Before we begin, let’s first understand who a ‘techpreneur’ is or what , being so, entails. While there is no Oxford dictionary reference available for this term, but Merriam Webster defines “techpreneur” as a noun meaning “an entrepreneur involved with high technology”, and Collins says “A techpreneur is an entrepreneur who starts and manages their own technology business”.
An article in Inc42 defines techpreneurs as – ‘a new class of entrepreneurs who manage to harvest technology and convert every seemingly minor opportunity into a commercial reality’.
As for me, when I decided to launch my technology outsourcing startup Ebullientech, I knew my forte was product engineering, so I chose projects which demand first in class business and engineering amalgamation acumen, but little did I know that I was referring to techpreneurship! It has now been nearly three years and a couple of products…… I have attained a stage where I have learnt what not to do in the path of becoming a techpreneur.
Needless to say, that I have learnt not only from my own mistakes, but from those of other entrepreneurs too, for whom I had worked as a tech enabler/provider.
The original ten commandments were the mandates given by Jesus to Moses on Mount Sinai to shape the pillars of moral behaviour of the human race, in other words, they were the moral code of conduct and foundation of the modern legal system.
Our commandments are a mix of ground realities and guidelines, needed to survive as a technology entrepreneur in the era of a highly demanding product startup ecosystem.
01. Thou Shalt Not Depend on Merely One Client / Product –
We began our journey back in 2018 with one product company whose founder promised us the world and vouched for combined growth within nine months. Our earlier startup experiences warned us not to depend only on him, and we went on signing up with other product-based startups. Since we didn’t have the support of an investor or family funds, our only way of surviving/sustaining was the recurring incomes coming from product retainers and fixed cost technology projects. About six months back, that founder went back to the life of 9-to-5 employment, yet we’ve managed to remain afloat and, are well on our way, to completing three years of operation.
Clients never favour shared attention, but till the time they are not able or willing to pay at the scale that can keep us captive only to them, we must find ways to sustain and grow. Commercial success is still a faraway dream for us, but we have at least established a reliable foundation for ourselves where we don’t depend on one client or product for survival.
02. Thou Shalt Not Only Think About the Long Term –
Having foresight and thinking long term is great, but in today’s tech world, we work with agile methodologies which demand successful completion of short-term goals to accomplish the long-term objective with accuracy. Just as our lives are work in progress, every product lifecycle is also a work in progress. In the path of the development of a successful product, we must divide the product modules into epics and epics into stories and stories into sub-tasks. It is extremely difficult (almost impossible!) to fix the mistakes/errors at the end of the product’s lifecycle.
Rather, we should have a roadmap which addresses the problems in stages. Also, for every problem statement, there should be two types of solutions one short-term business goal-oriented and the other, long-term, which covers the tech debts and ensures sustainable quality.
03. Thou Shalt Not Be Overconfident –
Confidence and self-worth are an engineer’s greatest assets as they enable us to carry the can-do attitude that gives us the courage to venture into unknown technology territories. Sometimes supreme confidence leads us to make irreversible mistakes. Recently we were given the task to build a time-sensitive product module targeting a specific event, and my team confidently committed to a timeline, considering they knew the product codebase well enough. It is mortifying for me to accept the fact that we failed the timeline, incurring financial losses to both the client and us. While my people defended themselves vehemently saying the time fiasco was the effect of faulty code quality from the original developer, in my evaluation, it is a classic case where we were overconfident to not have done an impact analysis and committed erroneously on the timeline.
04. Thou Shalt Not Fear to Be A Lone Ranger –
Entrepreneurship is difficult, and techpreneurship is even more challenging because we have the job of making other businesses successful. Teamwork is crucial for any business to thrive, but a techpreneur must have the willingness and capability work as an individual contributor for every department that needs his/her close attention. S/he should be the backbone and the disaster recovery system as the organisation and the enterprises dependent on him/her. S/he should be the best architect, coder, tester of the team. S/he must have every solution up her sleeves; in summary, s/he should be the best service/product offering of her enterprise. S/he needs to stay updated on market dynamics and new trends in technology and Ready to fight perceived and unforeseen threats. S/he should be the friend, philosopher, and guide for both his/her people and her customers but in her own space, she has to toil alone like a fearless lone ranger.
