Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Accidental Entrepreneur

The first 15 years of my career was filled with exciting tenures at some of India’s top Retail companies. My flagship stints include designing and setting up the entire retail areas at India’s first private Airport at Bangalore in 2006. Subsequently I joined Café Coffee Day in 2009 and went on to set-up 140 cafés all India, all of them being operated directly by the company, save for a few Airports which were operated by JV partners. In 2012, I moved back from Bangalore after working there for 8 years to my hometown Chennai to join the world’s oldest automobile company in continuous production and India’s pride, Royal Enfield Motorcycles where I was responsible for transitioning to the new Retail Identity as well as setting up 160 dealerships across India. In all these three companies, I had the privilege to work with some of the best minds in the world and in India including with two top Entrepreneurs and I always dreamt of a confirmed berth in the C-suite by the time I hit my 40s (which is around now). But destiny had other plans. Good or Bad, I am yet to decipher. 


Due to certain personal situations, I had to give up my professional career and that’s how I ended up becoming an Entrepreneur. An Accidental Entrepreneur. With no prior knowledge in running an own business, with no access to external capital or hereditary wealth and of course not a surname that would get me the first Sales order, I went about setting up my first venture which was an offline retail store selling baby products. We had a grand vision but were short on funds although we (my wife and I) invested our lifetime savings into the venture. Various reasons were to our disadvantage including the 2015 Natural calamity due to which I ran out of fuel sooner than I thought. Everytime I decided to give up on Entrepreneurship, there was a strong reason emerged why I should continue what I had started. And this was only reemphasized during the recently concluded TiECon 2019, the annual flagship event hosted by TiE Chennai.


I became a member of TiE Chennai in 2014 and was invited to join as a Charter Member earlier this year. I have seen in close quarters how the Entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chennai has thrived despite the overall conservative ideology of Investors here. I have seen a few Start-Ups who have gone to become larger in scale and operations while a few haven’t been lucky. 


The conclave this year had some outstanding speakers such as Mr. Vineet Nayar (HCL) and Mr. Harish Bhat (Tata Sons) who had come over from far away and shared their experiences and the opportunity that India offers. Many other Entrepreneurs who were on stage as well as off-stage only displayed courage and positivity about Entrepreneurship even during the current turbulent times and have infused a new sense of optimism in me about various possibilities that lay ahead. 

Vineet Nayar shared an anecdote of how and why Entrepreneurs should choose to be a butterfly but not an ant and keep fluttering their wings, come what may and never give up on dreams. Mr. VR Muthu, the Founder of VVS Sons which owns “Idhayam” Gingely Oil spoke on his own experiences of failures and successes and how he convinced Retailers to stock and sell their products with innovative marketing methods which has a 10% contribution to revenues from Exports, thanks to the global Tamil diaspora. Mr. Sathish Kumar from Erode whose Company owns “Milky Mist” range of dairy products created a Mobile App using which the so-called “North Indian” food item "Paneer" has been used by the regional population in Tamil Nadu with innovative menu offering. Sathish doesn’t have an Ivy league degree, runs a 500 Crore company, recently appointed by a former top-honcho from Amul and has clearly displayed that Higher Education is not a guarantee for success and that one can employ the right talent to grow the business.


NextGen Entrepreneurs Tharun Mahadevan, Manu Ranjith and Sanjay Dasari spoke on how they never used their surnames to get the first Purchase Order and how their international education and exposure helped them to look at a larger perspective than their peers who have been educated within the country. Mr. Murugavel who built India's first formal match-making company and made an IPO with it and Mr. Suresh Sambandam whose company Kissflow has led the SaaS revolution in India along with Zoho and Freshworks from Chennai revealed how the IT Industry could contribute over a Trillion US Dollars to the Indian Economy in the coming years.

I am an eternal optimist with a Never-say-Die attitude and TiECon 2019 has only been an eye-opener for me that many other Entrepreneurs who were/ are more disadvantaged than me have overcome severe hardships and business failures including financial losses worse than I have and that I have no reason to give-up yet, having sailed 5 years already in to this. 



As I always say, I have Miles to Go... 

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