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Cap lede here Full Goodies Text tkof dummy Naazneen Katrak Modigna facinit began Mustang lore molorer Socks because she incipisit adit lorero couldn’t find cotton et,socks conseanywhere. duis am They now make a million pairs a month.
19 Use A Slow Economy To Grow Fast
These companies used mounting odds and market headwinds to script growth stories that are great case studies of running a business in tough times. rime Focus P Quick Heal Just Dial Wildcraft by sonal khetarpal
30 Thirty Five Great Questions
Jim Collins, Tony Hsieh, Paul Graham, and other business leaders on how to guide your company into reflection—then action by leigh buchanan
44 The Way I Work on the cover
photograph by Jiten gandhi
VSS Mani, founder & CEO, Just Dial. Photograph by Jiten Gandhi. Cover design by Anil VK. Cover imaging by Vikas Sharma.
This edition of Inc. magazine is published under license from Mansueto Ventures LLC, New York, New York. Editorial items appearing on pages 4,11, 30-35, 39-40, 42-43 were all originally published in the United States edition of Inc. magazine and are the copyright property of Mansueto Ventures, LLC, which reserves all rights. Copyright © 2009 and 2010 Mansueto Ventures, LLC. The following are trademarks of Mansueto Ventures, LLC: Inc., Inc. 500.
Naazneen Katrak and Lubeina Shahpurwala might be like chalk and cheese when it comes to their management styles. Their passion for manufacturing unites the duo. Together, they’ve woven quite a stitch at Mustang Socks. as told to ira swasti
May 2014 | INC. | 1
05 Editor’s Letter
06 Behind the Scenes Companies that help you relax at the Alaya Spa + Salon
What’s Your Exit Strategy? Author and advisor Les Nemethy on why an exit plan can be your company’s North Star Leadership 2030: Do you know the megatrends? Best business books that aren’t about business Mobile Marketing: Dial in—now!
dataSTICKIES aims to make data transfer as easy as slapping on a post-it. Copy that?
48 Founders Forum
Nirmal Singh of Wheebox on why sometimes being in control means pushing away your feelings.
36 How I Did It
A look back at how Juzar S. Khorakiwala has grown Biostadt India into a leading biotechnologybased agri inputs company which has grown five times in seven years, and now clocks revenues of `500 crore annually. as told to shreyasi singh
2 | INC. |
Strategy 39 managing Using improvisation to boost collaboration and creativity 42 managing Can sports coaches such as Joe Torre and Phil Jackson really teach you about business?
YOU MAY HAVE A
GREAT I.T. TEAM BUT IS IT
THE BEST ? IT IS TIME TO
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4 Things to Do before You Go to Bed
Top Videos on Inc.com
How you end your day is just as important as how you begin it. Inc. com columnist Kevin Daum shares some tips to help you finish your day right, leaving you well prepared for tomorrow.
Joy Chen EO of a skin care C company Yes To On turning a business around
“Celebrating success is one of the most important things you can do. It creates positive momentum.”
Barry Schuler Former CEO of AOL On common fears of startup founders
Many people save this task until the morning. Bad idea. There is nothing worse than trying to rest and feeling as if you forgot something important.
4 | INC. |
2. Do a brain dump
Are your thoughts running wild at the end of the day? Write down everything on your mind. Not everything has value, but once it’s on paper, you can rest easier.
3. Centre yourself
Find 20 minutes before bed for some relaxing introspection—be it meditation, prayer or simply quiet breathing. Try to let go of anything that made you upset.
4. Set a firm shutdown time
Email and texting can go on all night long. Make a decision to stop checking a few hours prior to bed. Unless you’re a paramedic, it can wait until morning.
illustration by thinkstockphotos.in
1. Review your to-do list
“The vast majority of VCs never want to replace a founder. It usually doesn’t work out very well.”
MANAGING DIRECTOR: Dr Pramath Raj Sinha Printer & Publisher: Anuradha Das Mathur Editorial managing Editor: shreyasi singh assistant editor: Sonal Khetarpal
The privilege of tough times I write this note with a stunning vista of sal trees for company.
Thirty five of us from 9.9 Media (publishers of Inc. India) have trekked up from Delhi to the Corbett National Park for an offsite. Despite a terrible year for media businesses in particular, and corporate India in general, 9.9 Media had a good 2013-14. We achieved our revenue targets, improved profitability margins and launched some exciting new verticals. The past three or four years have been undeniably tough and “humbling,” our company’s founders tell us as they thank the teams for weathering the chaos and the many weeks of hard work. As they spoke, I couldn’t help but wonder if the pride in surviving a rough phase actually beats a heady growth spurt buoyed by enabling tail winds? Do you actually become your best self when pushed against a hard wall? The business owners our assistant editor Sonal Khetarpal spoke to for this issue’s cover story would certainly agree. Just Dial’s VSS Mani is a poster boy for entrepreneurial success, thanks to his company’s bumper IPO last year. Few know though that in mid-2009, Mani’s investors hinted at the need to bring in an external CEO (and remove him) to run his company efficiently. Or, that the world seemed to fall apart for Prime Focus’s Namit Malhotra in the global economy’s tailspin in the months after the Lehman collapse. Today, these companies are industry leaders. Prime Focus finished FY2014 with `800 crore in revenues. Their journeys of beating the odds is a must-read for brass tack lessons of building businesses in difficult times. Read the story on Page 19. The ability to ask probing, relevant questions has gained great currency as a management Brahmastra—right solutions begin with the right questions, don’t they? It’s a skill good CEOs know how to encourage, appreciate, imbibe and harness. Use our feature 35 Great Questions Every CEO Must Ask on Page 30 to arm your arsenal of inquisitiveness. Also, send it to your teams and advisors so they can push your thinking and keep you real (if they don’t do so already!). We hope you find that the answers help you better your companies.
