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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Big Billion Day by Flipkart.com

Flipkart.com announced Big Billion Day sale on 6th Oct 2014.  What followed is known to most of us. FK sent a letter of apology to all its customers.  The letter is reproduced here at the end of this post.  I am posting my reply in response to their letter which is here:

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Dear Sachin & Binny

I am really delighted getting this mail from you. This is what I was expecting when I kept receiving many messages through my FB page and twitter handle, about the unfortunate experiences of many customers, especially through my students. Some of them called Flipkart ... a FakeKart. Believe me I felt hurt as I have been experiencing excellent services by Flipkart ever since you started operations. The gesture of admission and sense of humility that your mail portrays, shall help you grow better when we look at long term perspective for the firm as a whole. 

I have been using FK for last many years, rather from the very initial time when you started your operation. Initially my focus was books and you supplied them at your best capability and beyond my expectations so far as delivery time is concerned. That helped me spread the word to my colleagues, friends and students and FK became my friend in need. As a teacher of Strategy to my masters students, the case of FK came very handy and my rich collection of news and articles published in different magazines and periodicals about FK including many interviews of both of you helped me understand your company, commitment, and concern. 

The entry of Amazon provided you with unprecedented competition and I think you have done remarkable well in order to maintain your market share and expanding the size of the pie. For the customers there can not be a better time than this. And their expectations are really high and that is a greater challenge that you are posed with and you know you have the ability and competence to converting this challenge into an opportunity.

I read some people calling you both as ALIBABAs of India and even sometime Jeff Bezos of India. I do not think that you identities can be compared.

I shall look forward for your recovery and reconciliation with bright colors and hope that FK shall toil hard to become a Great company in the real sense of the term as Jim Collins put it (Good to Great) and honest spirit of Humility shall make both of you Level 5 Leader. Good luck.

best wishes

vijay

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The copy of the letter sent by Flipkart on 7th Oct 2014, to all its customers

Dear Customer,

Yesterday was a big day for us. And we really wanted it to be a great day for you. But at the end of the day, we know that your experience was less than pleasant. We did not live up to the promises we made and for that we are really and truly sorry.

It took enormous effort from everyone at Flipkart, many months of preparation and pushing our capabilities and systems to the limit to be able to create this day. We were looking at fulfilling the dreams of millions of Indian consumers through deals and offers we had painstakingly put together for months.

And though we saw unprecedented interest in our products and traffic like never before, we also realized that we were not adequately prepared for the sheer scale of the event. We didn't source enough products and deals in advance to cater to your requirements. To add to this, the load on our server led to intermittent outages, further impacting your shopping experience on our site.

An unprecedented 1.5 million people shopped at Flipkart yesterday. While we stand humbled by the sheer faith that such a large number of customers have shown in us, we are unhappy that we were unable to live up to the expectations of millions more who wanted to buy from us yesterday.

And this is not acceptable to us.

Delighting you, and every single one of our customers, is absolutely the top most priority for Flipkart and we have worked very hard over the last seven years to earn your trust. Yesterday, we failed that trust. We have learnt some valuable lessons from this and have started working doubly hard to address all the issues that cropped up during this sale.

Price Changes As we were preparing various deals and promotional pricing in the lead up to the sale, the pricing of several products got ​changed to their non-discounted rates for a few hours​. We realise that this breaks the trust our customers have put in us. We are truly sorry for this and will ensure that this never happens again.

Out-of-stock Issues We ran out of the stock for many products within a few minutes (and in some cases, seconds) of the sale going live. For example, most of our special deals were sold out as soon as they went live. We had ensured availability, anywhere from hundreds to a few lakh units for various products, but it was nowhere near the actual demand. We promise to plan much better for future promotions and ensure that we minimise the out-of-stock issues.

Cancellations We had large number of people buying specific products simultaneously. This led to some instances of an order getting over-booked for a product that was sold out just a few seconds ago. We are working round-the-clock to ensure availability of additional units for these products and will do our level best to ensure that we minimise any cancellations.

Website Issues ​We realise that the shopping experience for many of you was frustrating due to errors and unavailability of the website at times. We had deployed nearly 5000 servers and had prepared for 20 times the traffic growth - but the volume of traffic at different times of the day was much higher than this. We are continuing to significantly scale up all our back end systems so that we do a much, much better job next time.

Everything that we have achieved at Flipkart is purely on the basis of our customer's trust and faith. This is why we come to work each day and continue to remain extremely passionate about building the best possible customer experience for Indian consumers. We failed to live up to this promise yesterday and would like to apologise once again to every single customer for our failure.

Thank you.

Sachin and Binny

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship: an idea worth pursuing

Kim and Renee brought out the concept of Blue Ocean Strategy in 2004 through their research and writings and popularised it. That was related to the organizations that were trying to compete and were finding it difficult to sustain in the market full of related products and services and the pressures of the market in improving quality, reducing prices, designing well defended promotional schemes etc.  This is where BOS proposed to create a new market, develop a new product, convert noncustomers to customers, convey a new message, so that one does not feel the pressure of competition.  It was to kill competition and create a blue ocean where there is no competition.  And when in this blue ocean, competitors take birth, participate and compete and start hitting and eating your share it converts the blue ocean into red ocean.  This is the time one needs to come out of it and create another blue ocean. This strategy helped many companies to learn lessons and create blue oceans.

Now, Kim and Renee expand BOS towards focusing on individuals as they propose Blue Ocean Leadership for attention and practice which opens new way of looking at the problem of leadership at different levels. Traditionally most of the leadership development programs have been focusing on the values, qualities, and behavioural styles, generic practices in isolation of market/customer requirements, and the impact of executive's potential on organizational performance.  BOL questions it and suggests to concentrate on the acts and activities, developing different ways to face market realities, and to engage and empower employees to lead and take appropriate decisions at their level.

I think we need to concentrate on developing Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship (BOE) in India which could be conceptualized and practiced through the learning of BOS and BOL. The primary learning of BOS is to develop new products and services and make competition irrelevant; however it has many other facets as well. It is not merely developing new and innovative products and services but also to create and follow new modes of delivery to reach out to the customers and to explore new markets and play role in this ‘uncontested market space’.  The whole focus is on creating, adding and delivering value to the customer.  This opens new kind of thinking in the minds of entrepreneurs who toil hard to sustain themselves in the competitive market. The untapped customers have to be studied and accordingly products and services have to be innovated and served in order to create a new market segment.

When I look at the young entrepreneurs, I tend to believe that the energy and enthusiasm that they possess and depict would guide them to explore new markets and converting non-customers to customers through value added products and services would be one of their focus areas.  The use of technology for establishing backward as well as forward linkages has been possible through the innovative ideas and their effective implementation in this direction.  If one looks at some of the products which are prominent and market leaders, it can be easily observed that they had out-of-the-box thinking which made them a key driver in their success.

