Monday, March 16, 2009

Entrepreneurship @ Prof. Sunil Handa

How often have you been mesmerized by a speaker? How often have you wished that a seminar would never end? I'm sure it's not too many times...

But with Prof. Sunil Handa, that is exactly what happened. He has an ability to make you think and rethink. When he speaks about entrepreneurship, he can bring even a snail out of it's shell, to challenge the world. I remember his words - "Be aggressive, Be assertive... Do not ask, Take it! The worst that could happen is that you will be told no." It would be IMPOSSIBLE to bring out the atmosphere of that session through this blog-post, but I'm just gonna let my thoughts flow...

Prof. Handa started off by asking people what stops them from venturing on their own.

When he asked why many of us would want to work for a couple of years before starting a venture. Some of the replies which came out were:
1. I'd work for a couple of years to earn some capital (seed money) for my business.
2. I'd work for a few years to increase contacts and create a network.
3. I'd work some time to gain experience.
4. I have to pay back my educational loan.
How many of us give the exact same answers? Who are we kidding? As Prof. Handa said, the only reason is - "Tumhari phatti hai!" With his extremely frank style, he dismissed each of those bluffs one by one:

1. Seed Money - Two Years - How Much??!!
On evaluating his earnings over 2 years, one of the participants here, "Nemo", said that he'd probably save about 2-3 Lakhs (he undervalued himself TOO much, the downturn has really psyched people out...). Isn't that a bit too little for capital money? Guess what the Prof had to say.... I'll give you a loan for 3 lakhs (zero interest) when you finish your studies. Work on your venture... If it clicks, you can pay me back the principle, otherwise forget about it. He had just one condition... Immediately write a letter to the Placement
Cell telling them that you're opting out of Final Placements!! Did he accept the offer? Well, would you have? Let's face it - many out there are just too unsure about how much risk they can take.

2. Work to increase contacts:
Prof Handa drew this diagram on the board and told us, "During the next 2 years, you will be that small white dot in the huge organization.

Do you think you're gonna build contacts with the boss of another company?". Let's face it, he was right again. Kutte ki dosti Kutte se hi hoti hai. lol ... I guess that rules out number 2 also. Prof. Handa gave the example of one incident when one of his students got an appointment with Mr. Dayanidhi Maran for half an hour which ended up getting cropped to 5 min. A small window of opportunity opened during that brief visit and Prof Handa said he slid through in that one-millionth of a second. Essentially, he wanted to prove how you must be aggressive, and the fact that you don't need work experience to create contacts. You might just see a vacant seat at a table of esteemed personalities. Go grab the chair!

3. To gain experience
According the Prof, you don't gain any experience at your 2 year job. Even if you do, you'd learn far more working on your own venture. So this reason is again pointless and just a myth.

4. To pay back educational loan
This is where Prof Handa spoke about "The Circle of screwed Indebtedness". What's that?? Well, it's essentially a vicious circle of loans... You know, loans taken to pay off previous loans. And the saga continues.... The prof was ready to give an offer here as well - To pay off our loan till we can pay him back, if we'd agree to start our own venture.

Why exactly are people afraid??
When OD told the Prof that jobs were safe and comfortable whereas entrepreneurship was risky, he made a complete mockery out of him. He told us that it was the over-protective behaviour of many parents and at times their non-terminating government jobs which gave us such perceptions. For him, it was obvious... Venturing out on your own was the absolutely safer bet, and then again, he asked..."Don't you guys want to be rich?" Oh that qs. triggered another drama when one of us said, "Money isn't that important, I just wana chill out and enjoy life." Bad thing to say to Prof Handa. Another person got sent to the crusher.

Let me tell you
a bit about "The Sunil Handa":
Born in a simple family, Prof Handa and his brother jumped into entrepreneurship early and with just Rs. 15,000. They soon owned over half a dozen pharma factories and had to their names a whooping 1200 Crores (1995). However, that was when life took a turn for him. A dispute and business split with his brother left him devastated. It took him numerous months and visits to all the saadhus (pendulum babas, magneto-therapists etc.) whom relatives referred him to, before he could come out of the depression. When he finally did, he kind of retired from his busy entrepreneur life, and started Eklavya School in Ahmedabad. For the past 17 years, Mr. Sunil Handa has been teaching a course called "LEM" (Labrotary in Entrepreneurial Motivation), at IIM Ahmedabad, a course which he says has no book, no notes, no quizzes/exams, practically no pedagogy. Just a few lectures and a whole load of one-to-one sessions. And his students he calls LEMmers. Prof Handa said that around 200 of his students are entrepreneurs today; people who interact with him very regularly and seek guidance on numerous issues.

There were
two main entrepreneurial examples which the Professor gave:

The first one was of Mr. K R Rao, one of Prof. Handa's own batchmates at IIM Ahmedabad. (1977-1979) This lad was a true social butterfly at that time; someone who many didn't even remember during their silver jubilee reunion (2004). But with "Orchid Chemicals & Pharmaceuticals" under his sleeve, Rao's net worth is over Rs. 3000 crore today. Though Mr. Rao was a B.Com-MBA grad, he was a true visionary.

