I just finished reading Sramana Mitra’s Entrepreneur Journeys: Bootstrapping: Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction, the second volume of her Entrepreneur Journeys series.
Great title: Yes, small companies and mom-and-pop businesses are the very texture of this country (as they are all over the world), and some of them can be grown to a significant level and address sufficiently large markets to be funded by institutional investors once their products and business model have been put to the test of reality.
Great content too: We are swamped with books about entrepreneurship. Yet, haven’t you noticed that most of them seem to be copied out of the Silicon Valley’s virtual Scriptures, telling the same sensational tales over and over, and featuring the same people with narratives that have turned bloodless because they have been hammered too often? Sramana’s book is refreshing. She picks heroes who are not (or not quite) as wildly famous and insanely wealthy, yet are very successful (and rich too) or already renowned, but not that rich – characters such as Greg Gianforte (RightNow), Ramu Yalamanchi (hi5), Manoj Saxena (Webify), Lars Dalgaard (SuccessFactors), Om Malik (GigaOm), and quite a few others. Their stories sound true. They live in a world where raising money is not a CEO’s “badge of merit,” as Saxena says, but where incremental progress ends up being the most efficient shortcut to actual market recognition. The big plus of this book is that it will help many entrepreneurs to keep away from shibboleth and preachers, and entice them to pick their phones, and sell because, as Gianforte puts it: “Sales are the lifeblood of a business, period.”
Ultimately, this book is written by a person who has a real, extensive hands-on experience. An entrepreneur, Sramana founded three companies: Dais (Off-shore Software Services), Intarka (Sales Lead Generation and Qualification Software, which was funded by NEA), and Uuma (Online Personalized Store funded by Redwood). As a strategy consultant, she has consulted with a large number of companies. She also writes a weekly column for Forbes, and she has a fantastic site: http://www.sramanamitra.com. For her, entrepreneurship is more than a business. It’s a lifestyle.
The entrepreneurial tribe and the kathaka: Interview-based books often reflect what I would call the “haphazard writer’s laziness syndrome,” typical of people who just want to have a book out there as their auto-marketing platform. Nothing wrong with that, but this is not at all what Sramana’s initiative is about: if you look at Sramana’s prolific writing, you will immediately notice the quality of her style, that she loves to write, has the courage to express her opinions – in short, that she a full–fledged author. For more proof of this, take a closer look at the epigraph that she offers at the beginning of her book: a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, Asia’s first Nobel laureate, in 1913. Definitely not your typical quotation, hastily abstracted from Quoteland or similar sources. The truth of the matter is that, because she is a good writer, she is also a thoughtful translator. Incidentally, a native Bengali speaker, she provided her translation of some of Tagore’s poems, with photographs from world famous artist William Carter (http://goldenraft.com).
The Entrepreneur Journeys is a series of interviews, designed to help entrepreneurs learn from other entrepreneurs. In the process, Sramana learned too: “The interviews and personal success stories that I compiled are just as much to teach me as they are to teach others,” she says. “When I was running my companies, I was doing things constantly. I was always in action mode. I had no time to think, no time to learn. Everything was happening so fast. It’s when I started consulting that I was able to begin to organize what I had seen and experienced from a framework point of view. Then I started a blog in 2005, totally by accident, a suggestion of my friend Om Malik; initially viewed as a notebook it became a meeting point for entrepreneurs. I invited them to talk to me and develop their story. Entrepreneur Journeys is a combination of my own learning, my synthesis as well as the synthesis from all these different stories that I wanted to put together as a complete body of work.”
This body of work is actually more than a series; it is a saga, a narrative that recounts the peregrinations “into ever-widening thought and action” of the “Entrepreneur.” The Entrepreneur, always adventurous, often solitarily rattled by hopes and agonies, encounters virtual mentors within an international entrepreneurial tribe that Sramana echoes as a storyteller: “I believe that people learn best through stories,” she comments. “You can give them lots of dry advice. It just doesn’t have the kind of recall value or resonance unless you can do it through stories. I took screenwriting classes at Fort Mason about eight years ago and one of the things, I guess, all screenwriting classes deal with, is this notion of a character arc – so you have a protagonist who is working towards something and building up that story. Entrepreneur Journeys – the whole series – deal with protagonists building towards something, and finally they succeed, and that is the character arc of an entrepreneur. So the way I have tried to approach this Entrepreneur Journeys project is from the perspective of a storyteller, a business person, yes, but very much from the perspective of a storyteller.” As Sramana was telling me this, I was thinking of an interesting coincidence. Sramana was a classical performing dancer, specializing in kathak, when she lived in India. She was still performing four or five concerts per year as she was working towards her bachelors degree in Computer Science and Economics at Smith College, in Northampton, MA. After that, she went to MIT, earned a Masters degree in EECS, and started her first company, so she couldn’t keep up. The thing is, though, that katha in Sanskrit means “story,” and that in the ancient days, the kathakas (story-tellers) used to recite and dance stories from epic folktales.
Navigate inside and through this zoomorama (you can zoom-in/out the pictures as well as see them in full screen).
What’s next? More books, of course, and in the very near future: Positioning to test, validate and bring ideas to market, Innovation need of the hour, and Visioning year 2020. In the latter, she will take India as a backdrop. After all, Sramana is the daughter of an entrepreneur: “I grew up in an environment in which risk-taking and swinging for the fences was accepted as a virtue. My father founded Himalaya Shipping, one of the early container shipping ventures in the seventies,” she writes in the Prologue for the edition of Volume I in India. A quintessential business woman of the Silicon Valley, Sramana also wants to give back to her community. She cannot help to feel “a national mission of sorts, a recurring theme in [her] life,” regardless of her nostalgia for an India that is unabatedly destroyed by shortsighted promoters. I recommend that you read a beautiful essay that she wrote in 2007: http://www.sramanamitra.com/2007/04/30/as-india-builds-part-1/
More about Rabindranath Tagore:
Volume I of Entrepreneur Journeys: Entrepreneur Journeys Volume 1. Also see my previous post in November 2008: http://delbourg-delphis.com/2008/11/sramana-mitra-entrepreneur-journeys/
More about William Carter: http://www.editionsone.com/carter/biography.html