The success stories of Flipkart and TravelKhana, naukri.com and makemytrip.com, VLCC and Shehnaz Herbals, Shyam Antenna and SuKam and many others tell the tale of exploring uncontested markets and delivering value to the customers to their satisfaction.  In fact in one or the other way they have been the result of Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship.  It really becomes more important in the light of one of Bloomberg surveys which concluded that 80% of the startups get closed down within 18 months of their starting up.  One of the important reasons for their failure could be their venture adding to the size of red ocean and competing with the existing brands.

And another important reason for failure is leadership crisis.  Not all the entrepreneurs who ideate and long for sustaining a good business plan might be good leaders. Leadership all together is a different kind of activity as compared to developing a creative idea and seeing it through. Hence one need to understand product and people through the same eye and travel through the journey focusing on both of them successfully, and that is really a greater challenge for every entrepreneur who does not want to fall within that 80% of closing down startups.    

The workforce in the non-traditional blue ocean organizations is required to possess different set of skills, talent and drive.  Their passion towards their job drives them contribute positively towards product architecture, ownership of their decisions and achieving set goals within a given timeframe. They do not require conventional leadership training focusing on better skill orientations and behavioural dispositions; rather they visualize larger goals of life, larger contributions in product building, concern about leaving behind memorable, profitable and sustainable legacies. They have to be equipped with corresponding acts and activities in order to deal with day to day market realities. This is where BOL tends to guide them.

The idea of BOE primarily focuses on two important Ps, one Product (or service) and another People.  The approach of the entrepreneur has to be such that both of them are aligned to the larger goal of the business proposition and in that direction one has to look beyond short term gains and concentrate on long term sustainability.  We grew up with a thinking of starting small and thinking big.  Though this still holds true I have began to believe that in the times of easy availability of funds one can afford to start big as well as keep thinking big.  BOE shall be an excellent concept to be practiced by the entrepreneurs for the long life of their venture.  I shall dwell upon its practical aspect in my future posts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Merger & Acquisitions - what happens to the companies Vision & Mission

I received following question from one of my former students:

I have trying to find the answer regarding, "What happens to the Vision and Mission Statement in the case of Merger and Acquisition/Take Over", but has not been able to find precisely. In the world of business Mergers and Acquisitions are inevitable, especially today. With this I would like to ask, "What happens to the Vision Statement of the companies when they are merged? What happens to the Vision and Mission Statement of the Company which is acquired or taken over by another? Does it get diluted and the company adopts that of the parent company? So I would like to ask for your opinion in this case.

My Reply to him:

Merger and Acquisitions are part of routine for the companies of today. However they have to take place within the overall objectives, vision and mission of the organization. This is an ideal situation and companies should acquire or merge with such companies where there is match between their and acquired companies vision/mission statement. But many a times it so happens while responding to the market forces and with an intent to sustain in the competitive environment they might have to merge with some such companies where vision/mission statement does not fit it well. In this case there are two options which would depend on the situation as such. 

First, have vision/mission statement in line with the macro objective of the organization, so after merger it needs to be modified (this could be avoided as well). 

Second, if the merged company is going to have a separate entity so far as its functioning is concerned they can stay the way they are and could have separate mission/vision statement and keep operating in the market.

The key point is that the companies must deliberate and decide on the mission/vision statement very carefully after considering the future sustainability issue which must keep a scope for widening its operations across industries and geographies. The vision/mission should be inclusive and not exclusive in nature. The best example could be of Infosys (in India) and HP (in US). 

I hope your point is clear and I wish you keep asking these kind of questions so that we can exchange our thinking.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

General Budget 2014-15 and MSME Sector

In June2014 issue of SME World I had talked of some challenges that newly elected government at the centre faces. The key expectations were identified as emphasis on rural entrepreneurship, entrepreneur-friendly regulation, skill development initiatives, and initiatives for coexistence of giant and tiny units. The new government took over the reign and introduced general budget on the floor of the house of parliament on 10th of July 2014, for the year ending March 2015. This annual document somehow provides an overview of the intentions and priorities of the newly elected government and further it is supposed to help us understand the direction in which the government is going to take initiatives. In this brief write up I shall like to discuss the provisions for MSME sector in this budget in the light of the expectations that I identified earlier.

The budget proposes for constituting a committee to examine the financial architecture, remove bottlenecks and to suggest creation of new rules and structures and to give concrete suggestions to the government on the wider issues affecting the operation of the MSMEs in India.  This committee needs to give its report in three months time.  This time bound approach needs appreciation and shows that the government seems to be seriously thinking on concentrating on this sector which is having huge growth potential in India.  The government has also indicated that it is planning to amend the Act to the effect of increasing the capital ceiling for a unit to fall under the definition of micro, small and medium enterprise.  The amount has not yet been categorized.  This step of the government shall broaden the purview of the Act and shall help the entrepreneur to contribute better through enjoying certain offered privileges.

The issue of unemployment and employability was raised by me in the earlier article and I had proposed that we need a committed provision for skill development, though we already have institutions imparting such training, still it is not enough.  Earlier government had created a National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) in the year 2009 to work through public-private-partnership in the line of developing required skills in the entrepreneurs.  NSDC has identified twenty industries on priority basis to focus. I feel that further technical skills and soft skills, both have to be emphasized and to be taken up at priority level.  Our youth are full of enthusiasm and innovative ideas but what is lacking is the drive and direction which has to be addressed through encouraging and guiding them towards focusing on their untapped potential. They need to be equipped with confident backing. I am really happy to see that in the current budget it is proposed to launch a program called Skill India to skill the youth with an emphasis on employability and entrepreneurial skills.  I wish it addresses the issue of skill deficit in the entrepreneurs and to develop an ability to connect their products and services to the market and further to create and sustain competitive advantage in the identified markets.

It is proposed that a nationwide district level Incubation and Accelerator program for incubation of new ideas and necessary support for accelerating entrepreneurship shall be initiated by the government.  This step shall certainly build marketable competencies in the entrepreneurs and provide them with back-end support.  It shall also have far reaching results as it would be initiated and operated at district level.  I would expect that it could further be taken at the block and village level in order to encourage rural entrepreneurship.  Somehow we have not yet been able to enthuse that sense of entrepreneurship in the rural population even when we are aware that India still lives in villages.

Availability of finance and the red tape involved in its sanction, disbursement, and utilization has discouraged many entrepreneurs from seeking government support.  It is expected that the committee constituted for the purpose of suggesting improvement measures shall look into this and would make appropriate recommendations in this line.  However it is proposed in the budget that a fund of funds with a corpus of Rupees ten thousand crores shall be set up for providing equity through venture capital funds, quasi equity, soft loans and other risk capital specially to encourage new startups by youth. This is going to help the younger generation which is full of creative ideas and energy to initiate business venture to tap the market opportunity in different sectors of industry. We witness number of venture capitalists in the market who are making strides in different businesses with their calculated risk and stake. However such an initiative of the government shall provide a cushion to the young entrepreneurs and strengthen their risk taking ability.  The budget also proposes to develop an entrepreneur friendly legal bankruptcy framework for SMEs to enable easy exit.  This shall surely help ailing entrepreneurs and provide them a respite from running loss making units.

