About the Guest Transcript

Swati Jena

We always look at the startups and new age businesses as glamorous setups and establishments. However, we totally and entirely forget or miss the entrepreneur in it, the one who started it, the one who took the dreadful step of giving up a normal and regular lifestyle to put at risk his/her future. We hardly ever give any heed to this individual but there is a lot to it. This episode is dedicated to exploring the same in depth and understanding the right and wrong reasons behind entrepreneurship. If you have ever been an entrepreneur, tried and failed at it, wanted to try your hand at entrepreneurship or are a successful entrepreneur, this episode is definitely for you!
Swati Jena was a LinkedIn Top Voice in 2017, however more importantly she is a two-time entrepreneur and while she failed at the first stint, she took immense learnings from the first run that she incorporated in the second innings, therefore she is one of the most aware entrepreneurs that we know of. She is an MBA graduate from XLRI Jamshedpur and has had a successful stint in the corporate world. Tune in!


Shubham(00:00) -
There's a lot of discussion and debate on entrepreneurship start-ups and funding, especially in the last one decade in India at least. But we often tend to forget the entrepreneur in it, you know, except looking at him or her only as the one who started the business. We tend to look at entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur as synonyms. While there's a lot of difference between the two. So why not explore the entrepreneur in this episode with Swati Jena, who has authored the book, the entrepreneur's soul book?

Shubham(00:34) -
Namaste, I am Shubham Agarwal and you're listening to SOS secrets are storytellers, a podcast, which features bestselling business authors discussing stories and concepts? Don't miss out the last section, they will get to know secrets from the storyteller themselves. Hi, Swati. Very warm welcome to secrets of storytellers. How are you?

Swati(00:55) -
I'm doing good. And congratulations on this great series. I'm very excited. And looking forward to our discussion today.

Shubham(01:03) -
Thank you so much. Oh, thank you so much. So so the since the book is motivated by your own journey, why don't we begin with your story of how you became an entrepreneur, back to after an extensive corporate stint?

Swati(01:15) -
So my journey of entrepreneurship wasn't at one goal. And in fact, back in my B school, right, if you if you would have asked me whether I foresee myself as being an entrepreneur, and there were a lot of entrepreneurship enthusiasts. Yeah, it never crossed my mind that that's something that I would end up doing in life. Right. So, let's talk about where the first seed of entrepreneurship sort of, you know, was laid, and this was I graduated in 2008. And I joined a consulting firm. And if you remember, that was a downturn. Yeah. Oh, yeah. And just, you know, being the new entrants in the job, and I, of course, had work experience and everything, but still, you're new to the job. And you could share stories of people been laid off and even from premier B- School, and do that just have this perception that premier B school guys don't get laid off. Right. And it was pretty terrifying, because I had a student loan and, you know, next, that experience of being laid off, right, right. And I really did wonder, then how is it that your entire life hangs in balance, you know, just because of that one job. And one thing really defines your peace of mind and how you're going to feel about yourself. And I think that is where the first thought of entrepreneurship perhaps, you know, it came, it came to my mind. And then it wasn't until 2013, that I took my first plan, which was for a year, I had a training firm, I did survive, I would say, yeah. But then I had a sense that there's a lot more that I need to know about entrepreneurship. So, I went back to work, and this time, so my background is in HR. But this time I moved to a business role; I took an intrapreneurial product management role in an EdTech product that I had to scale for a certain stage of the product journey. And then I took my second plunge in 2017. So, this is my second stint at entrepreneurship. And it was, you know, after, after the first stint, and when I was at the job, and in the intrapreneurial role that I realized, what were the things that actually did not know, right? There. My book came out in 2017, is when I wrote the book, and it started, you know, on the premise that my first tent was, I did not know what I did not know, right? And a lot was not knowing myself, of course, business only. And that's all the conversation that happens around entrepreneurship, like, you know, you stated at the beginning, but then myself is so important. And that's what you have written about in my book.

Shubham(04:15) -
So interesting. And, you know, what are some of the aspects to an entrepreneur that we tend to miss when we look at an entrepreneur regardless of whether he or she was successful or not? What are some of those?

