The engineer with a plan
A business plan is one of the most important documents to have. It is definitely a crucial tool in attracting investors. Coming up with a business plan is of utmost importance, so that you understand exactly where you ought to be at a particular point in time and what you should be doing. V. Sunder, MD and CEO, Ma Foi Connecting Dots Advisory Pvt Ltd, has over 25 years of rich experience in the areas of banking, financial services, manufacturing, design and engineering services. He believes that having a business plan is critical, as it structures the entrepreneurs’ thinking, prompts them to plan for the future and helps them ensure they have covered all the important areas. He says, “The plan can be broken down into a short-term and long-term plan, and aligned with the business goals.”
Yes, money matters. So collect as much of capital as possible and use it wisely. You need to plan the financial aspects very thoroughly—how much money needs to go into which area, for instance. Be cautious, but don’t be tongue-tied when it comes to making enquiries or speaking up when validating your ideas with industry experts or seniors. Don’t give up if the business fails or doesn’t work out as well as you had expected. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Vinay Chaddha has an interesting take on the capital required for starting a business in the field of electronics. He says, “All the entrepreneurs that I am aware of personally have started off with zero or negligible capital. There are customers willing to pay money, provided they are satisfied with the quality of work. I have four freshers working with me, and I am ready to pay them—provided I am satisfied with the quality of work done by them.” He adds, “In electronics, there is not much of an investment required. Consider the example of PCB designing. Almost every engineering graduate has a laptop and Internet connection. They can easily start to work from home.”
Experience before entrepreneurship?
One issue that the graduating engineering students definitely lack is experience. Subramaniam says, “It isn’t that they’ll blindly start an organisation. But in India, a very small proportion of the companies started by the student community are successful and most of the failures are because of a lack of understanding. Students must first put in a lot of thought into their plan, asking themselves if it is sufficienly different from the competition to take it to a larger scale.” At the same time, Subramaniam believes that the engineering students are the only ones who are going to come up with path-breaking ideas since they are not bound by any limitations. Hence, one thing that engineers should do if they’re planning to opt for the first category of business is to validate their ideas with experienced people who have built successful firms and have a good network with venture capitalists, because if it is a bright idea, funding will surely be quick.
Subramaniam adds, “Another important thing would be to form a good team, and getting the right mix of people from various backgrounds. Since the majority of the team will largely be technical, it’s very important to consider the financial and marketing aspects of the firm as well.” Unfortunately, many students do not pay attention to aspects other than the technical. He adds, “They might have a great product in mind; however, they would not be able to answer queries like who they plan to sell to, how they plan to market the product, how to finance their project, or even how to go about manufacturing the product. Therefore it is better to first give it a lot of thought, answer all these questions and when everything is in place, they can go ahead with the project.”
On the other hand, after all the thinking, if the students feel they lack the answers to any or all of these questions, it would be better for them to join a promising start-up. They must attempt to take on maximum responsibility for at least a couple of years because it is easy to learn or answer all the questions in one’s mind at a start-up, believes Ganapathy Subramaniam. He says, “In fact, the team members must each try to take on more responsibilities, juggling multiple job functions. If they were a part of an out-sized multinational company, they’d in all probability not get adequate exposure for their future business. I strongly advise students, curious about entrepreneurship as a career, to look for promising start-ups and take the maximum responsibility they can.”