Showing posts with label Entrepreneur. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Entrepreneur. Show all posts

03 May, 2020

My Nostradamus moments in Retail

The year was 1998. My classmate and I created an online booking option at 123India, a popular website which allowed users to build websites with a personalised domain suffix for free. The Madras based Client was Enhancers, an Event Management Company which organised concerts, Carnatic & Fusion Music involving some of the most reputed artists in India and abroad. We were freelancers cum college students and had the privilege of companionship and brotherhood, sparingly some snacks and coffee on the house. After all, we wanted to put to good use the coding languages that we were learning at NIIT.  One could choose the Concert, click on Number of Tickets required, share their Phone Number and Residential Address and within 3 hours, we would deliver the tickets and collect the money.


That was when I imagined a day when as a Consumer, I would simply click a button on a website, order grocery, food and other items which would get delivered right at my doorstep. Few months later, I heard that a company was already doing something similar to this at California in the US. The firm went by the name Amazon. During my stint at Musicworld, I saw in action the same model put to use where HamaraCD, the Kiosk installed at the store could be used to build a personalised playlist digitally, which would get recorded at the backend and delivered to Customers in a week’s time. That a CD bearing 9-11 songs would cost ₹399/- was a deterrent to potential customers and the project never took off.


In 2015, I tried to go back to my idea of 1998 and tried to put it in to good use. I built a website myself on Zepo (similar to and an Indianised version of Shopify) where Customers could order Grocery and Household items which would be picked up by my team from a neighbourhood area and delivered to Customers. Oyethere was warmly welcomed and embraced by Customers and we made a lot of noise and news for delivering Tender Coconuts during the Summer of 2016 and Kabali Movie Tickets and T-Shirts thereafter. We delivered 100s of Patanjali products across Chennai and 100s of clay Ganesha Idols a day ahead of Pillaiyar Chathurthi 2016 – ones which were available by the roadside but many patrons ordered to simply see how this worked, for we also said we shall take back the Ganesha idols for immersion.


Investors although were not impressed. A noted personality from Mumbai, when I pitched at TiECon 2016 asked why would he order on our platform when he could walk down to buy it. He and many other “Potential Angel Investors” said the venture doesn’t make “Unit Economics” for we had more Opex than Revenues, an unwritten norm and a must-do for StartUps and Founders today. There was no Corona Lockdown back then. I said, our StartUp targeted “Cash Rich Time Poor” shoppers who preferred convenience over cost, because our model was to charge 2% on Retailers of the Order Value and a small fee from Shoppers. With volumes of deliveries, we would eventually break even. Those days, Swiggy and Zomato were not delivering Idlis or Burgers below the Menu Price, there was no concept of Delivery Charges for “parcel food” from Restaurants although MakeMyTrip and BookMyShow were already charging users. I convinced him and many others over the next three years, around 50+ pitches. I went back to a day job early this year.


When the Covid Crisis was taking shape and making headlines in India during the first week of March, I sensed a huge surge in OTT Consumption and switched Levista’s Advertising to News Channels instead of GECs. I also shared my views that Multiplexes would reserve 1 seat unutilised for every 4-6 seats which were blocked. And that Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo would redefine Hyperlocal Retailing. Small joys of life when I see things happening right in front of my eyes.

These are some of those “Nostradamus moments” for me as I look back at my 23 years of being in the Indian Retail Industry. There are many such instances that I could add and share. Like how Consumers would order online and get home-delivered Microwave Ovens, Refridgerators and LED Tvs along with grocery items, although not from the same App. Amazon Prime could be an exception. We’ve just begun. Miles to Go... 

15 April, 2020

100 Days of Employment

It’s ironical that I am writing this article on my 100 days of Employment from home. So be it. Out of the 100 days, 25 have been Work from Home, a first of it’s kind in my 2 decades of being employed. The first day of my job and almost everyday thereafter have been on the shop floor, meeting, interacting and solving consumer challenges – from helping them to choose the right merchandise to closing a sale, somehow. But the last 25 days have been very different, thanks to Covid-19 Crisis and the ensuing lockdown. More on that later.