DEsign Sr. Creative Director: Jayan K Narayanan Sr. Art Director: Anil VK Associate Art Director: Anil T Sr. Visualisers: Shigil Narayanan & Sristi Maurya Visualiser: NV Baiju Sr. Designers: Haridas Balan, Manoj Kumar VP Charu Dwivedi, Peterson PJ & Dinesh Devgan Designers: Pradeep G Nair & Vikas Sharma ONLINE & MARCOM DESIGN Associate Art Director: Shokeen Saifi Sr.Designer: Rahul Babu Web Designer: Om Prakash PHOTOGRAPHY Chief Photographer: Subhojit Paul Sr. Photographer: Jiten Gandhi Community Team SENioR Manager: Astha Nagrath Khanna Associate: Akarshan Sapra Sales & Marketing Vice president: NC Singh (+91 9901300772) National Manager (Print & Online) Rajesh Kandari (+91 98111 40424) National Manager (Special Projects) Arjun Sawhney (+91 95822 20507) Senior Manager (Business Development) Anshu Kumar (+91 95914 55661) Manager (Business Development) Sukhvinder Singh (+91 8802689684) Production & Logistics Sr. General manager (Operations): Shivshankar M Hiremath Manager Operations: Rakesh upadhyay Assistant Manager (Logistics): Vijay Menon Executive Logistics: Nilesh Shiravadekar Production Executive: Vilas Mhatre Logistics MP Singh, Mohd. Ansari OFFICE ADDRESS nine dot nine mediaworx Pvt Ltd A-262, Defence Colony, New Delhi–110 024 For any queries, please contact us at email@example.com Published, Printed and Owned by Nine Dot Nine Mediaworx Private Limited. Published and printed on their behalf by Anuradha Das Mathur. Published at A-262, Defence Colony, New Delhi–110 024. printed at Tara Art Printers Pvt ltd. A-46-47, Sector-5, NOIDA (U.P.) 201301 Editor: Anuradha Das Mathur
Shreyasi Singh firstname.lastname@example.org MAY 2014 | INC. | 5
BEHIND THE SCENES
Hair products supplier The professional range of L’Oreal hair colours, hair treatments and shampoos that occupy the shelves of the Alaya salon are supplied by Sita Sales Corporation. They are the authorised distributor and supplier for L’Oreal products in south and east Delhi. This sevenpeople company was founded in 1997 by Vijay Kumar Rustgi. They supply L’Oreal products to high-end salons such as Ambika Pillai, Madonna Hair & Beauty Salon and Hair & Shanti Unisex Salon.
6 | INC. |
Companies at the Heart of Everyday Life
Alaya Spa + Salon, Delhi
21.04.2014, 5:00 P.M.
Branding A spa brand must evoke the emotions of calm every time you experience it. Alaya Spa + Salon has the tranquility of Tibetan Buddhism in its brand website, photographs and marketing collaterals. Delhi-based Masaledani, a five-year-old advertising and digital branding agency, is responsible for crafting Alaya’s branding. Founded by a professional photographer Ravi Solanki, Masaledani, has done branding campaigns for several small and mediumsized companies such as C&S Electric, 92.7 Big FM and OYE! FM.
The bath bars, shampoos, massage oils that estheticians and massage therapists use at Alaya are manufactured and supplied by Sage Apothecary. The company’s USP, claims founder Jaspreet Singh, is its paraben-free and sulfate-free products. They buy natural essential oils from the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants and make customised fragrances as per their client’s preferences. In one year, this start-up has got clients in Delhi (NCR), Mumbai and Kolkata. They supply their spa products to Aura Thai Spas at its eight locations and to six outlets of Aroma Thai Spas.
photograph by subhojit Paul
reported bY sonal Khetarpal
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News, Ideas & Trends in Brief
What’s Your Exit Strategy? Why knowing how you want to transition can help you run your company better In his book Unlocking Your Company’s Value: The Keys to a Successful Business Exit, author, lawyer and financial advisor Les Nemethy says the best companies know how they will exit, and who their potential buyers are right from the day they start out. That might seem utopic, concedes Nemethy, who has been involved in the sale of hundreds of businesses, but an exit strategy can be much like a North Star for companies as it can guide them to build businesses that are attractive for lenders, investors and strategic partners. Inc. India caught up with him during his recent visit to India. If you’re looking to exit in any way, make sure you read ahead.
Q courtesy subject
What was your main objective behind writing this book?
Most business owners have never exited a business before, nor have they had experience in managing a transaction. Most investors or buyers, however, have invested many times before. There is a fundamental gap in knowledge and experience between buyers and sellers of
businesses in most situations. As in planning a mountain climb, a company owner should plan not only for reaching the summit, but also for descent (which can be at least as treacherous). The 30 real life case studies in the book, gathered from my experience of working in several economies in Asia, Europe and Africa, can be a useful insight and help train company
owners who haven’t either articulated their exit strategies, or are looking to understand the best approach to take. When should company owners start thinking about exit?
I would argue that it’s never too early. The second question private equity investors possibly ask when they are looking to invest in a company, is what will be our exit? This often creates a culture clash because business owners are taken aback by the notion of exit. I would argue that business owners should also think a little bit more like private equity investors. Some of the most successful businesses I have seen are those where the founders know who the May 2014 | INC. | 9
Isn’t it utopian to prescribe this? In the hurly-burly of business, and the uncertainties that it brings, can founders really plan that far ahead?
You might say that the methodology is somewhat utopic. In fact, in the seminars I have spoken in Delhi and Mumbai, people expressed skepticism about planning an exit in industries that are ridden with overdue payments, government interference and regulatory chaos. People asked if they would be able to sell such companies. Of course, it would be so much tougher to sell companies such as these. So, yes you might say that it’s utopic to craft your business the way I’m suggesting. Many founders feel that way as well. Most of them
“There is a fundamental gap in knowledge and experience between buyers and sellers of businesses in most situations.” —Les Nemethy, author and financial advisor
are, in fact, very confident about not knowing what they don’t know. But, I’d urge that having an articulated exit plan can serve as their North Star guide—what would investors look for? Even if you don’t ever make it to the North Star, you can steer as close to it as possible. It’s somewhat like playing chess. When you sit down to first play the game, do you only learn the opening moves, and then go back to learn how to play the rest of the game? Or, do you learn the entire game, including the end, before you play? In business schools, they teach you how to start a business and grow it, but only once in a blue moon do they ever talk about successful exits. 10 | INC. |
Are you ready for Leadership 2030? Megatrends that will transform your businesses Global management consultancy Hay Group’s recently published book talks about the six “megatrends” that are fundamentally transforming the global business environment. Leadership 2030: The Six Megatrends You Need To Understand To Lead Your Company Into The Future illustrates the dramatic impact these megatrends are having on companies and on their markets, cultures, systems, and processes, say authors Georg Vielmetter and Yvonne Sell. Here’s a quick look: Individualisation: Careers play an important role in self-fulfillment and self-expression, a shift that is driving greater convergence between private and working lives. Individualisation has an enormous impact on employees’ loyalty and motivation to perform, with “soft factors” such as recognition, self-development and self-direction often taking precedence over traditional factors like pay and promotion. Globalisation 2.0: With the balance of power shifting to Asia and increased globalisation, international companies will need to adapt their global strategies for local markets. Successfully managing the competing demands of global and local will depend on the extent to which they foster local participation in decision-making, create culturally-diverse (and often virtual) leadership teams and encourage cross-country and cross-functional collaboration. Environmental impact: Sustainability moves from a CSR initiative to a business-critical imperative. Companies that lower their eco-footprint will see direct benefits to their performance, bottom line and competitiveness. Investors, employees and customers alike are increasingly factoring environmental considerations into their decisions to invest in, work for and buy from organisations. Firms must accept rising costs—both in terms of raw materia prices as a result of introducing more environmentally sustainable processes—as part of their license to operate. Digitisation: New media will continue to blur the boundaries between private and working lives, a change that will accelerate as mobile internet becomes all-pervasive. Individuals are “always on”, more business is conducted “virtually”, and power is shifting to employees, particularly to knowledge workers, who can work anywhere and forge large digital connections with personal and business contacts. Technology convergence: Miniaturisation and virtualisation will drive the convergence between nano-, bio- and information technologies and cognitive sciences, spurring innovation and accelerating R&D in many fields. NBIC technologies are already driving rapid advances in medicine, energy, environmental protection and production processes, and their potential for transforming other areas is huge. Demographic age: Aging populations intensify the talent war. Industrial countries will suffer skills shortages and pressure on the welfare system, and migration will increase—not just from the more to the least populous countries, but also as a result of armed conflicts, disasters and environmental problems.
