Why entrepreneurs should learn the art of detachment from their startups


By Major Sunil Shetty, SM (Retd)

The Indian corporate world had a lot to think, analyse and talk about, through the month of March as multiple corporate events unfolded, during the period, with subtle but inescapable messages for entrepreneurs.

The events included a boardroom battle, for control, in an airlines company,  a hostile take-over bid of an IT company – in a typical big fish eats the small fish scenario and a dramatic arrest of an Indian diamond merchant in London who was tagged as ‘fugitive Economic Offender’, by the government of India.

The Indian business world offered all the masalas for a spicy Bollywood script.

I was particularly drawn towards the news building around Jet Airways, a major Indian international airline, and its founder Naresh Goyal both of whom were trying to survive the turbulence they were passing through.

I was reminded of my own entrepreneurial journey between the years 2013-14.

Toward the end of 2013, I and my business partner-cum-investor had taken the call to exit our military contracting business, in Afghanistan, after running it successfully for nearly a decade, employing over 600 people across 38 locations in the country.

We had taken the call as the US military was scaling down its presence across Afghanistan and given the security situation and the perceived threat emerging due to US Military withdrawal- it would have been difficult to carry on our business in remote parts of Afghanistan.

Added to this, the kidnapping of two of our employees by the Taliban, in 2008, was still fresh in our memories.

We had the first-hand experience of operating in an area that was not protected by Afghan Forces or the international coalition forces.

We knew if we continued the human cost would be high- so we decided to exit.

It wasn’t an easy decision- I still remember that day I boarded the flight for India – my heart was engulfed with a strange feeling of emptiness – It had to be done for the large good of our team.

It is never easy to step away from what one has created and nurtured for years and then with one decision you have to unplug and go away- it is humanly difficult.

So, as I followed the news on Jet Airways, once a leading private airline in India, its fall from fortune and the unceremonious stepping down of Naresh Goyal, from the airline’s board that he founded nearly 25 years ago- my thoughts went out for him.

At the same time in other corporate battle-the founders of Mindtree Limited, a medium size, multinational information technology and outsourcing company, were desperately trying to fend off a hostile takeover bid by a giant Indian multinational conglomerate the Larsen and Toubro.

In both the corporate battles, the founders were doing everything in their capacity to hold on to their respective companies.

They are not the first nor they will be the last to face such a situation – founders in past too had passed on the baton willing or under pressures. Because – when it is time – it is time- to move on.

I suggest three moola mantras or the core principles that could guide entrepreneurs while making a call to move on: 

1. Let the company outlive you: This should be the first moola mantra for entrepreneurs- whatever you do – it should be done to ensure that your company outlives you.

Think like a parent – who always wishes, prayers and does things so that their child outlives them in all aspects.

Take a look around the business world -and you will find many big brands and or company – such as Apple Inc, Microsoft Inc, Infosys & TATAs  – have outlived their founders – and therein lies the success of an entrepreneur.

2. Do what is right for your company its investors and employees: As a founder or founders – it is your entrepreneurial dharma that your actions are in the interest of your startup, its investors and employees.

Even if it means at some point in time you have to cut that emotional umbilical cord and move on.

Just like a mother who connects and nurtures her baby through her umbilical cord – but when it is time she cuts the cord. Because that is what is right for the baby and for your company. So, do what is right for your company its investors and employees.

3. Acknowledge every contribution when you are still in command: Value every contribution that helped you build your startup.

It takes years to build a successful business and during this long journey, numerous people will contribute towards its survival, growth and success of a startup with their experience and expertise.

Entrepreneurs should acknowledge each such contribution however big or small it might have been- while they are still in command.

As a founder be alive to the emerging needs and challenges to your venture. Address or remove any and all obstacles in its path, including yourself, to ensure your startup grows, progresses, scale and thus lives beyond you.

Find peace in the philosophy of non-attachment.

In the meantime; Naresh Goyal agreed to cut the umbilical cord from his company but it might be a bit too late for Jet Airways and Mindtree founders have made peace with the inevitable and that might help their company blossom to newer heights.

 (The author is founder and CEO of AskMentor.com. Views are personal.)