Swati(04:28) -
While a few things and let me share some of the most important ones that have realized in 40 years of my entrepreneurial journey so far, a lot of people say that, you know, I would like to be my own boss. And seldom do we realize that that is the toughest thing. To model. Fun, right? You know, as it's when you're in a job, being your own boss means you have to take all your decisions and that is such a painful thing. I know there are days and I've been a person who takes on decision that there are days that I'm tired of taking that every small decision of the business that I sometimes ironically did make for bosses and say, oh, it would be nice if someone UNICEF, which being your own bosses, essentially self, making your own decisions. That is, I would say, you know, perhaps the most important thing about being an entrepreneur, if you don't have that quality, you cannot be an entrepreneur, right. And it's not easy quality to have, maybe we have grains of it, but we have to build it further. Build that self-driven muscle more. So that's one. The second I would say is metacognition, or just to put it very simply, it's the ability to be aware of your thoughts inside and this is not something that is much spoken about. Because there are so many, you know, trade-offs you make, right, and there is so much of conversation, there's so much free advice you get from entrepreneurs, and even from people who have never done entrepreneurship, right. And there are so many traders, no decision is easy. So being in touch with who you are what you want, you know, your feelings, your thoughts, which is, you know, essentially what, you and I use the word metacognition, right, that is a very important quality for entrepreneurs do have, right, right. And there are, there are many more, but if I were to state bank, the core ones, these would be

Shubham(06:37) -
Right. You know, in fact, when you were describing the first one, where you said, you know, you got to be your own boss, and you have to take your decisions, I was actually thinking, you know, the boss actually does it for us, the reviews, you know, picking out those small mistakes or refining the work, you have to be really aware. And I really love the word, metacognition, thank you for that new word that you're taught me. So yeah. So almost everyone in some way, deep down does want to be on their own, you know, because everyone wants to set up your own business, wants to have a start-up and the buzz is even more these days. Now, everyone has a different reason. Is there a right? Or a wrong reason?

Swati(07:16) -
Absolutely. And I would say that perhaps this is the most important question that one should ask oneself. So, in my book, one guy chapter is just on why do you want to become an entrepreneur? Right. And in fact, read the book said that that's the one that made them think the most even people who have already been entrepreneurs, and you know, are in later stages of advanced stages of their entrepreneurial journey said that, you know, this is the one that made me think the most, and there are indeed, I would say, Good, or bad reasons. So, let me share a few. Yeah, the common thread, then you said everyone sort of is fascinated by the idea of having business? Yeah, is I am tired of this nine to five great thing. So that one thing that we say to ourselves. And I think that that's a bad reason to be an entrepreneur. And I'll tell you why. Because tired of this nine to five, and people say that they mean a whole lot of things, right? The two people tired of these nine to five hours don't mean it the same way. Right? For some job itself is not engaging, the area of work is not engaging. Yeah. And for those people, it's important to go back and see how is it that you came into this career, if you see how we, you know, got into whatever feels right, whether it's engineering, medicine, business, etc. It's because you know, someone else was doing it, or, you know, someone advised, whoever it is not always thought through decision.

Shubham(08:50) -

Swati(08:53) -
And then information is also limited. We don't take time to those decisions, right. And then you're into a job, then you buy a house, you buy a car, then you're stuck, you know, with your EMI, and you're practically that one decision you took when you were getting into college, you stuck with it for the rest of your life. Right, right. And that leads you and I'm tired of this nine to five, and therefore the solution of it, which a lot of people fallacious we assume that entrepreneurship is the answer to it. It is not it is going back. And then rethinking maybe it's a career shift. Or maybe it's a different domain, that you have a better skill in. Interesting, right? Right. So that is why when sometimes we lose touch with our lives, if you see now with COVID now people are not traveling and stuff. It's a different now. But, you know, quite often when people have to travel long hours that burnout was an issue. You are no longer this hobby left these days. Right, right. Well, your life becomes monotonous for a different reason. Right? So, people like to think that entrepreneurship is going to give them the trail but they really enjoy after party tonight,

Shubham(10:06) -
The 95 becomes a 99, I think.

