Friday, November 30, 2007

A million dollar dream

Ankur Shanker, like many of you out there, has a dream. To study in a well reputed college abroad. In his case, LSE (London School of Economics).

Ankur got an admit to LSE for the September 2007 session. But, he deferred it to 2008. Because he does not have the 55,000 pounds (or USD $ 100,000 )it would take for his tuition, boarding & lodging.

A Delhi College of Engineering grad (2005 batch) Ankur has some savings from a job as sr business analyst at evalueserve. And yes, he will apply for a scholarship. "Loan is not an option as I don't have collateral," he shrugs.

But Ankur has a 'plan'. He read an article which basically said,"You can earn millions from Adsense" and so he decided to put the theory into practice. Ankur has created a blog called His plan is to write 1 short story, everyday, for 180 days.

And he hopes enough of you will come to read the stories, and perhaps click on the ads, earning him cash.

It's a crazy plan. Can it really get you $ 100,000? I have no idea. But one must admire his spirit. His gung-honess. He is an average Joe in the literary sense (engineer, no great past writing experience, has read only a couple of short story collections - Jhumpa Lahiri & Rohinton Mistry).

But he thinks he can do it. And that's where it all begins, doesn't it. The will, the passion, the determination. It comes through when you speak to him. Which I did, before deciding to write about it.

The first story goes up tonight.

On my part, I am giving him this plug and wish him the best of luck in this endeavour. I hope the stories are of interest to readers (failing which the idea will, as well). But regardless of the quality of the stories, I think it's rather inspiring.

It's all about having a dream - and then doing a little something about it! Which is something we all ought to do more often.

More on the project here.

Update: the first story is quite interesting, in a Dilbert sort of way. Of course I did not feel compelled to click on the ads... But hey, it's a decent start!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Young Entrepeneur Series - III

Vibhor Agarwal (IIM B 2005) quit A T Kearney in Nov 2006 to join his family business in heavy engineering 'Multimax' in Meerut.

Over the phone he told me: Everyone keeps asking,"Why?". When I visit a marriage, relatives will ask - even though I am from a business family. “Why did you leave such a good job. There are so many headaches in business. Excise problems and yeh woh”.

But Vibhor was very clear.

I worked at Deutsche Bank London for summer and then at AT Kearney. So I saw what banking as well as consulting was about neither fit into my long term goals. I made a very informed decision to join my family business.

Last 12 months I have not missed consulting even for a day although I enjoyed that job also.

For me it was not so much of a risk as I was getting into an existing business, not starting from scratch. Hence no financial implications.

My dad started this business 27 years ago after graduating from IIT B but it did not really take off so he went into jewellery retailing and this business was just languishing, not professionally run, v small scale running on auto pilot. My dad was planning to shut it down so I took it over

It's a manufacturing business - hardcore mechanical engineering. I had to relearn all my engineering fundaes in the first 3 months. I am a chemical engineer, incidentally. From working on a laptop 24 hours I had to go to the shopfloor and get my hands dirty.

What have I been doing? Trying to make the company more professional (small things like documenting things in a proper format). Attract people from bigger companies with experience in this field to work here. It's v hard - giving them the right package + job security.

My dad was very hands-on operational, he never thought of getting in experienced people and delegating work to others.

The company right now is small – really small. But Vibhor has big plans. What follows is a longish description of the journey so far. (via email, in his own words). But hang on, coz it's worth reading!

Name: Vibhor Agrawal
Age: 27
Education: IIT Bombay (2003 batch), IIM Bangalore (2005 batch)

Born in a business class retail jeweller’s family with not much background in academics except for my father who is also an IITian. Family known very well throughout Meerut. Schooling from LKG to Std. XII in St. Mary’s Academy, ICSE, only boys convent school, topped through most classes, passing out as school head boy and best student in school award.

Aspirations as a child, and an adult:
Wanted to be an engineer from starting. Nothing else. As adult, now am aspiring to be a successful businessman who gives back to the society through capitalism.

