Often I am asked what is so special about Manipal and why am I so fond of it. One selfish reason could be that Manipal has reciprocated my love amply. I am still invited by various clubs. It feels good to be remembered. Among many other reasons, I pick up one specifically today. It is the spirit of entrepreneurship. Manipal encourages youngsters to take up business at an early age.
Business is not everyone’s cup of tea. It needs a single minded devotion to do it. Yet despite every checks and balances, sometimes things can go totally wrong. The Manipal Youngsters are a smart lot and God forbid, may never experience it. Here are a few anecdotes though to elucidate my point.
To begin with the million dollar question, “ Experience or Youth?” It is a difficult question. Both have their positives. Experience can help avoid pit falls. But it can also make one ultra careful. The good thing about youth, on the other hand, is that it is open minded, devoid of any prejudices and have an abundance of raw energy. Sometimes impetuosity may get the better of them and care should be taken to temper it. Smart is the businessman who has a careful mix. Still my vote would go for youth. Even if you mess up big time, there is time to mend. So guys, you are doing the right thing. At least there is time to know if you have it in you or not.
I have been a businessman for half my professional life. The entrepreneurial bug bit my ass very early in life. Perhaps if our enthusiasm had been tempered with a little experience, we may not have lost money.
Often it is said that selecting the right product is the key to any good business. We selected the best product anyone could imagine and yet we failed. It was a car cooler, especially suited for the hot, scalding summers in the north when the air-conditioning becomes ineffective. We were young, enthusiastic and aggressive like all youngsters. Before even the launch, we had booked our entire first consignment. To top it, we had a huge booking too. We were counting our money in our dreams.
However, we made one big mistake.
We had seen this product in the simulated environment in Bell Labs in Bangalore. Bangalore those days used to be delightfully cool, with or without a cooler, even when North was blistering. In our over excitement, we didn’t discount these points. So when later we drove the car in Bangalore, it gave the most pleasant feeling. We felt dizzy with excitement. We had proved our parents and our teachers wrong.
When the product came in the market, it created double sensation. One when it was launched and immediately the second day when it failed. The car became oppressively stuffy as soon as the cooler was switched on.
We were left with dozens of coolers worth their weight in scrap. The Managing Director of that prestigious company fled that same night to USA never to come again. Those weren’t the days of twitter and 24/7 channels. A small column on the Page 3 informed us about the absconding MD.
Our meager savings and not so meager loans were now the tenants of those fibre boxes. It was a high tech day light robbery committed by a brilliant technocrat with an evil mind.
Many years later, Manipal happened.
I used to joke that the difference in my life in Miami and Manipal was that during weekends in Miami I used to be either on my ass or my back depending on whether I was on the beach or the pub where as in Manipal it used to be always on my legs. My ass and back would have been archived if they were on desktop. It was thrilling, at least till the business dropped. The pizza corner, however, didn’t fail per se. In fact it was a huge hit in Manipal. The old students may remember the long wait outside. We were mature enough to anticipate the competition. But whatever Modus operandi we had seen of the competitors, we were sure that they wouldn’t come to Manipal for at least three years by which time we would have happily broken even. But the cut throat competition drove the MNCs much before.
Now this was a captive market with not much floating population. The Pie ( or shall I say pizza!) got divided into many small pieces for all us monkeys. We had to decide.
Business is like playing cards. You must know when to walk away and when to run (So much for originality. Thank you Kenny Rogers). So we decided to scoot. We couldn’t fight the might of the mighty. We relocated to AP. We survived.
We survived also because we didn’t do the common mistake that a beginner does. One should never gamble all his money. There should always be ample contingency allowance. In their enthusiasm, the new entrepreneurs gamble more than their capital while the rule is to invest only a fraction. There are gamblers who have been successful but I wouldn’t treat them as role models.
Does luck play any part? Like hell it does. Take the case of Cobra beer in the UK. I was aghast when I saw an Indian entering the already saturated beer market and that too with a creepy logo and with a weird name. I still do not think it was acumen or smart marketing which made it a very popular beer. Remember guys, Lady Gaga arrived pretty late. UK when I lived there, was still quite orthodox. The jury is still not out on this but no harm in keeping the Lady luck in your good books.
A blog is never enough to cover all issues. But there is one final heart breaking question. What if despite all precautions the project fails? Well one has to be pragmatic enough to decide why did it do so and whether to pump in more funds or fold it and look for better option.
But importantly, it’s not the end of life. One doesn’t have to depressed. When one door closes, other opens.
Now I am almost retired to a life of writing, which I had been passionate about but never had the time. I am happy. My needs are less. But I can say it with conviction that given a chance I would once again go for some enterprise. In the concluding part, I would like to describe the glamorous part of doing business. Like the thrill of being your own boss or the perks- like you can go for binge drinking even on a working day . (That never happens. Free time for a businessman is like those free air miles offered by the air line companies. These are seldom used.)