General, Social Media, Work

Entrepreneurial Lessons that MBA Schools Don’t Teach

Unforgiven. Produced, directed by & starring Clint Eastwood. A movie that I love from thousands in my collection. Besides portraying many different true facets of life, this movie is a must-watch and classic cause it de-romanticizes the commonly believed folklore. There’s a special section in the movie that I can now relate to post working in different countries; and especially in India. Working with eCommerce B2C & B2B startups, Media companies, non-tech and tech companies etc.


There is a great scene where Gene Hackman’s character, the Sheriff, Little Bill Daggett, is explaining to a biographer that the biographer’s belief about what makes a great gunfighter is wrong.

Sheriff: Look son, being a good shot and quick with a pistol don’t do no harm but it don’t mean much next to being cool headed. A man who will keep his head, not get rattled under fire, like as not will kill you.

Biographer: But if the other person is quicker and fires first…

Sheriff: Then, he’ll be hurrying and he will miss. (Hackman draws his pistol not extremely fast but smoothly)… That’s as fast as I can draw and aim and hit anything more than 10 feet away, other than a barn door.

Moral of the story here – diving into action is good, but comes second to doing what follows next; keeping a cool head.

Whilst working with some great Managers (mentors), Senior management folks in India and abroad; I picked a few things here and there; which when I look back at my BTech, MSc, E-MBA and 18 certifications often feel; were not covered by the classes I took at the Uni (assuming I took the right classes, of course and busy partying).

Here’s a few things that I picked up which have more value than that 1 Crore Harvard MBA you’re looking to do next year.

1. THINK ABOUT THE BIG PICTURE, DON’T GET BOGGED DOWN BY TOO MANY DETAILS – This is one of the most important advice I have received, very early in my career. I worked as an Email Deliverability Specialist at (BSE: 533181 | NSE: ISFT ) in Kolkata from Jan – Dec 2009; and must say, had interactions with 2 people from whom I learnt a lot; and did my career thus far a lot of good. CEO, Arvind Kajaria and his brother CTO, Sharad Kajaria – worked with them; they had a peculiar working style but amazing trust that they had in their employees. In all my interactions with them (since I reported to Arvind directly with performance reports of our Mailing Servers – both with DataPipe and also stand-alone Sendmail Servers on FreeBSD servers for our & domains); Sharad once gave an advice to me which till date I have held close to heart (and now pass on to people junior to me when I work with). When I was leaving in December 2009 for a better career option in Bangalore; Sharad advised – “You’re very good at work; but often than not, you get caught into too much menial details. Thus as a result, you lose control of the big picture, and “success” as a result suffers. While focusing on details is brilliant, it comes second to focusing on the big picture”. Till date, I try and follow this. Getting bogged down in details is easy, but unless as an executive, lead, manager, senior manager, president, VP, SVP, or even CEO – you’re not having a control and contribution to the overall picture (which is the macroscopic resultant of the project), chances are you will stagnate in your career. More often than not, vision will get contracted and thus “success” will suffer.

2. SWOT, RESEARCH, AND ALL THAT CRAP IS GOOD, BUT GTM IS THE MOST IMPORTANT – This is 2nd most important advice I have received from a self-made billionaire in India. Worked with him on a project in one of my earlier companies, when whilst discussing the scope of a project he advised me – “Subhasish, its great to have an Oxford degree and 18-20 certifications to hang on the wall; cause end of the day, I don’t have a higher secondary degree also cause didn’t want to waste time studying. The reason I made my millions is because I am extremely in sync with the “needs, desires of the market”. No SWOT, Product Management consulting, R&D can replace this. So do all of this, but never get out of sync with the market. Its easy to lose track of people sitting in your suit in an AC room; but its the blood & sweat of people who pump in the money to fund companies – that matters the most”. I always remember this till date; and yes, thank him for this advice as often I can. End of the day worked with a few startups in India which failed, and the main reason of failure was – we had India’s best talent, millions of $$$$$ to burn (in VC and Angel funding), best desires, best ideas, but HAD A ZERO MARKET SYNC. 2 companies I was part of which failed; losing crores – cause the products we made – the market just didn’t want it. So spend time doing all these SWOT; but don’t lose connect with market. Talk to people, its the best way of figuring out where you stand.