buyer of that business is going to be right at the beginning. If the owner doesn’t want to sell for a long, long time, that’s fine. We’re not suggesting he should. All we’re suggesting is that you start building with those principles in mind. Value will be optimised if a company is built with at least one eye on investor perception.
The Best Management Books (That Aren’t About Management) When I first became a manager, I couldn’t read enough: managing employees; managing customers; how to look for the guys who stole my cheese; how to become great. I read all those books. They didn’t help. To tell you the truth, they all felt kind of generic to me—no matter how smart or famous the author was. I slowly figured out that the best books, with the greatest lessons, weren’t always the ones with “five ways to do something” in the title. I was finding the best leadership lessons in novels and nonfiction that would never get onto the businessbook bestseller lists. Looking for a great leadership book? A few years back, a lot of business folks discovered one in the story of early-20th-century Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. A whole industry, it seemed, was built around his failed but heroic mission to the South Pole. You can find similar books, and lessons, out there in the most unexpected places. —By Dane Stangler Dane Stangler is the vice president of research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save The World, by Evan Thomas Abraham Lincoln is the go-to former President for management writers, but add Dwight D. Eisenhower to that list. This book, by former Newsweek writer and editor Thomas, portrays Eisenhower as a canny strategic thinker and a master of managing strong and conflicting personalities during the Cold War. Eisenhower showed how to control the egos of his team members and his adversaries during negotiations. And he was a pretty darn good bluffer as well: Would he actually use nuclear weapons?
The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro
There are lessons galore here. One is the price of complacency. Johnson veered from all powerful to a lot less powerful, in what seemed to be the blink of an eye, when he lost the Democratic nomination for President to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and became a weak Vice President. How did that happen? Kennedy and his team secured the Democratic nomination partly because they put in years of grunt work— aggressively recruiting allies in primary states, for example. Johnson’s team, meanwhile, assumed the nomination was his for the taking.
The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe If you haven’t read this classic, take it on your next business trip. Even when you think you have got it made, foreseeable and unforeseeable threats lurk. The big takeaway? Hubris, especially after a period of rapid growth and wealth building, is your worst enemy. You can throw greed in there, too (and booze and drugs and fast cars). Sure, you can get some of these same lessons from Nassim Taleb’s 2007 bestseller The Black Swan, but Vanities is a lot more entertaining.
Little Children: A Novel, by Tom Perrotta You’re probably wondering what business lessons a book about suburban dysfunction could possibly deliver. Maybe it’s just me, but the book helped this young manager understand that you’re never dealing with rational, mature adults on your team, even if that’s the way everyone appears on the surface. If you can’t deal with your staff members’ emotional swings— often a direct result of their screwy home lives—get out of management. And if your employees are really getting you down, pick up a copy of Little Children and check out Perrotta’s crowd. Holy cow!
The Mask of Command, by John Keegan Heroism is always a popular topic. But must entrepreneurs be heroic? Or charismatic? It depends on the battle, says Keegan, the great military historian. The “hero” of this book is General Ulysses S. Grant, who, says Keegan, provides a case study in effective “unheroic leadership.” Grant was no Alexander the Great. He was no Steve Jobs or Sam Walton, if you want to look at it that way. But winning the Civil War didn’t require charisma, says Keegan: It required someone who could relate to soldiers and who grasped the political dimensions of the war. Charisma would have just gotten in the way. May 2014 | INC. | 11
The Era of Mobile Marketing An outlook for 2014
A Keypad of Growth
A look at the seeming ubiquity of smartphones 12 | INC. |
findings that can help you understand why mobile isn’t an option, but a necessity for your marketing teams to master.
The number of marketers that don’t yet believe in engagement via smartphones, apps or email on the go has decreased by about 31 per cent since last year to only 11 per cent. At the same time, 45 per cent of the marketers surveyed said that they believe in mobile
of smartphone users use their devices for reading e-mails on the go, a higher percentage than those who used it for making calls, according to Adobe’s Digital Publishing Report: Retail Apps & Buying Habits (2013)
devices as an important aspect of customer engagement and are adapting their strategies to leverage it better.
47 per cent of the respondents shared that they think between a quarter to half of all their email marketing messages will be viewed on mobile devices in 2014. A further 25 per cent were even more confident and chose the 50—75 per cent option while 22 per
300% rise in the shipments of smartphones in India
Mobile is the established frontier for e-marketing in India, found a recent report by marketing technology company Octane. Igniting Engagement: India e-Marketing Outlook 2014 analysed the reporting metrics for the 500 million+ e-mails that go through Octane’s platform per month, and discovered that there was a 100 per cent increase in the number of opens on mobile devices. The survey also found that clickthroughs, or CTRs, for e-mail campaigns viewed on mobile devices was up by 150 per cent mainly because nearly 40 per cent of the e-mails Octane now sends are read on mobile devices. The report, which Octane claims received responses from more than 400 marketers across India and analysed more than six billion e-mails, covers the entire range of e-marketing insights (social media, e-mail campaigns). But, it most effectively chronicles the growth of mobile as a resurgent marketing platform over the last four years, indicating why companies must craft their marketing strategies accordingly. Here is a look at the other
Dialled In? cent of the marketers were cautious and said that less than 25 per cent of all email marketing messages will be viewed on mobile devices in 2014.
How important is mobile (smartphones/tablets/apps) to your sales and marketing plans?