Technology is a big differentiator in the domain of entrepreneurship. Its effective use has turned many young entrepreneurs into millionaires. The present government seems serious about using technology for the advantage of the entrepreneurs.  It has proposed to set up a dedicated corpus of Rupees two hundred crores to establish Technology Centre Network.  This would facilitate resource sharing and help the entrepreneurs to interact and network with their counterparts.

As experienced marketing of products and services is a big challenge before the entrepreneurs and many times because of poor supply (quality & time) of raw material or poor delivery mechanism or appropriate distribution networks, the products do not reach the customer at opportune time.  Further the conditions laid down by the suppliers and vendors also sometime hinder constant supply of raw material and other required back-end support specially in highly competitive market.  This calls for an effective integration approach.  The government plans to launch a program to facilitate forward and backward linkages with multiple value chain of manufacturing and service delivery. It should really help new as well as existing businesses and support them from both the sides, viz., suppliers and distributors. 

It is heartening to note that almost all the challenges have been well addressed by the budget and as visible from the market responses it seems the stakeholders involved in the MSME sector shall take a sigh of relief that their concerns are addressed through this budget.  The greater challenge that every government faces is to take the policies to the grass-root level and to implement them in most earnest and honest way.  The policies on paper look very effective, their proposed framework indicate a positive direction towards self-sustainability, yet the past experience teaches us that many times it does not translate into reality because of their non-implementation or faulty implementation.  If the government is seriously concerned, it has to move a leap forward and efficiently implement the programs and assure a bright future to the entrepreneurial spirit of India.  


(published in SME World, August 2014 issue)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

GENDER BASED BUDGETING FOR HOLISTIC DEVELOPMENT

Last month I was attending a meeting arranged by a NGO which focuses on the issues concerning women and is involved in advocating the cause of women empowerment.  They have also been involved in conducting research and disseminating it before the stakeholders and providing a platform to civil society members, policy makers, academicians, and alike.  They have played a crucial role in mustering and garnering public opinion of people in the north east India. I am sharing my learning in the meeting and my prescription for formulating effective policies to deal with issues concerning women.

The United Nations general assembly adopted international bill of rights for women on 18th December 1979 which is popularly known as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  This international treaty came into force on 3rd Sept 1981. CEDAW document consists of a preamble and 30 articles narrating different components of discrimination against women and provides guidelines for actions to be taken by the respective national governments so as to end such discrimination.  As of today there are 187 countries including India which are party to this instrument.

The provisions in the Indian constitution protect women rights as citizens.  However there have been initiatives by different state governments at different levels to make sure that any kind of discrimination against women is tackled by the government machinery on top priority basis.  As public policy of a state targets the well being of its citizens it is also required that the resources are used and shared among the citizens without any gender bias.  In this line the faminisation of financial budget has been initiated at the government level which ideally should lead to ensure appropriate focus on budgetary allocation for female population.  It is not separate budgeting provisions for women rather within the framework of the budget an allocation is required to be earmarked for females so that it results in equitable distribution of resources vis-à-vis overall development of society.  These whole provisions are called Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) which needs to be reflected at all levels of government planning. 
The general observation is that GRB has not been followed in the spirit in which it was initiated in India.  There could be several reasons for this.  I feel that following are some of them:
A.   lack of proper representation of women in the planning system of India;
B.    absence of consistent and uniform requirement across regions;
C.    absence of commitment from the side of the policy makers towards appropriate allocation;
D.   lack of legal provisions as to accountability of decision makers in this line;
E.    considering it merely as a formal requirement; and
F.     lack of political will towards making GRB an effective tool.
The planning commission and the ministry of finance are two highly important institutions/agencies at the national level which have to devise better ways to address issues related to women and earmark allocation for inclusive development and through dedicated funds for initiatives towards removal of all forms of discrimination towards women folk.  I would like to suggest following macro measures for making GRB and CEDAW an effective instrument.

i.                   POWER PARITY FOR WOMEN THROUGH 5Es:

It is extremely difficult to assess the gender based contribution of citizens for the development of a nation.  However ideally it is said that men and women have to work together to take decision for their family and country wherever relevant and appropriate.  When we look at the census data (2011) in India it is visible that there is big gap between female (65.46%) and male (82.14%) literacy level. Further the National Sample Survey (NSS) data shows that the size of females in the labor force (both in urban and rural India) has sizable gap and difference.  Though number of females in schools has gone up over time in the last 40 years, still a gap is observed when we compare it with number of males (especially in rural India). These common indicators call for serious concern towards educating the girl child and announcing schemes to encourage their protection. 

The future is going to be led by people and nations who enjoy better and more knowledge power. The efforts to develop strong knowledge platform and initiate measures to ensure better education for all citizens are required to be taken at the government as well as individual level.  This is more serious a concern for women as there is a visible gap in male female literacy levels.  The trend of the recent past indicates the participation of private partners in this direction which is a welcome sign.  Education as such is a major differentiator which plays an important role in developing a mindset towards fighting against atrocities and to help built discrimination-free society.  In this light I would like to propose 5E framework which should ideally guide towards having power parity for female population.

a.      Education
b.     Entitlements (ownerships)
c.      Engagement (beyond unpaid work)
d.     Entrepreneurship
e.      Empowerment

It is expected that if the initiatives are taken in this direction it shall lead towards gender based distributive justice which shall ensure power parity among all citizens.  

ii.                 PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN 4As:

It is observed that for the decision making on women related issues and for budgetary allocation, the participation of women is negligent.  One such example is when we look at the composition of the planning commission of India where there is only one women member.  I am sure conditions at the finance ministry may not be much different.  Steps are required to be taken to make sure that women are nominated as members of different decision making bodies so that they can assert their position and take proper decisions.  It is required that women are allowed/nominated to participate in the following areas:

a.      Allocation (Budget)
b.     Action (Implementation)
c.      Assessment (Evaluation)
d.     Audit (Control)

It is expected that once the focus is given on the participation of women in decision making and assessing the implementation, it shall lead towards having more uniform understanding and serious gender based budgeting, spending and positive expected outcomes.  


Apart from these suggestions it is equally important to give emphasis on outcomes rather than outputs; long-term results rather than short-term; inclusive development rather than exclusive; capacity building rather than disbursements; and effective implementation of existing instruments by existing institutions rather than increasing institutions and instruments. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

'Thank you, sir'

'sir, whatever I am, it is because of you'
'It's ok'
'sir, you taught me so many things, I have totally changed'
'if you have any problem, you can come back to us, we are all here to help you people'
'sir, I came to you to thank you as it is our last day'.
'ok, thats fine'

This conversation was between a student and a teacher on the last day of formal teaching. The student is going to appear in last semester exam after around 10 days. As the student entered the room, he saw few students sitting in the teacher's room, so he sought permission. 

