The threats of world wars and nuclear annihilation that loomed over previous generations have been replaced by something far more terrifying, the slow and possibly inexorable march of climate change.
Starting a business or building a company is possibly one of the most daunting challenges anyone can face, but it is also one of those experiences that’s genuinely rewarding. The joy of turning ideas and strategy into a flourishing enterprise, by means of hard work and perseverance, is something nearly unrivalled. An entrepreneur is, in the end, a creator, and the creation, if done well, can easily outlive and outshine the creator.
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In today’s world, we are constantly reminded of the knife’s edge we live on. The threats of world wars and nuclear annihilation that loomed over previous generations have been replaced by something far more terrifying, the slow and possibly inexorable march of climate change. While we once lived in fear that a single button would launch weapons to end us in minutes, we now watch as our planet slowly becomes less inhabitable. Every year, summers get hotter, rivers dry up, glaciers melt, oceans rise, and forests catch fire. All of this at a faster rate than ever before. In the fight to save ourselves and the earth, technology is one of our last weapons. From data science to monitor the environment and predict disasters in advance, to carbon capture technologies that reduce the greenhouse effect, the tech world is working overtime to solve problems.
There is no dearth of problems that need solving, nearly all of which can be helped. I have seen inspiring entrepreneurs tackle everything from garbage pickup as a service – think Uber for garbage trucks – to preventing poaching by tracking wildlife movements using tech and data science. Each problem requires expertise and empathy. While tech know-how and innovative thinking is a must, a level of empathy for the problem and a willingness to unlearn is essential. Surprisingly, domain expertise is lower down on the list of requirements. Often, you will find a co-founder or subject matter expert willing to team up, if you are empathetic and enthusiastic. Such a combination can work wonders. Elon Musk, for example, came on board Tesla and turned it from a non-descript electric retrofitter of Lotus cars to a US market leader.
A large part of the attraction for an entrepreneur is the ability to make a difference at scale because we love to think big. However, if you can’t scale your enterprise past a certain point, it will not impact the world the way you want it to, however profitable it may be. That’s what separates a lifestyle business – like a single store – from a growth business. Large-scale growth often requires outside investment, which can be a blessing as well as a challenge.
Cleantech and sustainability startups tend to have larger capital outlays and longer tech development sales cycles than consumer Internet and fintech. This will make investments harder to find in certain market conditions. A good investor will be upfront about their investment thesis and can quickly size you up for a fit. However, getting to that investor might take longer for a startup in this space. Once there, the ability of the investor to help you grow your business using their portfolio services and contacts is extremely valuable, because of the wide and often international nature of markets in this space.
Technology certifications and approval pose another challenge. While technology evolves at a fast pace, regulations often do not keep pace. The difference in standards across the world for vehicular emissions is a ready indicator, with different countries and even states within a country demanding different levels of pollution control. Another example is the unwillingness of world leaders and countries to agree to the Paris Agreement on climate change. If global politicians and tycoons cannot find common ground and speed up things, how can you? In this case, the ability of an entrepreneur to play between these lines, as defined by someone else, is a great indicator of resourcefulness and overall hustle.
The best entrepreneurs build to solve problems they’ve seen and lived. Garrett Camp built Uber after he spent $800 to find a cab one New Year’s Eve. The SoulCycle founders wanted a lifestyle experience that combined fitness with the social activity they were used to, unavailable in New York. Being an entrepreneur in the business of clean technology and sustainability, you will have the ability to impact the lives of billions across the globe. My co-founder Maddy still remembers the voice of the parents who called him, thanking him for making their kids’ health better. As an entrepreneur, and as a human being, there can be nothing better.
Akshay Joshi is CEO and Co-Founder of Ambee.
First Published: Feb 11, 2020 6:00 AM IST
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