Important, we are planning to leverage the different platforms Very important, we are already doing mobile specific activities It is a part of our strategy amongst other things It is not important for us right now
Additionally, 67 per cent of the respondents who are planning to increase investment in mobile marketing for 2014 are also planning to adapt their marketing plans to accommodate the rise of smartphone, apps and email on the go. 2 11
It’s the future of customer engagement and we are adapting to it well We will have to adapt even though we don’t have a strategy yet There is still a long way to go in India when it comes to engagement via smartphones We aren’t going to change our strategy and would rather use SMS based marketing solutions
smartphones in Q2 of 2013, from 3.5 million in Q2 of 2012, according to the International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker
Punit Modhgil, co-founder and MD, Octane on how mid-size companies should use these findings How would you recommend mid-size companies use this report to craft more effective marketing strategies? What are the big ideas for 2014? For one thing, it’s a great source of trending e-marketing data over the last four years. Mid-size companies can analyse the trends to see what fast growing companies in their industry are doing when it comes to marketing channels or investments or ROI. The big idea for 2014 is to use digital media to go beyond pushing messages and towards creating engagement (hence the name of the report Igniting Engagement). Engagement must be led through personalised, targeted and relevant campaigns led by data driven content and next generation design elements (like responsive design and dynamically changing content). More Indian consumers are accessing the web through their mobile devices and that is a big trend. E-marketing is a very dynamic space. How would you advise companies to stay in tune with new trends? There are four ways to ensure companies in India are reaping the benefits of leading edge e-marketing. First, a lot of information is now available online and this provides an excellent opportunity to learn. Secondly, be focussed on ROI and in that process try new approaches to see what works best for your business (Say A/B Testing). Thirdly, e-marketing works best when you showcase the most authentic side of your business. We believe each business has a unique story to tell and this presents a huge upside for growing companies in India to connect with their consumers like never before. Last but not the least, mid-size companies can benefit enormously if they treat these e-marketing channels (social, web, email, SMS and mobile) equally as listening posts within their client communities. In your research, have you found that Indian companies (especially mid-size B2B companies) have begun to realise that e-marketing is a crucial tool. Is there a determination then to build a well-suited approach to e-marketing? Mid-size companies in India have varying levels of determination and approaches when it comes to e-marketing even when they understand its importance clearly. We find them to be on different stages of maturity. Most B2B companies have tried to use e-marketing channels (social, web, mobile, email and SMS) pre-dominantly as a push mechanism to send campaigns with a very short term focus of lead generation. But, things are changing. We started out as an Enterprise Class Platform. Over the last 15 months or so, we have seen a tremendous interest from mid-size companies in India to learn and invest in using e-marketing channels to connect with their target customer clusters. For example, some of our midsize client companies in India realise between 10—25 per cent of their monthly recurring revenues from e-mail marketing campaigns using our platform and this is generating a renewed interesting in e-marketing done right. May 2014 | INC. | 13
Companies on the Cutting Edge
“dataSTICKIES will be next level of improvement in terms of portability and usage, as pen drives was over hard discs.” — Aditi Singh and Parag Anand, co-creators, dataSTICKIES
16 | INC. |
Aditi Singh and Parag Anand
Data that sticks
working on a project in early 2013, “This is aWhile dummy Aditi Singh and Paragpq. Anand, industrial designers and professors real pq isof Plann tk.ingThis is aat Delhi’s School and Architecture, would constantly get irritated dummy pq, real pqwith is their CPU’s broken USB port. The port was also tk tkinconvenient tk tk.” to use thanks to its —This is a pq attribute
positioning at the rear of the CPU. The many sticky notes at their work desk led to the proverbial eureka moment. Singh and Anand figured it would be great if any new data transfer and storage device could be as simple and intuitive as the regular sticky note! Their research led them to the material graphene which over the past year has been much hailed in the consumer electronic industry for its “super” properties—being light weight, flexible and equipped to store huge amount of data. The duo decided to go with graphene (although it isn’t commercially viable yet) to develop their prototype, dataSTICKIES. It is a paperthin sheet of graphene covered with a protective layer of polycarbonates with a bottom layer of electronically-responsive adhesive. dataSTICKIES is then simply slapped on to the ODTS (Optical Data Lead tk Transfer Surface), the transparent vero dio dolestrud tat. Peros panel which acts as a transfer medium, nissed magnit lore minisi.Remand is zzriurem zzrit vero core magattached to the front surface of the device nibh exero dolorpero od mag(television, laptop) from which data needs nibh eliscin ismodoloreet la to be transferred. In August 2013, Singh consendre modo diamconum and Anand filed a product patent for eugiam nonsendigna feu feum dataSTICKIES. They were awarded Red in henis nim ipisi. Dot Design Award 2013 for its innovative concept. Advantages Transparent and flexible Can be pasted anywhere in multiple numbers on the ODTS, in contrast to the fixed USB port Can be stacked and used together for increased capacity
photograph courtesy subject
reported by Sonal Khetarpal
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The Tale of an Underdog
It’s surprising that Namit Malhotra, co-founder and CEO of Prime Focus should call himself an underdog. Prime Focus, a global visual entertainment services company, counts Warner Bros, James Cameron and Walt Disney Pictures as its clients, had revenues of `762 crore in 2012-13, and has offices in 14 cities in six countries. Yet, Malhotra insists that he feels as insecure and ambitious as he did when he started a small editing studio for television production as a 18 year old from his father’s garage in Mumbai in 1995. 2 0 | INC. |
It didn’t take long for Prime Focus to be a leading force in advertising, films and television with projects such as Boogie Woogie, Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie Black to its credit. En route to this growth, Malhotra and his co-founders Merzin Tavaria, Prakash Kurup and Huzefa Lokhandwala went public in 2006 and raised `100 crore at Bombay Stock Exchange. They used the money to buy companies in the UK, the US, Canada and five more across India. By 2008, Prime Focus had 17 offices, almost 1,200 employees and income of `232 crore. But, the big twist in their seemingly fairy tale business journey was waiting for them. After twelve years of progress, as Prime Focus was establishing itself in the global market, the world seemed to fall
photo courtesy subject
: 1995 Founded in rs: Founde ure), hotra (in pict Namit Mal a, Prakash ari Merzin Tav and Huzefa Kurup ala Lokhandw ai umb Location: M 4300 : Employees er: v o n r u T 2014 stimated) (e `800 crore
apart for them. In November 2007, there was a four-month long Writers’ Strike across the United States. The strike totally grounded the film, television and radio industry. There was no business for six to seven months. And, even as the Writers’ Strike hadn’t completely ended its impact, there were worries about a similar strike by the Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild. To make matters worse, the US economy went into a tailspin after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. “The companies I had bought went into deep losses. The price of our stock fell,” remembers Malhotra. It led Prime Focus down a tough, intense phase of restructuring, rebranding, downsizing and several difficult conversations with the team. “I used to think that I had the best plan in the world. I had de-risked myself by having offices worldwide and across three segments of the media industry. If one country or one business wasn’t going well, there would always be another part where work would boom. But, with this crisis, it
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jiten gan ph by Photogra
