Guest Post from Lakshya Datta, founder and CEO of Launchora and a close friend of mine.
“If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny.”
— Steven Wright, Comedian
Opportunity is a horrible, beautiful, immortal creature. Many have seen it, but few were able to tame it. Those who have treated it right and with respect were introduced to opportunity’s sibling: success. I’m no expert (a necessary disclaimer before I pretend to talk like one), but I believe many entrepreneurs fail because they try to find success before recognizing the right opportunity. I can’t speak to what kind of entrepreneur I am, mostly since I’m still in the process of finding out myself.
I have been working on my first startup, Launchora, for about a year now. Just stating that time period as a fact makes me cringe. One year is a long time which seems even longer when you spend every waking minute working on the same idea over and over again until it starts to demand ownership of your life. I would like to make excuses for why it’s been a year and I still don’t have a finished product, but instead I’d like to tell you about why I am still optimistic about my – and by extension my company’s – uncertain future.
Before an idea can blossom into a working product, it must learn to be okay with being just an idea. We have the privilege of living in a self-updating world, so there is no excuse to create a product that doesn’t learn to become better over time. For example, while the core idea behind Launchora was solidified back in September 2012, I am constantly recognizing, adding, and deleting various paths the idea could take. Knowing that the time I’ve spent working on Launchora was well spent not only gives me comfort when facing uncertainty, but it also helps me see how far the idea has come from day 1 or even day 360. Sure, some days are just plain wasteful where there is barely a flicker in the light bulb, but it’s those days that make the productive and eventful days seem better.
The World Outside
My first attempt at entrepreneurship wasn’t without its external setbacks. My biggest enemy has been one that doesn’t seem to know or care about me, nor does it give me any special consideration. But this external entity has somehow been instrumental in all decisions I’ve had to make as a first-time CEO, so I guess I can’t bad mouth it too much. Actually, I don’t intend to bad mouth it at all because this entity happens to still have me in its grasp. As an Indian citizen, it hasn’t been easy to build a company while also dealing with “you need a visa to even breathe here” systems. What seems like just one problem over time has adopted all other problems and made them its subsidiaries. Everything is under its control: strategy, fund raising, fund allocation, and even unnecessary expenses. Just one example: having a startup find the resources to pay its CEO (me) a six figure salary. Why you ask? The official answer: Because it’s a requirement. The real answer: payroll taxes. So if starting a company on its own wasn’t hard enough, restrictions should surely be appreciated by the creative minds of tomorrow who just tried to explore an opportunity.
But just because I have had some roadblocks doesn’t call for blame-throwing. As I write this, my future to work in this country is still uncertain, or at most limited to two scenarios –
Scenario A: I get to work on Launchora – still with many expensive restrictions – for at least the next 3 years.
Scenario B: I leave the US by the end of 2013 – after spending the last 6 years of my life here – with no guarantee of return. Oh, and no reimbursements.
While I may sound frustrated, I am actually much calmer outside of the written form. I’ve known the risks the entire time. I made the decision to start a company in the US. I made the decision to fulfill all requirements that the system dictated. I am a voluntary prisoner – living in a box I helped create. And I don’t regret it. Because the day I start to regret my actions and decisions is the day I’ll start to doubt my instinct. And what is an entrepreneur without instinct?
That brings me to my third and final segment…
I chose to become an entrepreneur. I chose to leave a paying job and a promising career and embark on a journey with no guide or reference. Sure, some people may say this path isn’t a choice – that it was a calling or the only path for them. Those people may be right, but even they had to still make a choice to jump into this fog, even just as a formality.
For me the decision was easy, but I still made it a hard decision by taking my time to be sure. I was 22 when the idea for Launchora came to me, and I spent about 3 months before making it official. The problem wasn’t the idea – I had full faith in Launchora’s potential. The problem was letting go of a future already waiting for you. For a twenty-something, faith is a dangerous currency – one only accepted by your conscience. Even worse is the curse of optimistic thinking – a weapon many bear but rarely use. So in the end, when the decision came to finally make the jump into the fog, I found myself having only one reason to do so: “Just because I want to.” I am driven by an unrelenting sense of ambition – that is my self-inflicted curse.
Knowing the future can be overrated. I don’t know mine at all and I am still able to find happiness in my life. My instincts had led me to this point, and we’ve grown fond of each other over time. Whatever happens next, I am certain that one day my bet will pay off, and opportunity will finally introduce me to success.