Entrepreneurship is not a vocation but a mindset, a way of life. It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur, especially when for every single successful venture, there are hundreds that sink without a trace. Even those that manage to stay afloat often fail to scale. Still, the world seems to be enamored of these successful few. Google the word ‘entrepreneur’ and the omniscient search engine evinces over 167 million+ results. Scan amazon.com for ‘entrepreneurship’ and you get titles in excess of 60, 000. So the volume of literature on entrepreneurship, both online and offline, thrives, but how much of it is actually relevant and actionable remains unclear. Ronnie Screwvala’s ‘Dream with your eyes open’ is another addition to the long list. However, unlike a lot of non-starters out there, this book leaves an impression. It packs a punch.
Not a full-fledged autobiography by any yardstick, ‘Dream with your eyes open’ is more of an encapsulation of major events that popped up on Ronnie’s timeline during his entrepreneurial journey. Much to my satisfaction, Ronnie’s work turns out to be quite unlike those of several overweening executives whose books smack of self-conceit and stand littered with narrative fallacies.
A true blue entrepreneur, Ronnie Screwvala’s story is as mesmerizing as it’s inspiring. Most people would have chosen to hang their boots in the face of adversities than go on unabated, but Ronnie epitomizes the toil and sweat that comes with being an entrepreneur. A middle-class Mumbai boy whose first stint with generating revenue started when he turned his apartment’s balcony into a paid vantage point to watch the Bollywood stars.
Ronnie mentions that failure is more interesting and instructive than success. His words serve as a strong catalyst to prepare the reader for the right attitude to overcome any fear of failure. His own journey serves as clear evidence. Besotted with a paucity of resources, but, guided with conviction, Ronnie bootstrapped UTV with a seed money of mere INR 37, 500. Over the time, he spearheaded UTV’s ascendency into one of the largest media organizations in India. His appetite for scale and unflinching penchant for disruptive ideas – two aspects he relentlessly emphasizes throughout the book – made UTV the perfect target/buy for Disney to extend the latter’s footprints in India. Ronnie asserts “As long as you have the hunger to succeed, innate confidence in your abilities, the guts and conviction to take sensible risks and a can-do attitude, you will prevail.”
Clear communication is core to an organization’s culture. And, in a start-up, it’s even more critical. Lack of clarity about goals and objectives and ambiguity in conveying your perspective as a leader can all throw the organization into a welter of mistrust. Simply put, your clarity of thought or lack of it can boost or burn your business. Ronnie shares an experience in this regard. In the early 90s, Rupert Murdoch shared an interest in partnering with then fledgling UTV for content. Author’s self-confessed naivete led him into meeting Murdoch’s A-team absolutely unprepared yet he came out the meeting having ticked off all the items as per his suitability. “You can hold your own in any discussion as long as you are clear about your goals and are comfortable with the outcome,” Ronnie summarizes.
Absence of entrepreneurial culture stifles growth. This is true of India even as you read this piece. Our upbringing still does not encourage risk-taking and experimentation, even at a young age when taking risks carries minimal ill-consequences.1 We learn to play safe from very early on. The comments of our detractors worry us. Ronnie disapprovingly states in the book, “In India, we have become part of a self-sustaining echo chamber critical of people who work hard to realize their dreams…. Most of those critics have never created or built anything…”
An entrepreneur’s ability to ‘stay the course’ in the face of strong headwinds forms the core of the overall narrative of entrepreneurship. In a chapter titled ‘Stay the course’, Ronnie underlines that perseverance marks the difference between a successful and an also-ran entrepreneur. While the phrase sounds jingoistic, Ronnie tempers the air by opining that staying the course is a conscious strategy, not a Rambo-istic stance, and happens through lots of preparation and planning.
“Initial funding is the easiest funding you’ll ever get,” insists the author. Lack of resources may be a hindrance for several entrepreneurs, but it’s not the dead-end. No entrepreneur worth his salt ever mounted financial hardships just by waiting for the gravy train to come in1. Successful entrepreneurs, in words of Ronnie, routinely evangelize their ideas. Serendipity is a powerful force and can strike you anytime. Only those with their eyes and ears peeled benefit from the power of randomness while others often are left to curse the fate.
In conclusion, ‘Dream with your eyes open’ examines most of the major issues that impact an entrepreneur’s journey. Right from starting up the business to scaling it up; from spotting trends to avoiding pitfalls; from expansions to exits, the book covers it all. What I really loved about the book is that Ronnie makes no bones discussing his failures. He candidly talks about the ill-fated movie projects he greenlit and his home shopping channel where lack of foresight and perseverance led him to pull out of the business, a decision he regrets today. Ronnie’s transparency and evenness win you over even as he discusses something so hackneyed as integrating innovation and disruption into an organizations’ DNA. A required reading if you have ever thought of starting something on your own, this book can rekindle your plans all over.