did a similar event two days later, on October 1, felt as if the ground under our feet disap2009, in the heart of Los Angeles at the famous peared,” reminisces Malhotra. Fonda Theatre. “I actually became the perfect underOne of their early projects was adding dog because I lost it all,” he adds. The visual effects and using View-D capabilities climb back up needed him to be scrappy in James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Avaand nimble all over again. In 2009, Maltar. The movie released in December 2009. hotra decided to bring all Prime Focus Its spectacular box office revenues of $2,782 companies under one brand and institute million helped Hollywood spring back into a uniform culture. The frenetic acquisitions had led to a top-heavy company with action. Avatar’s success also opened the doors for 3D technology. Warner Bros too many management styles. wanted to convert Clash of the Titans into “Integrating seven separate companies 3D. Malhotra promised Warner Bros he was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We would deliver the entire movie in eight had to make sure that for each of these weeks. “Other vendors offered to do it but companies we were leveraging their benethey all wanted around eight months or fits and minimising the weaknesses.” more to do it.” Prime Focus Malhotra says their brought in manknowledge of filmmaking, agement consulthanks to their work in the tants to travel to Hindi film industry, was a each of their 17 key strength in their success offices in four in 2D to 3D conversion. countries, and ask “Other companies underabout the values, stood the 2D to 3D converwork styles and culsion technology but they ture that each office didn’t understand the crecherished. Malhotra aling c S in s n o s s e ative process of filmmakwanted the integraL Namit m o fr p U ing.” The steady inflow of tion process to be as otra lh a M work for 2D to 3D has led democratic as possiur nsus in yocr atic Build conse o to a boom in that vertible because he didn’t m e d ve ri d team and . It is important to cal. From a team of 50 want to bulldoze a ip h rs h e it d w a le ople move new order on them. have yourapreis won alone. An people in Los Angeles in w o you. N This integration proeeds his/her January 2009, Prime trepreneur n n e Focus had more than cess took nine months, own army. assion. 2,000 people across five and led to the creation p e th d a re Also, sp otivation trigger offices by June 2011 in of three subsidiaries— m e th . d m in a F r your te their 2D to 3D vertical; Prime Focus World (the that works fo and they have worked creative arm with a focus on mega blockbuster franchises such on 3D content converas Star Wars (Episode I, II and III), The sion, visual effects, animation), Prime Wizard of Oz and Men In Black 3. Malhotra Focus London (offering post production proudly claims that Prime Focus is the biggest services) and Prime Focus Technologies 2D to 3D company in the world today. (providing unified multi-platform content Even though Prime Focus closed FY2014 operation solutions). On September 29, 2009, Prime Focus re- with approximately `800 crore, Malhotra says his affinity to being the “underdog” launched their brand at a huge event with keeps him going. “Many companies compete 700 people at London’s Leicester Square. with us. Prime Focus is their biggest competThey launched their two offerings—Viewitor. I don’t think they know that I compete DTM (Prime Focus’s proprietary 2D-to-3D conversion technology) and CLEARTM (the with each of them as well. In my mind, I’m company’s hybrid cloud technologyconstantly up against all of them. It’s what enabled media ERP platform media). They keeps me going.”
use A SLOW ECONOMY to grow fast
Going o t l l a m S g i B t e G rs from 2001— a e y ly r a e s it In solutions 2006, securituyick Heal grew company Q n 80 per cent each at more tha to its wide range year, thanks solutions and a of anti-virus network of widespread. Gradually, this distributors egan to wind brisk pace b09. According to down by 20 rs Association of ManufactureTechnology Information ustry (MAIT)’s inde review for 2008performanccomputers, 09, desktop nd netbooks notebooks aen April 2008 and sales betwe declined by seven March 2009 r the previous per cent ove consumption year. Also, ITly impacted, was severe the second-half especially inyear, by the of the fiscal the Indian slowdown informs the report. economy, in
: 1998 ) Founded in s: Sanjay Katkar (right r e d Co-foun h Katkar and Kailas ne u Location: P 00+ :9 s e Employe : s Revenue e l a 2013-14 S `258 crore May 2014 | INC. | 2 3
use A SLOW ECONOMY to grow fast
Quick Heal wasn’t insulated from this slowdown. By 2010, the Pune-based company was working on annual average growth rates of 40 per cent. They were saddled by two key problems—huge challenge to sell larger volumes of software and getting payments from distributors on time. Software sale is a channel driven business. Companies use Much of the `60 crore Quick Heal raised from Sequoia Capital in dealers and distributors to market their products to retailers. June 2010 was spent on this expansion. With outstanding payments increasing, Quick Heal realised that Quick Heal began to work on building the whole marketing this was a problem that was bound to become worse. It didn’t ecosystem. They invested a lot of effort in make sense for them to sell large training their channel partners, says volumes to existing dealers Kailash Katkar. A series of formal dayanymore. But, stopping an long workshops were conducted to established approach wasn’t going to inform their dealers and distributors on be an easy decision. Kailash Katkar, security solutions, and how to help a co-founder, Quick Heal knew pulling user optimise the security solutions away from distributors could lead to a Quick Heal provided. “It made the drop in sales. So, Kailash and Sanjay dealers very confident about Katkar, decided to test the waters by recommending the software to the tweaking their distribution strategy, customers.” They also opened their not discarding them. first customer support centre in From its inception in 1998, Quick Nashik in 2008 to provide after-sales Heal had focussed on a robust assistance to both customers and p U caling distribution network in tier two cities dealers. Since then, Quick Heal has Lessons in S h Katkar rather than being drawn into price wars continued to create support market from Kailas at customers in the cluttered metro market. Small for software in smaller centres. In Focus on woha mind map of distributors were more easily accessible, 2010, they opened another one in tell you. Dnderstand if sorts to u will buy your Kailash Katkar says. Also, it intuitively Madurai to offer software support rs e m r custo e have neve made more sense to concentrate on in four regional languages—Telugu, n o product. W e e ngle rup that neighbouring cities such as Nashik and Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam. wasted a si ct u d ro p developing all in the market. Nagpur. They were relatively unexplored Another thing the Katkar se ’t n would s markets when it came to software, and brothers noticed was the trend d n e tr t e Follow madrkintroduce new Quick Heal could benefit from moving towards increase in use of mobile n a ly close the market fast here. By 2010, on the back of this and tablets. To tap that market products aWse launched changes. curity in 2010 and strategy, Quick Heal had grown to a `100 demand, they diversified their mobile se ent has been crore company with presence in 21 Indian product portfolio by launching m g se t tha 0 per cent cities and a base of 35 distributors. the mobile segment for security growing at.10 since then To revive the growth amidst the slowsolutions in 2010. They sold down his company was up against, Kailash them through channel Katkar leveraged the same strategy in 2010. distributors for small mobile shops in the cities they already Only this time he went deeper into India by focussing on tier had an established dealer base. That segment got sales of `6 three towns. They began to target places such as Akola and Amra- crore in one year. And, the mobile vertical has been growing at vati, satellite towns around bigger industrial hubs such as Nagpur. 100 per cent since it was launched, they claim. Similarly, their focus moved from Indore to Jabalpur. Because The diversification of the product range and the focus on tier they anyway had a vast network in tier two towns, signing up three cities has worked wonders. Quick Heal closed FY2013-14 dealers and channel partners for these new centres was not diffiwith sales revenue of `258 crore, more than 2.5 times its `100 cult for them, says Abhijeet Jorvekar, head of sales, Quick Heal. crore annual sales in FY2009-2010. 2 4 | INC. |
To revive the growth amidst the slowdown his company was up against, Kailash Katkar decided to go deeper into India by focussing on tier three towns.
