Success story

From a rickshaw puller to a successful innovator!

Dharamveer Kamboj with his machine.
From being a rickshaw puller in New Delhi to becoming an organic farming expert and an innovator, it has been an amazing journey for this farmer from Damla village in Haryana.There was a time when Dharamveer Kamboj could not even afford to pay for his daughter's school fees. "I spent about two years as a rickshaw puller. Unfortunately, I met with an accident and had to return to my village. As I was bedridden for months, my wife had to face lot of hardships," he says.After he got well, he did not want to go back. He started to do organic farming in his village.
During his childhood, he used to help his mother while collecting herbs and was aware of the healing properties of medicinal plants. So he decided to plant aloe vera and stilia on a large scale, besides starting a nursery of medicinal plants.But there was a problem. There was no way to process the yield into useful products. He needed a multipurpose food processing machine...With his limited resources, he struggled for over eight months to design and build the first prototype of a cost-effective multipurpose food processing machine."Last month, I got the opportunity to give a demonstration of this machine to our chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda. He was very impressed with my innovation. I have now been appointed as one of the board members at the Hisar Agricultural University. It is a great honour for me. Even President Pratibha Patil has asked me for a food processor," says an excited Dharamveer.
Early years
Dharamveer spent most of his time experimenting even during his school days. He used to take part in science exhibitions in his school. He had once made an emergency light too.Hailing from a poor family, this was not accepted or expected of him. His father wanted him to study hard and help the family. Though he passed the tenth standard, he did not study further.His father was a farmer who also had a flour mill and a jaggery processing plant. Dharamveer used to assist his father.After his marriage to Shyamudevi in 1986, life became more difficult. He had additional responsibility but no extra income to support her."I was forced to go to Delhi and work as a rickshaw puller. There was lot of pressure from my family due to our financial problems. It was a tough life, as I could not earn much either. My daughter was just a few months old and it was tough to be separated from my wife and child," he says.While in Delhi, he found out that herbs and medicinal plants had good potential. But farmers at that time did not get a good price for these products in the village.
Once he recovered from his accident injuries, he decided to stay back in his village. He attended a training programme in the village development society to learn more on improving agricultural practices for six months.He interacted with farmers and experts in the agricultural sector and took training in organic farming as well. He visited the herbal gardens in Champaghat and the National Park in Jabalpur to learn more about plants, their uses and biodiversity."When I started my experiments, people used to tease me. They never took me seriously. Even my father thought that I was just whiling away my time when I was working hard and carrying out various experiments," says 46-year-old Dharamveer.Remarkable among his farming techniques was the cultivation of mushroom on sugarcane waste. The waste, which was otherwise burnt, was put to good use and there was a record production of mushroom.His biggest assets were positive thinking, hard work and a desire to learn.
Bumper yields
His unique and efficient ways of farming won him many awards. He popularised the use of vermicompost and introduced improved varieties of vegetables and herbs.
In 1990, he became the first farmer in his area to cultivate hybrid tomatoes which saw a bumper yield.He also developed some innovative devices like a battery-operated spraying machine using a tape recorder's motor, and an insect trapping device to be used in the field."When I started, I went to a shop that sold medicinal plants and seeds. I bought 85 types of seeds. I tried to see how many germinate and grow. At times, the plants that grew were different from the ones the shop gave. It was a long process but fruitful at the end," he says.It was a new journey, full of new lessons. In this process, he discovered many new plants.
A discovery
He soon realised that to turn farming of aloe vera profitable, it had to be processed into various forms. At that time there was no machine available to do it. He could not afford to buy the machines that were available.Besides, the machines could not carry out multiple functions. He knew if medicinal plants can be processed to make juice, pulp or powder, it would help many farmers like him. A cost-effective food processor was the answer to their problems."I started designing the food processor in 2003. It took me over 8 months to build the product. I spent about Rs 80,000 on developing this processor. I also had to borrow money for this," he says.A local factory helped him in the fabrication and welding process. He built the first prototype in March 2005. Dharamveer had got an opportunity to visit various aloe vera and amla processing units in Rajasthan along with other farmers.This experience made him understand the processing methodology. The first prototype had a problem of over heating when sufficient raw material was not put inside.

