Ignorance and Absence

Ignorance is often the starting point for all of us

I have the good fortune of meeting and speaking to hundreds, sometimes thousands of entrepreneurs each month. In all of these conversations as a mentor to be able to help them, I ask them what they are doing. Every so often I come across an aspiring entrepreneur who would refuse to share their idea. Having been engaged in this business for the last 8 years, the only thing I feel is amusement. 

In over 90% of the cases where someone has refused to share what they are doing; when they do share it, it turns out to be quite anticlimactic. In these situations what turns out to be the case quite often is that the entrepreneur/founder has assumed that they have knowledge that evades mankind. There is also a degree of arrogance in that they assume they have the capability for an insight that 7 Billion others do not. 

When the ‘secret’ is finally spelt out rarely has it been that I was left at a loss for words. No that would be lying – sometimes I have been – because of the naivety of the entrepreneur.

Often my answer tends to be – Is this not just like [startup name] OR I heard something similar a few weeks ago at [another city]. 

Similar ideas evolve at the same time because the challenges and the tools available are similar. 

In August 2010, armed with 2 Million dollars of his own money, Vijay Shekhar Sharma launched a subsidiary called Paytm. The same month, 2500 Kms south of Gurgaon another team started a company called Freecharge. The destinies of these companies were different not because of the idea but the execution. If you had asked Vijay in August 2010, he would have certainly said he had a once in a generation idea that nobody has had and vice versa. 

It was not that there was an absence of another startup doing the same thing. It was the ignorance of another company doing the same thing.

This does not apply only to startup ideas but also to business strategies, marketing decisions and market behaviour. Just because you have not seen it happen does not mean that it does not happen at all. Most of us have not seen anyone buy a 10 Lac rupee wallet but someone is selling a wallet at that price or maybe even more.

Do not let your ignorance seduce you into assuming the absence of a fact.

General Thinking

Importance of Ignorance to Success

I had a wonderful day today listening to some of the most accomplished people speak about their lives experiences and inspire the rest of us in the audience during the TiE Summit. I loved the talk by Paul Deegan. It was interesting to hear a mountaineer make some of the most insightful points about business.

Paul Deegan used his own story to bring out, how ignorance is needed to be successful.

When Steve Jobs quit Apple he said “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” It was during this time that he got involved with Pixar and changed the animation industry forever and for better. One of the greatest asset that Steve had with Pixar was that he did not know much about the film industry. This fact alone helped him define his boundaries in ways that others within the industry would never have thought. His ignorance was his greatest asset.

When you have a great deal of knowledge about something, you also know the risk of failure. This knowledge alone keeps you from achieving success. You tend to fear failure and avoid taking risks that you would otherwise have taken.

Paul also said that “some of the greatest insights that you get about a product or an industry come from people who do not have the slightest clue about what they are talking”.

I have noticed this often when working with students as a part of the mentoring that we do. They seem to show utter disregard for industry structures, prevailing modus operandi, etc. Their ignorance serves them well. They have the willingness to take great risks and the consequences of failure is not very harsh. This is main reason, I believe more and more businesses should be born out of universities.

I really hope that we can successfully achieve this goal in the days and years to come.