On World Entrepreneurs' Day 2020, Darjinc Founder and CEO Prashansa Gurung shares the knowledge she has gained in her personal journey while building the startup, among the pioneers from Darjeeling.
1. Ideation, timing and self
Don't wait for everything to be perfect: there's never going to be enough money, enough motivation, enough family support. The time to start is now. Nobody is perfect - even if one has theoretical knowledge - what one learns at the job, in the middle of execution is priceless. Have faith in your idea and be willing to put in the hard work.
The idea of 'living your dreams' is a very romantic and glamorous notion; but living your dreams actually means converting your thoughts into executable, actionable tasks and chores - very anticlimactic of the glamorous image we have in our heads. Especially in a startup, even if you are the CEO, there will be times when you will sweep your office yourself! There has to be an understanding of basic dignity of labour. You cannot shy away from getting your hands dirty. You have to be a jack of all trades. You have to have a fair knowledge of how things work be it communications, marketing, design, finance or people’s psychology and motivations.
An idea is worth nothing unless it is executed. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has thoughts and ideas, the real deal is if you have the guts to execute it. Are you willing to let go of the opportunity costs? Darjinc was an idea I had since I was in school. I couldn't articulate it and there was no technology to support it at that time. But it was an idea that refused to let me sleep. It took an incubation period of roughly two decades for this thing to finally even begin and this is just the beginning. When you look at the larger picture, what we have built right now is only 0.000001 percent of what the idea is actually worth - for its full potential to be realised.
Entrepreneurs are a special breed. You have to have thick skin. When you begin, even your own family and friends will discourage you - they mean no harm but at the end of the day only you are responsible for turning your idea into fruition. Learn to let go of control. There are some things that you can control, others you cannot. Learn the difference. There is a lot of inner work that needs to be done. Work on yourself - your physical health, your spiritual health, your mental health. If any of these elements is weak, you won't last very long.
Even if you start after overcoming all internal and external hurdles, the next question is do you have the energy to persist? Have patience, it takes time to build an empire. Can you remain consistent in the face of adversity?
2. Darjeeling: Darjinc and a vision for promoting local
Disclaimer: I am not an economist, but I am an artist so I do perceive the world differently. All of us have our own skills - tangible and intangible - mine is to see patterns in chaos, to be able to see things as they can be. I have learnt to accept that about myself.
In Darjeeling, there is massive potential. There is a base for manufacturing as well but there is a gap between the manufacturers and the consumers. I took a free online course from Harvard Business School called 'Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies’, where I learnt about something called 'institutional voids'. This is basically when the facilities that should exist in ensuring that goods from the manufacturer reach the consumer in the most efficient manner is lacking. It isn't anybody's fault as such - its just the hand you've been dealt. It's a situation that needs to be worked on - so things like documentation and logistics are basic facilities that can be made better and in fact there are opportunities of entrepreneurship within this void too. In October 2019, I attended an orientation programme for entrepreneurs from North Bengal organised by the DIC in association with CII. There I learned that while there are plenty of small scale manufacturers, where they lack know-how is in terms of branding, packaging, marketing, sales and distribution. For example, one may take a loan from the MSME department for a dehydrator machine but what happens when the machine stops to function? One cannot go to the MSME to complain regarding this. So the basic knowledge about what plants should be set up, what are the criteria when it comes to selecting machines, what are the quality control measures and protocols that need to be followed, how can you sell your products to places outside of Darjeeling, what licenses do you require - these are basic things that our small time manufacturers need help with.
The credit system among the Marwari community is so strong and that is something that all of us can learn from. The notion that everyone is out to get you - the classic 'khutta taanney chalan’ are myths and learnings that we need to unlearn as a community at large. With JHOLA, when we provide suggestions/alternatives to our customers that are local, most people ‘naak khumchuachha’, (even though, if they just give it a shot, they might find that the local stuff is even better; this is also a real case) - so people, let's have faith in our own community members more.
The collective lack of self esteem because of state oppression and violence is something that we as a community need to get out of - we need to dream bigger and have faith in ourselves. This is something that I see in the younger generation who are coming up - they are not concerned about politics, they are concerned about development and development in the sense that will truly bring about positive change in our society. These voices need to be supported instead of forcing them to take sides of any given party.