'sir, can I come'
'yeah come, how are you'

As other students started leaving the room the conversation had started in the way mentioned earlier. This student who joined the university some 22 months back in the first semester of masters in commerce program, was a shy lad. He had problems dealing with friends, making presentations and many times was seen sitting alone. Though he had few friends but still he was not very open with them. He had recognised that he has some problem and he has to work on it to improve. And while he was taught organizational behaviour, he tried applying some of it in dealing with friends. 

One day, when he was in first semester, he went to his teacher and asked 'sir, can you help me', 'I am not able to mix with friends, I am not able to speak in public, I am not able to make new friends, in fact I find it difficult to interact', 'sir you tell stories, I like them, please help me deal with my problem'. This young boy had taken a step, many would think thousand times to take. The teacher started working with him. There were many sessions on many afternoons, when his friends would be going back to their respective houses, this boy would be busy listening to stories by teacher. The teacher would share his experiences. He would tell stories, some real, some fictional. For him he was a sample for experiments. Teacher's room was a lab, student's house was a lab.

As time kept passing by, the relationship between them became quite friendly. By this time, the student started sharing his personal life, about his parents, brothers, etc etc and about his friendships, neither he told the names, nor teacher was interested in. So without names many things got shared. The teacher was experimenting with very simple exercises, like asking him to give some time to himself, think, just think, who you are, what you are, why you are on this earth, what are you doing, why are you doing, what is your role to your parents, to your teachers, to your state, to your nation, to society at large, just keep thinking, give some 15-20 minutes time daily, to yourself. Then start writing what you think, keep writing. Then spend some time reading what you wrote, correct it.

Some time the student would write something on a shabby paper, and show it to him. He handed him over a diary and asked him, to keep writing what he feels and if he think he can share it, show it to him. The student wrote many stories, many time he wrote what he felt, what he just experienced, what was his reaction to events that he thought he should talk about. There were discussions on what he wrote.  Once the student told the teacher 'sir I have a presentation to make but I am feeling nervous, how to go about it'. The teacher told him prepare your presentation and read it in front of a mirror at home. 'When you read book, read aloud, if possible in front of a mirror'. Whether the student strictly followed it or not, he improved his presentation in the class. He came to the teacher and told 'sir my presentation went well.' It gave a satisfying smile to that teacher since his experiments were reaping fruit. His lab was able to register a patent.

After number of sessions, experiments, follow ups, during the period of around 20 months. Today he had come to the teacher to acknowledge his contribution in shaping his personality and for that teacher, what could be a better moment than this. As the student was leaving the room, he came closer to the teacher and touched his feet. It is quite unseen an experience in this part of the country. This acknowledgement by the student was an achievement of the teacher. Not many students acknowledge, yes not many teachers do as well.

Today I taught my Ph D students how apt Peter Drucker was in coining the term 'knowledge worker'. Drucker wrote in 1969 in 'The age of discontinuity' - 'knowledge workers cannot be satisfied with work that is only a livelihood.' The teacher was not doing teaching for livelihood but was playing his role as a teacher, trying to be best at that. We are all given different role to play, we need to play that role as perfect as possible.

'Thank you, sir', he said, as he left his teacher's room.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Five challenges the new regime faces for the growth of MSMEs in India

Few years back while I was reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, a thought kept penetrating my mind as to whether the transformations that were illustrated and explained really resulted in making the world flatter. There was a feel which was somehow hindering the entry of such belief that really the world is getting flatter, whether opening up of the economy has really helped India in appropriate distribution of wealth. Isn’t it a reality that big corporate houses and huge multinational corporations are killing small businesses and the opening up of the economy is in fact resulting in consolidation? This thought kept me busy for few months till I happen to read the views, comments and research papers by Harvard scholar, Pankaj Ghemawat and the world is flat began to sound more like an illusion, a fiction well defended and attributed to the success stories. I began to read comparative literature and kept an eye on the growth of Indian industries, especially small and medium sector and government policies related to this sector. This provided me a kind of learning, I cherish.

Small business or industry is the backbone of any economy, hence the government policy has to concentrate its energy to this sector in order to have equitable distribution of wealth and recognize their contribution in the larger macro-economic hemisphere. It does not require an in depth research to conclude that India has a big market for different kind of products and services. It has lured the world which has resulted in the entry of many multinational corporations to have their operations and respond to the needs of the market. So far as economic growth indicators are concerned India has been performing well which has boosted purchasing power of consumers. There is more money in circulation. In this background it is extremely important to encourage young aspiring entrepreneurs for initiating their ventures through providing them incentives and moral support. Almost all big companies started small. Small business (Micro, small & medium enterprises) sector which contributes to 8% of the GDP through around 45% of total manufacturing output has huge potential to explore and expand. India is at crossroad at this juncture as a new government is expected to occupy office in coming month. If the hope of industry is to be read, market emotions are looking quite bullish. Whoever occupies the office has to put efforts to positively respond to the market expectations. Some of the challenges are listed here.

First, the governments are mandated through Article 43 of the constitution of India to promote cottage industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas. It is observed that the working enterprises operating in rural areas are increasing marginally as compared to the ones operating in urban areas. This is a positive trend and it is required to develop systems, practices and procedures to encourage rural entrepreneurship and provide them with appropriate infrastructural support. The operations of the middlemen have to be regulated so that the exploitation of entrepreneurs is avoided. A supporting platform at the lowest level of governance needs to be created so that the problems are resolved quickly. 

Second, the government has to provide entrepreneur friendly environment and reduce unnecessarily long procedures which restrain a budding entrepreneur to take up initiative. A culture of trust and entrepreneurship has to be developed among youth. Entrepreneurs have to believe that India is a land where they can develop enterprises of their choice and they get a strong feeling as to their belief in the future of their motherland. In order to be an achiever, first they have to be believer. And it is the responsibility of the government to assure them support through providing facilitating environment to make them believe in the power of their dream. 

Third, the availability of finance is being addressed through different government agencies and many schemes, though it is required to see that the approval, disbursement and use of finance is smooth without spoiling the culture of good business. The government has to initiate a mission towards developing networks of people to create and co-create products and services not only for domestic market but for the international market for which export enhancing economic policies have to be framed. 

Fourth, employment and employability are the key issues which the government has to take up seriously. It is not just the number of employed people which is important, rather for sustaining enterprises, the employability is more important. Skill development institutes have to be developed in all parts of the country to assure employability. This is also possible through involving industry houses in imparting training to the unemployed youth. There are many training institutes run by the government at national as well as regional level. Though the national level institutions have done well in imparting training and building networks, however, I have reasons to believe that the training institutions run in the name of MSME institute at district level are not performing their task to the cause. They merely operate as a government department and conduct regular formal training programs, which are more on the paper than effectively contributing towards building entrepreneurs or providing them required skills/training. I suggest that public private partnership in building the institutions of repute in different regions of the country needs to be explored and experimented. Developing relevant skills among the youth and relating it to the need of the market is a challenge which is required to be addressed at local level.