t I p e Ke , e l p m Si Silly!
es search servic l a c lo e th l, ia t the Just D ated waves ala re c y, n a p m o c ge st year n a h c x E k c to Bombay S n it went public. It was in June wheccessful IPO in the past the most suars, especially when you couple of yeluggish economy and factor in a s arkets that led several lacklustre mto scrap their listing companies first outing at the plans. In its e company raised `950 markets, th ing 17.5 million shares, crore by sellvestors—SAIF Partners, giving its inl and Sequoia Capital—a Tiger Globa 50 per cent return. whopping 8
Armoured Up VSS Mani has demonstrated that when you believe in your big idea, you can craft dramatic changes in your company to get there.
Photograph by jiten gandhi
May 2014 | INC. | 2 5
use A SLOW ECONOMY to grow fast
This business utopia seemed far from possible in 2009 when the company’s board hinted to VSS Mani, founder of Just Dial, that they might need to bring on an external CEO to run the company. Things had been rough at Just Dial. Their new “pay for performance” strategy, which the company had introduced on the suggestion of one of its US-based board members, had failed spectacularly. According to the new plan, the advertisers had the option to pay at the end of their advertising contract as per the leads Just Dial had generated for them. “The idea was to use leads as a tangible tool to track the return on advertising for the subscribers,” informs Mani. The need to move from a fixed price advertising plan to “pay for performance” was to maintain, if not, increase, the subscribers’ interest in advertising with Just Dial. The global crisis might not have taken the Indian economy under post-2008 but it had strongly affected the perky mood of the businesses in the country, says Mani. Just Dial’s board was apprehensive that this dip in optimism would lead several small and medium businesses—the bulk of the company’s potential advertisers—to slash their advertisement budgets. The board believed a quantifiable tool such as the pay-for-performance metric would help convince companies to continue their advertising efforts with Just Dial.
“Initially, our subscribers were quite pleased with this new model as they didn’t have to pay anything upfront,” informs Mani. But when the sales team approached them at the end of the contract, they had a tough time in getting payments. This was because the definition of performance for the two parties differed. The subscribers wanted to pay only for the leads that had generated actual revenue for them. They didn’t see the point of paying money for leads that hadn’t led to actual Founded in business. This tussle led to a “considerable” 1996 hit on the revenue growth in 2009, Mani Founders confesses although he doesn’t give us exact VSS Mani numbers. Their relationships with many Location advertisers also suffered in the testy conMumbai versations that took place. Employees “The board was quite 8,683 ating r e unhappy. They would talk about Op 13 201 2 the need to run the business well, Revenue: and there were indirect hints that `363 crore may be an external CEO would make sense for us. I couldn’t let that happen. I didn’t want an external CEO to take over my company’s operations. I was confident that if I could build this company from ground zero, I could fix this problem too,” adds Mani. He understood though that simply backtracking to their old model of tenured contracts before the “pay for performance” debacle wasn’t a great idea either. In that model, customers could choose whether they wanted to advertise on web or voice search or both. Then they could select from three different payment plans—Silver, Gold and Platinum. Silver was a plain listing where the company’s name is randomly thrown up in the options sent to users; a Gold listing was where the company’s name comes up as the first three options, and Platinum was a premium listing that was custom-built to the subscriber’s needs.
o innovate anudsiness model. We intrit meant our data Constantly yo h b g n u w o o th r u n ve use it. disrupting arch engine in 2006 e dy could mis o yb n a d se n t a e intern in the public space e faith in ve in and heav would be e li e b u g around yo in t n a bout wh ed by what is happ e search a te a n io ss a th tract Be p I’ve stuck to on’t get disa yourself. D s nd down, p u e th h g u you. Thro ace for 20 years. ve and uct, be creati d ro engine sp p r u yo f lue o ness plans. re of the vara tegy and busi If you are su st r u yo h it w audacious
2 6 | INC. |
caling Up Lessons in S ANI means mes even ifditthe ti e th from VSS M h it w duce move
photo courtesy subject
“This approach gave customers too many choices and made their decision making complicated.” Also, in 2009, several subscribers preferred to advertise on voice over web listing. They didn’t use the internet so they didn’t feel the need to advertise there. This was obviously influenced by the fact that from the 82 million total user queries Just Dial received in FY2009, 64 per cent were over voice, 34 per cent from web and two per cent from users using internet from mobile. This imbalance resulted in a huge information discrepancy between the two platforms Just Dial offered— voice and internet search. Just Dial decided to stop giving subscribers the option to choose a platform. Everybody had to list on both internet and voice. They did offer customers flexibility in payment options; payments could be made in weekly or monthly instalments. They could even pay upfront as was convenient to them. However, implementing the plan didn’t lead to new customers being acquired, or clients signing up for higher value plans. To find out why the uptake was slow, Just Dial made a concerted effort to get customer feedback. Their telecalling teams found that very few of their subscribers knew about the new instalment model. Mani confronted his sales team and discovered that the resistance for the plan lay with them. They would tell the customers about the new advertising packages but not the instalments scheme because their incentives were tied up with the payment collection. The sales team was worried that with this option customers might change their minds and not renew their advertising plan. This would greatly affect their variable salary. Mani intervened and warned his sales team that if they don’t give their customers all the information they will risk their jobs. This got them back in the field with the complete advertising plan to share with the potential subscribers. It was the start of a hockey stick growth for Just Dial. The number of paid advertisers went up from 40,500 in March 2009 to 61,500 at the end of March 2010. It further spiked to 1,20,200 a year later. This tremendous increase in numbers led to revenues more than doubling in two years from `85 crore in FY2009 to `185 crore in FY2011.