Indian handicrafts go online

Sudip Dutta quit his career in IT and switched to the handicrafts industry to create social impact through his venture aporv.
Sudip Dutta’s IT job took him traveling to China, a country known for its rich art and craft heritage like India, which got him thinking. Data from Ministry of Textiles/Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts told him that the handicrafts market in India has been growing at a steady state, almost doubling every five years. (1999-’00: Rs.6,000 crore; 2005-’06: Rs.14,000 crore). “India has 2 percent of the global handmade products share. Compare that China’s 30 percent exports and you see that there is a huge potential for Indian artisans to grow,” says Dutta, Founder and CEO, aporv, an e-commerce site selling Indian handicrafts to a global audience.
Further research told him our handicraft sector employs between 16-30 million people, 7-10 percent of whom leave their jobs periodically to pursue other opportunities, due to weak market linkages and an increasing number of fake products. “This is an issue in the Indian market,” he states. The idea germinated during late 2008-’09 but aporv was only launched on World Environment Day in June 2010 as a potential solution to bridge the gap.
The 1999 BITS Pilani graduate wanted to give artisans a fair price for products as top priority. That was not the only differentiator. Dutta wanted aporv to sell products as a story. “We want to educate customers on the historical and cultural uniqueness of products and uplift artisans,” explains Dutta. Secondly, he wanted to reach a global audience and, thirdly, Dutta was keen to showcase products from different geographic regions of the country on one single platform. Keeping the above-mentioned criteria in mind, he realized that building an online platform selling only authentic, unique products was the answer. “An e-commerce site minimizes efforts from a customer and artisan point of view,” he says. aporv is seeking to be a top destination for handmade products and all its marketing initiatives stem from this goal.
As a strategy to source merchandize, Dutta knew he had to touch base with top artisans first. He targeted South India as a location to start with and identified about five-10 artisans in Andhra Pradesh and Mysore. This number has grown to over 1,700 artisans across 10-15 states since. Dutta established a business model whereby aporv partners with NGOs, Self Help Groups (SHGs) and other established organizations to reach out to artisans across the country and source products. “NGOs and SHGs have less access to markets, they have retail stores but no premium online store,” he adds.
Reaching out to top artisans was a difficult job for Dutta and took him six-eight months to understand the industry and convince artisans of the opportunity. But that was not the sole challenge. Certain crafts like black pottery from Manipur, for instance, are seasonal, and this meant production could only take place for six-eight months of the year, after which artisans usually engage in agriculture for sake of self-sustenance. “Even if you get a good corporate order, you have to be very clear on the nuances of making each product,” emphasizes Dutta. The startup is adding about four-five SHGs and NGOs to its list of partners every month and is in talks with some in northern and western India too. “On an average, these organizations have anywhere between 20-300 artisans working with them,” he says.
Over the months aporv has evolved into what Dutta describes as an open source, as artisans are still allowed to sell to middlemen if they want, in addition to the online store. “The main problem for artisans is a lack of regular stream of income and that’s when they quit the trade and these crafts die,” explains Dutta. Therefore, the impact aporv is creating is an opportunity to work all year round and earn wages.
To further strengthen this chain, aporv hired design consultants to provide inputs to artisans to produce and create innovative items. The business model has also been consciously structured to run thin on inventory as a measure to cut excessive costs. This cost advantage is passed on to artisans and end consumers. “Most orders are serviced in a way where the product is in the process of getting made,” explains Dutta. “We don’t want to hold much inventory so we keep less, else money gets blocked, and artisans need payment upfront,” he adds. The online handicraft store refurbishes out-of-stock products within 7-10 days on the website. “Customers have the option of back ordering if they are willing to wait for three weeks,” says Dutta.
The firm has a three-pronged revenue strategy whereby it earns through commission from partnership, retail online sales and corporate orders. The last vertical is something that Dutta is still strengthening and, so far, aporv is a vendor to one major technology company and has supplied a bulk order of folders. “We can add value to corporates through their CSR activities,” he says. “Moreover, there aren’t many players offering handmade corporate gifting options,” he adds.
Abhishek Pamecha a resident of the U.S., shopped at aporv to gift his parents residing in Rajasthan a locally-crafted lamp from Andhra Pradesh due to the inaccessibility/sparse availability of Indian handicrafts overseas. “I had an excellent experience and the purchase was a breeze,” he states. “The shipping was completely transparent, we got notified at every step of the order and my parents had it delivered to them in time,” Pamecha adds.
Local customer in Bengaluru, Pinky Padmaraj, perused the online store out of curiosity and was piqued by its repertoire of products and the convenience of shopping online. “Product categories on aporv make it easier to browse and select items,” says Padmaraj. “The trivia notes added to each product is a wonderful tool to evoke interest in the product itself,” she points out. Products currently come with an additional shipping charge and this too is confined to domestic market. “We are still looking for a suitable logistics partner overseas before we can provide international shipping,” explains Dutta.
Dutta has garnered advice and support from ASCENT, Asian Center for Entrepreneurial Initiatives, in Bengaluru since ideation. “Sudip has made rapid progress in setting up his operations and I find his business strategies are well in place,” says Madhura Chatrapathy, advisor to aporv for over a year.
Chatrapathy commended the social enterprise’s business model as ‘well-crafted’ with successful promotional strategies in place. “Though conceived more as a B2C, it is a good idea to bolster the traffic by participating in international trade fairs, particularly gift, craft and other such related fairs,” advises Chatrapathy.
According to Chatrapathy, India has over 3,800 production units (handicraft sector) and is said to generate approximately Rs.1,357.05 crore from domestic and export markets. As far as aporv’s scope in the market goes, Chatrapathy is of the opinion that premium products with unique designs for gifting, as well as lifestyle products have better market potential and margins, as compared to everyday simple artifacts and she feels the startup should tap into the same to scale. “Online retail for handicrafts is challenging, one needs to focus on a strongly niche market,” she claims.
Till date the startup has been operating sans external funding, however, Dutta is not averse to the idea, but only once aporv is established in the marketplace. In the context of the need to bring in external funding, Chatrapathy points out, “As the market expands, inventory management becomes one of the critical issues. Plus, artisans need to work on cash and carry basis, thus working capital requirements will increase enormously.”
Other factors such as investments in designer inputs, selective mechanization and technology support, warehouse and other logistics support need funding, according to the advisor.
Dutta will also add organic and personal care items to his portfolio of products soon. “This is a very interesting business proposition that will not only help Indian art and craft but also help discerning buyers globally access genuine artifacts,” says Deepak Kumar, Dutta’s ex-colleague at Infosys Technologies and sounding board to his venture.
Having been at close quarters with him since 2005, Kumar describes Dutta as a thorough professional with strengths in planning as well as execution.
“He ensures excellent quality of work and works very well in teams as well as individually,” Kumar claims. What does he think of his venture? “It’s scalable as Sudip has wisely adopted the online medium for reaching to his potential customers and has tied up with leading names for managing his back-office operations,” says Kumar.

