Entrepreneurship: Why Do The Captains Sink Under Pressure?

Late South African economist Ludwig Lachmann once wrote, “The future is unknowable, though not unimaginable.” What he meant is, it’s beyond our ability to know what the future will bring. We cannot plan without errors, because we do not actually know anything about the future before it’s already reality. 

But, while the future is incomprehensible, this does not mean it is hopeless. Our efforts always aim to create some specific, limited part of the future. 

Entrepreneurs do this a lot more than anyone else. 

Thus, when on 31st July 2019, the dead body of celebrated entrepreneur and tech investor, VG Siddhartha was found in Netravati River in Karnataka, his passing hit me harder than I thought a fellow entrepreneur’s death would. I have constantly been thinking what would have been his state of mind at that point in time when he jumped? It must have been the loneliest few steps he must have taken in his 59 years. His mind would have been muddled, his knees feeling like jelly, wobbly, his stomach churning as if his insides were burning. 

The evening, the man who told you a lot can happen over coffee, Siddhartha’s heart told he had failed, the exact words his suicide note told. VG Siddhartha had ticked all the check boxes that are desired from a man to be called successful in life and business. 

He was diversified – his Billion Dollar empire spread over coffee production, cafe chains and technology.

He knew scaling – 2100+ stores of his brand Cafe Coffee Day is witness to this.

He was humble – was known to accompany his friends to the elevator after a meeting with them.

He was focussed – shied away from interviews and spent time ‘doing’ rather than ’showing’

He was a family man – He has two sons and regularly attended family functions.

And yet, in his words, he failed.

Siddhartha is a powerful name. It was Lord Buddha’s name before he achieved enlightenment. But did this modern-day Siddhartha follow in the Lord’s footsteps? To my mind, he chose the easier of the two difficult options. He chose death over life.

As an entrepreneur here’s what I can tell you. Put yourself in Siddhartha’s shoes – he ensured employment for thousands, created a brand yet got sucked into a vortex of debts, dealings with money from investors with shady backgrounds.  A few fellow entrepreneurs have come out to say doing business in India isn’t easy and there are times when you feel like ending it all. With this in mind, I have often attempted to understand why a farmer chooses to embrace the noose or a pesticide bottle to end his life? Every founder, no matter which part of the globe they hail from goes through more than a fair share of hard knocks. Be it Siddhartha or the many who speak of their ups and downs privately, we founders usually don’t let the outside world know how we feel at any given moment.

Some are blaming the business environment, some the tax authorities and others have their own theories. However, what cannot be ignored is that this seemingly massively successful man had a storm stirring behind his calm demeanor.

Without an outlet and having to put up a strong face every day, we let our emotions and stress build up. When there is no other way forward, we simply explode.

What has Siddharth’s death taught us? 

You are not alone in facing ups and downs. Most startups are like ducks in the water: calm on the surface, but always paddling like crazy underneath. Most startups go through hell on earth before they get to a comfortable situation. And it isn’t over till it’s over.

If you are an entrepreneur, know that you are contributing directly and indirectly to the lives of people and never be sorry for failure. You started off with good intention but sometimes things can and will be a bumpy ride. Recall the dark times that you have surpassed and emerged in the light and no matter how dismal it may seem, you will recover. You chose this path and you have the power, will and capacity to own it till the end.

If you’re a founder, take a minute to think of your friends. If you feel someone you know is having a tough time, stop. Take a deep breath. Ask them to go on a walk with you. Ask them what’s going on. Share what’s going on with you—the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t offer solutions. Be kind and simply hear them out. 

Speak with people in your life – your father, your mother, your kids, your friends, your partners. These are people who won’t even want to talk to you about your business and truly care about your health, both physical and mental. Talk to them about life instead of your business.

Seek professional help, online counselling. Talk to an emotional wellness coach. They have non-judgmental support as a baseline. They can also help you improve your mental state. The cost is minuscule compared to the benefits.

Your business is not your life. This too shall pass.