Would you describe yourself as a ‘regular’ child or a little different from others:
Regular child

I would describe myself as: (in terms of personality traits)
A typical Piecesan, day dreamer, soft spoken, determined, competitive, socialist in the disguise of a capitalist, patriotic, shy, etc.

Any work experience:
pre MBA: none

summer training: Deutsche Bank, London – commodity trading and securitization research desks

post MBA: 18 months with AT Kearney, management consultancy firm

Learnings from this work ex which you can apply in your current project: Several learnings – made me more professional, disciplined, more polished in dealing with people, wide experience of sectors and functions to talk about, good network of people to leverage, improved excel, powerpoint skills greatly.

Even I before IIM was a nerd. The importance of softer aspects I learnt only at IIM

Did you know you would be an entrepreneur before you joined the MBA program or was the decision taken on campus.
Knew it before joining the MBA, it was only a matter of when to take the plunge.

Was there anything like an 'aha' moment when you 'knew'?
Might not make sense, but going through the Fortune 500 companies. I just knew I had to build one that made it to that list. Otherwise also, everyday in ET when I read about some businessman doing something or read about some entrepreneur making it big, I felt I was wasting time doing consulting.

Was there any course during MBA which helped to at a psychological or practical level to make the decision?
Corporate Finance and Financial Services both taught me all I needed to know about business financing.

People who helped/ hindered your decision
My father – my biggest influence and teacher
My IIT thesis guide, Prof. Shenoy – a very practical businessman prof who runs a very successful net based business while teaching in IIT. He kind of pushed me to take the step sooner than I had thought.

How did your family react and how did you handle it?
Contrary to others, my family was extremely happy considering I was coming back to run the business.

I knew I could not get into my family’s traditional jewellery business as it was not my cup of tea. I liked the little heavy engineering business my father had started 25years ago but was lying dormant. So I chose heavy engineering even though it was not even one-tenth the size of jewellery business.

We are manufacturing heat exchangers and pressure vessels (tanks and columns) for chemical plants, power plants, fertilizer plants, sugar plants, etc. Basically plant equipments.

Are you enjoying it?
Yes very much. I liked engineering as a subject and am glad to be back to it.

How is it different from what you would have been doing as an MBA employed by someone.
As a consultant, I was building financial models, powerpoint presentations, process design documents and other analytical work.
As a businessman, I am meeting different people, taking decisions, doing a bit of everything from marketing and sales to IT and operations.
The basic setup was already there. I planned the experienced team of people I needed, the infrastructure improvements and the companies to target for getting orders.

Which MBA models/ fundas, if any, are you using in this project. Or is it a question of unlearning everything :)
The funda of people management which I guess I learnt a bit while doing team projects in MBA and during my job.

What is your business model. Is there anything new or different about it vis a vis the general industry practice?
Our business model is to deliver on quality and time while matching competitor’s price. In general, most small businesses of our size in our industry, try to get by with low quality work.

Any example of how your company is taking a fresh or different approach to the business in terms of strategy/ marketing/ product design etc.
As an educated MBA, I know the worth of having good experienced people in the business, the worth of providing them the right environment to work, of motivating them when they are down and of paying them well for their services. Unlike services sector, manufacturing sector is not that people friendly. My approach has been to apply some of the basic things of services sector to manufacturing such as strong HR, good website and a good working environment.

Is your relative youth and inexperience an asset in some ways?
It helps to be asking basic presumption breaking questions to my employees and my father. I am teaching my company to leverage the computer more greatly while doing design and costing (earlier done on paper), to cooperate with customer rather than fight, to imbibe quality not as a statutory requirement but as a basic need for good business.

Was raising funds an issue?
Until now, it hasn’t been as it has been bank rolled by my father, though he is a tough investor making us justify any demands. Next year, we will have to take loans from banks. Might rope in some businessmen friends of father to invest.

Your experience with banks and institutions (negative or positive)
Slightly negative.

Your experience with angel investors/ VC funds.
Not yet approached any, as ours is an old economy business.

Current turnover is Rs. 1 Cr flat. I expect to reach Rs. 100 Cr. in 5 years.