‘‘I am an eternal optimist”

When you start walking, you must aspire to run and when you start running, you must desire to run faster.
First two years at iGATE
My own philosophy in life has been that you should have varied experiences. My first experience at Infosys is that of growing a company purely the organic way. I was excited at the prospect of fixing a broken company and taking it from sub-zero levels to significantly higher margins. Hence, I looked at iGATE as a very different kind of experience and thought I would learn a lot from it. I also thought I could contribute a lot to it. I must say that I am quite pleased with the results and outcome. iGATE was -8 percent (negative) profits when I took over in 2003 and certainly was not in good shape. The fact remains that we grew to 40 percent Gross Margins and 20 percent Operating Margin: in line with the best in class companies. Our multiples probably became the highest for any mid-sized company.
To be a good leader and try different things, you should be an optimist. I am one of those eternal optimists who, upon falling from a 60 floor building, will most likely say after 55 floors, so far so good.
External challenges
When I started at iGATE, I had severe challenges in the first six to eight months but I was quite confident that I would be able to turnaround. You can call it engineering basics, but I believed that when you are trying to fix something, it is important to minimize the moving parts. In this case, it was important to stabilize revenues in the first few months, a large chunk of which was our GE contract accounting to roughly 45 percent of our revenues then. This had to be renewed within three months under certain risky circumstances. That was a big challenge. Holding on to them would give me the early stability in the company to work around and discard the non-core businesses and clients. The contract was indeed renewed, marking the first signs of stability.
Internal challenges
iGATE had seen five CEOs in four years before me. Initially, I was actually a bit surprised to see our plans not being put to action quickly. I later found out that some of the employees were waiting for me to leave going by their past experience of fast moving CEOs at iGATE! So, for them, reviews didn’t matter, as they thought I wouldn’t last a quarter. I had to actually tell them that if they didn’t move at the right pace, their existence was definitely uncertain beyond a quarter! It worked.
I was pretty clear that everybody has to work to their full potential. One of my principles is that I never ask anyone to do things that I am not willing to. When I ask others to work hard, they know that I get into office at 6 in the morning and work just as hard or maybe even more.
There is no doubt that I have been significantly biased towards high-performing people. I choose to believe that you have to be in some sense a bit unreasonable because then people think differently and stretch their minds and bodies to do different things.
The same yardstick applies to me as well. I am unreasonable with myself. If I was part of the making of an industry earlier, at iGATE, I took up the gauntlet to change the rules of the industry, to transform an industry mindset and to move the global industry needle again. I still travel 20 days a month.
There are certain personal sacrifices I have accepted to make, if an industry movement has to be brought about. When you start walking, the aspiration is to start running and when you start running, the aspiration is to run faster.
Industry model change
A turnaround is always a different kind of experience. I felt it was important for me to get that. Being an early pioneer in the industry, I was always faced with some frequent questions from customers, the answers to which were sometimes naturally difficult. You are putting freshers on the job. You are learning at our cost. You have no skin in the game. You take no risk. You are making money out of us. The entire industry had been quoting at dollars per hour. It is a crazy metric since it creates for vendors, a premium for being inefficient and intellectually lazy and if you are, you will be able to bill more hours and increase revenues. As a result, there is no spirit of good partnership with the client. Clearly there was a need for a better partnership model.
That’s what we did and changed the business model, whereby we began billing our customers on Business Outcomes achieved out of successful transactions and not for efforts or number of hours put in.
I started the transaction based model with Quintant in early 2003, a company that was acquired by iGATE within eight months of the former being set up. Quintant’s Business Service Provisioning (BSP) model was one level above computing business on-demand and software-as-a-service.