: 1998 Founded in s: r Co-founde Dinesh KS, ish (on left), bl gaurav Du Sood Siddharth ngalore a B Location: 2300+ : s Employee er: v o 2014 Turn `170 crore
o t o N y a S s t n u o c Dis
ar and of outdoor ge ildcraft, rs e d n u fo , 7 0 dW In 20 rth uipment bran adventure eq sh, Dinesh KS and Siddha Gaurav Dubli that they needed to stop ng Sood decided company like a hobby duri from running their d from carving “hide” time weekends an. With an India that was their day jobs avel more, they knew the . beginning to trgreat potential to scale up company had gan the growth expeditioning to When they beio decided they weren’t go nd-ofthough, the trce of deep discounts and emost join the rat ra that was prevalent across s season sales se days. Their rationale waed a brands in tho believed they had develop re simple—they f outdoor gear and adventuty and product line oat was of exceptional quali didn’t equipment thriced it competitively. They had already pto offer discounts to lure see the need to buying their products. customers in May 2014 | INC. | 2 7
use A SLOW ECONOMY to grow fast
Around 2008, the consumer goods market was thriving on a deals-based model, informs Dublish. The 15-day end-of-season sales often extended to two or three months. Deals and discounts were rampant in brick-and-mortar stores. Their —Gaurav Dublish, co-founder approach of strictly no-discounts was counterintuitive to the norms of the market. “We believed our pricing was exceptionally strong and the discounts would have overthrown the core to set our own terms when there were others happy to accommovalues of affordability and accessibility on which we had built date their strategies to the big retailers,” Dublish says. our business,” says Dublish. “Also, Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop were more focussed on cost The strategy has clearly delivered. In the past six years, Wildmanagement, not just total sales volume. They weren’t very keen to craft has grown over by 100 per cent. From a limited reach of add on new business lines,” adds Dublish. The three co-founders around 20 point of sales in 2007, the company has expanded to knew they needed Wildcraft to be present in as many channels as 100+ exclusive stores across 50 cities, 300 shop-in-shops and are possible. Dublish confesses the resistance from retailers led to a lot present at over 2,000 multi-branded stores spread across 200 cities. of brainstorming within. “We weren’t sure we would be able to hold The simplicity of our business model helped this up against the pressure and stick to our strategy.” growth trek, asserts Dublish. Their own sales team wasn’t supportive of “Had we adopted the disthe one-price strategy either. They were very count strategy, things demotivated because they were constantly would’ve become complibadgered by retailers and customers in the cated. We didn't want to market about why they were the only brand increase our price by 10 per that couldn’t offer a discount. Despite these cent and then give 30 per cent odds, the founding team kept up with its discount three months later to uphill trek to being a no-discount brand. liquidate the stock.” It was only in early 2009—two and a half Offers and deals also create a years after they began their initiative to lot of channel conflict, explains expand—that Wildcraft finally got its first Dublish. Offering discount on shop-in-shop at Centrals, a multi-brand one channel and not on another retail chain store in Bangalore. A month can make a customer question the later, they were able to partner with a Cenling up a c S company's marketing intent and trals outlet in Hyderabad. Through the in s n o s s Le Dublish v a the product's pricing strategy. But, year, they got retail space in Lifestyle at r u a G m o fr needs of e Wildcraft discovered the one-price Bangalore and Chennai as well. th t a r e p e Look de mer and try to fill model wasn’t an easy sell when they Once they got a leg in the door of the su n co e th e market. set out to explore retail partnermulti-brand retail chains, it was easier to this gap in th ring effort in offe ships with channels such as multipartner with other retailers because they Put all yourlue proposition brand sports and travel gear outlets. were able to show the healthy sales per a unique vaomer to cater to to the custand address it Each retailer they approached quessquare feet of Wildcraft products d e that ne ly. tioned the no-discount policy. (without any deals and offers). Their innovative ung peoyo “Multi-brand organised retailers annual sales have been growing by 80 f o t lo a in d Bring anisation annate such as Lifestyle and Shoppers Stop per cent since 2008-09. Dublish says io ple in the odrg rt propo were quite skeptical about partnering with a chuckle, “Today, we are one of give themf friseedom. The amount o ey have is amazwith us. They didn't understand our the most profitable brands for our th t y righ energ e them these no-discount policy and were heavily partners—both offline as well as is th ing. Just gaiv li e nd chann irection. platform th in favour of end-of-season sales to prop e-commerce partnerships such as d t h g ri e energy in ge age of employwalk-ins. Because multi-retail outlets Flipkart and Jabong—because our ra ve 8. The a aft is 27-2w have several brands who want to partone-price policy helps partners shore ll e ees at Wildocr e it ed qu This has w rk ner with them, it was very difficult for us up their margins.” for us. 2 8 | INC. |
“The discount-based model would have overthrown the core values of affordability and accessibility on which we had built our business.”
Paul Graham, Jim Collins and other business leaders on what to ask if you want to move your company forward. By Leigh Buchanan
There’s no Superman versus Iron Man face-off between questions and answers over which is the better tool for innovation. But if there were, questions would be winning. Questions ignite imaginations, avert catastrophes, and reveal unexpected paths to brighter destinations. Jim Collins, Marshall Goldsmith, and other thinkers have compiled their own stocks of questions, which they urge leaders to pose to themselves and their teams. The right questions don’t allow people to remain passive. They require reflection, followed by action. Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, praises inquiry’s ability to trigger divergent thinking, in which the mind seeks multiple, sometimes 3 0 | INC. |
non-obvious paths to a solution. Asking good questions and doing so often “opens people to new ideas and possibilities,” says Berger. To compile this list of provocative questions for business owners, we reached out to entrepreneurs and management thinkers, scanned blogs, and revisited our favourite business books. (Though we tried to identify the origin of each question, some had competing claims of authorship. In those cases, we made our best call.) Have you got a great question that you use at your company? We welcome you to add your own to the list via the comment box below the story. Rigid mindsets are dangerous things. We hope the following will keep your mind supple.
35 Great Questions
How can we become the company that would put us out of business? Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group
Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten? Debra Kaye, innovation consultant and author
If energy were free, what would we do differently? Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos
Hsieh explains, “This is a thought experiment to see how you would reconfigure the business if you had different resources available or knew that different resources would one day become available. Another question might be, what if storage was free? Or what if labour costs half as much or twice as much?” May 2014 | INC. | 3 1
35 Great Questions
What is it like to 4 work for me? No.
Robert Sutton, author and management professor at Stanford
If we weren’t already in this business, would we enter it today? And if not, what are we going to do about it? Peter Drucker, management expert and author
The late Drucker posed a variation on this question to Jack Welch in the 1980s. It inspired General Electric’s “fix, sell, or close” strategy for exiting or restructuring unprofitable businesses.
What trophy do we want on our mantle?
Marcy Massura, a digital marketer and brand strategist at MSL Group
Massura explains, “Not every business determines success the same way. Is growth most important to you? Profitability? Stability?”