Fifth, the policy should not be just to expand industry and enterprise on concentric basis. It should lead towards equitable distribution of wealth. It should reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. A culture of co-existence and mutuality of small and big enterprises has to be developed in order to look into their interdependence, rather than big and mighty enterprises dominating over their small yet valuable counterparts. Necessary regulatory framework needs to be developed in this regard. 

These are just few challenges apart from many others which shall unfold as one gets into deep. In order to see that the world really gets flatter, the policy which leads to consolidation of business should be discouraged. Apart from having supportive policies it is equally important to have their effective implementation, consistent monitoring and periodic review.

India has produced many successful entrepreneurs in the past and many big business houses of today were initiated as small venture in yester decades or centuries by their forefathers. Their commitment to see India as a developed nation and to contribute to the growth story of India has proven through economic growth indicators that we have done well so far and can do really better in the times to follow. However the concern of devaluation of human values in business, the practices of seeking small favors to compromise the sanctity of nation, and to look at the enterprises with merely meeting selfish ends has somehow created misplaced notion towards entrepreneurs and enterprises. And that is the biggest challenge any government shall have to address if it really remains in power and want to enjoy respect in the eyes of the people of the country.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

What NER expects from the new government - for building capacity and competence

North Eastern Region (NER) of India has been on the back front so far as visible economic indicators are concerned. However it has huge potential to grow. There are several inherent limitations as well. But while these limitations pose challenge for growth, it becomes more important to concentrate on the potential that this region has and by focusing on this we can deal with the limitations in a better way. Having spent more than two decades in this region, having interacted with policy makers, stakeholders, members of the civil society, and read related literature, I would like to put forth my views as to the initiatives that the new government at the centre needs to take. These are required for capacity building and tapping the potential this region has.
  • Need for inclusion of some chapters related to the life, people, and places of the north eastern region in the primary and secondary standard syllabus (CBSE & ICSE) so that the students of all regions are aware of this region. This could reduce many problems that people from north east face when they go to other parts of the nation. It shall build a sense of attachment, belonging and responsibility among them.
  • Need for a Music University or similar institution for North East Region and preferably it should be based in Shillong as Shillong is the music capital of NE. There is huge talent, interest and drive in the youth for pursuing music as a career, however an institution of national repute is missing. Establishment of Music University or some such institution shall enthuse these young children to put their energy in positive ways and shall go a long way in portraying the music talent of this region to the world.
  • Need for Training Centres for different sports. The youth of this region are good in sports and given the opportunity they would really perform better in sports. In the absence of appropriate infrastructure and training centre/s they are not able to nurture their talent. I am sure if their energies are diverted towards this, much of the problems could be solved. 
  • Need for an institution to study Culture, Craft and Creativity for this region. This institution could ideally get involved in documenting rich cultural past, their practices and the lessons, nature of craft, innovations to develop the craft for market and to nurture creativity. 
  • There is huge scope of developing institutions in the area of agro-based industries. Some innovation centres could be initiated to channelise the fruit production and processing units.
  • Development of industrial network in this region through improving general infrastructure. 
I feel that if these suggestions are followed, the capacity and competence of the people of this region shall get enhanced they would be able to play more important role in nation building. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Challenges for Entrepreneurship in Rural India

India lives in its villages. And India’s most important characteristic on which its strength rests is ‘unity in diversity’.  We have grown with this fact.  The belief that people residing in urban areas are better off than their counterparts toiling in the villages is highly relative.  It really depends as to what really one wants to look at, in tangible form or intangible form. Whatever the case be, it is evident from the practices that the back end support to industrial power houses is provided by this strong rural working population, working hard through their lives.
The thinking that standard of living in the villages in tangible terms is poor or relatively bad, is obscure.  It has given birth to an idea of focusing on developing better infrastructure in the rural areas.  It is also necessitated out of issues related to migration (from rural areas to urban areas), which is posing a great challenge to the urban development departments of the respective governments to reconsider their public policy concentration and to move towards rural areas.
The same phenomenon is observed for business houses so far as product focus, innovation, and its designing is concerned.  The planning of the government has resulted in flow of capital and circulation of money in the rural areas.  It has resulted in improving the purchasing power of rural mass. On the other side, the business houses have recognized a huge potential of selling their products and services to rural population, which comprise of around 70% of India’s total population, nearing 850 million citizens.  Though in many segments the requirement of rural folk is similar, however their buying behavior is different than urban buyers.  This is one kind of diversity. 
Another kind of diversity is cultural, geographical and regional differences in rural aspirations as to their need for different kind of products and services.  The entrepreneur of the future has to think in these lines and get into a mode of catering through specific products rather than generic ones to sustain in this market space.
The companies like Hindustan Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, ITC, Godrej, Coca Cola, Pepsi, etc have already entered this market space. While the marketers of big corporations are busy studying the psychology of rural households in order to design and develop appropriate products and services to capitalize on this huge opportunity, young budding entrepreneurs are trying their hand on this turf through adapting innovation in their approach and delivery.
Around 60 percent of the villages have more than 1000 residents whereas the number of villages having more than 10000 residents is just around 1% of total number of villages.  This data is important for an entrepreneur who wants to operate in the economies of scale and scope through getting into the specifics. There is still huge opportunity for fulfilling basic needs of the rural population.  The spectrum of basic needs is getting beyond roti, kapda aur makaan (fooding, clothing & Shelter), and spreading towards padai, dawai, and safai (education, medication & sanitation).  Basic amenities and infrastructure is another area where investments, entrepreneurship and innovation are called for.  The scope is wide for interested entrepreneur to develop products and services in these areas. Entrepreneurs have a great challenge in making the rural folk aware about different kind of products to suit their needs through which they are convinced of deriving perceived value.  Sustainable business models are needed to be developed so that it results in win-win for both, users and providers.
A young team led by Abhinav Kumar has designed a truck-like vehicle in the name of Saavaj (lion in Gujarati) through a startup company named Evomo.  This rural utility vehicle (RUV) is designed to replace risky and unscientific vehicles in operation in different parts of rural India.  Rural India fully depends on road transport for its daily requirements and to reach their products to the adjacent market. The overdependence on road transport and use of risky vehicles for carrying the produce from and to the villages provided an opportunity to these young entrepreneurs who are introducing this vehicle in Gujarat to start with.  This RUV can take on any rough terrain with a top speed of 50-60 km per hour and be used for people as well as goods apart from performing some of the agricultural ancillaries like pumping water.  Evomo claims that it would reduce transportation cost by around 30% and there would be drastic fall in road accidents through the use of this RUV.  If everything goes as per plan of this team, it should hit Indian rural roads by the end of 2014.  Whether this low cost, workshop made Saavaj shall be able to replace jugaads or not, only time shall be able to tell.  Yet the effort and enthusiasm which is going in the process has surely taught several lessons and in one or the other way shall pave path for future innovations to cater to the need of rural road transport which is a great differentiator.
Yanasaundary is yet another example of a young concerned entrepreneur who started a venture with one of her friends to provide alternate energy through solar power in the village areas of Tamilnadu where electricity shortage was the order of the day.  An electronic engineer herself, she started a solar panel company in Kanchipuram which at present employs just 8 persons and manufactures solar panels (for different uses), lamps, and power inverters.