The transformation challenge
On hindsight, I think it may have been good for us to be in the state we were in. When a company is doing relatively alright, transformation becomes difficult. In any transformation, certain things will change and you do not want the good things to change. I think we were relatively lucky that we had negative margins. We could take many bolder decisions. Today, I would be reluctant to take certain decisions to increase 20 percent operating margins to 25 percent because I would not want to destabilize a working model.
However, when you are at -8 percent margins, you have to undertake multiple transformations since you need more than one of them to succeed to get to your long term goals. I undertook five major transformations in the first two years.
Customer mix
Earlier, iGATE had 65-70 percent of its revenues from Fortune 1000 companies (45 percent from GE) and the balance being sub-contracted revenues from very small customers. We saw this as a high risk and not-so-stable mix. So the first thing I did was to get rid of sub-contract businesses. Today most of our business is from Fortune 1000 companies and 100 percent direct.
Business model
A large chunk of the company was into staffing, resulting in almost 65 percent onsite work. Not much value was being added, with any good methodologies and processes in the company, and no ownership of project management. Therefore, we ended up having a higher cost structure for doing the same kind of work. Today, we lead everything through consulting and delivery with total project ownership. It has been a cultural change.
Changing from being a staffing company posted its own set of problems. Customers came to us in the first place because we were a staffing company. Slowly we were able to convert most of them. Today, we are trying to build a McDonalds flavor in software engineering with consistent customer service, building IP in our processes, systems and architecture that are not entirely people dependent.
Capital structure of the company
This was completely complex. We had two public companies that left the investors confused. In addition, there were 38 companies/brands, some of them having minority share holdings. We cleaned that up entirely into a single company listed in the U.S., with bulk of its operations in India.
New infrastructure
The existing infrastructure when I joined was not suitable to build a world-class organization. Hence, we started a 14 acre campus in 2003. This has helped us prove our stability to our customers and convey the message that we are here to stay. We consciously upgraded the quality of infrastructure across all our delivery locations.
HR transformation
One of the challenges we had was a huge number of individual employee contracts speaking different terms, because of the staffing business. Within two years, we brought in one contract for all employees. We have brought in an adult to adult employer-employee engagement model. We have not been paternalistic in our HR policies, which many companies in India tend to be. Our robust employee engagement program enables employees to make a choice in several strategic decisions. Our whole philosophy has been to tell an employee what is to be done and he might surprise you with how it has to be done!
Bringing in a sound value system worked well for us in the initial years. It helped us in our efforts to change the business model in the industry to an outcomes-driven one, integrating technology and operations. It was a complex challenge. Any change requires tremendous commitment. I always believed that if I hit my head against the wall 10 times, and have conviction about my work and am passionate about it, I am willing to do it the 11th time because I know that the solution will be a better one.
So there were two things I insisted one must bring to the workplace: commitment to work and a passion to excel. I am glad that the employees have responded well to our value system, and have been playing a pivotal role in the journey we have embarked upon.
Key lessons learnt
Stability: Eliminate the number of moving parts and stabilize.
Courage: Have the courage to take up transformation initiatives.
Culture: Ensure that you have a strong work ethic and performance-oriented culture.
Justify: I don’t think there is any magic wand to success. The key lies in working hard, staying focused and executing well on the objectives one sets out with; believing in the goals set and having the passion to achieve them.
My goal now is to move the industry to the (iTOPS) model of integrating technology and process and hence be able to engage with customers on a Business Outcomes-based approach. In eight years from now, I would want all CEOs and CFOs to be saying, ‘Why did we ever pay dollars per hour! We should have always paid for Business Outcomes!’

