TECH TALK: When Things Go Wrong: Dealing with Failure

Last weeks Tech Talk touched off a chord among many. I received many emails while others commented on the blog [here and here]. While I had planned the series as just the five columns I wrote last week, seeing the responses made me think that the topic of entrepreneurial failure deserves some more exploration. Also, by sharing some of my own experiences, I can provide greater insights into what one goes through an entrepreneurs mind and how to deal with the situation.

Two of the columns last week dealt with failures that I had experienced in my life as an entrepreneur. What I did not discuss is what I had done and what I am to get over the situation. That forms the other side of the issue, and that is what I will discuss. During the series, I will also address some of the points raised in the comments by readers. Hopefully, this discussion will be useful for entrepreneurs and others alike.

Let me begin with the situation in 1994. It took me many months to recognise that the current businesses we were in then (image processing solutions and custom software projects for Indian companies) would not be the ones which would be getting us too far. I had spent many months trying to sell our Image WorkBench software to Indian metallurgical and medical companies. All I managed in a year of selling was two orders not enough to make ends meet. Our custom software development turned out to be never-ending projects, effectively becoming black holes for our time. Things had to change.

As I had written last week, realisation of the fact that things are going wrong and there needs to be a different approach going ahead is the first step on the path to recovery. But it is a very difficult decision because entrepreneurs are perennially optimistic in their world view. They always believe that the next big break is always just around the corner. Continuing with what one is doing is much easier than taking a decision to write off what has happened and start afresh.

So it was when I decided that things had to change but it took me many agonising months to make that decision. Besides optimism, one of the other factors which held me back was that I didnt know what I would do next. But the one clear realisation that had dawned on me was that the current business we were in had to die. I decided to take some time off and think hard about the future. I went to the US and spent a couple months at a friends place in California doing a lot of reading, thinking and talking to people. I had a shortlist of a few ideas before I left, but I also had an open mind.

Getting away from the daily hustle-bustle of the Mumbai office also gave me fresh perspective along with chunky time to contemplate the future. It was then that I decided to put my bets on the nascent Internet. One of the ideas I had a few months before was to create an India data network like CompuServ. Once I was in the US, I realized that I shouldnt be worrying about the network but should focus on the services that will flow on this network. And that is how the ideas for IndiaWorld as a news and information service Indias first Internet portal emerged.

Tomorrow: Dealing with Failure

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.