Key milestones, so far:
Conversion of company from Proprietorship to Pvt. Ltd. This meant an evolved employee policy with all benefits. Also cleaning up, painting and formalizing all the processes in the factory according to ISO 9000 framework.

Are you satisfied with the pace and scale you have achieved so far
Nope. I’ve taken my time to learn our business, to learn customer expectations and employee expectations. I haven’t yet cracked any major order myself.

What is your vision of the business 5 years from now
A national brand name, known for its engineering solutions.

Do you see yourself running this company 10 years from now
No, I hope to give over the operational work to professionals. I also hope to get into other sunrise sectors 5 years later.

Would you actively seek a sell-out before that time?
No, not as of now. Unless I am assured of the benefits of a sell out to the company and its employees and to me, I wont sell-out.

High points of being on your own
1. Do work at your own pace, sometimes very fast sometimes slowly.
2. Immediately take decisions that have an impact. Not having to do unnecessary long analysis.
3. Being able to put in place systems and procedures that have streamlined the work instead of the daily fire fighting that was going on before me.
4. Most importantly, not feeling as if I am doing work. So there are no work hours. The time in office zips by since there are so many things to do. Every little achievement brings immense satisfaction. Every little challenge pushes my thinking for new ideas.

Low points of being on your own
1. No company of similar aged colleagues to socialize with, to bounce ideas with, to take breaks with. Working alone and aloof in a cabin.
2. No more frequent flyers or stays in 5 star hotels. Not that it matters much.
3. No more multi-crore projects for big clients. No more meeting with rich and famous clients.

At such a time, what kept you going
The dream of seeing my company name in the papers, the dream of recruiting people from IIT/IIM for my company, the motivation that I have to go forward in life rather than go in circles of a job.

Things you wish you'd known when you started:
On a practical level, the whole tax structure such as excise, etc. On a personal level, how to recognize the right and wrong people and how to do business negotiations.

Any particularly tricky areas/ problems. How you overcame or are tackling them.
Business negotiations. Its complex and you have to be really tough. I am still learning the tricks by doing little negotiations and by watching my father and others do it. I was aware of this lacuna in me during my MBA as well hence I took a negotiations course. But that was a bit theoretical and naïve compared to real business situations.

Is the execution of your project going along planned lines, or is reality very different...
eality is very different. Many times I think I’ve achieved success only to return from near end point. This applies to many situations of recruiting key people or getting orders from customers. But with each failure, I am learning and doing it a bit differently next time.

Running a family owned concern – any issues of who is the boss etc?
Generation gap was one of the concerns floated by my AT Kearney superiors as well. However, me and my father have divided work between ourselves nicely. I handle all HR, marketing, development initiatives. He handles all finance and government related statutory issues. While there are debates and differences of opinion sometimes, there is a healthy mutual respect that lets us own our decisions in our domain. Since he too is well educated (IIT Roorkee, IIT Bombay), he understands and appreciates reasoning and logic. I think we compliment well.
Going forward, he plans to pass over his part of the job to me while I find competent people to handle my department. He would then concentrate purely on the jewellery business which he now finds more peaceful to do.

Any chance you'll go back to corporate life?
Not as of near future. This business has to go down really for me to think about returning to a job.

What happens when you meet batchmates who are I-bankers and consultants? Any regrets?
Absolutely no regrets. Luckily I’ve worked through both I-banking and consulting environments. So I know what I’ve left willingly. It was a well calculated and thought out move and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

If you had to do anything differently what would it be?
One is I would have left consulting after another 6 months of experience by which time I would’ve been promoted to be an associate. Various personal and business factors pushed me into leaving earlier than I had planned.
Second is I left behind several small opportunities to leverage which I would’ve leveraged had I known my own business better that time. For instance, I interned in Toyo Engg during IIT. Today, I know Toyo can be a major customer for us, but I don’t have any personal contacts left in that company to leverage.

What are the factors which you think will be key to your company's success
1. Change in mindset of our shop floor people from a ‘chalta hai’ attitude to ‘chalta nahi hai’ attitude. They need to develop their skills and imbibe quality in their daily lives.
2. An owner’s urgency to business actions and decisions needs to be inculcated in every employee. Once he starts thinking of this company as his company the change will be there to see.
3. Meeting customer’s delivery times. Many big competitors in our field are failing in delivering quality product on time.

