Kelly Newsome passed top of her class at the University of Virginia School of Law and landed a plum job with a high-profile law firm in Manhattan. The salary was delicious, the firm a respected player, and Manhattan, well, who wouldn’t want to live in the heart of the Big Apple?
The only chink: the work itself. Within weeks, Newsome was rushing to spend time alone in the washroom and was taking too many coffee breaks. The spartan, academic surroundings of law school had prepared her for a world of infinite possibilities. On the job, however, she found herself checking, day in day out, her firm’s filings for compliance with the Securities Act. The contrast between expectations and reality could not be starker.
Sound familiar? Ours is a generation steeped in professional discontent. Scores of people are stuck in tedious jobs because they can’t locate an escape route. All of them know they want something different, but don’t know what or how to go about realising it. They are terrified of leaving their jobs for fear of the darkness that lies ahead, and find no ecosystem that would help them take the plunge.
This dichotomy is a result of misperception. The B-school grad is simply unaware of life beyond the comforting portals of academia. The corporate man is a resoundingly different animal. He breathes numbers and gets high on talk of P&L. The investment banking world is an exemplar. Consulting is another. In these leonine dens, masters of the universe battle it out for deal supremacy. This is the glamorous life all MBAs aspire to — the corner office, hobnobbing with the who’s who of politics and business, the power and the glory!
Truth is, there is a yawning gap in the numbers that B-schools churn out and those that land such vaunted jobs. Of the 400-odd MBAs who graduated with me, a little over 10 per cent went to the JP Morgans and the BCGs of the world. The rest of us made do with retail banking, pharma, FMCG and the like — all good profiles but nowhere close to those top-dollar pay packets business dailies scream about.
Beyond the numbers, however, is a more cautionary tale of adaptability. The B-school braggart will tell you: “An investment banker should only marry within his line of work or risk dying at his spouse’s hand.” It’s one of those in-house jokes B-schoolers laugh gratuitously over, leaving outsiders to question their sense of humour, among other things. But scratch the glib talk and one uncovers a grim reality: the big bucks indeed go to those who are willing to not just do their jobs, but become them.
Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup, like a gazillion books before it, offers a way out. A serial entrepreneur, Guillebeau understands the frustration of being stuck in a job that’s extremely attractive on the outside but gnaws at the soul insidiously. His basic premise is the hoary idea that we can all succeed in business if only we focus on delivering greater value to our target customer.
From entrepreneurs who offer personalised yoga classes to “consultants” who help you redeem frequent flier miles (yes — just that!), the book swarms with examples of successful businessmen who left regular jobs to launch their own enterprises. All with seed capital of $100 or thereabouts. The trick: identify a need and plug it. Get the first customers through word of mouth. Use proceeds from the initial orders to build scale. Three years down the line, reap the fruits of success.
Consider the case of Barbara and John Varian, who run the V6 Ranch in California. Guillebeau credits them with being the smartest marketing folk he has ever met. The Varians’ marketing spiel, he says, could have been “We have a ranch. People play to visit and ride horses.” Instead: “We help our guests become someone else, even if just for a day. Come stay with us and you’ll be a cowboy.”
The Varians’ eloquence made all the difference. Reading Guillebeau took me back to my Services Marketing class in second-year MBA where my animated professor, ever disdainful of finance types (“they are so pedestrian”), stressed the need for the right packaging. “Your product may be gold, but if it’s not marketed right, it’s scrap,” he thundered. “You don’t sell a product. Any oaf can do that. You sell happiness.”
Guillebeau’s book, then, is that energetic beast that’s not just stuffed solid with ideas but is also plugged into nuance. As he takes us through the usual recipes for entrepreneurial success, Guillebeau is careful to point out the red flags and handhold us through the dreary bits. Mandatory reading for those hopeless poor souls in search of professional redemption.
THE $100 STARTUP
Fire Your Boss, Do What You Love
And Work Better To Live More
285 pages; £12.99
|The book review of Chris Guillebeau’s book The $100 Startup carried the name of the UK publisher and a pounds sterling price. Pan Macmillan has clarified that the book is published by them in India and costs Rs 499.