 

Mid-December 2019, I was lounging with my classmate who had come to India for a vacation. We were at Westminister, Crowne Plaza (though we still call it as Park Sheraton) which is our favourite hangout for the past 20 of the 24 years we have known each other since studying UG together. The Waiter who used to serve us way back then is now the F&B Manager of the Hotel, something that makes us feel happy that everyone around us has been growing. I received a call from an unknown number and the caller identified himself as an HR Consultant and spoke briefly about a Coffee brand. In the next 24 hours, my tickets were booked to Bangalore for a face-to face Interview with the Management and in the next 7 days, an Offer Letter was sent while I was on vacation at Jim Corbett National Park for Christmas holidays. Things moved very fast, to my own surprise but that’s how God’s grace has always been. He surprises us without even us realizing what He is up to. I joined the company on 3 Jan., on my Father's Birthday!

 

I completed 100 days recently at Levista Coffee as Vice President managing Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, Logistics and everything in between. It has been a very short tenure yet, but a very fulfilling one. Be it setting up a Corporate Office from scratch (Furniture, Interiors, what not), to plan a detailed Business Plan for the next 24 months as I lead the company to greener pastures with a vision to accomplish 5% Market share of the Rs. 2,200 Crore Instant Coffee Market annually in India of which 80% is held between HUL and Nestle, who’s majority of business comes from Southern India. I have been fortunate to interact with executives and experts from the Indian Media Industry – small, big, large as well as meeting staff members along with prospective new recruits to join and grow the Sales & Marketing team meaningfully. Have also met and interacted with some very bright minds from the Indian Retail ecosystem who have been very supportive to a baby brand that we are, which is only 27 months young now.

 

After 100 days of this tenure, everything seems surreal. I was an Accidental Entrepreneur, thanks to a turn of events in the family way back in 2014. I was not prepared for running Retail Businesses or E-Commerce although Consulting was always on the cards. While all my entrepreneurial escapades went bust including a few Crores of personal savings between my wife and me, what has remained are memories and learnings. Something which I will cherish all my life and of course, am putting them to good use every day. Working for a retail company is very different than running one, for it’s easier to get paid than to pay employees. My hyperlocal ecommerce venture, which is incidentally the most utilized today during the N-Covid Crisis, where we delivered FMCG from nearby Retailers to Consumers was way ahead of time, perhaps. I received messages from a few friends over the last few days and even potential Investors who appreciated my forethought but was difficult to execute it then, due to lack of funds then.

 

Miles2Go Advisory Services, my Consulting firm worked with at least 50 Entrepreneurs on business ranging from Jewellery to Organic Bio-Manure, Agri-products to Idli-Sambar serving restaurant chains. Airports, Railways, Travel Retail Concepts were some of the areas where I worked in various consulting roles. This rich experience and exposure for over 60 months has helped me immensely as I wade my way through this complex maze of Retailing, yet again wearing a new hat (and new clothes!). I am learning every day; with a clean slate every morning – that I do not know anything about Retailing or the Retail Industry and that I get one more day to (unlearn) and learn from scratch.



I have Miles to Go. I have just begun.

13 October, 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... 

02 May, 2019

Marketing or Sales – Take your pick?

I participated in a professional debate after a very long time last week. The Topic was “Marketing or Sales - Take your Pick” organised by TiE Chennai. Quite obviously I was given the topic of Sales and the co-speaker was a much senior person to me with vast experience in Marketing & Lead Generation. The Moderator conducted the session very well asking some uncomfortable questions on behalf of the august audience who were all members of TiE Chennai and many of them young Entrepreneurs. The topic was more in the scheme of Entrepreneurship and Start-Ups. For a young Start-up, be it 1 month old or 3 years old (Oh, btw, Flipkart and Ola are not start-ups anymore – the unofficial timeframe that is globally accepted for a new business to be called a Start-up is only 5 years!), should it put its focus, money and effort on Marketing (Offline or Online) or on getting the first Sale (and successive Sales) therefore effectively in building a Sales Team which will eventually build a Sales pipeline. The jury was out that evening, as decided by the Moderator and “Sales” won the topic of the day hands down. However, my co-speaker as well as a few in the audience (and some of my friends too) had a different view. Many felt that a product becomes a Brand only because of it’s Marketing, Promotions, Brand Recall and so on. 


