5 Things We Learnt About Entrepreneurship

INSEAD Summer Startup Tour (SSUP!)

It’s been almost three weeks since we kicked off our startup tour and we’ve been to Berlin, Amsterdam, and now London before heading to our last stop in Paris. We were lucky enough to have met a lot of cool companies and entrepreneurs on the way.

Each one of us in the team had a different goal of what we wanted to get out of this tour. One of us wanted to learn more about the fashion industry, one of us was interested in complete back-end sourcing of fabrics, one just wanted to network and look for opportunities to collaborate in the future and another wanted to understand the startup eco-system in Europe, besides travelling, off course.

One common question we all had was what exactly makes an entrepreneur?

Is it the freedom to be your own boss or an idea one is so passionate about? Was it peer pressure and a cool trend to hop on to or what is it exactly that makes one choose to be an entrepreneur? And what is the recipe for success? If there is one at all. 

We have so many notes scribbled down and so many insights that it will take quite some time to really process through all of them. Here are the five main takeaways we realised about entrepreneurship:

  1. Why be an entrepreneur? Is it the idea or the person? This question is quite debatable, and everyone has their own version of what really makes an entrepreneur. We met some people who took the path of entrepreneurship because they struggled with a particular problem. We also met some people who had no starting point but wanted freedom and control over their work schedule. There is really no right answer to this question and we believe that it is not that important to debate on either. Ingredients to the recipe lie somewhere else!
  2. Single most important thing: Getting your founding team right. This has been such a recurring point throughout our tour and its importance cannot be stressed enough. Venture Capitalists (VCs) almost always prefer a strong team over a brilliant idea. You see, a strong team can take a moderate idea to great heights, but a not-so-strong one can easily ruin a brilliant idea. A good founding team holds the key to great execution. Note: This does not mean that you cannot be a single founder. Even though many VCs we met prefer to invest in a team than one person, we also met many different kinds of founding teams with equal success.
  3. Pitfall to avoid: Numbers don’t lie. You may not like them, but the truth is that if your numbers are not squaring off, there is a problem in the business model more often than not. Many entrepreneurs falter at this very point. It is easy to let emotions cloud your judgement and get so attached to your idea that you start ignoring obvious signs of trouble. So set your targets and milestones and really understand the numbers, whether you like them or not.
  4. Real job: Most of the founders we met talked about how they spend a considerable amount of time managing relationships with their investors, raising funds, or managing people instead of actually working on the idea. So before getting an investor on board or scaling up with plenty of headcounts, be ready to deal more with people and less of actually running a business. Ideally, in a founding team, divide and conquer and rotate. It can easily get exhausting.
  5. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine: Entrepreneurship is a juggling act and the big downside of being your own boss is that there is no work routine. You live and breathe your company which can easily get exhausting for your close and dear ones. Financial stability aside, being an entrepreneur can take an emotional toll on your family and that can easily start impacting you and your company. How to deal with this requires an altogether different discussion, but it is important to set expectations and boundaries that won’t be crossed, no matter what.

Bonus Point: Ending this blog with a trait that we think doesn’t get the attention it rightfully deserves: Emotional Intelligence. It is easily overshadowed by plenty of business model discussions and targets and the latest innovation and everything else. It was great to hear and talk about it with a few entrepreneurs, if not all during our tour. We do believe that having a sound emotional understanding and empathy goes a long way in achieving almost all the key takeaways discussed above. One quick search on the internet and you’ll find plenty of research articles and studies correlating emotional IQ and successful new business ventures. So, if in school, don’t overlook the next soft skill class, it just might be the secret ingredient!

– Team FTS