TECH TALK: Best of Tech Talk 2006: Entrepreneurship and Vision

The other topic I like to write about is on Entrepreneurship. Last month, I wrote about my fifteen years as an entrepreneur. In it, I outlined my roller-coaster ride and looked ahead to the bets I am making:

The first bet is that emerging markets like India are going to be the big markets. We do not have to follow the same technology progression as users in developed markets have done. We can leapfrog. Being based in India gives us an important advantage over others because we are closer to the future markets. If we can make ideas work here, it will be easier to roll them out to other emerging markets and even perhaps to the developed markets.

The second bet is around a mobile-centric future. I tend to use the higher-end phones now a complete switch from two years ago. This gives me a glimpse of what the mass market will expect in a couple of years or less. There is little doubt that the mobile is a transformational device and an incredible opportunity. The challenge is to think through how people’s lives and businesses can benefit from mobiles which will essentially be multimedia computers, connected to the Internet over high-speed networks, and equipped with high-resolution screens.

The third is a world where broadband is a reality. In India, unfortunately, this still seems distant. But one has to assume it will happen. How can computing be reinvented in a world where connectivity is ubiquitous, cheap and high-speed? What kind of content and services will users want? How will entertainment be different?

This world view of mobility and broadband in emerging markets is at the centre of my thinking, my entrepreneurial activities and my investing. It is a world where the second-order effects will be more powerful than the first-order ones. It is more than just Web 2.0, user-generated content, video, social networking and pay-per-click. The real power of this digital infrastructure will come when it is applied to rethink vertical industries like education and healthcare. That will still take some time, but it is something which will happen sooner than we can imagine.

Envisioning the future is a very important prerequisite to building tomorrow’s world which is what I seek to do as an entrepreneur. I wrote about the importance of vision in a Tech Talk in March. An excerpt:

One of the qualities that an entrepreneur must have is the ability to envision the future. Vision might seem a lofty goal compared with the hard (and sometimes, harsh) realities of running a business. But without vision, navigation and decision-making becomes difficult. Vision helps simplify decision-making and an entrepreneur has to get hundreds of decisions right to have hopes of being successful. Without a view of the big picture, making even a small decision can appear to be a mountain to be climbed.

I have attached a lot of value to vision in my career as an entrepreneur. Sometimes, one gets it right. At other times, I have been plain wrong or a little early. I feel very uncomfortable without a long-term view of where the world is headed and how the things we are doing will make a big difference. I like to think of vision as a game-changer one which sets us apart from others because it gives me a clearer perspective on tomorrows world. There is no single view of the future. What I endeavour to do as an entrepreneur is to define a view of the future and work to make that a reality before others.

So, what is vision? To me, vision is painting a picture of tomorrows world. It is about imagining a day in the life of your user with the products and services that you are making, and keeping in mind the changing competitive landscape. It is about thinking through pain points and crafting breakthrough solutions. It is about giving users an experience they may not even be asking for today. To build a vision of the future, one needs to come at it from multiple dimensions because technology and competition do not stand still.

Why is vision so important? For an early-stage company, one cannot compete and win the near-term battles, however well one executes. Others have a far better entrenched position. The entrepreneur needs to look beyond to the next cycle of disruptions that will come and build a vision around those. That is the time of dramatic upheaval and opportunities. The entrepreneur needs to prepare for that. It may take time for these opportunities to manifest. The enterprise needs enough cash and patience for the intervening years. It is not easy because todays pressures and deadlines will tend to take precedence. Entrepreneurs have to make sure vision is not sacrificed at the altar of the present.

Tomorrow: Blue Oceans and Black Swans

Best of Tech Talk 2006+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.