Here’s my take. If a Brand is only remembered for it’s Marketing and probably not for its Sales, then it is, perhaps not selling enough! There’s a good old saying that a good product doesn’t need Marketing. Then there is evoking, invoking and hard selling the theories of Ace Marketing Professor Peter F Drucker (with which accompanies loads of 2 decade old emotions from University PG days) by one and all. I am of the humble opinion that Marketing, in it’s true definition and application has truly changed in the last 3 decades, more so in the last decade with the emergence of the Millenials and Gen Z as consumers of products and services.

For Ex., the newest Indian Interest which are the Food hailing Apps, affectionately (sic) known in the Start-Up ecosystem as “FoodTech” – apparently using technology to sell food (hic). Companies that are funded by Wall St., the Chinese and the Japanese, tease customers who order through the App with deep discounts, at times 50% or more effectively making a mockery of the efforts of the Restaurateurs who prefer to align with these Apps for the fear of losing out to competition. Interestingly, none of these discounts are offered in most cases by the Restaurants themselves, rather by the FoodTech companies – in order to acquire new customers and retain existing ones. The so called coupon codes aka cost of acquiring new customers is shown as Marketing – for convenience purposes as well as for the Balance Sheet. So, what was traditionally known as a one off “Sampling exercise” has now morphed in to this. Most e-commerce companies that sprang up in the past 10 years or so have effectively used this tactic to raise more funding. This, I do not call as Marketing. Cut to bigger and established consumer brands who offer 10% extra Shampoo or 15 gms extra of Biscuits and 20% more of Air in packs of Chips for the same price – No, this I do not call Marketing either. 


The core principles of Marketing haven’t died, they have just been tweaked conveniently to suit new age Marketing Campaigns, created by new age Marketers, approved by new-age Marketing Standards to please new-age Millenials and Gen-Z Consumers. Be it is a Start-Up or a Larger company, if you are not selling enough to fund your cash flows, you will cease to exist in the short term, no matter how strong a brand equity you build. Everyone is not as lucky as a Flipkart or Idea Mobile. 

I have been a firm believer of the adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. In the recent Tamil film “Petta”, there’s a conversation between two friends how a Facebook video garnered thousands of likes and shares to which another quips, if these could fetch him a beer. This is the reality of the so called new-age Marketing. Even as we felt that the physical sampling of audience viewership by Research Firms was a dubious exercise, today’s digital marketing metrics are not just dubious but futile. In fact, most of today’s new-age techniques do not have a conversion to sale, thereby making the money and most importantly the time invested in the exercise, a gross wastage.


Yet, there’s so much hype for Marketing a new product or service without giving it the much needed Sales push. There’s only so much Marketing can do, finally the product has to sell. And sell again and again for the company to remain in business. Be it a Start-Up or an established one. Take your pick.

17 February, 2019

Sleep Matters


It’s been an eternal debate if it makes sense to fly business class or first class while the seats in the Economy Class also take us to the same destination. The arguments in favour and against this topic have been featured in various magazines, articles and even International symposiums and Travel Seminars worldwide, some of which I have personally attended. 

I have had so many memorable trips within India and outside. The first stamping on my passport was a Swiss Visa when I joined BIAL in 2006. I was sent for a study tour and orientation of Zurich Airport towards Travel Retail which was also one of the shareholders of BIAL, India’s first private airport built on a PPP model. Between 2006 – 2009, I travelled 10 countries including China, speaking about Indian Aviation at Conferences in Singapore & Malaysia. My most memorable trip has been the one on Singapore Airlines in 2007 on First Class, up and down for one of those Travel Retail Conferences where I was representing Indian Aviation and presented the masterplan for BIAL. Since then, I have taken hundreds of flights and especially between 2009 – 2014, I would travel 3 days a week, over 40 times a year and would live out of my Samsonite. Almost.


Ever since becoming an Entrepreneur in 2014, I started embracing Train Travel for two reasons; obviously it saves a lot of money (and associated pangs such as taxi fares, exorbitant coffee & food costs, etc). But most importantly, I started valuing my health and time. My retail venture Smiling Baby had its first Franchise store in Coimbatore, some 500 kms south west of Chennai; a few of my clients in my consulting business “Miles2Go Advisory Services” were located across various parts of Tamil Nadu such as Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Trichy, Salem, etc. And of course, on and off trips to Bangalore as well, mostly on work. I still travel by a flight when required – but my travel plans are clear; all journeys under 500 kms (typically overnight) would be by rail and all travel upwards of 500 kms would be on a flight. Been at it for a few years now and trust me, it’s worked so well.