Swati(10:10) -
Yeah, complete and worse, right. So, so that nine to five needs to be decoded, decoded a lot more than any other indications of God when people say nine to five, but I think that's a risky reason to become an entrepreneur. So that's one. Second is, you know, I want to make money fast. It is so prevalent; you will be surprised. Yeah, I agree. Yeah. But, you know, if there was the slowest way to make money, and that's a big is going to take a long time, correct date and any of these like so-called unicorn and stuff like that they have hit lows, right. And if they have not yet hit low then they're going to hit that low, it is inevitable. They and it's easy to read someone else's story. But when you're going through it, certainly in my first tent, right? I have money, and I had revenue and all of it, but I did have to use a bit of my savings is better. So, there was like about seven or bags left. And I didn't have to manage expenses and stuff like that. I panicked, yeah, right. I panic again. So, I have no so I can only imagine what someone hitting bankruptcy can experience, right? You don't mold unless you know it. Right. So, people, people don't realize that. So, it's not a good way of earning money. So, people should get rid of that illusion, though that this is a way to earn quick money, or you know, someone who's doing it as a third pregnant reason, or my friend is now entrepreneur. And the average student entrepreneurship, I will definitely all of these rates really bad because the skill set you need to do when a Java T or top-rated employee, right and someone is not such a top-rated employee is doing entrepreneurs yet right? To do well in a job and to do around entrepreneurship and different skill sets, you have to first evaluate a skill set, someone is ready to also do it is a bad reason to do anything in life. Now, if ever did I want good reasons, right? If these are the battery, what are some of the good reasons? I think, thing and then my the first one I stayed was my reason, right? Your job, what ideal job does not exist? Well, I am one person who likes to work across functions, and I happen to be good at it, right. But if you walk in larger visions, you're typically limited to your current function, because they would say, otherwise, you're seen as stepping on someone else's toes, right? And on your ship gives me the freedom to, you know, walk across areas. And in that enzyme, I bought, right today, the site, I do the marketing of my organization, I do the development of marketing. So, I think that's a very good reason to do entrepreneur. Second, you want to create something of value something unique, right? And then all of this entrepreneurship rhetoric that's happening, right? There's a lot of focus on business money, how much capital you raise, what we often don't talk about is the creative aspect of entrepreneurship. Right? And this is not, when I say creative, I don't mean you are in a creative business. I mean, any entrepreneurial setup, if you start a start-up, and I started a start-up, and both of them are in exactly the same field, they're still going to be two different organizations, right? Because you and I Bhushan people. And I think you know, that's what makes entrepreneurship beautiful. And if you want to approach it that so I'll give you an example. Sure. So, I didn't write for which is teaching of writing in the old my friend and viciously euro forbidding me a competition is doing this competition is doing their advantage. It's good to be aware and all of it and appreciate it and appreciate them from the bottom of my heart. Yeah. But my thought very clear that I am not building the organization, these competitors have built, I'm building a very different and unique organization. And that's the beauty of it, right? Yes, there were some people who chose to go there. But there will be some who will be, you know, very touched by what I'm offering. And they'll come here and that's the value, right? I think that's a good reason to be an entrepreneur. And you know, what I mentioned in my book that theory is, and always read stories of, you know, all these again, everyone wants to be a unicorn, but the truth is, there are only new such big organizations, they don't make them to small scale entrepreneurs. And we don't talk about it right? Correct. So, I feel that if you aren't enough to like as much as your salary if you would have worked in a corporate job, if you can on that much. But if you can do that by doing work that you love doing by maybe employing fewer People that are part time, full time. Great thing, right. And it doesn't matter whether you're serving, you know, 1 million customers or 1000 customers, but if you bring bringing unique value, there's a line that really likes value and valuation and not the same thing. So, you, if you create value in 2000, people, you give them what they really love. I think that's a good entrepreneur. All of those are good reasons, they were to create a legacy of yours. You can only do it if you have your own your own firm. There's another one that I've written that in a corporate job, you can become an agent, but you have to deal with legacy, then it's only a start-up that I think, are good reasons to become an entrepreneur.

