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Siddharth Mohan Nair | The News Minute | September 16, 2014 | 07.30 am IST Last Friday, on the sidelines of Yes Young Entrepreneurs Summit, Kerala government announced an ‘Angel Fund’ for funding young entrepreneurs who come out with innovative business ideas. In his speech, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that in 2012 the government had set for itself a target of helping to establish 1000 new companies in the state by 2022, and that by 2014 itself 777 new companies had been established. He added that out of those 276 were established by fresh graduates. To know about the prospects in the state for young entrepreneurs and the probable roadblocks, The News Minute spoke to Andrine Mendez, a founder of Saltmangotree, a Kerala based research and business advisory firm. In his blog he had touched on this topic and in this interview we try to get bit more deeper into the issue. In your blog post titled Being an Entrepreneur: What really happens behind all that "showmanship" you say that 'being an entrepreneur is like being in a cult.' Why do you feel so and is this phenomenon restricted to India? Also is your feeling more because you are in a state like Kerala where friends and family want an individual to 'settle' in a salaried job, preferably a government one? Entrepreneurship has been quite the buzz word. Thanks to grant success stories of companies started in a garage or by college drop outs, people see entrepreneurs as nearly people "who can do anything." It's a worldwide phenomenon, everyone wants to jump in & have a slice of it. In Kerala, too, starting up a company earns you a lot of respect unlike earlier days where it was seen as an "outcast" thing to do. In your blog post you make an analogy when you liken a young entrepreneur to a man riding a lion. You say that he asks 'How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?' Success is not something you achieve when you reached your goal, it's something that comes to you en route to that goal. Often entrepreneurs know what they want or where they want to get. But you must understand these people live in a parallel universe where logic works in a different way. Or else how would you relate to "stay hungry & stay foolish." We have been conventionally taught to do the other way around. Point is, entrepreneurship is a journey that mostly begins with a certain madness. The challenge lies in maintaining that.You don't have to be exactly clear of what you want, in fact sometimes what you want might not be the best thing out there for you. Take Facebook for instance, it's a result of the guy wanting to do something else (Facemash). So yes, it's like the situation of a boy riding a lion. Because when we see a lion, unlike normal people, we guys jump on top of it & then figure what to do next. They are risk takers. You don't need a strong business plan to be successful. What is your view about the just announced Angel Fund for the young entrepreneurs in Kerala?  It's too early to comment. It's a first step towards building an eco-system but that alone will not make any difference. I'd really like to see how this will roll out because conventionally KFC or KSIDC only have systems to support production/infra oriented business. But the effort more or less, looks a "me too" policy. Kerala needs an "Israeli" model & not a "silicon valley" model when it comes to start-up.Anyway, I wish KSIDC & the government all the very best. You quote a study conducted by Mr Shikar Ghosh in your blog where he finds that 3 out of 4 venture-backed start-ups fail. Is this a study of Indian start-ups? Also, what do you make of the start-ups by young entrepreneurs in Kerala? That's a global level research finding. The good start-ups in Kerala want to exit the place & move to Bangalore or Delhi or they already have. Kerala is not a start-up friendly zone & requires a lot of work to make it one. I have seen some strong ideas, amazing talent & great stories but unfortunately the state does not let these amazing things thrive beyond a certain point. From my experience start-ups in Kerala are successful when they get out of the state & those are the only sustained success stories till date in the state. Another point that I found interesting in your blog post is that you say that you maintain a larger-than-life sort of image. You say you have to be narcissistic so that you keep yourself self-motivated. Does that really help and how?  It's subjective. The world condemned Hitler for what he was but the guy stood stone cold about all that. One wonders about the psyche of someone who can do that. But then when you think about it, he had made a whole country go around him and greet each other by "hail führer." When you are surrounded by that sort of an atmosphere you become impenetrable & incorruptible by time or failure. Now, I am not a historian here. But I personally have known or felt how narcissism can keep you sane when the world around you trembles. Human mind reacts to what it can see, touch or feel. It's important that an entrepreneur has some things around him which will make his fight worth it, which he can look at when things go all haywire. Let me quote an example (though it might appear silly/stupid). In my early days, I used to be technically broke but that does not stop me from suiting up & walking into a five star hotel to a meet a prospective client. I used to walk in with iPad & do presentations "like a boss". Well the picture here, irrespective of what happens in the background what you project is only 'prosperity' & loving yourself is the best way to do it. Again, it's subjective like I said. Could you throw some light on your entrepreneurial journey and the establishment of Saltmangotree?  Saltmangotree was the result of a failure. Four of us Arun J Prasa, myself, Hiran Venugopal & Sunil Raj clubbed to launch India's first web TV -Indiavibes four years ago on a January 1st. Saltmangotree & Indiavibes were two brands under the then launched company which run the web TV & also had digital marketing services under one roof. The name as you can figure out is inspired from a Malayalam movie. Hiran Venugopal was so passionate about movies that he started Saltmangotree in his college days as a vehicle that promotes movies on social media. I met Hiran & we clubbed Saltmangotree and Indiavibes under one entity. However, in 6 months we realized Indiavibes was not going to get us anywhere. We knew we had failed miserably but the boys had some fight & left, & we put all that in Saltmangotree to make it what it is today. Now the four of us are not part of the journey, only two remain. Result of another failure, to balance work-personal lives. But guess that's quite a "mallu" thing. In fact 3 out of 5 start-ups I have met till date from Kerala all had a similar tale of the core team not able to share a common vision. They say starting up is easy. The fact is but otherwise. The real challenge lies in keeping things together. The journey has been rough. Met some amazing people. Relationships broken. But as they say, the show must go on & thankfully it is. Today, Saltmangotree is part of a French advertising group & on its way to a glory far ahead of what it was initially conceived for. From your experience can you tell us some points on 'How not to run a company?'  Well this is a huge topic to cover & it would be unjust to do it here quickly. But then to do a quick run: Pen down the house rules: Often partners mix business & personal relationships so much that "ego" comes into the play. However close friends you might be, pen down the rules among yourselves to avoid a dispute or fracture of relationships. Performance policy: Have a performance plan for the company & its promoters individually. It's like setting KPI's for yourself & tracking if you are all going in the right way.Write down a common vision: Often partners dispute are owing to differences in the direction. If you write that down together, then these differences never pop out. Practice Self discipline: Just because you started a company doesn't give you the right to be sloppy at any point.Have a job description: As much as i hate this point, its important to stick or focus on certain things. Everyone needs to know clearly what they are supposed to do.Do not be a one man army: a business which is dependent on the skill set of one or two guys is a bad business model. Distribute work: Entrepreneurs usually don't trust others, even their partners to deliver in the process ending up doing everything on their own. This will only do more harm than good. There are more, but these should do for now.
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