Now that my preferred mode is chosen, I have experimented with the options and succeeded too; For all trips on business by Air, I have started opting for the first row or middle rows for an additional fee, thanks to my height at 6’2”. And I prefer seat “D” than any other; here’s why. When I am seated on Seat D, I get elbow space which is unhindered, so I can type on my MacBook – such as this article which I have written while flying Delhi to Mumbai one late evening; No other seat allows flawless movement of right elbow than this seat. Also, an extended legroom means I get more comfort while on the flight as well as when I land – which is paramount to having an efficient workday as well as to get some good sleep in the night. As much as I bemoan the atrocious additional charges of carriers, I still think God has been kind to me to take up these small mercies – after all, it’s me who benefits more than anyone else using these preferred seats once I land. The complimentary meal along with the additional cost means I get more time (mostly on ground before departure) so I wrap up as much as I can, including calls or responding to messages and short reply-emails.


Similarly, I avoid all flights that land after 9pm – most Indian airports have International movements in the nights and the ATC would give preference for landing & parking (near the Terminal Building) to them than the Domestic ones. So, when a domestic flight gets a remote parking bay – one which is far off, it takes double the time or more to even arrive at the Baggage area and then the subsequent processes of baggage retrieval, boarding a taxi, etc. While on Trains, I have become a big fan of 1st A/c with just 4 berths; one there is that much less noise level; two, there are no side berths which again impact my sleep and the productivity next day. This, again is based on experiences travelling with 8 persons in a single bay (3rd A/c), or getting a raw deal of a side berth even after paying a 2nd a/c fare. Oh, so my car drives on work or pleasure – that’s for another post. 


For me, the journey is always as important as the destination. If the journey is not a happy one, the destination will not be charming, no matter where it is. Life is similar too, And I have Miles to Go…

17 October, 2016

Chennai Shopping Festival

For the first time, Retailers in Chennai have come together to create a one of its kind Retail Promotion. Titled "Chennai Shopping Festival" (CSF), this is organised by the Retailers and for the Retailers of Chennai. My own start-up Smiling Baby, a baby store that caters to the needs of new born kids upto six years is a member of Retailers Association of India (RAI), an Industry body that represents our needs and requirements to the Government and other bodies. Under the auspices of RAI, members of the organisation have come forward to create a marketing property which is CSF. The idea was rolled over on our WhatsApp group by a member, seconded by a few of us and actioned by all of us in just a week's time from start to finish. We have built a simple website that provides information about the various participating stores and their offers. Take a look here.


Over 30 leading Retailers from Chennai spread over 300 stores in the city including Viveks, Odyssey, Basics Life to name a few have come forward to join in this promotion. The big highlight of this promotion is Uber has come forward to ferry passengers to select Retail Store locations by using the code CSF150 (One Free ride worth Rs. 150 for new users!).

We at Smiling Baby also have a few interesting offers.


Smiling Baby is located at E-135, 6th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai. Ph. 044-43507015 / 9176300015. Open All days from 10am - 9pm. Over 100 brands are available at competitive prices across categories such as Baby Care, nursing & Feeding, Maternity, Cosmetics, Baby Gear, Toys & Games, Apparel and Accessories. The store is the ONLY Destination Store for Medala, world's best mother care brand and houses the entire range of Medela products such as Breast Pumps, Maternity Hygiene, Feeding bottles and so on. One can also find world's other leading brands such as Chicco, Pigeon, Fisher Price, Himalaya, Johnson & Johnson and many others.

Once cam also shop online at www.smilibaby.in where the products will be delivered the same day or the next day with a Cash on Delivery option other than paying by Credit / Debit Cards at the place of delivery using mobile EDC machines.

Do spread the word; visit the website and click the "Get Offer" button so you receive an SMS to your mobile. Happy Festivities. Happy Shopping.

