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Ready to take the world by storm?
Disruptors, a new book by Kunal Mehta, helps you become a disruptor for major change. The book profiles the early failures and heartbreaks of several disruptive entrepreneurs (the faces behind game-changers like Pinterest, Foursquare, Venture for America, charity: water and a host of others) who ultimately went on to massive success. Readers will find that although starting up is tough (there’s no sugarcoating it), it is well worth the long, enduring effort.
StartupNation chats with Kunal to get his take on what it means to be a major disruptor in today’s business world!
When were you bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, and how has your life changed since?
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of being an entrepreneur from an early age. When I was eleven years old, I imported golf balls from China and re-sold them on Amazon. At 13, I tried starting a tutoring company. In high school, I worked with a friend to set up a website featuring the hottest events in NYC. I had a new idea every year and was easily excited by different opportunities. Some of those ideas turned into functional ventures, while others fell completely flat. Regardless, with each attempt I found myself learning some incredible lessons. I’m glad I took those risks because they have moved me towards something bigger.
In a more legitimate attempt a few years ago, I worked with a college friend to set up a mobile-payments application, but abandoned the idea after Venmo, Dwolla, ZipMark and the larger banks entered the space. We were on to something but lacked the will to commit to the venture full time because we were caught up in finding a professional job that we perceived to be the “successful route.” We felt that if this idea didn’t work, we’d at least have a job to fall back on.
That sort of thinking made me complacent. When I graduated and joined Wall Street as an investment banker, I knew I needed to break away completely if I wanted to be an entrepreneur. The steady salary, working for someone else and the nature of the work were not exciting for a twenthy-something who had always wanted to be his own boss. I left after a year and have seen an incredible shift in my goals and motivations. I have since published my first book, Disruptors, started a successful serviced apartment business, and am now working with the disruptive non-profit charity: water.
What will readers get out of reading your book?
Disruptors profiles the entrepreneurs behind game-changing companies such as Pinterest, Foursquare, charity: water, Venture for America and a host of others. Rather than focusing on the success of these entrepreneurs, Disruptors brings to light the failures and heartbreaks they faced when they left behind the wealth, status and security of corporate America.
As the well-informed readers of StartupNation read through these anecdotes, they will be able to relate to now-successful entrepreneurs who battled through their own struggles to pursue a passion. This book provides valuable business lessons, but also the inspiration needed to pursue a meaningful endeavor.
My hope is for Disruptors to act as the catalyst for more individuals to discover work that they are passionate about. There are far too many college students flocking to accept corporate jobs without a full understanding of what their job will entail. It is important to ask the hard questions now so that an aspiring entrepreneur can have greater impact.
What is a “disruptor”?
In the startup world, a “disruptor” is known as a successful entrepreneur who transforms industries through remarkable innovation. However, Disruptors defines the title through a different lens.
This framework offers a realistic look into the daily life of a first-time entrepreneur. It is about men and women who have identified a problem in their own personal lives and boldly acted to rectify it. These disruptors possess the courage to search for satisfaction and happiness in their work and battle through criticism, failure, and sometimes, bankruptcy to succeed.
In a time where most individuals are dissatisfied with their jobs, this accomplishment in itself is an act of disruption. The startup glamour only exists because the men and women involved are living life on their own terms. They are disrupting the status quo and providing the rest of us with the audacity to test our own limits. Disruptors are those individuals who overcome adversity, sidestep the traditional career path and define their own metrics for success. At their tipping point, they pause to discover a meaningful passion and pursue it without hesitation. That moment of reflection led to companies and social ventures – like charity: water, FEED Projects, Venture For America, Yipit, Pinterest, Dwolla, and Foursquare – that changed the world for millions of people.
Tell us about some of the “disruptors” featured in your book!
I admire the success of all the disruptors featured in this book, but I was most inspired by their humility. Each of them understood the difficulties of being a first-time entrepreneur and shared candid stories from the earliest days of their ventures. Some of those entrepreneurs include Lauren Bush of FEED Projects, Scott Harrison of charity: water, Sahil Lavingia of Pinterest and Gumroad, Vinicius Vacanti of Yipit, Nihal Mehta of Local Response and ENIAC Ventures, Brad Feld of Foundry Group/Techstars, and Ben Milne of Dwolla.
How can a business owner learn to be more disruptive in their industry?
Venture Capitalist Paul Graham believes that founders should focus on a concept that 100 people love rather than a concept that 1 million people kind of like. Airbnb followed this direct advice and is now valued at over $10 billion. It is advisable for an entrepreneur to focus on a problem, but it should be a problem that is significant enough for users to notice the need for a solution.
To be more disruptive, Ben Milne of Dwolla advises entrepreneurs to measure their success not against other startups, but against the entire economy. Like Coca-Cola, who boldly measured their success by comparing their drinks sold against all other liquids sold and consumed globally, Dwolla wants its volumes to be compared to the transaction volume in the U.S economy and globally. With this mindset, Ben does not boast of achievements because he sees his initiative as the “size of a pea” and that the team should recognize the work they need to do for the impact they want to make.
To do this, Ben emphasizes that an entrepreneur must constantly be focused on the next deal and on customer retention. It is imperative to hire a business development team that can “capture different verticals, find customers, curate them, and hand them off until the volume is in the trillions. From there, the company scales but the methods don’t change.” His biggest warning to aspiring entrepreneurs is to not get caught up in press attention, but to focus on building a business.
Looking ahead, what do you think the future holds for entrepreneurs?
Some venture capitalists would argue that the glory days for entrepreneurs are over and that we are seeing signs of a funding bubble. While this may be true in terms of financing, more and more individuals still flock towards entrepreneurship. Large universities that were once focused on finance are now shifting their curriculum towards the skills needed to be an entrepreneur. More and more young adults are opting to use their time, money and intellect towards causes that they are passionate about.
Entrepreneurship is largely unidentifiable and too general of a term because it does not define any one profession. As long as individuals question the fulfillment they receive from the work they are doing, which is more and more of an occurrence, entrepreneurship will continue to remain the hottest field to be in.
What’s next for you?
Another book may be on the horizon in the next year or so, but in the meantime I will continue to publish chapters about the earliest struggles faced by successful entrepreneurs on my website. I am in conversation with some well-known entrepreneurs now, so stay tuned!
Outside of writing, I am continuing the build out of Mehta Apartments and am enjoying my work at charity: water. In the past year, I built a medical application that will allow doctors to video-chat with patients. I’ve just started signing up doctors to the website.
Kunal Mehta worked at J.P. Morgan for four years during college, and in Equities Trading at Nomura Securities post-graduation. Kunal had an entrepreneurial urge to take a risk and build a business of his own. While developing his idea and struggling with his decision to leave finance, Kunal was inspired by the notable entrepreneurs of his generation that pursued their own passion. In 2013, Kunal interviewed these founders and uncovered the initial struggles they faced as they left a corporate job, dropped out of college, or filed for bankruptcy for the first time. Kunal is the founder of Mehta Apartments, is currently working at charity: water and is building his own startup, ChatMD.