Any advice to ppl like you who may be choosing to become entrepreneurs after and MBA.
1. Select courses that you think will help you become better entrepreneurs than better grades for jobs.
2. Know your business better. Have a broad business plan on paper. This will help you spot opportunities early and leverage them better.

Should one go for work ex of 1-2 years and then undertake entrepreneurship?
I seriously think one should work for few years before taking the plunge. It really makes a huge difference once you’ve worked under somebody. Plus it makes you more professional, more responsible, gives you a few initial networks to leverage, etc. etc.

Is what you are doing now your ultimate goal or more an interim learning period

My ultimate goal is not constrained by any sector or type of business. The ultimate goal is to build a sustainable company – one that stays long after I am also gone – managed by professionals and in the process make a name for myself. My goal is also give back to the society by recruiting people, through corporate social responsibility and to contribute towards making India an economically developed nation.
Starting with a running business has saved me atleast two years of entrepreneurship pangs of building basic infrastructure, getting government approvals, getting initial finance, etc.

Living in Meerut after Mumbai and Bangalore. Is it an issue at any level with you?
Only at socializing with my IIT/IIM friends most of whom are in Bombay Delhi or Bangalore. Yeah in addition the traffic sometimes frustrates me. But otherwise, I am so involved in my work that it really doesn’t matter whether my office is in meerut or Mumbai.
In future, yes it will become an issue once I have family and kids. In this regard, I plan and hope that my business will reach a size where I can move my offices to Delhi while still running the work shop in Meerut.

When you speak to Vibhor you get a clear sense of his passion and determination. And you can't help but feel he is going to make a huge success of whatever he decides to take up in life. Meerut ya Manhattan.

We’ll keep track of his progress - watch this space!

Earlier in this series
Young Entrepreneur - I (Prakash Mundhra, Blessingz)
Young Entrepreneur - II (Mom's Kitchen)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

You are invited to the JAMCAT concert

On Sunday Nov 18 @ 6.30 pm in these cities:

St Joseph's Boys School, Museum Rd
Bands playing: White Noiz, Junkyard Groove and Motherjane

College of Vocational Studies, Sheikh Sarai (south campus)
Bands playing: Prithvi, Them Clones and Parikrama

SNDT college ground, Juhu
Bands playing: The Works, Gaurav Dagaonkar and Zero

Elysium, Koregaon Park
Bands playing: Black, Brute Force and Agni

Music aur CAT ka kya vaasta? Well, after the toughest exam of the year we think it's time for you to let your hair down. Of course the concerts are open to all music lovers but those who land up with their CAT admit cards get into the VIP section :)

You can print out as many invites as you want to this FREE concert (thanks to sponsors Bindass and LG Shine mobile phones) from the JAM website.

Or you can sms JAMCAT 53636 + City of your choice for an m-invite. Those of you with college or office lans it'd be great if you could put up the invite so junta can download it.

Lastly if you land up a bit early u can audition for Bindass TV's 'Go to space' contest.

P.S. We are also distributing passes outside CAT centres right after the exam. Have a pretty big list but details re: your test centre in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Bangalore would be very welcome. Would like to cover as many as possible :) Email rashmi_b at

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A chikna in IIT...

Saawariya has not exactly had rave reviews but Ranbir is a runaway hit. The latest is that he's replaced Shahrukh Khan in Raju Hirani's adpatation of Five Point Someone.

Which is great because no amount of plastic surgery or visits to the gym could turn the 40 plus Shahrukh into a believable 18 year old... that too the IIT type. Not that Ranbir makes a believable IITian with his chikna chikna good looks. I guess he would be playing the role of Ryan Oberoi and not that loser Hari.

Other actors who were apparently keen to work in the film include Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham... Bollywood can certainly be stranger than fiction but since it's Raju Hirani at the helm of this project one still has hope!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Are you on facebook?

When four different people I know - including my brother - asked me this question I succumbed. Yup, I am now on facebook.

