14 lessons for an entrepreneur from Indian mythology — The Product
Near the city of Hassan, three hours drive from Bengaluru in India is a small town called Halebidu. It was the thriving capital of the Hoysala empire in the 12th century. Hoysala Empire ruled most of the modern-day Karnataka for close to 400 years from year 950 CE to 1343 CE. The capital of the Hoysala Empire was initially located at Belur but was later shifted to Halebidu and remained. During their reign, Hoysalas built about 1500 temples of which now just about 100 temples survive while the rest of the temples have been destroyed by the invaders over a period of time. These remaining temples do include a few of the finest temples that were built during the era.
It was a weekend trip. We left early in the morning and was at the Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu by the afternoon. I had been through a busy week. As a CTO of an IT services company, I was in a constant discussion with entrepreneurs of a few companies about their products at the various stages from an idea to the MVP. This was on my back of mind when I started our tour of the famous Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu. The temple has been standing tall for thousands of years with exquisite carvings filling the entire outer wall with sculptures without leaving space. Each stone tells a story. The intricate stone sculptures and carving depict the scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other religious scriptures. For thousands of years, generations, these stories have been passed on between generations of Indian kids, told and retold by grandparents to their grandchildren. For the generations that did not have comic books or movies, these were the olden-day equivalent of stories of “Avengers” and “Guardians of the galaxy”. As the guide started explaining the history and mythology behind the sculptures, these ancient pearls of wisdom behind all the stories seemed very relevant for a modern-day entrepreneur.
Do not fall in love with your idea
There is a small sculpture on the side-wall. A teenage boy and a girl are shown in love. The head of the girl is that of a donkey. The guide has a naughty smile on his face as he started explaining - During the teenage years, any boy or a girl may look desirable even if he or she has the brains and face of a donkey.
I have seen entrepreneurs looking at their initial idea with the same infatuated eyes as these teenagers. There is a strong confirmation bias when you feel you are up to something unique and big. I have seen entrepreneurs strongly supporting evidence that their idea is good and ignoring all other signals. Falling in love with your idea early in the process gives confidence and generate passion, but may cloud your judgment for rational thinking. You should discuss your ideas with as many people as possible, hear their views, consult mentors, evaluate the competition, rightly estimate the addressable market before embarking on the execution journey.
You will realize that the execution is the key. It is also important to avoid “analysis paralysis” that comes with initial overthinking. Using customer feedback to learn constantly and tweak your original idea will ultimately make you successful. Eventually, you may end up pivoting to adjacent areas from your original idea or pick a subset of your idea and grow it big.
Focus on the key differentiator
Makara is an imaginary “perfect animal”. It is seen in a lot of archeological sites with Hoysala architecture. The creature has the tail of a peacock, body of a boar, feet of a lion, eyes of a monkey, ears of a cow, mouth of a crocodile, and the elephant’s trunk. Though it has the best features from various animals, such a creature does not exist.
Like Makara, I have seen entrepreneurs trying to replicate all the product features that their larger competitors have and add some more. You cannot be everything to everybody. This ends up in a game of catching up, wasting time and money before the product sees the light of the day.
As you start solidifying your idea into your MVP specification, the key is to focus. You will have an advantage if you understand your target customer well and focus on your key differentiator early in the development phase. This becomes your competitive advantage.
Imagine Makara walking on his lion feet with peacock feathers attached to its back! It is obvious that will not be able to survive.
Narrate powerful stories
As I went around the star-shaped sanctums, watching the intricate sculptures, each telling an elaborate story in Indian mythology, I remembered my grandma. She used to regale her grandchildren with colorful stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata. It was this nostalgia that connected me emotionally to the place.
As an entrepreneur, you have to master the art of storytelling that provides an emotional connection. You have to convince your customers how your product or service can change their lives and why they should pay for it, you have to sell your vision to your investors to get funded, you have to convince your partners to collaborate and you have to motivate your employees so they stick with you during the entire journey. It is as important to “build a solid product” as to “sell your vision”.
It was our guide who brought to our attention the interlocking pillars and solid foundation that has kept the temples standing tall for centuries. But what remained with me is the memory of my grandma.
Build a solid foundation
As we walked around the periphery, I could not help but notice the solid foundation of temple walls. There are eight layers of carvings. Going from the very base of the wall, the first horizontal layer contained a procession of elephants, above which are lions, then floral scroll, speeding horsemen, band of floral and scroll, Makara animals, depictions of Hindu epics, and finally a row of swans.
Elephants at the base stand for stability and strength. Lions represent courage. Floral scrolls are for beauty. Horses are for speed. Makara for evolution, Hindu epics tell stories. And swans depict the individual soul or spirit.
If you build the foundation of your product using the characteristics of stability, strength, the courage to differentiate, speed of execution, cutting edge performance, constant evolution to become a better version of itself, and all the while regaling customers with stories that touch the soul, you are on your way to build a great product.
The Hoysaleswara temple at Halebidu is still standing strong for a thousand years, in rain, heat, and storm, delighting visitors with stories of the past, taking them back in time.
This article is part of a series that describe my experiences as an entrepreneur. If you are looking for a product engineering company to build your next solution, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you found this article useful, please hit that clap button below.