Phaneesh Murthy is the CEO of iGate Patni

From paycheck to pay dirt

First-time business owners starting a venture in unfamiliar waters face a special set of challenges. Here are three who tackled them with success.
Eric Beverding had been a club auto-racing fan for years, thanks to his wife, Dacia Rivers, a lifelong race car enthusiast. Beverding was working in production at a boutique political advertising agency in Austin, Texas, when he and Rivers finally decided to place their bets on their hobby.
Although they knew they wanted to start a club sport track, they also knew they had to be sure that the area would support such a business.
“My wife’s family is in automotive retail, and they had customers telling them over and over that they were tired of driving and having to spend the night or spend a thousand dollars to go away for a weekend to a track to have fun in their cars,” Beverding says.
He looked at the radius of influence for the few club-based tracks in the area and found that the nearest one was still far enough away that it wouldn’t affect his location. He was right. He and Rivers opened Harris Hill Road (H2R) in June 2008 in nearby San Marcos, Texas.
It takes guts to leave a steady job with a big paycheck to launch an entirely new venture. Babson College entrepreneurship professor Dennis Ceru cautions that there are some solid best practices that should be followed before jumping ship from steady employment into uncertain waters.
“There are multiple steps in really assessing the markets and what customer-driven needs you’re trying to solve with your business,” Ceru says. “The determination of whether it’s a business or not revolves around your idea and revenue model. Can it be a sustainable business?” Such an assessment becomes all the more challenging when the business is somewhat unusual and not at all related to your day job.
While Beverding was a racing hobbyist, he knew little about running a track. So he went into the field and talked to as many people as he could. And when he left his job at the ad agency he went to work part-time for his father-in-law in automotive retail. This allowed him to bring in some income as the track was being built, as well as to make contacts who might eventually become customers for his racetrack.
That kind of startup intelligence is available from a number of places—and is something that Sarah Prevette deals in daily. As founder of entrepreneur advice site, Prevette is in the business of helping budding business owners find the information they need. On Sprouter, experts in marketing, finance, startup basics and other areas are available to answer questions free of charge, as a way of giving back after achieving their own success, she says. The other sources of information, guidance and benchmarking include trade publications, industry associations, prospective customers, SBA-sponsored organizations like the Service Corps of Retired Executives and Small Business Development Centers and even competitors.
VocationVacations is a Portland, Oregon-based company that arranges for would-be entrepreneurs to test-drive many so-called dream businesses before they take the leap.
“However you do it, it’s important to learn from others’ knowledge and mistakes,” Prevette says. “A lot of entrepreneurs tend to isolate and do things on their own, trusting their own opinions above all else. You need to get out there and realize there’s a community that can help you find success.”
After plans to open his off-Broadway, one-man play fell through, Greg Henderson did what many actors in need of a paycheck do: He started temping. He landed at financial research and credit rating giant Moody’s Investor Service in New York City, and within a few years was a manager in the firm’s corporate communications department.
The money was good and allowed him and his partner, Joseph Massa, to buy an apartment in Manhattan and a small cabin in the Catskills. But after years of long hours and distance from Massa, who had begun staying full-time at the cabin to work as a real estate agent upstate, Henderson wasn’t happy. One weekend, the two discovered a run-down Catskills motel that had been on the market for six years. The structure included 11 units attached to a house built a century earlier on two acres of land near prime ski country. They were convinced this could be the perfect place for city folk to escape for skiing and relaxing in the mountains.
It took a year of chewing on the idea, saving and planning before the duo decided to sell the Manhattan apartment and purchase the Roxbury, N.Y., motel—aptly named the Roxbury—in 2003. There, they put their theater set-building skills to work, handling much of the renovation themselves and furnishing some of the rooms and the lobby with d├ęcor from their former New York City digs. Since its grand opening in 2004, the Roxbury has become a well-known upstate getaway, attracting national media attention from the likes of New York magazine, National Geographic Traveler and the Today show. It has undergone two expansions, added a spa and has 27 units, including some two-bedroom, lofted suites for families.
In his book, 6 Secrets to Startup Success, John Bradberry points out that one common mistake enthusiastic entrepreneurs make is to dismiss or underestimate competition. Doing so could lead to spending time, money and resources developing a solution to a need that is already being served. Instead, look at the need of the customer and ask some hard questions:
 What problem or need are you addressing?
 Who is your core customer?
 What is the overall market opportunity (number of customers and sales potential)?
 Who is your competition?
 What advantage do you offer over that competition?
“I call [these questions] the ‘market scrub,’” Bradberry says. “If you can answer them honestly and thoroughly, you’ll have a good idea of whether your business idea is worth pursuing.”
When Lee Zalben quit his job as an ad executive to open New York City-based Peanut Butter & Co., the peanut butter sandwich shop he had dreamed up while still in college, he had no experience with the food business, but plenty of experience with profit and loss statements. That familiarity with finances helped him determine his startup costs, break-even point and how much he would have to sell to make a living.
Incorrect estimates of startup and operation costs trip up many new businesses, Babson professor Ceru says. He advises organizing a detailed plan of costs and revenue from the business launch until the point where it is expected to earn a profit. He calls the difference between the startup investment and the profit-making stage the “hole,” which needs to be filled with one of several types of capital or investment, such as personal resources, loans or investment from family and friends, commercial loans or outside investment from angels or venture capitalists.
Beverding knew his racetrack wouldn’t be fast-growth enough to interest venture capitalists or most angel investors. Instead, he turned to friends and family. In exchange, five family members own partnership stakes, and his father-in-law purchased the property on which the track is located.
Henderson and Massa used the proceeds from the sale of their Manhattan apartment, as well as personal savings and sweat equity to purchase and renovate the Roxbury. Once the business began to make money, bank loans financed the two additions.
Zalben came up with his Rs.45 lakh in startup costs mostly through savings and credit cards. Yet even with his financial expertise, he admits his projections weren’t perfect. “I took my best estimate and added 25 percent more to it. In retrospect, I should have doubled it,” he says. “Everyone learns the hard way that it costs more than you think it will.”
Of course, sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. Beverding’s track opened at the beginning of one of the worst financial crises in history. In response, he and Rivers shifted their business model to include corporate and driver education events and specialized team programs, which broadened their revenue base. Business slipped a bit, but still met fourth-quarter 2010 and first-quarter 2011 projections.
Zalben also shifted his vision from being the peanut butter sandwich shop king to becoming a peanut butter wholesaler. The Peanut Butter & Co. wholesale line launched in 2003 and is sold in 15,000 stores throughout the U.S. and Canada. With exports to the U.K., Japan, Australia and Hong Kong, the company earns more than Rs.45 crore in annual revenue.
There are no guarantees for success, Bradberry says, but by taking advantage of the experience you have, being aggressive in finding out what you don’t know about your business and being careful with money, you can increase your chances. Be smart in ensuring there is truly a market for your products and services. As Bradberry puts it, “An idea isn’t great until the market says it is.”

