Vivek Shankar is a content marketer, strategist, and writer for B2B fintech and SaaS companies. He previously worked on Wall Street in technology, before starting (and failing in) multiple businesses in India, Dubai, and online.
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Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Vivek Shankar: My name is Vivek Shankar and I was born in India, studied in the US, and worked in the financial sector, in technology right as the credit crisis hit. I somehow managed to keep my job through those times and returned to India (after living in the States for 10 years) to start my own business. It was a retail footwear business and long story short, I went bankrupt. Over the next few years, I began and shuttered multiple businesses (I think 8 by last count) before finally achieving some success with an online business. Within three months, even that failed and I was at rock bottom.
Out of desperation, I leaned on a skill that I had since childhood, writing. I found I was quite good at it and given my business, finance, and tech background, companies wanted me to write things for them. Content marketing is what I do now and I’m a very unconventional marketer. I’ve been on the receiving end of the BS that many marketers resort to and stay away from it in my current business.
These days I’m a location independent business owner who employs people and freelancers around the world. I help companies flesh out their content strategy and build their online presence. I firmly believe my wide and unconventional experiences are what make me successful.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Vivek Shankar: I think a bit of both. However, nurture plays a huge role. I always had business instincts but never got a chance to develop them due to my family’s academic background. It’s why my first few businesses failed.
Let me put it this way: Entrepreneurship is 95% nurture and 5% nature, but don’t try it without the 5%.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Vivek Shankar: I’m someone who provides value above all else. My clients have specific problems and I solve them. That’s my value proposition.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Vivek Shankar: My current company is quite young, established in 2017. It didn’t have any business for the first 2 years because I was finding my feet and recovering from past failures. It morphed into a vehicle for me to charge my clients as a sole proprietor. It’s now a consultancy that functions as an agency handling multiple facets of content strategy and creation.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Vivek Shankar: The US is the best place on the planet to start a new business. As someone who has been an immigrant to that country and now has a successful business outside the US, I’ve seen both sides of the coin and you’ll not convince me otherwise.
As for “assuming”, I’d say entrepreneurs shouldn’t assume anything. Their mindset should be one of testing. Test all assumptions and act according to feedback. Stop “Assuming”
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Vivek Shankar: Well, assuming was wrong all by itself! I assumed it would be simple and was arrogant about how much work it takes. I overestimated myself, in short. I also assumed that business is like a formula. Do this plus that and you’ll be successful. It isn’t. You have to have a natural inclination to core processes in the business. That’s what helps you create magic.
I also assumed that a great idea was a sign of business success. It isn’t. Execution is.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
Vivek Shankar: I’d tell myself to install a margin of safety or a backup net. I thought this was a sign of weakness and that it meant I wasn’t “all in”. The “all-in” mentality is mistaken by inexperienced businesspeople a lot. It doesn’t mean you drop everything else and focus on just one thing. It means you handle everything else and still focus on your business. The Elon Musk “all in” stuff is bullshit and it works only if you have luck by your side. You’ll torture yourself by doing it that way. Musk’s personal life and mental health quotes are evidence of how much he’s damaged himself.
Another thing I’d tell myself is that every business has certain rules of success. Follow them and you’ll be successful. No amount of wishing and hoping will make them go away. Your “will” doesn’t mean anything in the face of those rules.
If you encounter failure, or if the business isn’t working out, go do something else. Life is long and there’s plenty of time. Stop moping and go do something else, you’ll figure it out. Always take care of yourself first.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Vivek Shankar: This wasn’t advice but behavior I observed and adopted. When things are going against you, you must force your way forward using your willpower. That’s how you overcome challenges. However, success comes when you lean into the feedback you receive, not resist it. Always tune in to the feedback you’re receiving and flow with it. Don’t think of business as a struggle. Instead, look to flow wherever it takes you.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Vivek Shankar: Many things haven’t changed. If anything the opportunity is greater because online platforms have been given a full stamp of legitimacy. Stop thinking local and go global. The whole world is now online. Marketing has changed from being hit or miss to a science. Data is driving business and entrepreneurs should use that.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Vivek Shankar: Entrepreneurship isn’t sexy. Calling yourself an “entrepreneur” doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t solving a problem or aren’t making money. It doesn’t have to be as tough as the typical “blood, sweat, tears” trope that most people push in mainstream media. A lot of it is just leaning into which way your business takes you. Hard work won’t feel hard in these cases and you’ll enjoy it. The slightest effort will bring massive results.
The key is consistency. Show up and do something at all times, as long as you’re not being unkind to yourself. If you’re sick, go home and recover. If you’re unwell, step away etc. Stop the “blood/sweat/tears” nonsense, that’s not how it works.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Vivek Shankar: A problem-solving attitude, composure under pressure (which can be trained as a skill), patience, focus on the task in front of you
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Vivek Shankar: I’m a huge fan of Charlie Munger’s mental models and recommend Poor Charlie’s Almanack. Farnam Street is a great blog.
Gary V’s stuff is pretty good as well, as is Tim Ferriss. I like that Ferriss collects advice from other successful business people and collects them. It allows me to learn much faster than normal.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Vivek Shankar: I’d write in one way or another. I don’t think of an entrepreneur as a title or a job (ugh). I’m a business owner and writing is my business. So I’d be doing the same thing really.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Vivek Shankar: Malcolm X.
He was controversial. He was wrong about many things, especially women and segregation. However, his autobiography changed my life and taught me many things about what it means to be a man, a human being, and evaluating the balance of power. Many people are uncomfortable with his frankness which is why he isn’t as well known as he ought to be.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Vivek Shankar for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Vivek Shankar or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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