01 November, 2015

TieCon Chennai 2015 - Highlights

It's been a year since I turned an Entrepreneur. Ever since, I have been a member of TiE - The Indus Entrepreneurs, Chennai which is a group of current and future Entrepreneurs. The syndicate is professionally managed by a team of able people and has successful Entrepreneurs as Members, Charter Members and various other roles. TiE conducts atleast 3-4 events every month which is open to all members and non-members can join by paying a small fee. In the one year that I've been a member, I have benifited immensely by getting to know some very interesting and knowledgable people, some who have even turned out to be my business beneficiaries. TieCon is an annual event held by the Syndicate which aims to bring together Entrepreneurs of various walks of life. The current year's edition was held on Saturday, 31st Oct. 2015 which was preceded by an Awards Night were a few Entrepreneurs were recognised and honored for their contribution to the ecosystem. The event was held at The Grand Chola, one of the marquee locations in Chennai and is probably one of the biggest of its kind in the country.

The day started from 8am onwards, with bring entry of participants and a quick introduction and networking. The official proceedings commenced with a Drum show (yeah, Jus Drums! was the name of the team that performed) which woke not just the senses but also set a great day in motion. There were addresses by the Distinguished charter Member, Mr. Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice chairman of Cognizant Technologies, which is among the top 5 IT services companies of India,  Current President of TiE Chennai, Mr. Naru Narayanan and Event Chair, Ms. Padma Chandrasekaran. The day started  with a session by Mr. Mahesh Murthy, an angel Investor who has more than 50 companies in his portfolio which was followed with a key note address by Mr. Ronnie Screwala, Founder and CEO of UTv Pictures, a first generation Entrepreneur who was also the first in the country to operate a private Cable Tv Network way back in the 90s. He spoke about his journey, the struggles, the good ones and the not so good ones and the various aspects and facets of Entrepreneurship. 


Mr. Girish Mathrubootham, Founder of Chennai based Freshdesk, a SaaS company that provides tools for customer Service and Support to more than 50,000 clients all over the world was awared Big Billion Baby which included a fireside chat with the man himself, ably conducted by Mr. Chandu Nair, another serial entrepreneur and charter member of Tie Chennai. Girish spoke about his inspiring journey, hailing from erstwhile small town Trichy, having worked with some of the largest companies earlier which provided the same service, his first fund raise, the ups and downs and finally about the recent $50 million funding received by the company. An extremely humble and down to earth guy, he spoke about how Entrepreneurs have to sacrifice quite a bit of their family life and family time. Incidentally, the day marked his Wedding Anniversary too.

After this session, there was various Masterclasses, Mentoring sessions, Luncheon meetings and so on which was well attended enthusiastically by budding Entrepreneurs. 

I couldn't attend any of these sessions, for my latest and upcoming Hyperlocal Ecommerce Venture Oyethere.com was among the Top 20 Finalists for the Pitchfest which is a highlight of Tiecon. We were selected among 100s of applications that were submitted over the past few months and it was an honour and privilege to meet potential Investors and to have a one on one discussion with them. I had the opportunity to pitch to 8 Investors, and the feedback for the venture from each one of them was overwhelming. The Investors acknowledged the hotness of this category and wished me luck for the future. Some of them have said that we could meet in the coming days to discuss further. Will know the course of action and next steps in the coming days. 

After the Pitchfest was over, I joined back the main session which had an interesting standup Comedy session by Arvind Subramaniam of the popular theatre group Evam. The valedictory session was led by Mr. Raju Venkatraman, Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of Medall, a Chennai based Healthcare Company. The final session of the day was on Leadership Lessons from Actor Rajnikanth, presented by Mr. Mohanram, Theatre personality, Actor, Trainer and Entrepreneur. 


The day ended at 6pm with a lot of learning to more than 1,500 people who had gathered for the event. I, for one was double delighted with the recognition that my venture was given as well as meeting and hearing snippets from Entrepreneur stalwarts. 


10 August, 2015

The Seven Tenets of a Start-Up Entrepreneur

I wrote a column 10 days ago about my completion of one year of Entrepreneurship. It received unprecedented reach from my professional world. Over 2,500 people had viewed it, over 750 “Likes” and more than 75 people took time to comment on the article. A few requested me to keep writing and share more about Entrepreneurship and I am hence writing this as a follow-up article.

I would like to highlight the seven tenets of Entrepreneurship, as I have seen it in the past few years myself as well as from the experiences of those around me. Of course, there could be more but then these would summarise and may include other points as well within them.

