Insights into the anatomy of the Indian entrepreneur – Work-hobby and Work-life balance

Friends at Scibler came to me the other day to tell me about their customer development efforts. This is by far the one team I have encountered with the highest IQ across the board and the commitment to learning about their customers *while* they develop their product. Their rigor, analysis, consistency and dedication to understanding their target customer, the relevant messaging and positioning before launch is unparalleled among Indian startups.

They found 3 personas of people who would be their customers – Work-work, Work-hobby and Work-life.

The Work-work persona is a rarity anywhere in the world, but more so in India. Among those who work for a big company or at a government agency, this person is an absolute “blue moon“. This kind of person loves their work. They live, breath, eat, sleep their work. From when they were kids they dreamed about doing something in the area of their work. I find few Indian entrepreneurs in this bucket as well, but they are as rare in India as they are in the US.

The Work-hobby persona is someone that does their “day job” to keep the lights on. This is a finance person who does accounting at a large company to earn 2,000,000 (20L or $40K) per year to maintain her EMI, drive a foreign import to work and send her kids to a “good school”. But the passion, desire and fun is Bharatanatyam. I actually know a person who does this exact same thing. She devotes her waking hours outside of work to Bharatanatyam. She’s also a realist and knows that it wont put the food on the table in India. So she continues to slave away at the large company, doing mindless work just so she can make enough money or save enough to pursue her hobby full time.

The Work-life persona is someone that has a job, but he has a life as well. Meaning, he enjoys food, friends, art, culture, movies, books, music, and a whole host of endless options that “living” gives you. He’s not committed to the one “hobby” or is not passionate about that “one thing”. He’s yet to find that one thing that matters to him the most. If you ask him about the one hobby, he’ll likely say “cricket”, “family”, “kids”, “shopping” or “sleeping”. He is not too particular about the type of work as long as it gives him enough money to “live”.

I often meet all 3 of these types of folks becoming entrepreneurs. I have been known to go on record stating that very few of the work-life or the work-hobby will actually succeed. In fact if they do, I’d consider that an exception. For an entrepreneur, work and their startup’s work in particular has to be the thing they breath, dream, eat and sleep.

As an entrepreneur if you are not doing something you like, have a passion for and enjoy, I’d highly recommend you dont do it. You will likely be in two minds at the first obstacle and trust me there are many obstacles for startup entrepreneurs in India.

The big difference between Indian entrepreneurs I meet and those I meet in the valley is that most work-hobby folks in the US end up making their hobby their work. So they also become work-work personas.

They can do this and succeed since there is a market for unique, new, interesting hobby “stuff” given how rich the nation is and how advanced their markets are.

In India the best you can do if you want to make your hobby a big part of your life is to make it  a “side bijiness“. I meet at least 20-30% of employees at a large or small company in India, having a side-bijiness.

The question I get asked by entrepreneurs a lot is what persona type should I hire?

I see most entrepreneurs looking to hire that elusive work-work persona. There are so many Indian entrepreneurs, who claim to have a culture that attracts the work-work persona, and those folks that are passionate employees. I hate to tell them they are being fooled and really if I talked to their employees, they’d tell me they’d rather start their own company, but dont have the risk profile to do so.

Here’s the real truth.

The work-work folks will not be working for you in India. They would rather be entrepreneurs themselves, since they live their work.

So the best you can do as an entrepreneurs is to hire a work-hobby or work-life persona. I’d highly recommend you dont get frustrated if they dont give you a 100%, because really their mind is elsewhere.

As long as they give you what they commit to, be happy, move on.

Above all be a force of good.

7 thoughts on “Insights into the anatomy of the Indian entrepreneur – Work-hobby and Work-life balance”

  1. Nice post. However, we cannot assume that employee behaviors are static and it cannot be changed. Behavior is also strongly influenced by the environment. The same individual will behave differently in a library and a bar. The environment (call it culture if you want) and the example the leaders set are crucial especially in India where people love to worship them. As an employee, when I believed in the vision, worked under very good leaders and actually saw some results, I could move into higher orbitals just like the founders. However, when the results aren’t forthcoming or the vision isn’t really compelling enough, the fall in energy levels is inevitable.

  2. “The work-work folks will not be working for you in India. They would rather be entrepreneurs themselves, since they live their work.”

    Not necessarily. The ability to take risks may be missing. This also incldues joining startups or starting one.

  3. Nice post – esply provides clarity on aligning motivations in the great “Indian context”. While high-growth oriented startups might argue the point, I think this is highly relevant for non-tech/SME/life style” entrepreneurs.

    As someone who runs a relatively small shop, I would definitely recommend the “work-hobby” variety.

    1) At least, they are passionate about something.

    2) Especially if they are quite good at their “hobby” (which just doesn’t pay the bills), they tend to have better work culture (i.e., they have less time for gossip, office politics, Facebook, etc); have relatively higher IQ and EQ; and tend to stick around longer (especially if the employer is flexible vis-a-vis their “hobby”).

    Just my 2-bit. Pls keep up the great work on the blog. Has become among my favorite ones in the “Indian context”. 🙂

  4. Caveat to comment above in favor of “work-hobby” employees: If the employee has more than one hobby/passion to keep up with, 1 & 2 don’t apply!

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