Providing safe drinking water, improving the infrastructure for schools and primary health centres, developing networks of farmers for marketing their products, helping farmers to get away from the clutches of the middlemen, crop insurance, developing customized banking solutions, improving road transport conditions, provision of sufficient electricity, reaching out to remote areas with mobile medical vans and attending emergencies, awareness about hygiene issues, provision of clean latrines, are some such areas where social entrepreneurship needs to be focused.  Though some of the big companies have already taken initiatives in this direction, yet, a lot more is required to be done in order to develop the villages.

(published in SME World, May 2014)

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Education, Students and Motivation - what can be done

The other day we were discussing among ourselves the motivation of students to study.  And some of the views of friends were really surprising. One of them said, 'these students are not really students, they are individuals, the class is a group of individuals, not really group of students'. I thought let me think in my mind what ideally a student is. A student has a drive to learn new things, a student has urge to know more, a student has desire to excel, a student want to compete with others, a student raises questions, a student prepares and participates, a student engages him/herself in studies, etc etc. And then it struck to my mind, if a student is not doing either of this activity, one can not really call a student a student.  

This is what gave me questions to raise and solutions to find for the problem that we, the teachers, are facing. Our experiences may not be generalised to all students at all geographies and I also wish that it is proved wrong. There is sizable number of students who come to universities because they do not have anything else to do. And as soon as they get some job, they leave university. So since the motivation is engagement not achievement, they do not put efforts to excel. Since they have joined the program, they pursue it and think that since we are into the program, let us add one more degree to our qualification. Hence their performance in their classes is not up to mark or as expected from a student. Many of them can apply for jobs and get, even after graduation, but they think that they are not ready for job, so better to do masters and then apply for job. In most cases, there is utter absence of any drive for learning and excelling in their studies. What is the reason?

While they are pursuing graduation, whoever has some direction, whoever is able to chart the path towards one's pursuit and whoever is enjoying studies, takes the next step with proper thinking and guidance after completing under graduate degrees. Unfortunately the number of students who fall in this category is very small. Most of the students have no direction, no motivation and no interest in studies, who land up doing masters. This is more so for the students of commerce stream.  The role of teacher is important at this juncture who can motivate and guide them to make better choices for their future endeavors.

  • There are around 1000 students who pass B Com every year (from NEHU).  And around 300 of them apply for M Com program where we have only 50 seats (in NEHU).  
  • Not every graduate is fit for Masters program.
  • Not many types of openings or there is very less awareness for the opportunities for them.
  • What should they do....???
How can we keep blaming students that they want to pursue only M Com when we have not created any outlet for them after graduation.  So what is required is proper career guidance for them.  And opening up some alternative routes and ways through which they can get into some skill oriented courses after graduation so that they are ready for the market.   

The education system in India at present is focused on providing jobs to the students.  The programs are designed and developed keeping in mind the market opportunities and the young children are oriented towards making their career choices according to their abilities, intelligence, and qualification that they acquire from their schools, colleges and universities or other educational/training institutes. This is what in short is happening.

Education is in the market and market is fully visible in education.  This kind of proximity between market and education is driving the children towards having a fully market oriented value system,which for a country like India, is not only disastrous, but also a strong threat to the identity of indianness. The purpose of education should be to allow a child to explore oneself in order to find that faculty where one can put passionate efforts to excel.  This purpose is replaced by market economics and the pay package is deciding the career choices.  And I feel, this is the prime reason why we see upsurge of educational institutions luring the young minds through assuring, not knowledge but hefty pay packaged jobs.  This is the prime reason why money is overshadowing knowledge and values.

The practice of rote learning is dominating over urge to know more and it is because the students think that degree/diploma or a paper certificate of this effect is more important than really having knowledge about the subject.  This has somehow disconnected them from the belief that ultimately it is the knowledge which is going to take them places and provide them life satisfaction.   

It is also important to mention here that there are students who are excelling in their studies and they are the ones who get into making good career choices and later in life contribute for the well being of organization (that they belong to) and society.  Ironically such number of students are decreasing year after year and that needs to be our concern.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

What makes people great...

I have been thinking about great people and their faculties.  Just thought about following and feel there are many myths about success and achieving greatness and many times we focus on the activities which may not really be as important as their counter activities.  So thought of Intelligence, Mind and Brain, Institutions, Qualification, Degrees and Diplomas, Destination, Profit, Output, Expectation, Pride, Position, Philanthropy, Rigidity, Styles, Relationships, Companionship, and Competition, Tangibles, Acceptance, Expectations, Dexterity etc.  All these are important and contribute well for attaining targets, however their counter terms as a focal points for action become more important.  

Though MORE makes it highly relative and I have no intention, whatsoever to get into an exercise of measuring it.  However I am convinced about the hidden importance of counter terms which needs more concentration and concern rather then focusing on the terms mentioned above.  In my opinion it is a clear myth that all great people were intelligent, or for that matter it all depends on the institutions as to whether you are able to progress well and grow in your career or not, or nothing moves without money, so profit is really very important, etc etc.  

My thinking drives me with these statements and I shall be happy to learn very many things from the responses of readers. 
  1. What makes people great is their Thinking and Action...not necessarily Intelligence...
  2. What makes people great is Cooperation and Collaboration... not necessarily Competition....
  3. What makes people great is Learning Attitude and Education... not necessarily Institutions (school, college & university)... Click here (http://bobmorris.biz/does-it-matter-where-you-went-to-school)
  4. What makes people great is Passion and Purpose.... not necessarily Profit..... (terms borrowed from Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness)
  5. What makes people great is their Professional Will* and Personal Humility*..... not necessarily their Pride... (*terms borrowed from Jim Collins, Good to Great)
  6. What makes people great is their Honest Intention and Endurance...not necessarily Qualification...
  7. What makes people great is their Path and the Journey..... not necessarily the Destination...
  8. What makes people great is Humaneness and Commitment... not necessarily Philanthropy... 
  9. What makes people great is Adaptability and Flexibility.... not necessarily Rigidity...
  10. What makes people great is Knowledge and Wisdom...not necessarily Degrees and Diplomas...
  11. What makes people great is their Principles and Values...not necessarily their Styles...
  12. What makes people great is Concern and Care...not necessarily Relationships... (examples of Microsoft... guanxi etc)
  13. What makes people great is Heart and Hindsight...not necessarily Mind and Brain...
  14. What makes people great is Love and Friendship...not necessarily Companionship...
  15. What makes people great is Power and Determination...not necessarily Position...
  16. What makes people great is Inspiring and Leading... not necessarily Managing...
  17. What makes people great is Means and Meaning... not necessarily End...
  18. What makes people great is Sensitivities and Intangibles... not necessarily Tangibles 
  19. What makes people great is Faith and Fulfillment... not necessarily Worship...
  20. What makes people great is Rejection and Assertion... not necessarily Acceptance...
  21. What makes people great is their Optimism and Positivity....not necessarily Expectation..
  22. What makes people great is the Process and Performance... not necessarily Output..
  23. What makes people great is their Questioning and Logic... not necessarily Dexterity...
  24. What makes people great is Preparation and Practice... not necessarily Talent (learning from 'Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell)