All ideas are not monetisable

Most often, as to-be Entrepreneurs or existing Entrepreneurs, we try to build a case on an issue which we think could solve a problem. In some cases, it would solve even an unknown problem that the customer never knew (Read: Apple/Steve Jobs/iDevices). But before you build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or a Prototype, do check if the product you are building would be profitable (at some stage), scaleable (across geographeis, for example) and saleable (potential buyer for the business and not just customers). If these three points have a green tick, then you are good to 

Funding an Idea vs. a Person

Most often, one would hear that the Investor is not funding just the idea but the person as well. This is quite true. Most investors look at how the Founder/Promoter approaches the idea or concept and in general, their view of life. Only a few founders who go to build massive companies focus on the larger essence of life which excludes monetary and material pleasures. It doesn’t mean that the Founder takes a Public Transport to work or operates in a dingy pigeon-hole work environment. It means how frugal they are in their thought process about spending every penny that has been invested into the venture by Investors.

Looking for an Angel Friend

Most Entrepreneurs, mostly first gen like me, do not come with the backing of a family office or hereditary wealth. They save up a bit and start off at some point in their life mostly depending on someone else to fund their ideas. While friends and family would encourage them to move ahead, you would also see them exercising caution, not to be myopic in their view of business and life. Those who talk big stuff, usually end up doing nothing for the Founders. Some avoid emails and calls, let alone introductions to potential Investors. But that’s just fine. Don’t mix up Funding and Friendship.


Age No Bar

There is no age for starting up. If you think you are willing to give up your lifestyle (that doesn’t mean a compromise though) and work a bit harder than you are working for someone else ((I mean like, really hard), then give it a shot. Fix a timeline by when you will return back (unfortunately or otherwise) to a day job if things don’t go your way. There is no fixed time for this. It could be a year to five at the max. In five years if you haven’t got it right, with just one idea or probably a handful, then I guess it is time to move on.

Money, Money, Money

Save quite a bit before you start-up. Things could go horribly wrong with your idea, product or service. You may need money to demonstrate, scale-up and prove that what you have founded works. In the meanwhile, you could have other compulsions – family, health issues, insurance, vehicle repairs, etc. It is wise to keep aside your minimum monthly requirements for atleast 36 months before you start your venture to be on the safer side. That is if you are willing to sail that path for so long.

Reboot – Plan B

If one idea doesn’t work over a period of time (as an Entrepreneur, you would know what’s best), then have Plan B, C, D and so on. Never get stuck with just one idea that you believe could change the world dramatically. Have alternate ideas and plans. Remember, it is you who has to click as an Entrepreneur and not just the idea. It’s a two-pronged approach and you need to keep this in mind. Always.

Never Give Up

You will hear advises from all over the world around you. Believe me, talk is cheap and free. At the maximum, data charges for emails and messages and perhaps call charges. The Advisor loses nothing to preach. However, they could be people like you who have started up and failed and their wisdom is speaking. They could also be those who started up and succeeded but probably know the difficulties. If you keep the above six points in mind, then go ahead with what you believe in. Never Give Up. But do remember, all ideas do not work for various reasons. So have the grace to accept and move on.

Hope the above points have helped you as a budding Entrepreneur or if you are already one. Cheers.

01 August, 2015

One Year as an Entrepreneur!

It’s already been a year, I wondered. What started as a passionate journey has gained momentum in the past 12 months. Life has been very different, as an Entrepreneur to say the least. It is one thing to turn an Entrepreneur when you are in your fifties – you probably have enough savings to dip in, dabble on experiments and have alternate plans if one thing doesn’t work. The world has indeed seen many successful Entrepreneurs who started late in their lives. And it is completely different to start off on your own when you are in your twenties, which currently seems to be the flavour of the Entrepreneurial ecosystem. Lads that age have successfully demonstrated that their ideas can be converted into mega-businesses, touching the lives of millions of people. So, starting off in my late 30s was something I was not very comfortable, honestly, at the outset. I was having a fixed salary, enjoying air travels and hotels across the country, meeting the high and mighty exchanging business cards of large companies who gave me the identity that I probably deserved.


But things changed. They had to. The past two years have been troublesome for me, at a personal front which had an impact on me professionally. Entrepreneurship instincts come naturally to a few, and many others develop it over time. Mine was the latter. That’s probably because being born and raised up in middle class environments taught me the essence of valuing money. It was not too wise to let go of all what you have earned and saved, forget borrowing and running a business. It’s a bit of a taboo too, for an Entrepreneur is expected to do things which one doesn’t have to otherwise. I too, like any other person thought of all these things before I ventured in to the entrepreneurial journey. To say the least, it has been extremely gratifying and satisfying. I have learnt quite a few things more in the past 12 months, which I may not have seen and learned if I was still working for someone.