Shubham(15:48) -
So yeah, I'm just thinking while you were sharing, and I really think people should look at the numbers when they think of money, or my French is doing enhance, I should do it. They should really look at the numbers of how many the startups do become successful in India. But then what I was wondering is, is it easy to get lost in this in this quest to find the right reasons? If you can share from your own experience? Have you ever felt that?

Swati(16:12) -
So I gave you my false stain today? Again, no clue that this was even a question I should ask. I was just at that point in time, I just knew that what I was doing, I was just not satisfied with it. And I thought, let me just explore it. So, it was just a plunge into the into darkness. I would say I was really should have and which is fine. which is which is what helped me have this realization. You are not born enlightened, you just get enlightened?

Shubham(16:41) -

Swati(16:43) -
Well, I would say that these answers don't come immediately. But the reason why I talk about it a lot more is that if you keep these questions in your mind, very consciously, you will find the answer with greater clarity much sooner in your journey, guys. Right. And that is the whole reason I wrote the book. And I talk about it that, you know, if I took this much time, if I talk about it, maybe someone else will find that answer sooner because they asked that question much sooner in the right journey. But what then do we consciously ask that because of why has implication and loads of things, right? It's not an easy journey. All Yeah, so your y has to be very clear. Otherwise, you get distribution very soon. And the journey.

Shubham(17:29) -
Yep. So, becoming an entrepreneur is never easy, right? And the plunge like you shared, while it's extremely thrilling, and you know, I love F1 I really follow that sport. And I think what someone feels during a race, it must be something very similar. But it has a lot of pitfalls. It has a lot of challenges. It has a lot of downturns. It has lows, highs. It is very joining journey, right and took takes a toll on you. Not just physically but mentally as well. Yeah. How do you find the strength? How do you find the energy for it every day?

Swati(18:00) -
So before I answer that question, it's interesting, the analogy that you use, because I use a very different analogy. It's it almost feels like when you're doing skydiving, or jumping the plane. So, if it's thrilling, then I'll tell you just imagine you're quitting your job. And of course, there will be that tendency. Oh, yeah. And the mandate for this? Right?

Shubham(18:29) -
You're correct

Swati(18:29) -
Call this as the if I were to use it. Oh, shit moment. Right. You wake up in the morning? Yeah. I mean, you know, initially, just after quitting the job and all like, Oh, what? Why am I? I don't know, jumping off the plane for me. Being on the plane, literally. Yeah. So to answer your question on how do you know, there's a lot of pitfalls. And that is true. It's a long, long journey. Right. Right. Well, how do you keep the strength a couple of things? This is your question on why becomes important, right? And there are days now second stint has been three years. Not always but one odd job postings I have seen and I thought, Oh, this is an interesting job. What if I were to go back to college and have it with friends, if I am the only one getting these thoughts of other entrepreneurs. We have also gone through, you know, these initial stages of the journey. And this is where your y becomes important, because on those days, you're not you. You revisit on why did I Why did I leave that today? I'm thinking wondering where they want to go back, but why they leave it in place when it was all working really well. So that's why you're Why is important that question is almost the most important question to us. That's one right. Second, I think and again, this is not spoken of in fact, what the general perception is the opposite. If you see LinkedIn and everything, it's all about entrepreneurship is all about hustle, right? You work like 1820 hours a day, there is no iPhone. And that's the thing that's projected. Right? Right. And that's a quick ask myself that that's the status quo. But should it be like that for everyone? Yeah. Right. And can you make that choice, right? Because it is, like five or six years, 10 years that people who are now today in Limelight, also many venture capitalists are investing in it? They didn't start yesterday, they started 10 years ago. Yeah. 20 years. Right. So, 10 years. So, it's important to keep an eye on your life also. Right. So, in respect to what you know, your family, whoever's in your family, some other aspects of life. And you know, more and more about it is that whatever time be conscious about living your life as well, right? Okay. Because otherwise you will be totally drained out and one day you will wake up anything, what am I doing in my life is, you know, gone. So, entrepreneurship is still a part of life. So, I think keeping an eye on other parts of life is important. That's one second. So, I said, why is important, keeping an eye on life is important. Third, you're there. So, you said, how do you find the energy? So, there are days that you don't find the energy? Actually, what do you find is commitment. Right? So, you know, once you've committed your time, which is, again, why is important. So do you have any wise clear, will you be deeply committed to it right, then I just don't feel like going to the next step. But I'm deeply committed to it. And that's what keeps me going. I think that's how I'd like look at

