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“Why are you in business?”

Jimmy George

  • Dec 15, 2020
  • 6 min read


“Why are you in business?"

“To make money”, the answer was from a young man a few years ago.

If that is your answer, I would earnestly appeal to you to give up the idea of venturing into business at all in your life. I am not joking; a lot of young people believe so, thus they answer so.

A normal person has two choices for a living: be an employee or be self-employed. (I do not know where to put the third; those who inherit a lot of money and wealth from their rich parents or ancestors and ‘enjoy’ life doing nothing worthwhile.)

The term ‘self-employed’ applies to an independent professional, a farmer, and the Chairman & Managing Director of a multi-divisional-multi-billion-dollar conglomerate – doesn’t matter. They all must generate money themselves for their livelihood.


Get Clarity of Your Purpose. 

Somewhere in the late 90s, during a professional tour, I went to a friend’s home in New Delhi in the evening. While spending the ‘happy hours’ with the friend, I was introduced to a young man in his mid-twenties who happened to be my friend’s relative.

The young man after exchanging pleasantries told me, “Sir, I left my job recently to start my own business.”  My immediate response was, “Very good, happy to know this, what business are you going to start?”

He said, “I am going to market a new shoe polishing kit”.

I continued, “That’s fantastic, but may I ask you, why do you want to do business?”

His answer was quick, “One can make money only from a business. From Naukri (employment) there is hardly any money. Look at all rich people, they are businesspeople…”.

After listening to him for a while I said, “Dear, if you are starting a business with the intention to make money, better drop your plan right away. Business doesn’t work that way, and please take this is as a well-wisher’s advice to you.”

He looked disturbed after hearing my response. Further, all the people seated in the room also appeared a bit uneasy as they looked at my face with raised eyebrows.

Gathering composure, I told the young man very softly, “A true entrepreneur has a powerful idea, and his sole purpose in life is to make his idea successful by creating value for his customers. He is extremely passionate about his idea. A product or service is the manifestation of that idea, which is basically meant to solve a problem, improve things, or add value to people’s life. Money is the reward that comes as a by-product while making the idea work for more and more people. No real entrepreneur starts an enterprise with the purpose of just making money”.

The room turned a bit vibrant after my small discourse to the young lad. Immediately my friend told his young relative in Punjabi which translated into English goes, “Before thinking of making money, you first ask whether you have a better product than competition, whether you can compete on some specific advantages, whether you can sustain the cost of production, marketing and distribution, other expenses for at least three years…”.

It seemed my friend had captured the essence of what I was trying to tell the young man.

I then gave the examples of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Narayana Murthy to the young man to drive home what I had really meant by my advice.

Did Bill Gates start punching programming codes for years together, dropping out of school in his teens, to become a billionaire? Certainly not. He had a vision and passion to create a robust and user-friendly operating system (which I am currently using to type these lines). The world rewarded Bill Gates with billions and a tag of ‘the richest’ for creating an outstanding product.

The same goes for Steve Jobs or Intel’s Andy Grove, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore – there can be a hundred more names in this list including the top ones from India.

The young-man-story above took place much before Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Uber, Airbnb, Netflix or such path-breaking ventures which may connect better with my young readers.

Do you think Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook to make money? (It is free …ha, ha, ha, and according to him it will continue to be free.)

We need to go a little deeper about the question ‘why are you in business?’. If an entrepreneur is not clear about the answer to this question, there is a good chance for early loss and closure.

In India, a lot of people are in business by societal or family norms. Many believe that they must do business by virtue of their birth either in a business family or in a particular caste. The question of whether they have the capabilities to do business never occurs to them.

Some friends very proudly tell me, “I am a Baniya, I have the Baniya Buddhi (business acumen?) to do business well”. The blackhole in this self-concept of Baniya Buddhi is the trader’s mindset that doing business means making or buying something at X price and selling at X+50%.  

The traditional trader’s mindset is limited to a small segment of retailing today. In short, such mindsets and business models have totally collapsed in the modern world. Those who still operate on the outdated belief of ‘Baniya Buddhi’ and similar traps need to awaken themselves to see the emerging realities.    

Apart from the above ‘businessmen-by-birth’ category, there are many more categories of the entrepreneurial expedition. Below are the obvious few.

First, people who are motivated by the money other people are making from their businesses – kind of “If my neighbor can make money from business, why can’t I?”. If anyone gets into business with this motivation, God only can save them.

Second, those who are not satisfied with the income from their jobs; “Let me start some business, probably that will solve all my financial problems.”. To them my request would be, please read this article again.

Third, people who want freedom; those who hate to work under someone. There is a difference between this category and the second mentioned above. Here, the issue is personality. After working under a couple of ‘bad bosses’, these folks take a solemn pledge; “No more employment from now on, I will do something on my own. If I can work like this for myself, I will make more money”. (Please read this article slowly and rethink.)

If you don’t have the inner call of entrepreneurship based on a powerful idea or solution, decisions under frustration will not make you a successful entrepreneur.

Fourth, people who get (blindly) motivated by authors and motivational speakers who speak of health, wealth, happiness, and exponential money-making strategies. The session pumps in a lot of endorphins and dopamine. The next step (often foolish and financially suicidal) is resignation from a secure job.

Someone known to me decided on the last day of a 3-day motivational workshop by a global motivational speaker to quit his job. Fortunately, before submitting the resignation, he casually mentioned this to me over a telephonic conversation.

As a well-wisher, I asked him, “What is your business idea and model?”.

He said, “I have a couple of ideas, yet to finalize one”.  I laughed loudly and quoted the famous Sanskrit saying “vinaash kaale vipreet buddhi”, implying, when a person’s ruin or doom is near, his or her intellect/thinking can also be weird to accelerate the ruin. In short, I could prevent a disaster in time.

Did I discourage entrepreneurship? No. I was giving clarity to the person.

There is nothing wrong with listening and following international motivational speakers and authors. I am also a student of such great minds. The issue arises only when one jumps into the battlefield without knowing how to handle the weapons correctly and win the war.

Make no mistake, entrepreneurship is a mission of life. You need to impregnate yourself with a solid purpose and passion to qualify for it. But the purpose and passion must be supported by distinct capabilities of business leadership driving a lot of other factors of success.

More on this in my other articles…