3. STRATEGY SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD WORD, BUT WITHOUT RIGHT & AGILE EXECUTION, ITS JUST A BUNCH OF HOLLOW PROMISES – This is definitely one of the most important and life-changing advice I got from one of the top-most VCs in India and in the US. I worked as Social Media Manager & Social Strategy Head for Sher Singh in 2012; backed by VCs – Accel Partners, Helion Venture Partners & Tiger Global Management which had the vision of becoming ‘The first Global CRICKET Lifestyle Brand from India”. Founders were amazing people, probably the finest bosses one can ever dream of, some of the best talent in India were hired, we had India’s and probably Asia’s best office workplaces to work at; best dreams, best ideas, best strategies; but we fucked up big time in “real-time execution in India”. Product pipelines were amazing, PowerPoint presentations shows to Investors were kick-ass, but when time came, we couldn’t deliver the products on time. We spent thousands of dollars acquiring customers every week with all of them bouncing from site cause the products were not ready to be purchased. They never came back. A lesson learnt that I have documented in another detailed blog post: 8 Things To Do if you’re Planning for a Startup (and WHAT NOT TO DO as well) (Startup Series: Episode 6). Therein we often communicated with a gentleman who’s an Accel Partner VC and was an Early Investor in the firm. His advice was straightforward honest – when we spoke about “strategies” and I had a point about “vision” in a meeting. His point was simple. “Strategy and all those words sound nice on paper Subhasish, but unless you back it up with right + fast + agile execution, learn from your mistakes (which you will definitely make) and come back stronger, and all this in the shortest manner possible; you’re fucking toast”. Very true. After burning over $8-9 Million in less than 10 months; we got forcefully acquired by Myntra (a total botched-up deal anyways, which was brought-in by the Investors). Lesson learnt – strategy is good, but get amazing kick-ass guys in your team with deep execution ability is a must.

4. DON’T BUILD SILOS IN COMPANIES, COLLABORATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS – Steve Jobs died before I could meet him. Unfortunately. Not for him, but for me surely. In one of his interviews wherein he talks about managing great people – hiring them and keeping them; Steve Jobs talks about the COLLABORATIVE culture in Apple. He says, “Apple’s an incredibly collaborative company. Do you know how many committees we have at Apple? Zero. We’re organized LIKE A STARTUP” This is extremely important for success. Companies like Sony, Nokia, HP, IBM and even Microsoft are decaying cause of the immense groupism; and especially “team // regional // country // product // management” silos built into the company structure. The common belief being – “A department has to under-perform for another team to win”. Life is a NOT a fucking zero-sum game; so its extremely important that all parties win. Most companies that are agile and innovate, keep this COLLABORATIVE culture Steve Jobs talks about in Apple. This is the Core DNA at Apple and one of the reason’s why its the most valuable  & innovative company Globally.

5. SPEND 30 MINUTES A DAY, TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO LOVE YOU – My current boss, Sunny Neogi received this advice from his boss, enchantmentcurrently the CEO of Aditi, whom we lovingly called Paddy. Sunny recently handed it over to me. Is a small line, but has a lot depth in it, if one looks at it correctly – “Spend 30 minutes a day, trying to get people to love you.” A kickass innovator, executor, executive, or manager or friend or family member; life is incomplete in all sense unless people have your back and love you. And that too not in the Miss Universe fake smile love you types, but honestly, sincerely caring about you. And that comes from knowing people better, working with them, reaching out to them when you are having troubles with them and helping them out in their times of need. A great book that Sunny recommended me to read which is definitely a “must-read” for all looking to grow is “ENCHANTMENT” by Guy Kawasaki. Guy talks about not faking love, but getting people to genuinely love you. The ways of it. I read it once, looks like I need to read it quite often. In the heat of getting work done, we step on other peoples’ toes, hurt them by saying stuff without realizing things; end of the day, success is success if all’s happy.

6. LIFE WILL ALWAYS BE OK IF YOU CAN CODE AND CREATE A GCC COMPILER AND ALSO KNOW HOW TO CLEAN A DIRTY CARBURETOR – More of advice #3 but in terms of practicality. Same advice but packaged differently. The COO of Sprinklr, Murali Swaminathan who was by direct boss at Sprinklr; said this when we were interviewing candidates in Bangalore to scale-up the business // delivery center based out of Bangalore. During his initial days in the US, when attending an interview, his boss at AT&T (if I can remember it correctly) has asked him only 2 questions – “Can you code a compiler in Assembly? Can you clean a dirty carburetor?” He was selected. The crux is – having theoretical background on stuff is necessary, but one has to possess the means to the end as well. Practicality, agility in execution, fast-turnaround times are more important than degrees, certifications and knowledge.

These 6 mentioned above have a lot of depth, breadth and measure. I can say, I try and follow these – trying is as important as doing them; cause end of the day we are all humans, and give and take, one can fail once or more. Failure is acceptable as long as you learn from it, took advice to heart and move on.

Here’s the 6 pearls of wisdom: 

1. Focus on the “Big Picture” always, along with details.

2. GTM is more important than R&D.

3. Strategy ought to be backed with appropriate agile + correct execution.

4. Collaboration among teams is vital for success.

5. Spend 30 minutes every day getting people to love you.

6. Practical knowledge should go hand-in-hand with theory.

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