Book Review: Dream With Your Eyes Open
Several weeks back, I was sitting as an audience member on an ET Now show – Starting Up With Ronnie Screwvala. Every episode featured three shortlisted start-ups, their journey, and a chance for these startups to ask Ronnie questions that are bothering them at this stage. Premise being – you can learn a lot from an industry veteran who has gone through many experiences. A lot of the questions asked were funding centric, but I felt the show was a great way for start-ups to get some publicity. It was there that I realized that Ronnie is also coming up with a book – Dream With Your Eyes Open. And so, the moment I got a chance to get a review copy of the book – I raised my hands to say aye. So, thank you Tales Pensieve 🙂
On the show, Ronnie often reminded people that it is easier for him to answer questions wearing the hat of an entrepreneur rather than an investor, because he is, in his heart, an entrepreneur – someone who loves creating businesses. In the book Dream With Your Eyes Open, Ronnie Screwvala traverses his entrepreneurial journey of over two decades in his debut book. More popularly known for having created from scratch, many people may not know about his several other stints across toothbrushes, games, and many other categories (not all of them successful). What is also important to remember is that he did not come with a lot of money, and hence, is a self-made man, a term often paraded amongst the start-ups.
The book is not necessarily a chronicle of his journey, but a rather distilled version of his experiences. Ronnie talks about his choices – be it cable TVs, or toothbrushes, or gaming or something else, the times when he failed miserably – either because of his own mistakes or of contextual miscalculation, the times when success came too easy, the need for a culture, the need for a good team, and many such profundities that a lot of other people talk about. He just does it a lot more candidly.
The book reads like a keynote speech – extremely personal while being aimed at a large audience, full of anecdotes that bring those experiences to life, elevates a personal experience to the level of general business principles. For most part, it is a lucid book to read. One of the challenges of reading a review copy of a book is that you don’t always get to savor it a lazy pace. Dream With Your Eyes Open is to be enjoyed lazily – open the wine bottle, let it settle down, sniff it, have a sip, roll it in your mouth, and let the flavors fill your senses. OK! Not that good. But you get the point.
The book has a tendency of being preachy at times, and re-quoting examples over and over again to drill a point home. It does, like an academic business book, summarize the lessons of a chapter at the end of the book in the form of neat bullet points, which, in my opinion, takes a lot away from reading a book which is quasi-autobiographical. Instead of leaving the reader to react to what the book has to offer, it becomes a cram lesson. It forces you to shift your axis and read it only through Ronnie’s eyes.
The anecdotes are refreshing, right from his struggles with investors, or the myriad occasions where he found himself a little out of his depth, but took his chances. I guess, if I had to boil down the value of his journey to one single thought – it would be his ability to take chances and leaps of faith, where a lot of people sit and deliberate a little too long.
The book, unlike many other startup/ entrepreneurship books, goes wide (by focusing on many businesses and many experiences) and not deep (by focusing on one or two businesses completely and bringing bulk of your learning to life through examples from that one experience). For every big lesson, Ronnie potentially looks at more than one of his businesses to highlight the how of it. He also has the liberty of quoting examples where he failed with something first, learnt his lessons, and then was able to do it differently the next time around. However, for the average reader, it also makes the book a higher level of academic reading and less autobiographical.
Ronnie’s book and his experiences are not uni-dimensional, and the book hence becomes an extremely enjoyable read. Occasionally, his personality comes across as obstinate, and one can see why, mostly, that is an important trait to have for the success of some of the ideas.
Great lessons, extremely conversational, slightly preachy, but a wide view of what entrepreneurship can be!
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