Right now there are many small brands making the same set of products - like how every shop in Darjeeling sells momos and thukpa - but the problem with this is that it is dividing the typho in a way that no one is getting enough - For instance, brand X makes 100 bottles of pickles and gives it to Big Bazaar after paying a vendor fee of close to Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000. As our products are mostly seasonal, what happens when those 100 bottles are over? The brand owner is not able to restock the shelf. Hence, they lose the original vendor fee investment, and in front of Big Bazaar, the brand’s credibility is also lost. So what is the solution? We need to create a super brand that encompasses all the smaller brands coming under one umbrella, which will bring about a drastic shift in strengthening our town and region as a manufacturing hub, thereby strengthening us all economically.
3. Entrepreneurship is a people's business
Before prospective investors invest in the idea, they invest in you the person - are you willing to go the extra mile? Even if the business you have started is not related to anything you have done before, the grit and determination that needs to be put in remains the same.
See the big picture, build the skeleton, and then get people on board - experts who know more than you in any given area - people who should be able to teach you. You are only as strong as your team - finding like minded people is the most difficult task for a startup. Anybody can throw in money - either funded by parents or loans - but if your team is not good, you will surely fail. Having people who have faith in you and the idea is important because even if there is one person on the team who lacks this, it will affect the energy of the whole team. You need people who are confident in themselves as well. You want to spend your time making your business better, with people who will contribute to make the idea better. You don't want to be babysitting or managing people's mood swings. Sounds harsh maybe but that's the truth. You are an average of five people you spend most time with it is said, so choose how you spend the only real currency you have - time - with the right people.
Startups are mostly tight on funds so you don't want people who will complain at the slightest sign of trouble - believe me there will be plenty - everyday you will face problems, things will go wrong - everything that can go wrong will go wrong. How a person deals with problems will determine their longevity too. If people are troubled at the first (inevitable) problems, what will happen to them when real issues emerge? When you don't make profits for months or years on end? The team needs to function in a cohesive way. Even if one department slows down, it affects the whole process. So take your time when selecting team members. Also remember that once they're on board, they become your responsibility. You are their friend, their mentor, their student as well. Their progress means your progress. Your progress means theirs. They are human beings outside of the role they are fulfilling in the organisation; so be emphatic. But before any of these expectations, ensure that you also practice what you preach.
This brings back the buck to how aware you are of yourself, how much are you controlled by your ego. Can you learn from someone younger than you? What are the prejudices lodged in your subconscious mind? It's not 'I', it’s 'We'. Once your idea is out there, it becomes an entity by itself and as such you have to learn to see it as something which is outside of yourself.
And have gratitude towards those who do choose to show faith in the idea.
4. Learning is an everyday process
As an entrepreneur, you will deal with all kinds of people - educated, not educated, people who speak well, people who don't, people who are dressed well, people who aren't. Can you look at all of them with eyes of equality? Does your behavior remain the same when you are in front of a big time investor from the UK, as well as the coolie didi who carries your goods? Can you give equal respect to them both? All humans want one thing - a better life - materially and mentally - can you provide that? Can you make them see opportunities where they see none?
As an entrepreneur you have to be open to learning constantly, and you will learn from all these people. It doesn't matter what their background is, you will learn something from everyone provided you are willing to listen and have an open mind. You never know when and from whom a missing piece of the puzzle (solution) you will receive.
Read books and watch videos. The world we live in right now is convenient, we have access to so much data. There is no excuse for ignorance. But be humble when you don't know things, be open to learning.
5. Say aye to Ethics
Do not lie to people - this may sound counter intuitive considering the picture of capitalism we have been taught where espionage, backstabbing is accepted as the norm. However, you are responsible for creating the environment of work where things don't necessarily have to function in a 'chakka-panja' way. As an entrepreneur you are a Creator. So what world are you creating? What values do you stand for? Is your motivation only to make money? Is it to leave this world better than how you found it? Take ownership of the world you are creating - your existence makes a difference, make it a good one.
People may say that what you have to offer is not required. There will be times when simply walking on your path will trigger people enough for them to take it as a personal affront, but that is not your headache. Stay on your lane - you are your only competition - spend energy on bettering yourself and your idea - don't look at what others are doing. This doesn't mean you should not keep yourself abreast of the trends in the market and emerging entrepreneurs in your field but their success does not mean your failure, remember that. Learn from them, what to do and what not to do. The ideal would be to collaborate as much as you can.
BONUS TIP: Don't forget to have fun while you're doing all this.
These are some of the lessons I have learnt since setting up Darjinc.