Friday, March 07, 2014

गुलाबी गैंग व महिला सशक्तीकरण

इंडियन पैनोरमा के द्वारा शिलांग मे आयोजित फिल्मोत्सव के अंतिम दिन (६ मार्च, २०१४), यानि कल, निष्ठा जैन द्वारा निर्देशित गुलाबी गैंग देखी।  सम्पत पाल के प्रयासों द्वारा बनाए गए गुलाबी गैंग की प्रष्टभूमि उत्तर प्रदेश के बुंदेलखंड क्षेत्र के बांदा जिले मे स्थित ग्रामों मे महिलाओं के प्रति बड्ते अत्याचारों की कहानी है। भारतीय समाज का एक बहुत बड़ा हल्का इस मद मे लिप्त है कि पारिवारिक, सामाजिक व आर्थिक निर्णयों मे पुरुष की प्रधानता सार्वभौम है। इतना ही नहीं लड़कियों व महिलाओं का मानसिक व शारीरिक शोषण इस पुरुष-प्रधान समाज का एक अंग सा बन गया है।

उत्तर प्रदेश, हरियाणा, राजस्थान व देश के कई अन्य स्थानो पर महिलाओं के प्रति अन्याय व उनका शोषण आय दिन की बात हो गई है।  सबसे चौकाने वाली बात तो यह है कि शोषितों के परिवार वाले भी उनके साथ खड़े होने को तैयार नहीं हैं और इसको भगवान व प्रकृति के द्वारा किया कृत्य मान कर संतुष्ट हैं। शोषण कर्ता के खिलाफ आवाज उठाना असंभव सा दीखता है। ऐसी परिस्थितियों मे एक महिला, सम्पत पाल खड़ी होती है और अपने गाँव की अन्य महिलाओं को यह बात समझाती है कि यदि हमने अपनी आवाज बुलंद नहीं की तो क्षेत्र के दबंग लोग, जिसमे पुलिस वाले, सरकारी अधिकारी, नेता आदि भी सभी शामिल हैं, महिलाओं का शोषण करते रहेंगे और इससे सामाजिक विषमता व क्षेत्र का सामाजिक व आर्थिक विकास प्रभावित होगा। उनके द्वारा प्रारम्भ की गई इस मुहिम मे धीरे-धीरे और महिलाएं जुडने लगी और जब महिलाओं ने घर से बाहर निकलना प्रारम्भ किया, उनको लगा कि वे अपनी आवाज को बुलंद कर सकती हैं और जब वे एक समूह मे हैं तो उनकी बातों पर गौर करने वाले भी होते हैं। समूह की शक्ति को सम्पत बहुत ठीक प्रकार से जानती हैं, उनको पता है कि अनशन की ताकत क्या होती है| इसी सोच को संपत ने आस पास के गाँव में भी फैलाया है, जिसके परिणामस्वरूप इस गैंग का विस्तार पास के गावों मे भी हुआ है।

गुलाबी गैंग महिला सशक्तीकरण का एक बहुत ही ज्वलंत व व्यावहारिक उदाहरण है। यदि महिलाओं के प्रति अपराधों को नियंत्रित करना है तो महिलाओं को घर से बाहर निकलना होगा व समाज को अपनी आवाज मे यह बतलाना होगा कि स्त्री व पुरुष दोनों बराबर के भागीदार हैं और पुरुषों द्वारा महिलाओं पर किए जा रहे अमानवीय व्यवहार व अत्याचारों को अब महिलाएं नहीं सहेंगी। दहेज न देने पर घर की बहुओं को जला देना, बलात्कार व महिलाओं के प्रति दुर्व्यवहार व उनको नीची दृष्टि से देखना इन गावों मे रोजमर्रा की घटनाएँ थीं, परंतु सम्पत की इस पहल ने पुरुषों की प्रधानता वाले इस समाज मे महिलाओं मे एक नहीं जागृति पैदा की है, और इसका परिणाम यह हुआ है कि इन क्षेत्रों मे इस गैंग की कुछ सदस्य महिलाएं ग्राम प्रधान का चुनाव जीती हैं व अपने ग्राम के निर्णयों को लेने मे सक्षम हो पाई हैं। 

गैंग के सभी सदस्यों को गुलाबी साड़ी पहनना व हाथ मे एक डंडा रखना नियमतः आवश्यक है। डंडे का प्रयोग ये सदस्य करते हैं अथवा नहीं, पता नहीं, परंतु इतना निश्चित है, कि डंडा एक संकेत के माध्यम से काफी कुछ कहता है। यह सदस्यों की पहचान का हिस्सा है। डंडा जहाँ इन सदस्यों को एक शक्ति प्रदान करता है, वहीँ कहीं न कहीं शोषण करने वालों के मन में एक डर भी उत्पन्न करता है| अपने आप में यह भी महिला सशक्तिकरण का एक भौतिक व सफल उदाहरण है|

सम्पत पाल का स्वयं का विवाह बहुत छोटी उम्र मे हो गया था।  अब उनके पाँच बच्चे हैं। वे वाल विवाह के दुष्परिणामों को भली-भांति जानती हैं| लगभग 10-11 वर्षों से सतत कार्य करते हुए इस गैंग ने अपनी एक अलग पहचान बनायी है व एक नयी सोच को जन्म दिया है जिससे महिलाओं में एक नवीन चेतना का संचार हुआ है व इसका प्रभाव उन पुरुषों के व्यवहार पर भी पड़ा है जो महिलाओं के प्रति नीची द्रष्टि रखते थे| मेघालय के मात्रवंशीय समाज के समक्ष इस प्रकार का चित्रण एक अजब सा चित्र प्रस्तुत करता है व पुरुष-प्रधान समाज की कुरीतियों से दूर रहने का सन्देश भी देता है|

सम्पत पाल को अपनी फिल्म का हिस्सा बनाने व इस माध्यम से सम्पत को घर-घर पहुँचाने का जो कार्य निष्ठा जैन जी ने किया है वह अत्यंत ही सराहनीय है|  फिल्म सामाजिक चिंतन को एक सकारात्मक दिशा देने का बहुत ही सशक्त माध्यम है| जिन परिस्थितियों का सामना करते हुए निष्ठा जी ने निडरता से समाज के भिन्न पहलुओं को अपनी इस फिल्म के माध्यम से जन-जन तक पहुँचाया है वह उनकी अपने कार्य के प्रति सजगता व प्रतिबद्धता को परिलक्षित करता है, जिसके लिए वे व उनकी पूरी टीम धन्यवाद की पात्र है| 