05. Thou Shalt Not Forget the Basics –
In every sport knowing the basics is crucial, like in tennis, if you are not good at serving, then you can never hit an ace, in pace bowling, if you don’t know how to deliver a good length ball then accomplishing a yorker would be impossible. The foundation of techpreneurship lies in engineering; your concepts of logical reasoning, mathematics (more of arithmetic), algorithms, and English language must be sharp. You must not forget the basics of corporate communication like responding to emails, WhatsApp messages punctually so that clients don’t feel ignored, you must communicate with your customers proactively and should always be there for them at the earliest possible time.
06. Thou Shalt Not Function Simply Like an Engineer –
Every techpreneur is a software engineer at heart, but that’s not enough when you are driving your enterprise and helping others to manage theirs. You must take active interests in business goals, sales numbers, social media engagements, books of accounting, analytics, recruitment, human resource activities, office administration, compliance. When a client comes to you with their business problem, you must think and act like a businessperson first, then translate the problem to an engineering puzzle and then build the solution.
07. Thou Shalt Not Compromise on Quality –
Technology outsourcing companies often gain a bad reputation because of delayed delivery and compromised quality which happens as their leaders get too busy improving sales numbers and growth hacking. A techpreneur’s reputation must precede him/her in the right way where people should remember him/her for quality and time sensitivity. At times it would be fine to miss deadlines in order to maintain quality, but that must not become the excuse for constant delays. The foundation of quality lies in planning and thinking long-term. Software engineers often jump into execution and forget planning which results in quality issues and timeline failures.
08. Thou Shalt Not Shy Away from Taking Calculated Risks –
“Entrepreneurs are not risk-takers. They are calculated risk takers” as pointed out by Leonard C. Green, in Entrepreneur. The word “Calculated” makes all the differences; taking a risk is like having one turn in a game of roulette; if we fail, we don’t live to take another chance. Taking a calculated risk is asking yourself how cost-efficiently I can handle it, how minimal are my probabilities of failure, and also what kind of credibility I shall be able to generate if I succeed. Calculated risk taking happens in an agile manner, one step at a time and with each new phase, we try to figure out how to reduce the risk further.
09. Thou Shalt Not Forget Value and Ethics –
The realm of technology is glamourous and grey, most of the software engineers think that storing client’s code and data in their local infrastructure is ethical. They also fail to see the importance of timeline and quality commitments. As a techpreneur, one must drive their people to meet the highest standards of value and ethics as formulated in the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (Source: https://ethics.acm.org/code-of-ethics/software-engineering-code/).
PUBLIC – Software engineers shall act consistently with the public interest.
CLIENT AND EMPLOYER – Software engineers shall act in a manner that is in the best interests of their client and employer as well as, consistent with the public interest.
PRODUCT – Software engineers shall ensure that their products and related modifications meet the highest professional standards possible.
JUDGMENT – Software engineers shall maintain integrity and independence in their professional judgment.
MANAGEMENT – Software engineering managers and leaders shall subscribe to and promote an ethical approach to the management of software development and maintenance.
PROFESSION – Software engineers shall advance the integrity and reputation of the profession consistent with the public interest.
COLLEAGUES – Software engineers shall be fair to and supportive of their colleagues.
SELF – Software engineers shall participate in lifelong learning regarding the practice of their profession and shall promote an ethical approach to the practice of the profession.
10. Thou Shalt Not Undermine Thy Market Value –
Just as you should take your business valuation seriously and always keep working on it, you must not undermine your market value as an entrepreneur. It was you who saw the potential in quitting a high paying job in order to take up the responsibility of running an enterprise. Most of the technology entrepreneurs don’t have any prior entrepreneurial experience; hence their chances of failure are much higher than one coming from a management or business administration background. Unlike other entrepreneurs, techpreneurs must be a know-it-all because they are primarily engineers trying to become successful businesspersons. Your journey will set examples for future aspirants; your intelligence and hard work will attract new talents and engage more customers. Your market saleability and acceptability will always play a crucial role in your business’s valuation.