Shubham(21:36) -
Wonderful. That's, that's really helpful. And thank you for sharing your own experience. But then it doesn't just end that starting, you know, it doesn't end by quitting the job and taking the first step to start your own. It is a continuous, excruciating process throughout the journey of building it up. And I really don't know, when does it really end? I mean, I mean, one is that when do you say that you have achieved more you have arrived? while the other is that, you know, when you have had six months of downturns, and you're out of your money in the bank? How do you still deal with it?

Swati(22:11) -
Sure. So, the couple of things that I'd like to talk about here, so firstly, you're not very practical aspect of money, right. And that's the one of the things that I will specifically talk about in the book, because I did experience it in my first insight. And, you know, you had to take care of the entire house, you have the expenses, etc. And that's not a situation to be in when you when you're running out of money. So, planning your finances is one of the questions we must think of before taking the plunge. So, I was taking a webinar for a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs, and, you know, had these polls, you know, to get a sense, and a lot of them had not planned for their finances. Right? I am not, I had not done it myself in my posting, and I just basically jump, right, it's important to calculate these are, these are my essential expenses. And always, you know, I need to have an 18 month to 24-month runway, right to sustain it. And basic essentials also have gone into great depth. And let me share that a little bit here is, you know, whatever to run your essentials. And there is an emergency fund that you need. All of that if you have kids and home school going kids like to your water fi etc. You shouldn't have that because I'd run out right, that way that, you know, not having money in the bank is a terrible situation. And I would say avoided by planning. Right. And that's a plan. That's very important. And I'm surprised by how many people don't do it right. Me included. Right. So that's one. Second is when you said excruciating journey, right? And yes, the workload, etc, can be excruciating. But I would say that, you know, why not enjoy it? Right? And I'll give you that they could be days where, okay, you don't have revenue generating, let's see, smaller scale setup. But there's not so much to do, right, your content marketing to do you, you know, you can talk to people. And that's the fun of entrepreneurship. So what happens is, and it's I'm glad you asked this, and I'm glad you said it that way, because it helps me and that's, that's the way we look at it generally, right? When you only look at an end goal, then it becomes all about when will this end? Correct. But if you enjoy the process, you're here in your in your day-to-day job. For example, like I have a YouTube channel, right and i interviewing, let's say you and I want to bring together everyone in the writing ecosystem, right? It's fun it's for me to you know, hear them yeah, editing and all is a lot better. Yes, but I enjoy it right? And never get a chance to do this if I were in a regular job, right. Enjoy entrepreneurship, I think that is very important. And then whatever your end goal is, and that's, I think, the third part of your question and answer that, but enjoy that process. One more thing I'd like to mention, before I talk, when you know that you have, like, made it or you've reached there is going to be your finances. Right. Another thing that I talk about a lot is the importance of having a lean life. And that's one preparation you have to do for entrepreneurship. And that's one thing that have really worked at lean in every sense of the word. So, you're lean from the point of view of clearing up clutter from your house, literally that because you can't spend your time taking care of household taking it off, you know, then hiring staff to help you manage all of those things. Because you realize, you don't even need a thing that COVID as many of us realize that you are leaving most of the things that it costs you money, it costs you Time, time is a very valuable resource for entrepreneurs, right? If you have to cut down on emotional baggage, right, you practically have to prioritize every aspect of your life, how do you know, deal with your time, that is very important, simple living is very, very important. Because if you have a very elaborate lifestyle, firstly, that's going to be difficult to sustain, be you want time and energy for it. Right. And that's really activity, because you don't, you're if you're not living alone, you have family, you have to involve your family, it's a lifestyle change for them as well, a lot of discussion that's required. And this helps you sail through because if you have so much baggage pulling you down, then it becomes as excruciating as you right. Now, to answer the last part of your question on how do you know you reach there? Yeah. I think that's a very, very important question. And that's something that I've started thinking about in the last, you know, year or so, because this question occurred to me suddenly that, you know, when do I know that? Yeah, every summer, right? list of things that I should have done, which is not necessarily I have not necessarily defined it in terms of revenue. Yeah, that might be one criterion. But okay, I have, for example, you know, created programs in these areas of writing, I should have been able to interact with these people in the writing ecosystem, I should have touched these stakeholders in the writing ecosystem, right? Even you could do both in terms of meaningful connections. That's a big takeaway from entrepreneurship, you meet a very limited set of people, if you are at the I was in consulting, so consulting, still have to meet people at plant site and stuff if you work in an office job, and even that is limited, but entrepreneurship, you meet such wide variety of people. I think that's such a great takeaway from entrepreneurship. So, I have this checklist, which I started developing. And I started asking myself that question I, I won't say it's completely frozen yet, but I have not more clarity. And I know that when I've done all of that, at least I have would have covered myself milestone that I can be satisfied, the business can continue. But I know that Okay, these things if I can, you know, tick off my list. I'll be happy. Wonderful. Great. Great. All right. So

