6 Important Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Entrepreneurship

After having spend close to 12 years in corporate world as an Engineer/Senior Engineer for 8 years and as a HR Manager for 4 years, I built my own Training and Transformation organisation Mastering Mind Academy last year.

Now after one year, I am just looking back to see some of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur. Of course I would say the amount of things I’ve learned in last one year is much more than the lessons’s I picked during 12 years of working in corporate world.


Here I am listing down six important lessons that I learned from my first year of entrepreneurship journey.

1. Cash is Everything

It’s not starting a company, but staying alive for the first few years is the most important thing for a startup. Especially when it’s a lean startup, every penny spent and earned is going to be a significant contributor in the sustenance of the company.

It took few months for me to understand that, it’s good to have a great passion about my idea, goal of transforming many young people and contribute to Nation building. In reality it all would be possible only as long as I’ve actual money to keep things going. I was believing that “do whatever you love and money will follow”, but the truth is it’s just a nice quote and nothing more. Money necessarily will not follow just like that if you do what you love.

My entire perspective towards entrepreneurship completely changed when I realised that “when you run out of money, you are out of business”. The most common tendency among the first time entrepreneurs is they are there just because out of sheer passion for what they want to do. In this process most of them tend to overlook the importance of the financial part of business. Many new business ideas fail primarily because the founders fail to anticipate cash flow, that could even force them to stop operations sooner of later.

It really took 8 months for me to understand that, Cash is the most important factor for survival and I need to ruthlessly focus on my “burn rate”. Now at the end of 1st year, I can comfortably say that I’ll be able to survive quite easily for next 3 years.

2. It really costs more to be an Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, “you are sure going to spend more than you anticipated”. In all my calculations before starting up, I only had the big ticket expenses like house rent, groceries, school fees, fuel expenses and some buffer for medical requirements. But only after few months I realised that all the smaller expenses like mobile phone bills, internet bill, meetings at coffee shops, car insurance, buying books, unexpected travel expenses etc piled up to become a huge big ticket expense. Lot of little expenses like this, that I never took into my earlier budgeting turned out to be several thousand rupees.

Another thing is it took me some time to realise that all my taxes were automatically taken care while I was an employee even before receiving it in my bank account every month. Suddenly at one point I realised that I’ve burnt all the money we earned and ended up with nothing when my auditor called me for tax calculations. A very important learning was “you are sure going to spend much more than you anticipated”.

So, it really costs more to be an entrepreneur. It’s better to sit down, carefully include every single possible expenses in advance, plan the budget accordingly along with reasonably good reserves for miscellaneous expenses too.

3. Real world out there is totally different than what you think

My understanding earlier was, “If you give the best possible training programs and workshops with real intention of transforming people for the betterment of them, obviously they will embrace you with open minds”. But, in reality it is not true. Most of them are busy going to malls, movie halls and watching TVs and no one would be interested if you really call them for a training program or a learning session.

It took me real 6 months to understand and realise that “people will pay more to be entertained than to be educated”, which made me completely re-look into the way I market, sell and deliver my programs. Now I always blend my education programs and workshops with fun and entertainment, but still keep it relevant and sensible.

4. Never lose your focus

Almost every entrepreneur starts with a focussed idea, but as time goes people tend to get attracted by many things in the journey and lose their focus points. When the going becomes tough, with the inability to cope up tough and difficult situations people lose sight of their clear goals and ambitions. Slowly get dabbling into other non value adding activities. It’s not about losing motivation or interest, its more about losing the specific targets and goals.

As a socially relevant entrepreneurial venture, I am very clear on what we want to achieve in another 3 years and 5 years. It is quite possible to feel upset, frustrated and annoyed especially when things are not going in your favour. But those are the times to test your passion, persistence and perseverance.

Remember what Prof.Randy Pausch said in his last lecture “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people”.

5. Never stop learning

“If you are not learning, you are not growing” has become an outdated adage. In today’s knowledge world the reality is “If you are not learning, you are dying”. Continuous learning and improving the way you work is an essential ingredient of your entrepreneurial success. The ability to accept things that you don’t know and openness to learn if that’s going to be important is one of the key quality of an entrepreneur. Willingness to accept changes, interest to try and improve oneself and one’s business is crucial to success.

Not just about your business, it’s also important to learn about the world around you. As an entrepreneur it is only by increasing your understanding of the world around you that you will be able to understand things better and take appropriate actions.

I very strongly believe that “Self education is one of the best forms of education”.  With an open mind and true intention to learn, you can learn from everything you do and everyone you meet. Your entrepreneurial success largely depends on your learning ability.

6. Identify your customers and build relations

Within few days of my entrepreneurship I realised a very profound reality. That is not every one who needs your service would want to take your service. People somehow have priorities based on their assumptions and understanding, not based on your expectations of reality. I was so confident that with the kind of game changing training programs and workshop I’ve designed, every one would flock to me for my dates. In reality only very few friends who know me and my programs very closely, who were willing to experiment, who were willing to spend some meaningful time and money for their students, employees, managers learning were interested in my programs.

At the outset as an entrepreneur with you passionate idea, you will think that you could change the world altogether.  Truly it cannot happen just like that without all sincere efforts and perseverance. Now, I spend all my branding, marketing efforts only to people, institutions, and companies that truly believe in real learning and not just the ones who wants just a tick mark training programs.

My learning is if you’ve a truly valuable product,  program or service, find people who really want it (not just need it) from you. I am sure the world is large enough for you to find such people, only you need that extra effort to find, connect and build relationship with them.

These are the six important learnings I wanted to share. I wish this could help out the new entrepreneurs who are just about to start on their own. Entrepreneurs are destined to take risks, look for opportunities, learn continuously, make changes appropriately, keep up the motivation, be persistence and ultimately reach the finish line in the process of creating a better world to live.

About Sivakumar Palaniappan