11. Thou Shalt Not Apprehend Gender Discrimination –
Gender discrimination exists, and it is going to prevail. We cannot avoid it, but we can indeed handle it well so that it acts neither as a roadblock nor as an excuse in the path of success. Gender bias is an issue that exists in all spheres of society; entrepreneurship is no exception, and the only way to overcome it is to be supremely confident about yourself. A technology entrepreneur gets his/her confidence from two things knowledge and his/her ability to communicate persuasively. If you are a female techpreneur, then your gender should not affect your self-worth; likewise, being male should not make you feel overconfident. It is the power of knowledge and intellect that keeps you ahead of the competition.
12. Thou Shalt Not Work for Wealth but for Value Creation –
As entrepreneurs, we unquestionably want to create wealth, but if that is the only thing we care about, then that is a problem. Most startups fail because of lack of funds, but they often forget to analyse how they were spending. The last startup I was working for, as an employee failed because of too much pilferage in sales and logistics that resulted in value deficiency which could have been avoided by focusing on EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization profitability).
Exercising a controlled approach over expenses could have helped them achieve EBITDA and in turn, better valuation followed by sizeable funding. Too much aggressiveness towards customer acquisition leads to a burn, which in turn, leads to further value deficit. Achieving EBITDA is a good thing, but as an enterprise, we must make sure not to pay government penalties, late fees and interest on fines. In India organisations often end up paying heavy government and bank penalties but fail to pay their employees, consultants, vendors duly.
13. Thou Shalt Not Trust Blindly –
We techpreneurs primarily rely on our workforce in order to succeed. We cannot function without trusting our people, but it is unwise to count on them blindly. We should be watching over the quality of their work, their commitments, and their willingness to fulfil the same. We must keep a close watch, on the communications between the team and clients so that no solicitation can take place.
14. Thou Shalt Not Delegate Totally –
An entrepreneur has to don many hats, and without effective delegation, it is not possible to accomplish success. Absolute delegation may lead to process gaps and inefficient results. Processes like sales, finance, human resources need entrepreneurial supervision. Sales generates revenue, finance manages income and without the right people, it impossible to deliver efficiently. You may delegate the tasks totally, but the delivery of the same needs to bemicro-managed. You may delegate finance operations completely but , at the same time, you do need to monitor transactions closely so that there is no embezzlement or mismanagement of funds.
15. Thou Shalt Not Be A Boss but A Leader –
The key difference between leaders and bosses is that leaders can influence without authority, and bosses can’t function without power. Your focus should always be on sustainable solutions, not patchworks. You must act with empathy and sensitivity but not emotionally, which means you need to care about people’s reactions to your activities and behaviour, but you must not react emotionally towards their actions. A leader’s goal is to create a legacy and make their people successful. Leaders always take ownership of their actions, and he/she should drill down the same to their people. Being bossy can help you achieve short-term success, but entrepreneurship is a long-term life goal which demands the selflessness, strength and conviction of a leader.
I have written the commandments based on my experience with various startups for the past six years out of which last three years are of building and leading Ebullientech, my own technology outsourcing company. I’m sure other techpreneurs will have different opinions and advice, especially the ones trained in ESM (Entrepreneurial Science and Management), and I would love to learn from them to shape the future for all of us. There is one thing which I forgot to mention under the headings – it is the contribution of my team to produce an entrepreneur out of an ordinary person like me. One day I would like to dedicate a whole essay to our journey. Its been nearly three years, and we have lived so many emotions together that it feels like a voyage of a lifetime.
I would like to conclude with what Bill (William) Campbell said…
“If you’re a great manager, your people will make you a leader. They acclaim that, not you.” He once wrote to a struggling manager: “You have demanded respect, rather than having it accrue to you. You need to project humility, a selflessness, that projects that you care about the company and about people.”
Article edited by: Anuradha Abida Lahiri