technology
What “inspired” you to write Inspired?
After launching Star Power, I started getting questions and requests for advice from members of our startup community in NYC. As it turns out, even people with an aptitude for entrepreneurship and the b___s to invest in a project had difficulty with some of the devilish details: sourcing, production, materials, sales, incentives, hiring — the rubber-hits-the-road type of issues that tend not to be covered in MBA curriculums or pie-in-the-sky business books.
I started collecting my notes and interesting people that I met so that I could quickly send people useful information and contacts. Then a blogger friend suggested that I speak with his publisher, as they might be interested in a book. It turns out, they were. So, I wrote it. I just hope people find it useful. I don’t think there is tactical advice, expert interviews, tales from the street, and personal philosophy on the market. It’s a terrific book. I wish I had it when I was thinking about launching a product. Buy it. =) Vik’s Book “Inspired” on Amazon
You have considerable experience as an entrepreneur. Is V Bespoke your first company?
I’m flattered. I have experience only in always testing the boundaries around me. V Bespoke (www.vbespoke.com) is a custom-tailored clothing concept and a platform for crowd sourced clothing design, but not my first.
Prior to this, I launched Star Power, an exotic fruit juice company. We were distributed in over 500 top accounts in NY, NJ and FL before we closed it down.
Even prior to that, I’ve always loved trying to create cool stuff. I love to tinker and doodle and experiment. I don’t necessarily believe that every good idea merits a ‘company’. Some ideas are just ideas. Some can be ‘muses’. Some are stepping-stones to new industries and people. There’s nothing wrong with that either. Each is interesting and fulfilling in its own ways.
Do you think business schools are good training grounds for entrepreneurs; i.e., do you believe that entrepreneurship is more of a natural or nurtured trait?
I think entrepreneurship is very much nurtured by, but I don’t think it happens in, B-school (business school). Entrepreneurship happens when toddlers are denied something they want and allowed to scheme and seek their way to it. It happens in elementary school when a teacher tells a student that he/she is capable and allows them to develop the confidence to question their surroundings. It happens in early childhood when life presents you the opportunity to get HUNGRY and doesn’t crush your drive with unsupportive friends and family. Entrepreneurship isn’t about business — it’s about believing anything is possible.
B school can provide you with tools, training, and a network — but it won’t change who you were when you got there. imo.
What would you like to see more of in terms of nurturing start-ups?
I want to see economics taught in elementary school. I want standardized tests for kids to include components on design, sociology, and practical math. I want to see business-plan competitions in middle schools right next to the science fair. Somehow, we’ve gone from a society of cowboys and pioneers to one of protective complacency. Entrepreneurs are publicly misunderstood – strange ‘different’ people who make stuff – instead of the everyman who chooses to craft his environment rather than react to it. We’re not creating free thinkers anymore – we’re trained from day 1 to get a good job and be a good employee.
Why is startup culture only possible in America’s cultural extremes? SF and NYC are hardly standard. I’d like to see more private incubators and public support. I’m referring to some of the programs already in place in Boulder, Toledo, and Austin -and undoubtedly in others towns and cities.
What do you think are the primary barriers to creation for entrepreneurs?
1. Fear of failure – We’re so wrapped up in our little daily victories that many entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs are paralyzed by fear. Of course, we wouldn’t acknowledge that to our friends, but how many times have you heard of someone crafting that perfect, 100-page business plan only to decide later that it wasn’t really a ‘good idea’?. There’s no such thing. We’re scared to try, because if we screw up, our friends will point and laugh. Its like the first time I tried to do the monkey bars, fell on my face, and learned true social humility – except wrapped in business clothes with an eloquently articulated excuse.
Bottom line: don’t be scared. Get out there and get it done. It’s easier than you think — just harder than you want it to be.
2. Opportunity cost – Even a fearless entrepreneur is rational. If you’re out of school, you’re probably saddled with obligation. We have rent to pay, stuff to buy, TV to watch — and a job whose income happens to exactly match our current lifestyle.
That last bit of math is a tricky thing. Unless you can plan a venture that starts as a side project and grows into a business, or else happen to be or know a well-connected fundraiser, it can be tough to walk away from a sure thing.
Bottom line: Conservative math, humility in lifestyle, and some disciplined savings can help reduce the anxiety of the perceived opportunity cost of entrepreneurship.
3. Lack of guidance – Finally, even a fearless, humble entrepreneur may not know which way to turn. Unless you know an entrepreneur, or live in SF or NYC, or have a great knack for primary and secondary research, it’s tough to know what to do.
Mentors, even non-entrepreneurs can be extremely helpful as neutral sounding boards and as customer litmus tests. Their expertise, if in the same vein as your project, can go a long way toward easing early mistakes and establishing some credibility (if they want to be an advisor, for example). But not everyone has access to great mentors, in those cases, read up on the books and magazines and have an idea of what’s out there and what works.
Then again, you could just get my book.
How much inspiration vs. perspiration goes into starting and running a start-up?
It’s all sweat, blood, toil and tears. Churchill had it right.
The ideas counts, of course, but check out all the me-too companies that make it happen. Pepsi was a me-too to Coke. So many CPGs are copycats. All of fashion and entertainment has people relentlessly copying each other. There is such a dearth of ideas out there that derivative work is now the “expected”. The idea does not alone a success make.
Don’t get me wrong. I think a great idea is priceless (which in our world, typically means $B) but in a landscape where startups are typically five year projects (until bust or exit) there’s nothing that should stop a would-be entrepreneur from chasing the project that captures their passions and moves their soul. You will have plenty of time during your current project to come up with ideas for the next one.
Entrepreneurship is a way of life’ a project-flow; an idea stream; not a destination or static label.