An Idea Called ideaken

Two IT professionals Jayesh Badani and Madhu Mani branched out to start ideaken, a platform for collaborative innovation.
Jayesh Badani and Madhu Mani both spent over a decade in the IT sector and met each other at Wipro where they spent about four years together. Badani was part of the IT firm’s innovation process and it was during this phase that the idea to make innovation for collaboration germinated. In November 2009, along with Mani who was ready to take the entrepreneurial leap of faith, Badani launched ideaken, a platform to connect innovation seekers with solvers. “Projects can be across any domain, innovation as we define it is something novel that does not exist in public or with any company,” says Badani, Founder and CEO, ideaken. As a platform, ideaken enables enterprise innovation seekers to collaborate with innovation solvers, who could be customers, global pool of talent, research vendors or academia, and find solutions to their challenges, powered by technology. In two years, it has proved the viability of its concept, and found feasible solutions for 40 percent of the total 40-45 complex innovation needs it has received so far.
Getting the whole system up and running took a few months and dedicated efforts at spreading the word. Badani, for one, had his blog on innovation which he used to its fullest potential and managed to generate some traction by way of interested parties. As a stepping stone, the founders put three projects, and reward money from their side, Rs.45,000 per project. Since then the startup has consciously decided to take on challenges that are highly technical in nature.
Its business model requires enterprises to register themselves for a fee, which allows them to publish challenges as subscribers. “Sometimes challenges just stay there and requires extra effort on our side to find solvers with specific skills in a domain, in such cases we charge extra up to Rs.45,000 per month,” he says.
Once a seeker finds a solution, ideaken takes a percentage of reward as commission ranging from seven-10 percent of the reward amount. Currently, ideaken has served nine MNCs with registered innovators across 170 countries and attracts approximately 100 new registered innovators per week on its platform.
While today it has a continuous flow of innovators, the platform’s deep web crawling technology searches for the right innovators. “It is a mixture of automated and manual,” says Madhu Mani, Director, ideaken. It could be a database repository, research papers, and its software is built to find related words and maps them with challenges to find solvers.
In July 2010, after experimenting with ideaken’s services for a few months,, a U.S.-based IP transfer firm, formed an alliance with the startup.
For ideaken, this was another means to generate a flow of challenges. “We had built a rapport on our blog and they didn’t know our capability back then,” explains Badani. In the first month, the startup failed to find any solvers for their challenges. Determined to prove their potential, the founders asked for another attempt, as a make or break deal. “They agreed to one more month, and we gave exceptional results this time,” he adds. The tech startup was able to provide 20 solutions in two months for three of the five projects it received.
Despite its achievements, ideaken is still ahead of the curve in many ways, given that the concept of innovative collaboration is quite new in India. The founders faced this challenge when targeting Indian firms. “They are not receptive to the concept of open innovation,” says Mani.
To avoid this challenge, ideaken has initiated something called co-creation, wherein enterprises can co-create with a known audience, within their firm, with employees, partners, or customers. This, however, is still at an experimental stage.
While it tests feasibility of such initiatives, the ideaken founders are also toying with various expansion plans ranging from partnerships in different geographies and scaling up technical support in Bengaluru with an in-house team to co-ordinate operational work and help grow the business. This is apart from negotiating funding requirements with a set of potential investors.