The decision to start my own venture was a well thought out plan. My wife, who is my pillar of strength (sounds a bit clichéd but a golden truth) and I planned our goals meticulously for over a year before I finally got on to it. We worked on various business plans and models and finally arrived at something what we thought was a profitable, scalable and a saleable model. Smiling Baby (a baby shop that would cater to young parents and parents to-be) was first coined in my car during a long trip we had undertaken followed by the logo designs on a computer screen. Quite soon, the first store was up and ready. We commenced operations on a Friday. We had sunk in (or invested, if that sounds right) almost all our savings that we had accumulated over the past decade or so. It was a roller-coaster ride that we anticipated. And boy, what a ride it has been. I would have met atleast a 100 potential so-called Investors over the past 2 years. The very first one whom we met chided the idea. The person (and I am not going to identify their gender at this stage) discouraged me to pursue Entrepreneurship and instead focus on a day job which was more stable and secure since I had a family and two little girls. I gave a patient ear. And went about what my heart said. No offence to the person’s thoughts.


We prepared and shared a MS Powerpoint presentation coupled with backing numbers on an MS Excel Work Sheet with numerous people. The first question was – “Have you started off?” and this kept bothering me. It looked like they would pour money once we started. And there were quite a few examples that way in the entrepreneurial ecosystem already where professionals had been backed by “Angel” Investors who went on to build successful companies. So, I decided to quite a full time career and start off – 1st Aug. 2014 was the day I was officially an Entrepreneur. Wishes and congrats poured on my LinkedIn page along with messages and calls from all corners of the world. Friends and Acquaintances appreciated my gall to quit a full time salaried job and pursue my dreams. It was very encouraging and I honestly enjoyed the attention and spot light for a few days.


We spoke and met a number of so called potential Investors. Some displayed grace. They heard our story. They encouraged us. They offered to support us. Many others said this would fail, probably they were a lot more clairvoyant than me for they were seasoned “Investors” who could predict which way things would go. They knew cock-shit about Retail, forget knowing what it takes to quit a full time job and become an Entrepreneur especially when you have a Cancer patient at home and five dependents including your little ones to take care of.


I should have probably listened to them and should have quit being an Entrepreneur. I didn’t since I was already in the game and wanted to give it a whole try. Things were fine for some time. Not a single instance of brick-bats from our customers, who appreciated what we were doing. The journey was turbulent but we thought it would stabilise slowly. Unfortunately, things didn’t go the way we had anticipated. There were a few reasons for this – we were a bit myopic in our thoughts about the business. I was quite confident I could raise money in a couple of months from starting, since the business idea was a strong one. It continues to remain so. And I had a decent pedigree – I was among the Top 50 Retail Professionals in India as recognised by a top research firm in 2014.  


We went door after door, making presentations and pitches, changing our business course as we moved forward from time to time. Our bank balances were drying. And one day, it was near empty. A few good Samaritans came forward to help us cross the bridge. It gave us a buffer. Although a short one. Those who had promised to support us couldn’t, for various reasons. Many emails, messages and calls went unanswered. We were losing hope on people whom we thought would give us a helping hand. I was willing to offer even half of my equity at some stage, just to ensure survival. Things went awry. My lowest point was for a few days when I gave up even on God.


I finally came to terms. It was my life and no one is expected to make an impact on it except me. Probably my close family and a few friends. I decided to shut the first store we had taken on lease. I had built it more passionately than the three houses we had bought in our lifetime over the last decade. I pulled out everything out of the first store, some personally with my own hands. I was choking. But with a glee in my heart, that this was not the end. And probably it could have got worse.


On 31st July 2015, the day I completed 365 days as an Entrepreneur. This day and date will be etched in my mind all my life. It was a Friday too. The day we commenced our venture. And on this day, I had to legally cancel the lease agreement. It was a couple of hours’ thing and it was all over. Finally. For a venture which was started with so much excitement, it was not the best way to end.


