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Summer Postcards 2011

Lessons in Entrepreneurship

By Hemi H. Gandhi, Crimson Staff Writer

LANSING, Mich.—“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it!” Shakespeare, it seems, understood entrepreneurship as well as he did the English language. Fear of being cheated, hunger for new business, obsession with adding unique value, and the satisfaction of loyal teamwork—highly chaotic and unstructured, this has been my summer as an entrepreneur-in-training.

I took this job as a business analyst for a global engineering services startup, hoping that the experience would illuminate the secrets behind starting a successful new business. What makes entrepreneurs tick? How do you build the right team? How do you guarantee a profit—especially when the financial stability of so many families depends on you?

At the moment, while I am neither experienced nor brash enough to drop out of Harvard and try to become a serial entrepreneur, I do know this: the answers to these questions are far from straight-forward; rather, they lie in a mushy goulash of successful experiences, even bigger failures, faith in your team, bravado, gut, an appetite for risk, and—of course—luck.

That being said, I’d like to share the three biggest lessons I’ve learned here:

1. Business is a creative act. I’ve always known that writing and dance could be creative, but I never really imagined that the day-to-day operations of running a business demand similar levels of creativity. There’s no book you can pick up to learn exactly how to write the perfect contract, how to make the most effective sales presentation, or how to pitch terms to a company that you would like to acquire. Instead, there’s a continuous cycle of imagination, adaptation, and trial and error.

2. Business has to be customer-driven. This may seem obvious, but it’s the crucial principle motivating all company action. Competing for business with established players from around the world sometimes feels like hand-to-hand combat. Failure or success is contingent on how we interact with and serve our customers. The more consultative we are in our approach—taking the time and effort to really listen to potential customers, to understand their needs and constraints, and to be flexible in how we do business with them—the greater the benefit to both company and client.

3. Company vision can and should be palpable. Our startup has grown to 150 engineers in a few months and is led by a handful of experienced serial entrepreneurs who really know how to empower those around them. I say “our” startup, even though I haven’t risked any of my own money and don’t have any equity, because everyone here acts and talks like we’re all entrepreneurs, in this together. From the CATIA designer to the president of the company, there’s an “it’s us against the world” attitude that is infectious and, I believe, the lifeblood of the company.

Regardless of the number of rules you could follow in the pursuit of success, after a few months of observing the mindset of the people here, I’ve decided that entrepreneurship is perhaps best boiled down to one word: faith. Faith in yourself, faith in your team, faith that you will find the right solutions when you need them, and faith, especially, that trekking your own path will lead to something better.

Hemi H. Gandhi ’13, an editorial writer, is an Engineering Sciences concentrator in Leverett House.

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Summer Postcards 2011