Today is lucky to have a guest blog by Vishnu Hariharan. Vishnu is a financial analyst with 7 years experience in corporate finance and capital markets at financial institutions and is currently the CEO & Co-Founder at BlueBook, a campus for financial education, enterprise and career creation.

I got a free MBA from reading Paul Graham’s Essays.

I’m a first-time entrepreneur. Anyone who’s building a starting up will tell you it’s a very lonely place. Although we are two co-founders in this startup and can carry the weight between us, it has been the most isolating experience of my life. As a sole founder, I would have almost certainly joined a co-working space or accelerator. To overcome the hurdles in my first year have been mostly psychological.

Before launching BlueBook, I weighed up a few different career paths. Continuing in my city job was the least appealing. Marginally better would have been to do an MBA but the thought of going back to school just didn’t sit right after seven years in finance…and nor did the program fees. I wanted to get on and start building something without any more distractions or opportunities to procrastinate.

I had been accustomed to the old adage, first comes the theory, then comes practice. I wasn’t comfortable with moving forward without trying to know as much as I could, reading books and attending courses before taking the leap. So this blog pays homage to the MBA I never realised I have been taking but which I am eternally grateful for – Paul Graham’s essays. During the ups and downs and as we encounter more complex issues, I have continued to find solace in reading his candid stories about the realities of building something from nothing.

After nine months in enterprise, I now know its more about spending as much time outside your comfort zone and functioning with less than perfect information. The ability to identify opportunities from your urban tribe, realize the potential from them and create lasting relationships from one-line introductions makes the virtue of being relentlessly resourceful critical in the success or failure of our startup.

Following our website launch in March, we’ve started offering our educational services to a handful of clients. We’ve been doing things that don’t scale. We are marketing to B2B and although the opportunity to scale this service doesn’t exist, we’ve been focused on building something as if it was just for that one user. It’s a monumental amount of work to delight just one customer.

But I felt confirmation that we were doing the right things when I read:‘the unscalable things you have to do to get started are not merely a necessary evil, but change the company permanently for the better’. I never took a calligraphy class like Steve Jobs. I averaged 3 or maybe 4 out of 10 in Art. I had to give it up before GCSE on the specific request of my teachers. I tried to mask this lack of talent by developing my tracing skills.

Actually I didn’t revisit the subject of artistic creation again until we started up. The closest I came to this during work was colouring in cells in Excel. So given that, a creative designer was top of our list for outsourced experts when it came to visualising our brand. I’d say the moment I saw the first draft of his creation on my computer screen was the most exhilarating moment I’ve had in these nine months. It captured everything I had written in the brief and brought style and clarity to the vision we had for the company. I now appreciate Good design. I’ve since learnt how to use illustrator because I wanted to take a proactive role in its evolution – to build on this prototype and refine it over time. The satisfaction I get from designing a webpage that visualises ideas, a business rationale and has logical flow really is a satisfying feeling…and a step forward from writing a 1-page executive summary for a corporate presentation.

Most painters start with a blurry sketch and gradually refine it. Indeed, there is even a saying among painters: “A painting is never finished, you just stop working on it.”Whenever I mentioned the idea of starting up to friends, they always said the same thing: ‘You do know over 50,000 businesses in the UK fail each year’. The first few times I heard this, I thought they actually had a point and looking at the odds, the comfort of a desk job with a stable salary and a good canteen looked like a much better option. Over the years and before starting up, I’ve come to realise that I am quite comfortable with failure. What I know I couldn’t live with is knowing that I hadn’t created something of value for others. This would be how not to die. To create something of value needs dedication, not distraction. It is a constant battle with your own psyche to make sure you never give up. Daniel Kahneman’s prospect theory tells you people prefer to lose small than win big.

“Founders are more motivated by the fear of looking bad than by the hope of getting millions of dollars. So if you want to get millions of dollars, put yourself in a position where failure will be public and humiliating.” Personally, I’m more motivated by not creating. Looking bad or making millions is a by-product but not what gets me up in the morning. I wish I was better at writing. Blogs, website copy and proposals all need great written content. These are some of the truest words that I’m sure no MBA program will teach you:

“I think it’s far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.” So here’s some suggestions on Writing, briefly…and on that note, that’s where I’ll stop.


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