“The first 2 years are critical to your success”

Raman Roy is the Chairman and Managing Director of Quatrro Global Services (P) Ltd.
During the first two years of our operations, a sales head, who had not been very successful, wrote in his exit interview that it was below his dignity to do the work he was being asked to do. Despite being a co-stakeholder in the company, to get such a reaction from a person who headed sales was shocking. I was livid but realized that there has to be other parameters in a person who would fit into a startup. People who fit into a startup are the ones who roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to be able to succeed.
Technically, Quatrro is my fifth startup but, for me, every business has been a learning curve. The biggest learning for me has been that you must get your employees excited about your vision for the company. If your team does not share a common vision and common understanding, there are bound to be problems. Each of my ventures has been different, complex, tough and unique. It is always a big challenge when you have to take an idea to people; your employees need to believe in your concept and take it to market successfully.
One of the biggest learnings I had, particularly at Quatrro, was when we got some senior people into our team. I did not realize that there was a wide gap between what I felt had to be done and what these employees had to offer. They only gave me lip service, which was not executed in the marketplace. It was an eye opener that despite their experience, we had to set up an effective monitoring mechanism and an effective communication mechanism.
There were instances when many ideas were floated in board meetings but something else happened at the ground level. You need a different kind of profile in a startup because only maturity and seniority are not good indicators of whether someone is suited to a startup culture. We celebrated when some senior people decided to join us, in the hope that they would do a great job.
However, in a startup, where there are no external stimuli, one has to learn from the customer. At times you need to grovel a little, which senior employees refuse to do. This is very worrying as it can take away months and years out of your go-to market strategy. According to me, for a startup there has to be energy and the first two years is the most crucial time in the life of a new venture. There has to be a different kind of energy, an ability to learn, experiment, take things to market, talk to the customer, convince the customer and at times beg the customer.
Team creation and being wise about your spend are also very important aspects of handling a startup. I learnt this the hard way. It is given that in the early stages of a company there is an euphoria around what is being created or what the entrepreneur is doing.
As a result one tends to become a little liberal with money. If you look back in the rear view mirror on your first two years, there will be many things which, on hindsight, you would not have done.
During the initial days at Spectramind, 11 years ago, I was sure I wanted to use only cutting-edge technology for my company. VOIP was the technology we used and we fitted out the cabling on the first floor only for this technology. Money is always in short supply during starting days and even if you have a VC backing, you would want to use the money optimally. When we tested it out, to our horror, it did not meet our needs. We had to rip out all the cables and re-cable it with the traditional ones that we used because we had taken a wrong call. Five years later, we realized we were ahead of the curve and today at Quatrro all workstations have the VOIP technology. Being ahead of the curve can sometimes hurt you and at Spectramind it was a very expensive mistake we made.
It is inevitable for an entrepreneur to make mistakes, but hard work and dedication should see him through. I will make a sweeping statement that most startups aspire to become very successful and big, but they are not willing to work hard. One has to slog it out and there are pains associated with a startup. The first two years are the main incubation period. But entrepreneurs want only the gains, not the pains.
There are some great ideas and concepts out there and I only wish these guys put in more effort. A startup is not a 10 am-5 pm job and one has to be consumed by it.

“I don’t give up easily”

Kiran Mazumdar shaw is Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd.

The never-say-die spirit has helped me taste success in a venture which was a pioneer in its time.

The beginning of any entrepreneurial endeavor is always the most challenging, as we take the first steps on the journey, feeling our way forward through unfamiliar territory. However, facing these challenges with ingenuity and determination to blaze a trail is an infinitely rewarding experience.
When I started Biocon in 1978, I was a pioneer: not many people in India had heard of biotechnology, leave alone envisaged it as a business. The obstacles I needed to navigate in the first two years of building Biocon were manifold–ranging from infrastructural hurdles to issues related to my credibility as a businessperson. I refused to let them intimidate me and decided to chart my own path.

I was trying to sow the seeds of a biotechnology enterprise in India–which was, at that time, an underdeveloped economy where business was bound by red tape, gagged by sub-optimal infrastructure, and held hostage by a precarious foreign debt situation.
With no access to venture capital, money was scarce and high-cost debt-based capital was all I had. What I required to start my business was collateral security, a demonstrated business track record, and a well-understood business model. I had neither of these: I was a 25-year-old entrepreneur, a woman at that, and one with no business experience, and no collateral to offer.

To make matters worse, I was promoting a high-risk, unknown business based on a relatively unknown science. It took me three months to obtain a Rs.5 lakh credit line in 1979 which saw me knock on the doors of five banks before one brave banker finally decided to fund me.

Beyond the financial challenges was the business of biotechnology itself. Enzyme extraction and production, the biotechnology with which I started, was a new concept and there was skepticism about the commercial viability of eco-friendly but expensive enzymes to replace cheap chemical processes.
My challenge was to get the market to accept biotechnology and change old practices. Moreover, enzyme manufacturing for industrial application involved sophisticated deep-tank fermentation which demanded uninterrupted power supply and precision process control.

