Paying my tribute to the million plus blogs on 6, 7 and 8 figure “entrepreneurs”, here is my take on how I became a 7 figure “intrapreneur”.
If you know and idolize these names — Tim Cook (Apple), Jack Welch (GE), Sundar Pichai (Google), Andy Jassy (Amazon)—they are the Intrapreneurs who took the companies which they didn’t start, to soaring heights.
An entrepreneur is the one who puts the seed in the soil and an intrapreneur nourishes and maintains the plant till it becomes an oak tree.
“Intrapreneur” : a manager who promotes innovation within a company, says Google search.
This definition doesn’t do justice to this role.
In my opinion an intrapreneur is someone who can take a company’s vision from paper to reality.
In 2012, I joined JSW a 14bn dollar indian business conglomerate into Steel, cement and energy.
I was asked to revive, scale and run an outsourcing company (BPO) that employed only women.
It was funded by their philanthropic mandates.
From 2012 till 2021, I not only turned around this division from red to black but created thousands of jobs for women in rural India.
With no MBA degree or credible mentorship this is my story of how I made myself a 7 figure intrapreneur.
Visualize the goal
There will be a lot of convincing, influencing, coaxing required along the journey to ask people to believe in your vision.
Before others are sold on to your vision, can you see the end goal in your mind?
How does it look?
I visualized our enterprise to be filled with people, lots of women working and we growing to all parts of the country.
I visualized a lot of accolades and acknowledgements during the journey.
I also envisioned our BPO to be a profitable venture which is able to plough back its profits to its employees.
Leaders, CEOs and statesmen of this world are called visionaries– I guess they are able to visualize their desires in the mind first before it manifests on the ground.
If you think this is some spiritual hullabaloo, well top business leaders do it every single day.
A good read would be my own blog on growth hacking a startup.
Be frugal with funds
Treat your company funds as “others’ money” meaning you got to respect and make it work to the best.
I personally don’t understand this obscenity going around with startups being smothered with cash and after a few years getting burnt up while inflating their valuations.
My middle class background helped me to create a lean model of cash burn, optimally use people, resources and tools for the maximum output.
Since this was funded by the mandated philanthropic spendings of the promoters, every dollar was to be not only accounted for but also returned back with a certain SROI — Social Return on Investment (you may google this term)
- Anticipate large Capex costs and intimate your CFO, a year in advance
- Factor in 10% higher operating costs with 5% contingency
- Bring in technological innovation to cut down costs in the long run
- Operate out of cheaper locations to cut down on real estate costs
- No fancy offices
- Combine job responsibilities to create single profiles
Work with the best
Attract the people that can work with you and are “coachable” rather than looking for fancy degrees and high performance in their previous stints.
I have been fortunate to have people at all levels who believe in what we are trying to do, are focussed and happy doing this job.
Internal happiness is the battery that will keep us going in the long run.
No amount of salary hikes or designation changes will make people stay if they don’t see fulfillment and contentment from within.
I am no hiring expert but am definitely intuitive in “seeing through” a person with respect to their gifts, talents and integrity.
Hire slow and fire fast works and I have my battle scars to prove it.
Questions like, “what innovations would you bring to the table in the first 3 months? “ will give you an idea as to if they are natural leaders.
“How would you achieve 2 years targets in 1 year?” if you have people who can do whatever it takes.
I have written a blog on sales hiring questions which will be useful.
Communicate every single day
Powerful words from a leader can move soldiers to lay down their lives during a battle.
It’s imperative that we put ourselves in the shoes of our team members, feel what they are feeling and hear what they are trying to say.
You have to make an effort in making sure all are “in touch” with each other.
Ideal usage of email, chats, program management tools of mandatory and no more an optional.
I have 9 operations managers, HR, 5 sales managers, key stakeholders and my own management to report to.
And all are remotely based meaning I have no one sitting next to me at my office.
Although I felt burnt out with the constant pressure and getting pulled around, I ensured that no one is left out from any crucial decisions or any information.
When people see you taking the effort of putting transparency into practice, you have already set up a high standard for yourself in front of the team.
Invest in your core people
In this entire journey of a vision in the paper to the reality on the ground, you will have to rely on the most rewarding asset anyone can ever have — your team.
Make sure that the whole organization knows who the second line of command is — this builds clarity and respect for the core group of people who put their necks on the line.
I had a team of 4 people who were close to my decision making and I trusted them blindly.
How will they grow, if they do the same thing each day for many years?
I have seen my good men feel wilted and demoralized.
Check it before it spreads around and you are left with just a few good men around you.
I make it a point to ask for 1. How many new books did they read each month 2. New courses taken up each quarter 3. How many new ideas have they contributed in a 6 month period and 4. How much extra time they spent with their team having fun
Some people are naturally motivated from within and some are not hence I have institutionalized self development which ensures a good practice has now become a culture.
I also make sure that my core team is sufficiently challenged by throwing them into deep waters and letting them figure out from there.
The battle scars will be worth it and they will thank you later in their careers.
Be agile to course correct
A good leader makes good decisions.
A great leader makes a ton of mistakes and learns the most.
During the course of your career, you are bound to make decisions that will not always go according to the plan.
There will be times when you will feel lonely and un-guided.
Part of the visualization process is also anticipating future challenges and shortcoming.
For example, a nagging customer might sever the contract during renewals, you got to see that coming and plan to replace it with any customer.
There could be key people in the team who are not satisfied and are showing signs of quitting – Start talking to them to either retain or replace.
Another example is on competitors closing in on your lunch during a bidding process.
I am always prepared to lose in my heart but winning in my head. This keeps me balanced.
Rigidity has wiped out companies like Nokia, Blackberry, Blockbuster and Kodak.
What did we learn from their mistakes– be fluid like water, to take the shape of the container (situation)?
The problem with course correction is that it challenges your status quo, comfort zones and sometimes your ego.
But the price of not changing with the scenarios is way higher than change itself.
I like to devote some time to think like a SWOT matrix– what are the strengths of this new decision, what can go wrong and what will be the price of this new decision.
Discuss with the core team and once a decision is arrived on, follow through with it regardless of the outcome.
If we make having fun and seeking happiness the core fundamental of our whole purpose, our work life becomes so much alive.
I draw inspiration from air force pilots, army commandos and cricketers on how they have fun outside their work schedules.
Bring out their personality and help them be themselves in an environment which promotes such behavior.
Office parties, team bonding retreats, or just quiet treks build personal bonding and it reflects the very next Monday we report in to work!
I have ensured that an annual retreat and two team lunches are mandatory by our HR leaders.
A well needed break with hearty laughs and silly giggles will recharge the entire team which a hefty bonus might not be able to do so.
We always needn’t allocate budgets to have fun — they could be impromptu visits to a movie theater or a local sightseeing destination as well.
If you aren’t having fun, then what’s the point of everything else?
Nobody mentored or told me the process to scale and grow my business division.
I was fortunate to have great clients, solid team members and a supportive management to believe in me and support throughout.
Trusting my own instincts and having clarity of thought, backed with a solid plan made me a successful intrapreneur.
What’s next for me — an 8 figure entrepreneur!