Book Review: Desh Deshpande, On Entrepreneurship and Impact
Updated: Jan 9
Desh Deshpande, On Entrepreneurship and Impact, Melbourne and New Delhi: Prolibris Publishing India Pvt Ltd, 2016, 105 pp.
‘On Entrepreneurship and Impact’ comes from the desk of an acclaimed entrepreneur, philanthropist and impact investor, Gururaj ‘Desh’ Deshpande. This is Deshpande’s first book and focuses on broad themes of impact and entrepreneurship especially in context of the Indian market.
This little orange book starts with a foreword by N. R. Narayana Murthy, often referred to as the icon of entrepreneurship in India. Murthy highlights the importance of raising and addressing foundational questions by entrepreneurs aiming to make a lasting impact. He lauds the author in his effort to refrain from the popular ‘tip or technique’ approaches, while focusing on the more fundamental questions. Murthy also emphasises the author’s credentials in founding, running and supporting entrepreneurship across the world.
Following a simple and concise format, this book is based on the experiences and reflections of the author who himself has extensively worked closely with entrepreneurs and start-ups. His experience with entrepreneurship and start-ups is reflected in his articulation of the complexities faced by start-ups. Early in the book, the author emphasises that in addition to the entrepreneurs’ relentlessness, a strong and accessible entrepreneurship ecosystem is necessary to facilitate people across economic strata to follow their entrepreneurial dreams. A strong ecosystem, the author argues, enables a lasting impact of an individual’s entrepreneurial endeavours. The author’s advice throughout the book revolves around these aspects: entrepreneur, ecosystem and making an enduring impact. While this book is useful to entrepreneurs across sectors and markets, it pays particular attention to issues relevant to (aspiring) entrepreneurs working on making social impact. Entrepreneurs working or intending to work in the Indian social sector may find this book relevant to their dilemmas and challenges. This book is more about the fundamental questions that become salient during various phases of starting and running an enterprise. The book does not elaborate on how to solve a particular business problem; rather it stresses on key questions that an entrepreneur must address along his/her journey. This book, in a way, presents a condensed version of the author’s coaching to entrepreneurs and change makers.
The book is divided into six broad themes based on a start-up’s journey: ‘Start’, ‘Manage’, ‘Grow’, ‘Develop’, ‘Impact’ and ‘Engage’. Each theme touches upon issues related to different stages and processes. Under ‘Start’, the author calls the reader to meticulously evaluate her/his readiness, motivation and passion before starting an enterprise. As the enterprise grows, advice about how does one ‘Manage’ issues related to competition, scaling up and organisational structure are highlighted. Desphande particularly deliberates on selecting the right leaders and board members. He also discusses several uncomfortable topics, such as entrepreneurs’ exit as part of the enterprise’s growth. The book also urges the entrepreneur to maintain an unrelenting dedication while dealing with failure, finding a mentor and maintaining a work–life balance. The last two themes—‘Impact’ and ‘Engage’—dwell upon the impact of social and developmental enterprises and the unique goals of this sector. The earlier themes discuss enterprises in general though it is not entirely clear whether their focus is profit-making enterprises or non-profit, social enterprises.
Each theme is roughly composed of 4–6 sub-topics. Most sub-topics present foundational issues or questions and often conclude with a piece of advice. These questions, answers and the authors’ advice are pointed, direct and push the reader to reflect on her/his choices and decisions. For instance, under ‘Start’, the author questions ‘is entrepreneurship worth it?’ His answer brings out the problem with entrepreneurs seeking external validation to pursue their idea. He unequivocally states that if one is seeking external validation for their idea, s/he is probably not ready to start-up. Deshpande goes on to add, that until one feels constant uneasiness by not starting up their idea, s/he is not ready. Such a question–answer-advice pattern makes for an engaging read—the directness, depth and clarity of questions such as ‘how do you handle difficult conversations in your start-up?’ and ‘how does an entrepreneur bounce back from failure?’ make the reader reflect on her/his choices. Deshpande does not mince words with his advice ‘doing anything meaningful in life is hard. You need to have a story that explains that while you are setting out to do something hard, it is well worth doing’.