This was not something I could manage to do in India given the unreliable power supply situation and the limited resources I had. However, I went ahead with the idea and succeeded in building a green business model and provided a boost to environmental sustainability by doing away with chemical pollution in the process. I opted for specialty low-volume, high-value enzymes for the food and beverages industry as I felt that this was more doable for a small entrepreneur just starting out in business.
My journey of building Biocon has been about experimentation and learning—trying out ideas and defeating the challenges that are part and parcel of a developing country’s business environment and benefiting from the learning and improvement that follows. Several factors have contributed to Biocon’s growth. One was my single-minded determination to see the venture succeed. I have never been one to give up easily; so, when I faced the initial hiccups that any startup in India faced during the pre-liberalization period, I simply became more determined to succeed.
What gave me the courage to pursue my ambitious aspirations was my ability to attract some of the best scientific talent—people who were as excited as I to create a new business model based on a new science.

Another key enabler was the fact that I had an Irish joint venture partner who was willing to support me through my starting phase.
It also helped that in the initial two-year period market pressures were low; so, we could do a lot of experimenting.

I knew then we could make Biocon work if we followed a strategy of differentiation by leveraging our early mover advantage. Instead of being hampered by what we did not have, we tried to use what we did have to our advantage and, through home-grown innovations, maximized results.
Take for example our tryst with enzyme technology which needed sophisticated deep-tank fermentation and, thus, uninterrupted power supply and precision process control. Since this was not possible, we created a radically different approach.

We opted for a less sophisticated solid-state fermentation enzyme technology based on tray culture. This meant that we could only restrict ourselves to the fungal enzymes. However, it also meant that we could produce specialty enzymes even with India’s unreliable power supply. Thus, we saw hurdles as opportunities to change for the better and move up the value chain.
Even as I learnt that all challenges can be surmounted with perseverance and ingenuity, I got another significant lesson in entrepreneurship: That business visions evolve and change over time.
Over time as opportunities beckoned and better prospects for growth were found, I have changed my business model. I steered Biocon to morph into improved versions of its older self over and over—while keeping our core values intact.

I have also found it essential to always challenge myself through innovations. At Biocon, we never forget that our sustainable success is because we have made innovation the cornerstone of everything that we do.

Businesses must be driven by a sense of purpose and the spirit to take on challenges to ensure sustainable success.
When we started Biocon, our resources were limited, the available infrastructure was primitive and we had to function in a fairly hostile business environment.
But we succeeded against these odds because we believed in ourselves and our ability to succeed.

Entrepreneurs must challenge themselves and the status quo and keep trying to differentiate—that will determine their success.

The success story of a Rob Kaufelt who is a successful Cheese Entrepreneur.

The success story of a Rob Kaufelt who is a successful cheese entrepreneur in New York..and own a Murray's Cheese Company. A wonderful and gratifying success story for Rob Kaufelt would also inclined us to think.

The oldest and best cheese shop in the city is synonymous with high-quality, handmade products. Now CEO Rob Kaufelt is taking a huge step: little Murray’s is joining forces with the giant supermarket chain Kroger. Soon the exquisite cheeses will be on offer in over 50 supermarkets throughout the U.S.

Rob Kaufelt became the cheese mogul from Greenwich Village almost by accident. For a long time, he did not have any great affinity to cheese and certainly did not plan to become the successful cheese entrepreneur he is today. Slow as his passion for cheese was to start developing, it has grown steadily since then.

Rob grew up in the grocery business. After school he used to work in the family store – part of a small retail chain in New Jersey. His father, Stanley Kaufelt, was convinced that there was no future anymore in grocery retailing and sold the family supermarket business in 1995.

After several years Rob moved to Greenwich Village and bought Murray's Cheese. To Rob the solution was clear. This was his opportunity! He would expand his cheese range. And so he travelled to Europe to track down the best cheeses for his store. He got more and more involved in the world of cheese, discovered the finesses; soon Murray’s boasted a respectable and, for New York, sizeable selection of cheeses.

Only a few of his customers were interested in buying the new stinky and soft cheeses. Which is why Rob Kaufelt started teaching his customers about the world of cheese. By permanently offering new cheeses for tasting and giving cheese seminars, he is personally responsible for converting a multitude of New Yorkers into cheese lovers over the past decades.

Today Murray’s Cheese is much more than just a shop in Greenwich Village. They also run one of the most successful online-shops for cheese nationwide, they have a second store at Grand Central Station, they continue to offer cheese seminars, and they are one of the major cheese suppliers of prestigious restaurants and hotels. A wonderful and gratifying success story for Rob Kaufelt you would be inclined to think. And, were this not an American tale, this is where it would surely end.

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has made his fame and fortune by calling the markets right. How he has gone with a starting capital of Rs 5,000 to a net worth of a few thousand crore rupees is now the stuff of urban legend. One of the big bulls of the stock market, Jhunjhunwala is quick to point out that he is bullish first and foremost on India's growth story

I have two-three dreams in life. The first dream is that when I die and only truth of life is death, how many people come to my funeral and say, a good man has died. That is the greatest ambition in my life. Second thing is I want to earn the greatest wealth of the world in the most legitimate manner; practical legitimate manner and leave the largest part of it to charity.”