Moving on to the next example, Prof. Handa spoke about his teaching career's first entrepreneurial student, Mr. Narendra Murkumbi. This lad's first idea was that of manufacturing a Neem Insecticide in Belgaum. Though Prof. Handa was apprehensive about the idea initially, he was assured of its success after speaking to an international neem expert, Dr. Gupta at ICRISAT. Though the product turned out to be a great success, the customers were farmers and hence the Receivables on his balance sheets were huge. It was in 1995 that Narendra came up with the idea of buying old sugar mills and starting production of sugar. Prof Handa told him that he was crazy and that sugar was meant for people in the upper echelons of politics. But like many entrepreneurs, Mr. Murkumbi was willing to risk it. He went on with his plan and today he is the owner of one of the world's most scientific state-of-the-art sugar mills, Shree Renuka Sugars Ltd. Not only that, he was also featured as one of India's new bilionaires by Business World. One interesting thing about Renuka Sugars is that they use co-generation to produce their own energy (using the waste, bagasse which comes from sugarcane). No electricity is purchased from outside. When Murkumbi explained the idea to Prof Handa, he said, "When god created sugarcane, he put enough energy in it to bring the sugar out of it."

Flirting with Ideas
After numerous success stories, Prof Handa told us that we must face reality, and it's not necessary that your first venture becomes a million dollar lottery. You have to experiment..."Flirt with different ideas" and eventually one of your plans will click. For some it's the first... for Prof Handa it was the 7th.

One on One Interaction
It was after the first session that Prof Handa decided to interact with a few participants who were interested in entrepreneurship. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity as well. (Thanks Jalan...). It was nice speaking to Prof Handa for about 25 min where we discussed certain patchy ideas that I had in my mind. He had so much to share and I could've sat there forever. But time is one thing you don't get when you need it the most. Anyways, I guess we all hope to interact with him again in the future. Let's see how much effect such talks have on IIM Indore's participants, and how many of us venture out on our own some day....

Some recent ventures by IIM Indore alumni:

OurOwnBook: is a user driven writing community started by 2 participants from IIM Indore's Class of 2008, Dhruv Bhushan and Anubhav Jain. is based on the revolutionary concept of Collaborative Book Building (CoBooBu). It brings together users, who wish to write, in an interactive and collaborative form to develop a storyline which would be published as a book. The two co-founders believe that Anyone Can Write. In fact, most people are desirous of being able to write an article, story, poem, blog, anything. They hope to someday see their names on the front page of a book. The only limitations are the lack of time to sit down and write hundreds of pages or the opportunity to be able to get a best seller published. OurOwnBook overcomes both.
How it works? OurOwnBook provides a brief storyline. The users develop the story collaboratively by appending to the already existing content. The moderators continuously review the contributions while providing cues, to develop an interesting plot. Once the storyline
is completely developed, they get it published in the form of a book. All contributors are recognized as co-authors of the book, making it "Our Own Book".

Fire up: is a revolutionary e-learning portal for Management Entrance Training. It has been designed to help the students fraternity crack the toughest management entrance examination, CAT, to qualify for admissions to the IIMs and other top B-schools in India. It is the brainchild of Mr. Vineet Patawari (IIMI Class of 2008) who spurned lucrative seven figure job offers to devote himself to his burning passion of expanding the learning horizons with new emergent technologies.

Ask Bima: is another one of Patawari's innovative online ventures. It is an online insurance information and application portal serving both investors and advisors.
It offers investors a platform to compare independently and choose the best life and non-life insurance product.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

An Adieu to PGP2

They were our seniors, they were our mentors, they were our tutors, they were our guiding stars, but above all, they were, are and will always stay our closest pals!
No words could suffice to convey our regards to them. We can all just try to make an attempt....
and so will I.

July 2008 was the beginning of a new phase for all of us. As we entered the gates of IIM Indore with many hopes, wishes, dreams and above all - anxious feelings. I still remember the first individual of PGP2 whom I met. None other than the great Saravanan, who was compiling a list with details of all the new members of the IIMI family. A list which we all use even today. The anxiousness increased when we were asked to assemble in the seminar hall, at close to midnight! Believe me, that was just the start. A session of introductions, which many complain was not the best, but I'm sure they tried their best.

The next few days were quite a memory - the best possible way to mingle two batches that will spend the next 1 school year together. You may have failed once but some of us got a taste of your creativity again (Honestly, you guys just can't quit can you?). Lets face it , those were the best days ever... with a DJ party to end the great start.

Life soon became hectic with actual lectures and once again - pain in the ass assignments, but then again you're not in an IIM for nothing. I probably shouldn't detail out how seniors have been an immense help in academics, but let's just say "Seek Duplicate Change".
It wasn't just academics, these guys were awesome mentors throughout the Summer Placement processes - who else would go through your resumes 5-6 times!

They passed on the culture of IIM Indore (however dull or rich it may be), they made us feel lively in one of the most boring corners of Indore, or should I say Rau. They showed us every hang out spot (if you can call them that) nearby. These guys were always running off to those rare classes at ODD times, but they were always in for a match or two of cricket/basketball/footbal/TT. I can't comment too much on what happened in A-Block (no I don't mean A Top floor) but I'm sure they had they're own parties and gossips. Life out here was interesting to say the least.... We even had our own "Cute little Ambassador".... Yes, I mean Arav. We're all gonna miss you buddy.

We've had our differences, egos and cold wars but then again, what's life withouf a few complaints? I guess what bonded us the most, was the endless cribbing about the profs and the insti rules (even the best places can be made to look like the worst :))

The batches have been much bigger in IIMs these days, and I'm sure none of us in PGP1 knew all the 174 (probably not even all 18 girls for that matter) of you, but we've all had our own near and dear friends. I am sure that "Melting Pot" won't be the same without you, nor will be the hostel corridors/quadrangles. You may not be around to see us through the next year, but your memories will forever remain with us and talk us through the tough times.... We will all miss you and hope to see you at Footprints 09'.

On behalf of everyone in PGP1, I'd like to wish each one of you farewell and good luck.

---- Ravi Mehta
Class of 2010

P.S. Do add as comments, any memories which you'd like to remember forever or would like others to know about.