As I wake up, sip my coffee and write this article, I begin my second year as an Entrepreneur. I have stood up, dusted, come to terms with the Ecosystem and have moved on as an Entrepreneur although I have a bit of baggage left as an individual. I have lost faith in people whom I trusted and those whom I didn’t know much – I would get carried away at times by sweet talk, but not anymore. I have realised that people come and go out of our lives for a reason. The “going” and let-go part seems to be more important, on a lighter note.


I always thanked my ecosystem for making me a reasonably successful professional over the past 18 years. In my first job when I used to scoop Ice-Cream 18 years back at Baskin Robbins as a part time job during my graduation, little did I realise that I would be blessed to offer jobs to a few people one day. “My Retail Journey” has been a very exciting one. And it continues to be so. I felt that an important reason for my success was the ecosystem. And I also feel that the same ecosystem let me down as a first time Entrepreneur. Am not sure how much importance should I give anymore to the ecosystem though. But I will continue to respect the views of people around me, although I may not be able to abide by what they say at all times for all issues, unanimously.


I have a few plans for the next couple months on what I should be focussing on. This time, I have not one but multiple back-up plans. Although they are just plans on paper and computer at the moment. But am sure, I am going to crack this, come what may. I cannot and shall not allow life dictate terms to me. This is my life and I shall live it the way it suits me and those around me the best.


I have Miles to go, before I sleep. This is not the end of year 1, this is the beginning of Year 2.


Watch this space. 

01 February, 2015

180 Days as an Entrepreneur

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I started my entrepreneurial journey exactly six months back from today, on 1st Aug. 2014. The journey has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride. I have always wanted to have a company for myself, but for that to happen in 2014 was based on various conditions at workplace and home. The last six months have been super exciting – everyday has been a revelation. I set foot by creating a retail business for myself, Smiling Baby which is a baby care venture that focuses on a wide range for products aimed at newborn children upto six years of age and catering to the aspirational middle class to shop in an affordable, comfortable and convenient environment. Confluence Retail Private Limited was established on an auspicious occasion – Teacher’s Day, which fell on 5th Sep. 2014. It was a great way of me dedicating my efforts to my teachers and Gurus, my mentors and well wishes and to everyone who have taught me a lesson or two in my personal, professional and public life.

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We inaugurated the (physical) retail store on Friday, 26th Sep. 2014 and the venture is seeing good traction. We are currently taking the next big leap of taking the business to the web, but it wouldn’t be yet another E-Commerce store selling diapers and creams at deep discounts but something more engaging and interesting.

Here are some lessons that I learned as an Entrepreneur which I would like to share;

  • Time Management – From waking up in the morning to hitting the sack late in the night, time is at our own disposal. What we do with it completely depends on what outcome we expect out of it.
  • Results are directly linked to the efforts we put in. Well, its the same while we work somewhere else, but most probably we are working in large or small teams. But as an Entrepreneur, we are working for ourselves and most often alone, or in a short team.
  • Blame ourselves when things go wrong; probably try to put the pieces together and find out what went wrong, where and why. No Blame Game – no one to pass on the buck - to juniors, seniors or peers.
  • Money Management is key – as important as managing time. While most Entrepreneurs start off with a buffer of savings, what we fail to remember is to keep maintaining or building the buffer from time to time to help you stay longer in the game.
  • Trusting those around – this has been a great challenge for me. While we work for large organizations, we believe people will do their job. But when you are on your own, it requires a lot more monitoring and follow-ups.
  • Getting compliments from your first time and repeat customers – gives us a high but also makes us to be more and more modest.

Some of the pain points compared to a professional life;

  • After being in the Corporate world for a decade and a half, we expect a certain level of professionalism at work, which doesn’t happen in most cases.
  • People walk in at their will at your office and expect you to value their time, leaving behind what we have been working upon.
  • There is no respect for appointments – in most cases, we are taken for granted since we don’t carry a business card of a popular company!
  • Money is always scarce, especially if we are used to a certain lifestyle.
  • Friends and Family look up to us differently – as though we are wasting time without pursuing a full time job.

Overall, its been one exciting journey, a very long in terms of knowledge yet a short one in time. I have learned a lot more things in the last six months than in the past six years or so, probably. Setting up your own company, especially in the Retail world which has its own complications from Finance to Supply Chain, Marketing to Operations.

The journey has just begun and I have Miles to Go before I sleep…

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