By Smita Ram, Rang De Team
I was recently invited to speak at the inauguration of the National Social Entrepreneurship Forum (NSEF) at Mount Carmel College in Bangalore. The prep to my talk made me retrospect on our start up days. In hindsight, some of our experiences bring a smile, even though at that point, it made me cross with the world around me. Thought it will be interesting to share some insights. These are not expert opinions but are very personal to our experiences.
Common perceptions and reactions that one faces while starting up, some of these I think continue to exist throughout the life of an entrepreneur.
- We appear unreasonable to the naked eye — you will know this once you start interacting with people and sharing your idea. People come up with very rudimentary questions which seem to have obvious answers. Somehow they believe that we have missed the obvious and they are contributing by asking these very fundamental questions. They also believe that by questioning, they will help in changing our mind.
- Social entrepreneurship for the wealthy vs. Social entrepreneurship for the ascetic — even though these are two contrasting thoughts, you will be surprised to learn that an equal number of people uphold the two thoughts. The thought that you either need to have truck loads of money or someone who is not interested in worldly things makes it very difficult for a social entrepreneur from a normal, ‘middle class’ background to look sane.
- The hidden motive — What’s in it for you? That was probably the most commonly asked question and used to drive me nuts. Even though annoying, I think it is important to answer this question with a lot of patience because in the process, you are bound to get more clarity about your own persona and your enterprise.
- Why ‘you’ and why ‘at this age’ — mostly comes from immediate family members and the first circle of friends who think they are trying to protect their loved one by dissuading from taking the plunge. Stoic silence is probably the best way to deal with this. Time will give them the answer.
These were, among others, the most common reactions that Ram and I faced while starting up. Some we continue to face even after two and a half years. I have also begun to realise that many are not exclusive reactions to starting up of social enterprises. They exist pretty much for anything new and innovative that one wants to start in India.
The trouble with such perceptions and reactions is that it hinders the formation of an eco-system or a support system that can further entrepreneurship. It dampens the courage to start something new and instills a sense of fear of failure.
On the brighter side is, such reactions and absurd questions really help in defining yourself and the enterprise that you want to set up. The key is to keep going and try and interact with people who are more realistic — not extremely pessimistic or optimistic- during starting up. Of course keeping that bit of ‘unreasonableness’ is so important as it keeps alive the fun and charm of starting up.