मेरे एक प्रश्न के उत्तर में निष्ठा कहती हैं यह आवश्यक नहीं कि गुलाबी गैंग का विस्तार हो व इस प्रकार के प्रयास हर क्षेत्र में किये जाएँ, आवश्यक यह है कि समाज का गठन इस प्रकार हो कि हमें गुलाबी गैंग जैसे संगठनों की जरुरत ही महसूस न हो| मैं मेघालय में रहकर संभवतः ऐसा सपना देख सकता हूँ|

यह एक संयोग ही है कि आज ही अपने जीवन की प्रथम फीचर फिल्म निर्देशित करने वाले सौमिक सेन ने एक हिंदी फीचर फिल्म रिलीज़ की है 'गुलाब गैंग'| इस फिल्म को प्रोडूस किया है अनुभव सिन्हा ने व इसमें माधुरी दीक्षित व जूही चावला मुख्य भूमिकाओं में हैं| ऐसा माना जाता है कि यह फिल्म सम्पत पाल के संघर्ष की कहानी पर आधारित है, हालांकि प्रत्यक्ष रूप से सम्पत का उससे कोई लेना देना नहीं है| इस विषय में अधिक इस फीचर फिल्म को देखने के बाद ही कह सकूँगा|

७.३.१४ 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Successful Unrelated Diversification Strategy: story of a chai vala (tea vendor) in Agartala

While I was waiting for a friend at city centre, Agartala, capital of this small state Tripura, I felt little uncomfortable. My head was getting heavy and I felt like vomiting. Something was blocking my throat. I tried locating a medicine shop and as I found one, I spotted my friend waving. It was around 7 in the evening.  I told him 'I am not feeling well'. He showed his concern and inquired the reason and diagnosed that it is gastric problem. He said we should have spicy tea at this stall (indicating the exact location of a tea vendor on a side). I avoided as I thought maybe it might spoil my stomach further. We started walking towards the other end and I started feeling better. Took a small bottle of soda and after few sips it made me little light. I was getting better. We reached back to city centre and he again suggested that better we have this tea. He had told me about this tea stall and its delicacy before. So I agreed and as we sipped tea I started admiring the taste of this tea and the vendor for his innovative thinking for this entrepreneurial venture. As a student of entrepreneurship and business I got interested in knowing about the person, idea and product little deeply and got talking to the tea vendor. 

This person, Ranjan Mazumdar in his late forties or early fifties, is surrounded by customers, is busy taking their orders and in preparing different types of tea – as demanded by customers. He has a small platform where two big flasks, one with milk and other one with hot water are placed. This small platform has a chest and few drawers where different spices are kept in a very shabby style. I peep through a drawer and see coriander, green chilies, cumin powder, pepper, ginger, lemon, etc. That’s what it is. There is a small board on the pole, which is in Bengali. I request one of the customers (clean shaven, wearing a woolen suit, gelled hair, in his early twenties, whom I observe sipping tea), to translate it for me and as he tells me he makes a gesture of a tea lover, it seems he is a regular visitor of this small joint. He mentions, it reads as ‘spicy tea, try it out’.

The outer side of the stall reads in English ‘Spicy Tea Nescafe’. He tells me that the powder which he uses for milk tea is Nescafe powder so he writes like this. He shows me a Nescafe sachet lying on the platform. But I think there is something more than just this reason. His understanding of brand is clear. He knows pretty well that use of Nescafe brand shall add value to his product portfolio and customer base. Further it can also cover the risk that he is taking by introducing his own formula, his very own unique spicy tea. He intends to cater to all needs. He uses his own formula as well as provides the generic taste of Nescafe powder tea. It makes sense. He is just class ten pass, but his understanding of traditional 4Ps of marketing is remarkable. Though he has not been to any business school, his business diversification strategy (unrelated diversification) seems reaping good fruit.

In fact, some thirty years back in the year 1983, he started a watch repairing shop in Agartala. He says that in last ten years around that business is not doing well. There is lot of competition and in general the number of customers to his watch shop has been going down. May be if I can reason it out, it must have been due to the emergence and dominance of electronic watches. A small counter just beside his tea shop reads as Titan. I ask him why he uses this brand name. He tells me smilingly that he repairs titan watches. I mentioned earlier his understanding of brand value is praiseworthy. As an entrepreneur he knows how to capitalize on these brand names.

Though at present his whole concentration is on his tea business, whenever he gets some customers for repairing watches he does that. It is around 3 years that he thought of starting a tea shop beside his earlier watch repairing shop. And an idea to have unique spicy tea at such a location sounded a great proposition. He is ready for the day at his shop at 10:30 am and stays there till 3 pm, when he goes for lunch and then reopens at 5 pm and till 9:30 pm he is on toes, selling around 200 to 250 cups of tea every day. Each spicy tea cup costs Rs 10, which is in no case less. It shows that for the unique taste of tea, customers are willing to pay premium price.

Ranjan's principles about life are simple as he believes in dignity of labour when he says no work is small or big, we have to work to make our living. He considers education very important and that thinking has driven him to send his daughter outside Tripura to study Nursing in Bangalore where she is about to finish her course. His wife sells clothes door to door and contributes to the family. Human effort is the most important asset (wealth) for a nation as Adam Smith stated some 230 years back and this couple is a testimony to this fact.

India is known for its diversity. This feature adds lot of strength to its greatness. However in the times of globalisation uniform appeal of product and taste somehow has shifted the priority of younger generation to enjoy, Dominos, McDonalds, Pizza Huts, KFCs etc and with this influence local tastes are dying and that is really going to be a great loss for our diversity. There might be lot of Ranjans who are selling their own innovative versions of products and services which are much appreciated by their customers. Somehow these formulas are not patented by them and may be to that direction some steps should be taken by appropriate authorities so that the taste of Ranjan’s Spicy Tea reaches out to many other tea lovers.

White seeds of green chili float on tea and I see green chili piece in tea. I could never imagine green chili in tea. First I was little hesitant to taste, however once I sipped, I really liked the taste. As we both finish our first cup, my friend commands ‘lets have another one’. I nod in affirmation and there we are having fresh two cups of tea in our hands. I am busy looking at the bottom of the cup. I can make out an accumulation of small grated pieces of ginger and other spices which had made the tea aromatic. While I talked to him I noticed he was always doing one or the other thing apart from responding to my queries and questions. His dedication towards his work impresses me.

The feeling of vomiting has gone off and now I have started feeling fresh and light. And much of the credit goes to Ranjan, fully unaware about this he smiles and poses for a picture with his small board. I can understand really a small chai vala can make a big difference. I wish as a successful entrepreneur he grows big and bigger and next time while I am in Agartala I see a larger crowd at his tea stall.