Share This Post

Alok's Posts / Inspiring

So you think you can ‘Start-Up’? Take my FURNACE test first…

Almost every other day I get an odd mail from someone in a B-School or working in a corporate job wanting to ‘start-up’.  I am polite to all of them saying ‘think again’ but I am now inspired to write the ‘FURNACE’ test. Take this if you are in a start-up state of mind.

F = Format

Are you a ‘format’ type of guy or gal? Someone who lives by dos and don’ts and ‘this rule’ and ‘that theory’? If yes, just abandon even the dream of starting-up. It will be a nightmare. You need to be re-formatable- like a hard disk. In my dad’s socks factory, I took on an export order that could be profitable only if I bought ‘unfinished’ yarn and then did something at my end to make the sock look wearable. My factory floor manager of 30 years freaked out. He whispered to my dad that we were doomed. The yarn I had bought was twisting and turning because it was unfinished. I knit 30 pairs of socks with that yarn and did everything conceivable to make the twisting stop, until I hit bull’s eye – washing the socks! (Much later I found out that the last processing of that yarn was washing and they charged 20% premium for it).

Be ready to make a ppt in the cab – or speak extempore. Don’t live in a format.

U = Ultrarian.

Forget being a contrarian – how ‘ultrarian’ are you? Are you ‘ultra’ everything? Passionate, never saying it’s over, working on Sunday like it was a Monday, being able to cry with tears when you miss a deal? Putting work before family?

Start-up entrepreneurs are Ultrarians. They take their passion to the limit and sometimes that hurts.

My second daughter was born on a Sunday, and I told my wife as I drove her to the hospital that this kid was a ‘practical’ one. She didn’t care to hear what I said. On the Tuesday my wife was to come home, I wasn’t around. I was signing my first term sheet of my life and Neeraj Bhargava (E-Ventures) and I were putting our pens to paper at the Oberoi Lobby. My wife never forgave me for this. And let me confess that I am guilty of my action.

R = Ravenous.

Start Up entrepreneurs are not hungry – they are ravenous and starving. They are GREEDY – and I use this word in Capitals because most of us are taught not to be greedy. I contest that. The biggest wins in the world come from entrepreneurs who are starving – Steve Job’s hunger is to create art forms in hardware and the Google founders to make everything so easily discoverable.

I remember making a fervent non-stop marketing pitch at the L’Oreal office in India a few years ago. The marketing head – Ashwin Rajagopal (a close friend) at the end of my long non-stop pitching asked – ‘Alok – oh my god – why will you do all this for us’? I looked at him and said ‘to become rich’!!  There was the deadly silence in the room – they did not come across hungry, ravenous and starving entrepreneurs often.

N – Naïve.

Being uninformed can be the best blessing as a start-up entrepreneur. In IIMs and MBA colleges I usually get asked by the students out there will become great entrepreneurs and my honest answer is ‘NO’ (thank god I haven’t been hit by an egg or a tomato yet).

I think the world has changed so rapidly now, that textbook case studies are not relevant. Companies peak out in 5-10 years & that’s just about the time they would become a formal case study. Also, is this is relevant for a start-up?  Typically you are trying to do something that has never been done before – so who could have written about it?

When I began pitching contests2win, the ad gurus in agencies I met, said, ‘bad idea’ – you don’t know marketing or positioning or Maslow’s hierarchy. You are not an MBA and have not worked in a marketing function before. I nodded and never met them again. Instead I went and met 4509 brand owners in the next 10 years (Just counted the count of visiting cards I have) and convinced them that consumers (LIKE ME) – wanted to win free stuff by playing a contest, and a brand could benefit in that interactive process.  They all agreed and we created an industry that never existed before. I was naïve and I won.

A = All hands on Deck

Will you sweep your company’s floor? Will you be the receptionist? Can you hand out your start up’s fliers in a mall?

Start-up entrepreneurs usually do everything – simply because there aren’t others to do stuff for you! Also, this gives you a bottom up perspective of each and every process of your operation. You have to be all hands on deck.

During contests2win first few months, I could not afford an office boy. So, at the end of the day I used to drive and drop of the prize consignments to the local courier office. One day, the clerk said ‘Sir I have to ask you a question that’s been bothering me – You drive in an Opel car to come here and yet drop packages yourself’? I chuckled and said to myself – the car is a family gift to me and I have gifted myself a start-up!!

C = Captain

Are you a leader? I’m not asking a question that appears on the covers of those books you see in Airport bookshops. A captain is not only the guy who dies when the ship sinks. He also assembles teams, motivates armies and gets drunk with his men.

This is important. Can you fire someone without remorse? Can you shout and scream? If you can’t, that’s fine – get a co-founder who can and become ‘co-captain’. One of you will have to be the toughest SOB that ever existed.

One of my favorite Captain tricks is to arrive in packed conference rooms, sit right at the back and then ask the first question of the floor. It takes guts. Why? It gets my company noticed since I announce my Company and myself before asking the question. If I am not on the panel, I still leverage the panel. I play Captain even if it’s not my ship.

E – Excitable

Even today, a 2000 US$ game license or media buy gets me excited like a kid getting a chocolate bar. I walk around, get a coffee or just start making conversation with colleagues. I get the same high that I used to get 10 years back.

You have to be excited about your business and company and also be excitable so that your teams visibly know what makes you happy and strive to deliver to see you jump up and down!!



Originally posted on June 2, 2010 on


Share This Post


  1. I would start-up irrespective of the results of this test. But I feel good that I passed.

  2. awesome post sir 

  3. Great article! Totally agree with this test and hope that I come close to passing it 🙂

  4. Boss, now you better make some high quality steel (PUN INTENDED basis the business of your family) :-))))

    it was good meeting yesterday!

  5. Fantastic post ! The fact that you have gone and met 4509 brand owners over a period of 10 years is truly inspiring! 

    Would you mind sharing some tips regarding this. I always find it difficult to get a hold of the decision makers of a company. Al though I have the ability to get their name, email and probably even their phone number I find it difficult to get through to them. Any inputs regarding this will be much appreciated!

  6. hahaha hope I can make something of cause a wise man once said “‘Joint’ Family Business SUCKS”

  7. amazing post!!! thinking how i missed this one for so long :((

    it’s better late than never.. Thank you :))

  8. Amazing post Alok sir… Just wanted to share that I was Zero in the test about 1.5 years ago, working in a corporate. However, I joined a startup about 1.5 years back and have been on a roller coaster ride since then. Today I can proudly say that I believe I can clear this FURNACE test with flying colors. Thanks once again for inspiring us 🙂 

  9. First rule itself is contradicting.

    There is only one rule, that is no rule. I’m tired of these speeches..,

  10. agree. get out and do it

    then come back and write your own stuff

    good luck

  11. Why coming back?? I will get million writers and you will be the one. But still I’m tired of these old-man-once-upon-a-time stories.

    I know the system here. All should say Awesome though it is just some. Hahaha. You should have the right critics than always awesome critics. Grow up.

    Now delete my comment.

  12. all the best raja.

    with your million writers. and everything else.

    by the way – we don’t delete any comments. 


  13. Raja, I will be at ur service to write about you. Just let me know when…

  14. “U = Ultrarian.”

    The example you quoted makes me fail that part. 

    I would pass myself in the F – R N A C E test otherwise. Enjoyed reading this. 🙂

Comments are now closed for this post.

Lost Password