Shubham(28:33) -
One last question. Quick advice for all those people who have not been able to start who have not been able to take the plunge, who really want to probably have thought through all the things that we discussed important things, but still have not been able to one quick advice that you would give?

Swati(28:48) -
Well, it depends on what is stopping them from taking the plunge? Is it you know; they knew that they weren't bad enough? Or in my book, the last chapter has an infographic where the person is trying to take jump into the water, and there is a shark there. And he showed him and he says, let me read one more book before I take the plunge.

Shubham(29:09) -

Swati(29:10) -
Well, last question is, have you done all the basic preparation? If it is yes, then just know that it's always going to feel that way. Right? It is. And then you just have to push yourself into it. Or get a friend to do that for you. Right? Yeah, just give you the last much.

Shubham(29:31) -
Great. All right. So maybe your book is the last book that the entrepreneurs will have to read. If they have not taken the plunge yet.

Swati(29:42) -
Because the book of questions they should ask right?

Shubham(29:44) -
Even better, even better. Great. So, I think this brings us to the last and concluding section of the podcast. And this is a section which is common across all the episodes that I've done. And it's an interesting one. So, you know, we named the podcast secrets of storytellers. So I want to ask you one secret about the book, or about the journey while you were writing the book that you've probably never shared on any platform until today, or Toby, no one knows till today. So, what would that?

Swati(30:12) -
Yeah, I don't think no one specifically asked me this question. So great. The secret to a good book. Good. any piece of writing article is that it has to come from a place of truth. Wow. Because apart from writing books, I coach people on books, right? And I see a lot of the rhetoric that goes around, right, oh, this is how it was marketed. This is what you should include, and I disagree with it. Yeah, I think a good book comes from a place of truth comes from your experience. And those books are timeless books, right? It's been written my book, I'm sure, even if it's you in another 10 years, or many occasions, I keep talking and I say, Oh, I wrote this. In my book, I wrote that in my book, and I'm not planning to say, comes out spontaneously, because it comes from a

Shubham(31:05) -
Wonderful and I think it won't connect, if it does not come from a place of truth, you know, you can really feel that it's artificial, I don't know, maybe as a reader, I'm saying it, of all the books that have read, you tend to leave them in between, or you tend to feel that you know, he or she is blabbering on and there's not much content so I agree. That's, that's a great thing. Beautiful. All right. Thank you. So, let's do it for a time. This was a lovely session. And this was really a topic that is not really talked about much, I think, while entrepreneurship, like I said in the beginning. So, thank you so much for sharing so many things from your own journey. And I hope you had fun as well.

Swati(31:46) -
Absolutely. I had a lot of fun and great questions. I'm a big fan of questions. And thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Shubham(31:56) -
Thank you so much. And thank you to all the listeners. Until the next secret and the next storyteller. Signing off.

The Story of the Entrepreneur with Swati Jena


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