Monday, 25 November 2013

Why Entrepreneurs are better than Everybody Else. Not.

"You need to endure, take risks, give up something to attain the vast glories of this world which are yet hidden to you," a friend told me. "What is life without hardwork, courage and risk?" an huge roadside hoarding asked me a few hours later. And in the evening, just before I fell asleep, I read a much hyped article -"If you don't build your dream, someone will hire you to build theirs."

Yes, dreams are important. There's no denying it. And noble, world-changing dreams are even better. There are so many problems seemingly impossible to solve, so many nearly impassable hurdles, and so many unfathomable heights waiting to be conquered. People are often defined by their dreams. Chasing them is a noble pursuit; conquering them is an almighty high.

Sadly though, most people seem to be defining dreams very differently. From what I understand from so many folks I talk to, a man who is a dreamer needs to be an entrepreneur. "What's the point of having dreams if you don't realize them?" I'm asked. Valid question, no? "If you believe in something strongly enough, you won't think twice about quitting your job. Entrepreneurs know sacrifice and they know hard-work. Do you?" Good punchline and another valid question. Through this post, I hope to compensate for all those tongue-tied moments.

Let's start with the definition of dreams: 'dreams' in this context usually identify a void and visualize a world in which such a void is filled. An entrepreneur might see this as a business opportunity, an artist might see it as an existential dilemma and an scientist, simply as an intellectual pursuit. In all these cases, these 'dreams' can be realized, but in very different ways. But self-help books and supposedly inspirational posts usually use a very narrow dream-achievement definition, declaring by fiat that one of these pursuits is nobler. No, realizing a dream needn't mean monetising it.

Let's now move on to the second favourite bastion of our inspirational entrepreneurs: the strength of belief. Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone can strongly believe in setting up retail stores or restaurants. In the good old days, they used to say, "Unkalji has his own business." I don't think unkalji believed too much in his saree shop. In the same way, I don't believe that everyone who proudly boasts his self-employment is a visionary. (But unkaljiis very rich.)

But let us, for a moment, suppose that they are visionaries, who believe strongly in the power of their dreams. If that is too hard, let us consider a subset of these people who pen these inspirational articles. (Surely, they believe in what they're saying? - Or they'd hardly be able to say it this well.)

And now, I'd like to ask them, "What makes you think you are alone in this?" Are the billions of employees around the world people without dreams or people who are unwilling to act upon them? Is there not a possibility that their jobs (oh, such a derogatory word nowadays) allow them to do precisely that? Commonality of dreams and interests - isn't this what all our great organizations (including yours, dear inspirational entrepreneur) thrive upon?

As for the issue of sacrifice, I think it is a deeply human quality, not reserved for a select few. People sacrifice different things: some sacrifice their careers for their family and others, vice-versa. Which sacrifice is greater; which is nobler? Are we even in a position to make this judgement?

Lastly, I'd like to refute two common notions which are making rounds on the internet: (1) entrepreneurs are the sole authorities on creativity, and (2) risk is a measure of how 'big' you have lived. Human beings value creativity greatly and yearn to express themselves through whichever opportunities are available to them. Yes, even those people doing boring, structured day-jobs. It certainly seems more challenging to walk an untrodden path, but creativity is really a choice. You choose how creative you want to be.

As for risk, it's hard to think of reasons that make safety a shameful thing. It is not a potent drug like risk is, but each man chooses his own poison. There are certainly other drugs out there. If risk is the reason someone chooses to start-up an enterprise, he is not too different from a gambler in a casino. There are many reasons to start-up a company; this, sadly, isn't the soundest one.

To conclude, I'd like people to reconsider their "if you don't build your dream, someone will hire you to build theirs" statements, because frankly, it's a nonsensical argument. We are all here to build dreams. That's the purpose of life.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Flashing Lights and Ladies - The Story of Vegas

It isn't every day that you get to live in a pyramid. And not all pyramids fire photon canons into the black sky. A month ago, I stayed on the twenty-seventh floor of the Luxor - with a view of both the magnificent phenomenon that is Vegas and the serene Nevada mountains in the distance, which seemed to be embroiled in a "I'm greater than you" debate with one another.

The World's Best
Everything in Las Vegas is the world's best - the cigars, the women, the music, the spirits, the shameless neon brilliance, the towering replicas of everything Americans consider grand. In fact, in Las Vegas, they will make you believe that their New York is better than the one on the East Coast, and that there is more love in 'Paris' than in the French capital. There is Venice and Rome and Burma and China... Everything is the World's best. The world's best music shows, the world's best strip clubs, the world's best limos - God knows what else.

Vegas is bright
In the night, planes get confused. As soon as they cross the dull Rockies and the canyons nearby, they are mesmerized by a city that dances in front of their eyes, in colours and in song. And to make matters worse, there is a hotel (my own) smashing light into the sky.

During the first night, our wanderings took us to the end of the strip, and therefore we were subjected to the immense Fremont Street Experience. The sky isn't real any more. It is fabricated by men, and it does what it is commanded to do. It can burst into flames and calm into the gentlest piano music at the clap of a hand. And all around us, women and alcohol and casinos and movie-star lookalikes.

Our fine Chevy looked hopelessly out of place in a city where people firmly believe that 'bigger is better'. Newer is also better, except when it comes to casinos: because there's not much that can compare with the Caesar's Palace (where a friend lost $300 in half an hour), the Bellagio or the MGM Grand.

The most unchanging city in the world
Vegas is a religion and it is a God. There are conjurers here, unlike anything history has ever produced. I still wonder about certain things I saw during my 'Cirque du Soleil' experience. They cannot be explained except by magic. But I won't question them, because such things happen in Vegas.

There are limousines longer than roads in this city, and planes which fly in at 8pm and out at 4am to entertain their masters. Vegas, which can easily be considered the work of the devil, leaving Dubai far behind, stands unashamed in all its glory as the world looks on. So often, in its dazzling brilliance, it shows the world its shame and asks people to embrace it. Las Vegas might be the future.

In Vegas, they will sink ships, recreate Hawaii, build Rome and make water sing just to entertain you. It's a magical place, soulless as it is. It is full of emptiness, and it proudly stands as a symbol of what might come.

Vegas is so far ahead of everything else that it doesn't change.