August 10, 2008

"Swifter, Higher and Stronger!" - By Sanjay Anandaram

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games would has just begun with 10,500 athletes participating in 28 sports and 302 events for personal and national glory.

The Indian contingent consists of only 57 athletes representing the dreams of a country with over a billion people! With the Indian hockey team failing to qualify for the Olympics for the first time, the Indian contingent will compete in shooting, track and field, boxing, archery, tennis, wrestling, rowing, table tennis and badminton. For the first time, interestingly enough, India’s medal hopes rest not on a team sport like hockey but individual sports like shooting and boxing. Our national game has been reduced to becoming an inconsequential non-entity on the world stage.

There are lessons from the Olympics that entrepreneurs will do well to keep in mind.

First, creating and sustaining a winning team is very different from being an individual superstar. Team work requires shared beliefs and goals, planning, understanding of individual roles and responsibilities, discipline, large-heartedness to do things for the glory of the team not for one’s sake with the awareness that the team has to win not the individual. Over the last several decades, India has successfully demonstrated that playing as a team is something that doesn’t come naturally to us. As someone once said, “One Indian is equal to 10 Japanese; Ten Indians are equal to 1 Japanese!” A successful startup is one that is able to marshall the individual brilliance and capabilities of its people for its collective success.

Second, be well aware of the rapidly changing nature of world around you. The past is not a guarantee for the future. The game of hockey has changed dramatically over the past 3 decades. There have been immense changes in the playing surface, pace of the game, physical demands on the players, rules, coaching, equipment, and styles of play. Unfortunately, we have not adapted well and fast enough. Countries like England and Korea without any hockey playing legacy have no problem playing and even defeating India. Couple this with petty politicking and corruption in the administration and the reason for hockey’s demise isn’t hard to determine. As a startup, you need to be more than aware of the rapidly changing market and environment conditions which includes competition, regulatory matters, training and mentoring of employees, and changing demands by customers. A startup more than any other has to continue to execute well and not rest on its laurels simply because that’s the only way forward. Also, governance, management and ethics play a great role in creating the right culture and “soft” infrastructure for the company.

Third, keep in mind that athletes immerse their minds, bodies and souls for the sake of winning at the Olympics. Very often, there’s hardly any difference between the winner and the rest. But the world remembers only the winner. It is combination of very hard work, mental preparation and flawless execution on the day that brings home the laurels. The time of preparation is spread over the 4 year period between Olympics. Similarly, a startup has to prepare and execute relentlessly over the long term. Ideas and execution have to come together for the winning combination.

Fourth, remember the Olympic spirit that’s captured in the words “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which are Latin for Swifter, Higher and Stronger. Speed of conceptualization and execution is one of the critical advantages enjoyed by a startup. A larger company takes a long time to think through thea options and a longer time to execute on the plan. A startup is also nimble and can change tack and direction far faster than a larger company can. Next, a startup has to be able to soar higher and higher in the shortest possible time. It must be able to quickly demonstrate growth and market share to be taken seriously by the players in the market. And finally, become financially strong and robust as well in as short a time as possible to ensure its continued survival and growth.

Are you now ready for the Olympics? What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.