Not that this is the first social networking site I have joined... Sometime in Nov 2003 I signed up for friendster and ryze - just on a whim. The next morning half a dozen people had dropped by to say hello on ryze and I never ever logged into friendster again.

At the time I joined, ryze was quite a happening place - a lot of media types and students from India were on it. I reconnected with a lot of ex-JAM writers and ex-colleagues, as well as made some new friends/ contacts. In fact, I attended a couple of the offline 'mixers' held in Bombay and one in Bangalore. I think I was pretty active on ryze for about 6-9 months.

Then it kind of fizzled out. For reasons unknown, ryze just wasn't able to attract enough new and interesting people. People of a certain standing/ professional background felt it wasn't worth wasting one's time on a networking site. After all hum to bahut logon ko jaante hi hain. Increasingly then, the folks joining ryze were MLM types, insurance agents and the like whose idea of 'business networking' was thrusting their card in your face and trying to sell.

The other problem with ryze was there was no reason to check in and do anything on the site on a regular basis. Except for maybe checking out postings on say Mumbai Business Networking messageboard - a kind of classified/ forum area.

Around this time I also joined a few more online networks. This however was part of the research for an article I wrote for Businessworld magazine in September 2004. Some of the sites I checked out:

1) UK centric and pushy, much too pushy for my liking. 'Chairman' Thomas Power keeps bugging me to upgrade my membership ... even today.

2), They were reasonably hot back then - dunno what their status is now but certainly there is no buzz around them now!

3) 3 years ago there were a mere 1100 members from India on orkut. Then, something happened. Now I get at least 3-4 requests a week from folks who want to be 'linked in'.

4) Lastly, orkut. At the time I wrote the piece orkut was just another SNS (social networking site). Hi5 was, I think, equally popular. But somewhere along the way orkut outpaced hi5 and took over as the # 1 online social network in India. The media discovered orkut and suddenly I found my cousins from small town India had embraced it as well.

Yeah, I too have an orkut profile but I never became an avid orkutter. That's because a lot of people would stop by and say hello but again they were mostly current or former readers/ contributors of JAM magazine. So again, it was important for me - as editor of a youth magazine - to be on orkut. To understand what it was all about and interact with my constituency.

But there was nothing to take forward most of the initial conversations further. And people of my generation were not to be found in large numbers. There was too much timepass and no 'utility' value for the 30+.

Finally that attitude is changing/ had changed. One morning I logged into Linkedin - after perhaps two years - and found 150 requests to be 'linked in' pending. I confirmed all of them, although I don't know 80-90%. Initially I thought I'd be choosy and confirm only those who had sent a personal message but then I said, what the hell.

Let's treat this like one giant online cocktail party where you have a chance to meet new people and exchange a business card. You never know when there may be a reason to connect with each other. Especially in my profession!

Of course this does not mean I will endorse the work of a complete stranger (don't ask me why, but people do request such odd things!).

So currently I have 250+ linked in connections - and growing. And that's why I was hesitant to join 'one more network'. For a while now, I've been getting 'I've added you as a friend on Facebook' kind of emails and I'm like - "No!! Not again!!"

But then I realised, hey - this can be different. I am using facebook only to connect with folks who are family, friends or acquaintances I know in the real world. So if I don't add you as a 'friend' - kindly don't mind it.

In any case, most invites come through the 'global signup route' where the site scours your address book (and even yahoo/ gmail inbox) to send a friend request to every id it can find. People have the option of only selecting their friends but guess what, most are too lazy and send the invite to everyone anyways.

Aside: I think various sites allow this because it's cheap and easy marketing. When you get 3 requests a day to join 'Shelfari' you think I better check it out coz everyone is joining it. Incidentally I did join Shelfari but... never used it.

Getting back to facebook - using it for just 2 days I'd have to say it has a certain addictive quality. Besides, my brother and I have exchanged more emails on it in 48 hours than we had over the last 2 months! Which means... it's working.

But will this really be the last SNS I join? The Google Open Social alliance is working hard to topple Facebook! The action continues... sigh!

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth