The mysterious disappearance and eventual suicide of VG Siddhartha, Founder, Café Coffee Day, puts the spotlight on the perils of entrepreneurship. His death was like a wake-up call for me that no matter how arduous a road is, it should never reach a point where it results in the loss of human life.
I was an idealist when I started Waterfield in 2011. It was the desire to create and build a meaningful business that ignited my passion. But as many of us know, any entrepreneur who paints only the rosy picture is telling you only half the truth. Eight years on, I believe entrepreneurship changed my life, and in the process taught me to be patient, passionate and persistent. I had a very privileged life with success in the corporate sector coming early. I jumped into entrepreneurship at the age of 40, with a similar enthusiasm that this would be easier than working in the corporate sector.
The first few years were tumultuous - coming to terms with a partial loss of identity, going through periods of enormous self-doubt, drawing no salary, dealing with the nay-sayers, experiencing the thrills of our first customer, opening our first office, building a brand and breaking even. Each of these experiences made me more practical as I understood the value of good people, money and capital.
Over the years I learnt to get more detached — the entrepreneur is one facet of my personality and that the individual is distinct from the business I founded. All too often these lines blur; and successful entrepreneurs are often synonymous with their businesses and this is where the fault line gets created. Ask any entrepreneur, and the reason for their greatest successes will inevitably stem from their deepest personal failures; and Waterfield’s story is no different.
The importance of family cannot be underestimated. Your loved ones are the unsung heroes who support you and keep reminding you it’s going to be alright no matter what the odds are. They are your inner voice, your inner strength and your inner circle. When I read the media reports of Siddhartha’s death, I kept asking myself, didn’t he have anyone who he could have turned to in his hour of despair?
Moreover, it’s about having a great team, what I call the outer ring. Unlike an established corporation, there are business vagaries at a start-up – you can have a great month or quarter followed by an impending disaster. I remember a time when the company’s revenues were quite fragile. I mustered the courage to share this with my team, and in doing so found that each of us collectively solved for the problem. Friends, confidants, mentor circles and supportive boards are all part of the outer ring. Whether it is at the peak of your success or the nadir of your shattered entrepreneurial journey, what matters most are the people around you.