This book presents an example of foundational ideas in simple language. Easy to read, the (about) 100 page book, takes about a day for a quick read! The writing is simple and unambiguously condenses the author’s reflections and experiences into pieces of advice for entrepreneurs. The author’s finesse is showcased in presenting foundational, perhaps complex issues and questions, in simplified, unambiguous language. These two characteristics—simplicity of language and discussion of foundational issues—may make a reader keep coming back to the book.
The author affirms that a vibrant ecosystem ‘encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset […] will eventually lift communities’. Deshpande’s arguments about the need for a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem resonate with various policy interventions. Government of India’s start-up policy supports entrepreneurship in several ways including access to funds, fast track of and 80 per cent rebate in filing of patents, tax exemption for 3 years and easy and quick dissolution in case of bankruptcy (As of 1 April 2017, the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India listed on its website ‘www.startupIndia.gov.in’). To promote innovations in the primary sector, the government announced a public–private-academia fund Bharat Innovations (As of 1 April 2017, Bharat Innovation Fund listed on its website ‘www.bharatinnovations.fund’). Focused on sectors, such as agriculture, health care, clean tech and so on, the fund is aimed at promoting innovation and entrepreneurship that make an impact—much in line with Deshpande’s arguments. In addition to the government’s interventions, the private sector’s participation in the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem is also gaining traction (Mishra, 2016).
According to Deshpande, entrepreneurship has the potential to bridge the ever-widening gap between urban technological enterprises and those addressing the needs of the primary sector; mainly agriculture, thus giving a boost to the local economy. Given the current Indian economic scenario, there is a need for critical attention to entrepreneurship in the primary sector (e.g., Jain, 2016). Indian Government run schemes such as ‘Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana’ (The Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Fund) and ‘Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana’ (The Prime Minister’s Crop Irrigation Fund) are conventional ways of protecting farmers from the risks associated with farming but these do not support or accelerate innovations in agriculture. This is slowly changing. From being traditionally government-supported, the baton is now being passed on to the intelligent entrepreneur who is seeking to make a sustainable impact. The institutional voids in these sectors present an opportunity as well as a roadblock for entrepreneurs.
A key drawback of the book is the absence of data or evidence that substantiates or provides context to the questions/answers/advice by Deshpande. It is a condensed form of Deshpande’s experience as an entrepreneur, investor, mentor and coach to start-ups. Real life stories make each reading richer and the argument stronger. Therefore, when a reader picks a book coming from the desk of an acclaimed entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist, s/he looks for insights into the stories of start-ups that the author has been involved in. While reading this book, we were looking for insider perspectives to some of the most successful start-ups such as Sycamore and Tejas Networks—something that only Deshpande and a few others would have access to. Such insights are hard to find in the public space and one looks up to leaders such as Deshpande to bring these stories to the world. For instance, Guy Kawasaki, in his book The Art of the Start (2004) advises entrepreneurs to make meaning, create a mantra, focus on developing a plan for action and so on. In presenting his advice, he often quotes examples and stories of ventures that he has been a part of. His stories engage the reader closely. Kawasaki’s stories about the supposed holy grail of entrepreneurship (i.e., Apple) seamlessly blends in with his advice, thereby making for a stronger impact on the reader. Deshpande, on the contrary, keeps away from examples and stories. While the book is an interesting read, it does not raise any questions or present any thoughts/advice/arguments about the market or the customer. Considering the need to remain close to the market and customer—a key driver of businesses—one finds it unusual to have this aspect omitted from the book.
Overall, the book offers insights for entrepreneurs on their journey to make an impact. This book could be a key addition to the reading list of entrepreneurs. The vivid orange colour is sure to brighten not only an entrepreneur’s bookshelf, but also her/his spirit on a proverbial cloudy day!
Jain S. (2016). How these 4 startups are transforming agriculture. Retrieved April 1, 2017, from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/276773 Kawasaki G. (2004). The art of the start: The time-tested, battle-hardened guide for anyone starting anything. New York, NY: Penguin Books. Mishra D. (2016, August 10). Corporate VCs pumped $205 million across Indian companies in second quarter of this year. Mumbai: The Times of India.