Beyond Self-Made: The power of a support system in entrepreneurship
Pratiksha Rastogi
10X People

Beyond Self-Made: The power of a support system in entrepreneurship

Even the most hard-fought success stories are often buoyed by external support, whether from life partners, family, friends, or even strangers. In the most common sense, a self-made individual is often portrayed as someone who achieves success solely through their efforts. This article aims to highlight the fallacy of this notion.

On this particular night in 1981, while having a meal with his wife, Narayan Murthy went straight to the point and said, ‘I need some money to get the company started. Can you help?’ 

Sudha Murthy was taken aback. ‘But I don’t have that kind of money needed to establish a company!’ she cried. ‘And we have so many expenses to meet each month.’ 

‘But without your help, I can’t do it.’, Murthy explained. 

That night, after Murthy went to sleep, Sudha lay thinking. She had saved Rs 10,250 in a span of three years. For a while, it frightened her to think that if she gave it away there would be nothing left in case of an emergency. 

Then she said to herself, resolutely, “This has always been Murthy’s dream, and now it is so close. I must help him. What’s the worst that can happen? The business will fail. In that case, he can always take up a job. And I will be working, too. 

The next day, she handed Rs 10000 to Murthy keeping only Rs 250 to use in case of emergencies. And what she said next propelled Murthy to take on the plunge. She said, “Regret is worse than failure. So let’s go for a wild ride! It doesn’t matter whether it’s joyous or bumpy. We’ll be on it together.” 

Later in life, in an interview, Sudha admitted that ‘it was the best investment of her life’. 


The power of collaboration

So why am I sharing this story of Sudha and Narayan Murthy with you? 

Their story underscores a fundamental truth: success is seldom achieved in isolation. 

Even the most hard-fought success stories are often buoyed by external support, whether from life partners, family, friends, or even strangers. In the most common sense, a self-made individual is often portrayed as someone who achieves success solely through their efforts. But Sudha and Narayan's story highlights the fallacy of this notion.

By saying this do I mean to negate the hard work an individual puts in to achieve their dreams? 


Instead, this illustrates that even for the most hard-fought, bootstrapped success story, it shouldn’t take long to find something that enabled their success that was completely outside their control. And in turn, something to be grateful for.

During Narayan’s journey to build Infosys, Sudha was a great help. Impatient to launch his new business, Murthy was working twenty hours a day at times, and he had to take trips to foreign countries for months. There would be days when he couldn’t share a single meal with his family even when he was in town. 

Sure, Murthy was the one putting in the hard work, and sometimes he also had to experience the loneliness of being a leader but how can we neglect the unsaid understanding and contributions that came from the people around him? Even his children understood and respected the fact that his father couldn’t be as available as many other parents, and whatever time they could get from his schedule, they were happy with that. 

Everyone plays a role in your journey

Mind you, it’s not always your life partner, your family, or your friends who support you in your journey selflessly. Sometimes, you’ll encounter strangers who will unknowingly become an integral part of your story. For instance, when Narayan Murthy was a school-kid, he was taught in the regional language, Kannada. At that time, he wasn’t aware of the importance of learning English and he might have only known later in life if it weren’t for this ‘unusual source’. 

He recalls, “We had a grocery shop opposite our house. Many times, I would see the old shopkeeper deeply absorbed in reading the best English newspaper in Karnataka at that time” 

“For some inexplicable reason, this shopkeeper took an interest in my education. Often, he would quiz me on international news, including political events, sports, and science. I would invariably fail. One day he gave me a long lecture on why English was important for my career and asked me to read the English newspaper every day. When I told him that we did not get one at home, and my father would never agree to the extra expense of buying one, he offered me the first use of his English paper. 

From that day on, I would be eagerly waiting for his shop to open every morning at 7 a.m. I would immediately run there and read the paper for half an hour before going to the school. This is when I got into the habit of reading English.”

While the efforts to learn the language and inculcate the habit of reading were made by Narayan that later helped him in life, what we can’t neglect is this thoughtful act of the shopkeeper who only thought of a young boy’s future. 

While entrepreneurs often need financial aid for their businesses, what they also need is a strong support system that believes in them even on the days they wish to give up. Often this support system might not even understand what you are set out to achieve, and they don’t know whether or not you’ll be successful in your endeavor, yet they stand by your side. 

One theory that aligns closely with this perspective is the "Systems Theory" proposed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy. This theory emphasises that individuals are not isolated entities but are part of larger systems, such as families, communities, and societies. According to this theory, an individual's success is influenced by the interactions within these systems, as well as the larger socio-cultural and economic contexts.

In the context of self-made individuals, Systems Theory suggests that while personal effort and determination are important, success is also influenced by the support, opportunities, and constraints present within the larger systems in which individuals operate. This theory underscores the idea that no individual can truly be self-made, as their achievements are always shaped by the interactions and dynamics of the systems around them.

The power of a supportive team

The team members also play an integral part in the making of a successful business - when Narayan Murthy informed his then assistant manager, N.S. Raghavan, about his dream of building Infosys and his resignation at PCS, Raghavan immediately said, ‘If you’re leaving, I’m coming with you.’

Murthy, who was taken aback, warned him, “It may not be wise to follow someone who has no idea where he is going. I don’t even have a name for my company!”

Raghavan shrugged, ‘I’ll follow you wherever you go”. 

Finding a team member who was steadfastly loyal to Narayan gave him the push that he didn’t even know he needed. And not just Raghavan, many others believed in Murthy, and based on that belief, they risked their livelihood to join him in his journey. It’s another thing that they all are now successful beyond imagination and Murthy always kept their needs before his own but taking this leap of faith couldn't have been easier for any of them. 

Another prominent support system that has been reflected in the entire book is Sudha’s family - who took care of their children, Akshata and Rohan, for years, without complaining and merely out of unbound love. 

It’s always the smallest of the gestures, which when you think about, are not small for the individual who is on the receiving end. If Sudha’s parents and her sister hadn’t helped so graciously, chances are that Infosys wouldn’t be where it is today. 

A humble reminder

If you are an entrepreneur- strike that - if you have achieved anything in your life, it’s essential to be always aware of the contribution of others in your journey even when you can easily take all the credit yourself - make sure that you give credit where it's due and don’t demean the efforts of others by letting yourself fall in the list of ‘self-made’ individuals. 

The legendary Cosmologist Carl Sagan recognised this interconnectivity in his field. He remarked, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe”. 

I believe what holds true for “self-made” apple pie may also be true of “self-made” billionaires.

About Infosys: 

Infosys, under Narayana Murthy's leadership, pioneered the global delivery model, propelling the Indian IT industry to global success. It was the first Indian company listed on NASDAQ and established India's largest employee stock options program, creating numerous millionaires and billionaires. Starting with $250, Infosys is now an $18.38 billion company with a market cap of approximately $70 billion. Voted among the world's most innovative, best-managed, respected, ethical, and green companies by Time, Forbes, and Fortune.

Author's Note:

The incidents narrated in this article are drawn from the inspiring biography "The Uncommon Love" by Chitra Banerjee Diwakaruni. The book beautifully chronicles the journey of Sudha and Narayan Murthy, highlighting their unwavering commitment to each other and their shared dreams. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the author for bringing this authentic and uplifting story to readers, underscoring the power of collaboration, and challenging the myth of self-made success.