By Tim Rollins
A month ago, Exterro CEO Bobby Balachandran addressed students at the GRD School of Commerce and International Business in Coimbatore, India, speaking about his journey from entrepreneur to successful CEO of Exterro, as well as on the entrepreneurial journey in general. Bobby and his partners founded Exterro in 2008, during the height of the Great Recession, when they became convinced that many of the biggest challenges of legal departments could be solved by approaching them as business problems, capable of optimization using data, intelligence, and technology. As Exterro grew from its roots as a four-person founding team to its size today, a 600-person multinational organization with employees in more than 12 countries and 3000 clients, Bobby picked up a number of key lessons in entrepreneurship, which he gladly shared with the business students in the audience last April.
Entrepreneurship Lesson #1: Define Your Vision
Before you start a business, you need to define your vision. Your vision is more than just a product—it’s your north star, providing a target to aim for. Once you have your vision, you can start to build a plan and lay out the steps you need to take to achieve it. After all, it won’t happen all at once.
Your vision will help you build your team, it’s what inspires them. But your vision also needs to be inspiring to you, to keep you going on tough days when it feels like the odds are stacked against you.
Your vision has to be something that clients will pay for, so it’s critical that you’re addressing a real pain point for them. What will they open up their wallets for? What piece of technology can’t they do without? That’s something worthy to be at the heart of your vision. Your solution has to solve a problem and make the world a better place.
Entrepreneurship Lesson #2: Build Your Team
Once you have a vision, you need to start building a team. You can’t do everything yourself, so you need to be able to communicate your vision to others and sell them on it—turn them into believers. As you start recruiting key contributors, surround yourself with the best people—smarter than yourself—and set them loose on solving challenges. Give them a platform to grow themselves, and you will grow as a result.
There’s a saying by Peter Drucker, the management guru: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s not to say strategy has no value; it does. But if you build a strong culture, your team will be resilient problem-solvers. They’re not just pushing buttons, they’re tackling challenges and solving them. Because once your company is in motion, your plans will change—and at that point you need an empowered team to succeed.
Entrepreneurship Lesson #3: Take the Plunge
A lot of the time, you’ll hear about entrepreneurs wanting to wait for the “right time” to start their business. Maybe they’re waiting to save a certain amount of money, or for their family circumstances to be just right. Here’s a secret: there’s never going to be a perfect time when all the stars align. Starting a business is a risky proposition no matter when you do it.
If you believe in your vision, go for it. Take the plunge and get started. Now that doesn’t mean don’t make plans. You absolutely need to have a plan to build your business. But once you have a vision, and you understand the steps you need to take to get to the next level, go for it.
Entrepreneurship Lesson #4: Persevere
Like the other lessons on this list, perseverance is woven throughout the entrepreneurial process. There’s not just one point where you need to persevere—it’s an ongoing process. Challenges will come up at every stage of the process. You’ll build a great team, but you will lose people along the way. They’ll find new opportunities, start businesses of their own, choose something safe over taking a risk, but you need to find a replacement and convince them of the power of your vision. You’ll lose deals you thought you had, and you’ll need to learn from them or risk making the same mistakes. You’ll get discouraged, and you need to have faith in your vision to stay true to it.
There are certain key elements you’ll need in place to push through the hard times. Surround yourself with smart people and learn from them. Build a strong culture that will survive departures and inspire new hires. Listen to your customers and learn what they want. Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart. Trust in your vision and pursue it relentlessly.
Entrepreneurship Lesson #5: Entrepreneurship Isn’t Just Having an Idea
This lesson is perhaps most important, because all the other lessons are to some extent reflections of this idea. Lots of people have great ideas for products, for services, for technology… but an idea isn’t a business. Entrepreneurs have great ideas, but they also go the extra mile to make them a reality.
Entrepreneurs have their fingers on the pulse of their customers. They see a problem, understand the challenges it causes, and come up with a solution. Entrepreneurs build teams and create culture, because they understand that people can accomplish more together than working on their own. Entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to give their people room to grow, because their team’s growth is key to the business’s success.
Want to be part of the entrepreneurial culture at Exterro? Check out our open opportunities on our careers page!