Most entrepreneurs who know the difference between writing business plans and executing them will relate to the quip by American politician Mario Cuomo that “Politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose”. But last month’s electoral debut of the Aam Aadmi party (AAP) in Delhi was a spectacular consequence of poetry combined with organization.
AAP vote share of more than 50% is substantially ahead of comparable state-wide electoral party debuts; TDP in Andhra in 1983 (46%), AGP in Assam in 1985 (35%), and BSP in UP in 1989 (10%). But as with any entrepreneur who has raised their first round of external funding, living up to expectations requires a transition of mindset, skills and rhetoric.
First let’s look at the lessons from the AAP victory. Entrepreneurship needs taking big risks; Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to personally stand against Sheila Dikshit was fraught with danger for the party in case he lost but his individual victory creates personal street credibility that is invaluable.
Entrepreneurship is about breaking with the past; AAP’s funding, volunteer model, and non-caste appeal challenged the model of traditional parties. Entrepreneurship is about creating a fresh narrative; the party that was accused of being anti-politics has rejuvenated politics and is forcing others to change their game.
Entrepreneurship is not about the biggest armies but the best shots; AAP ran their campaign with substantially lower financial resources than their competitors but created formidable non-monetary resources like passion, hope and transparency. Entrepreneurship is not about overnight success; Kejriwal has been unknowingly preparing for these elections since he quit the IRS to start his RTI fights, NGO Parivartan and the Anna Hazare protest.
Entrepreneurship is about teamwork; the victory was a child of Anna Hazare’s sheen, Ramdev’s following, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav’s articulate TV blanketing and many others. Most importantly entrepreneurship is the art of staying alive long enough to get lucky i.e. persisting through the long dark tunnel.
But as political startup of the decade, AAP now faces an interesting challenge; the organisational, intellectual, and spiritual transition that will decide if history will remember it as a baby or a dwarf. A baby and dwarf are both small but one is going to grow and the other will stay where it is. This is the challenge of entrepreneurship; convert a high energy startup to a structured institution too early and you take away its birthright. But too late you take away its destiny.
AAP needs to make the transition from activism to governance. Getting things done requires structure and unfortunately structure comes with organizational cholesterol. But AAP’s track record suggests that they have an interesting ability to evolve with circumstances because of their open architecture governance.
AAP’s internal organizational transition challenge is further complicated by the timing of the 2014 elections; they have only five months to decide on a vision (which states do they field candidates), strategy (do they stick with urban voters and issues) and tactics (which candidates do they field). But this is a high quality problem to have and the solutions are not impossible. AAP must bring in adult supervision for operations – people who may have worked the trenches in traditional parties but are disillusioned with their lack of vision.
AAP must think about a more inclusive narrative – the battle against crony capitalism need not be a battle against all private entrepreneurs. And AAP must create a tighter organization structure with clear roles and responsibilities even if this means reviewing its current “all volunteer” model.
AAP has emerged as the political startup of the year with its Delhi victory and everybody loves an underdog. But as every startup and entrepreneur learns the hard way, getting the train out of the station is different from keeping the trains running on time.