Do we have bad profits?
Jonathan L. Byrnes, author and senior lecturer at MIT
Byrnes explains, “Some investments look attractive, but they also take the company’s capital and focus away from its main line of business.” 3 2 | INC. |
Conley explains, “In any business, we measure cash flow, profitability, and a few other key metrics. But what are the tangible and intangible assets that we have no means of measuring, but that truly differentiate our business? These may be things like the company’s reputation, employee engagement, and the brand’s emotional resonance with people inside and outside the business.”
35 Great Questions
In the past few months, what is the smallest change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return? Robert Cialdini, author and professor emeritus of marketing and psychology at Arizona State University
What are the implications of this decision 10 minutes,10 months, and 10 years from now? Suzy Welch, author
Are we paying enough attention to the partners our company depends on to succeed? Ron Adner, author and professor at Tuck School of Business
Adner explains, “Even companies that execute well themselves are vulnerable to the missteps of suppliers, distributors, and others.”
What prevents me from making the changes I know will make me a more effective leader? Marshall Goldsmith, leadership coach and author
Do I make eye contact 100 per cent of the time? Tom Peters, author and management expert
May 2014 | INC. | 3 3
35 Great Questions
What is the smallest subset of the problem we can usefully solve?
Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator
No.15 Are we changing as fast as the world around us? Gary Hamel, author and management consultant
If no one would ever find out about my accomplishments, how would I lead differently? Adam Grant, author and professor at Wharton
No.17 Which customers can’t participate in our market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions? Clayton Christensen, author, Harvard Business School professor, and co-founder of Innosight
Who uses our product in ways we never expected? Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne, authors and strategy consultants
No.19 What one word do we want to own in the minds of our customers, employees, and partners? Matthew May, author and innovation expert
May explains, “This deceptively simple question creates utter clarity inside and outside a company. It is incredibly difficult for most people to answer and difficult to get consensus on— even at the highest levels. Apple = different. Toyota = quality. Google = search. It’s taken me three years to get one of my clients, Edmunds.com, to find and agree on their word: trust.”
Is this an issue for analysis or intuition? Tom Davenport, author and professor at Babson College
Davenport explains, “If it’s a decision that’s important, recurring, and amenable to improvement, you should invest in gathering data, doing analysis, and examining failure factors. If it’s a decision you will only make once, or if for some reason you can’t get data or improve the decision-making process, you might as well go with your experience and intuition.”
Who, on the executive team or the board, has spoken to a customer recently? James Champy, author and management expert
How likely is it that a customer would recommend our company to a friend or colleague? Andrew Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings
“Taylor’s use of this question at Enterprise Rent-A-Car inspired Fred Reichheld to create the Net Promoter Score, a widely used metric for customer loyalty.
Did my employees make progress today?
Teresa Amabile, author and Harvard Business School professor
Amabile explains, “Forward momentum in employees’ work has the greatest positive impact on their motivation.”
35 Great Questions
What should we stop doing?
Peter Drucker, management expert and author
No.25 What are the gaps in my knowledge and experience? Charles Handy, author and management expert
What am I trying to prove to myself, and how might it be hijacking my life and business success?
Bob Rosen, executive coach and author
If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel
In 1985, with the company’s memory-chip business under siege, CEO Grove famously posed this hypothetical to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, leading them to ditch memory for microprocessors.
No.28 If I had to leave my organisation for a year and the only communication I could have with employees was a single paragraph, what would I write? Pat Lencioni, author and founder of The Table Group
Lencioni explains, “Determining the substance of this paragraph forces you to identify the company’s core values and strategies, and the roles and responsibilities of those hypothetically left behind.”
No.29 Who have we, as a company, historically been when we’ve been at our best? Keith Yamashita, author and founder of SYPartners
What do we stand for—and what are we against? Scott Goodson, co-founder of StrawberryFrog
No.31 Is there any reason to believe the opposite of my current belief? Chip and Dan Heath, authors who teach at Stanford’s and Duke’s business schools, respectively
Among our stronger employees, how many see themselves at the company in three years? How many would leave for a 10 per cent raise from another company? Jonathan Rosenberg, adviser to Google management
No.33 Do we have the right people on the bus? Jim Collins, author and management consultant
No.34 What did we miss in the interview for the worst hire we ever made? Alberto Perlman, CEO of Zumba Fitness
Do we underestimate the customer’s journey?
Matt Dixon, author and executive director of research at CEB
Dixon explains, “Often, companies don’t understand the entirety of the customer’s experience and how many channels may have already failed them. They don’t understand that the customer goes to the website first, pokes around but can’t find the answer to their question, and then tries to start up a chat with an agent, only to get frustrated by the delayed response. Only then do they go to the Contact Us tab and call. From the company’s perspective, the call is square one. The customer sees it as, you’ve already wasted 15 minutes of my time.” May 2014 | INC. | 3 5
HOW I DID IT
The Growth Harvester Juzar S. Khorakiwala Biostadt India
When it comes to business, Juzar S. Khorakiwala, chairman and managing director of Biostadt India, is truly to the manor born. His grandfather founded the seeds of the family business by opening Mumbai’s iconic Akbarally’s—India’s first department store—in 1956. The family was also behind the famous Mongini’s bakery. Khorakiwala shares some of that go-getter spirit. When the family business was restructured in 2002 (with the mega Wockhardt going to his cousin), Khorakiwala kept the `60-crore agribusiness arm of the larger group. Today, that unit has grown into Biostadt India Ltd, a biotechnology-based agri inputs company which closed FY20132014 with more than `500 crores in sales, and over 3,000 distributors globally. As told to Shreyasi Singh / Photograph by Jiten Gandhi
Business has been in my blood, as they say. I grew up in a joint family. My grandfather started the business 100 years ago with Akbarally’s. The family then got into pharmaceuticals in 1958. That foray eventually led to the establishment of Wockhardt, a pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, and has been over the years headed by my cousin Habil Khorakiwala. A variety of reasons pushed us to restructure the family’s businesses in 2002 between my uncle FT Khorakiwala’s family, and other cousins. We used to have an agri business arm called Biostadt Agrisciences which had revenues of about `60—70 crore in 2003. This business excited me. I was confident agribusinesses have a brighter future long-term. We demerged Biostadt Agrisciences from Wockhardt in June 2003, and it emerged as 3 6 | INC. |
an independent company called Biostadt India Limited. It wasn’t easy to begin anew with a company that people associated as part of the larger Wockhardt group. First, it had been part of a public company. We had to privatise it even before it could be hived off. Financially, things were not so healthy with this agri unit then. See, when you’re part of a bigger group, finances and fiscal control are more obscure. Things come in to sharper focus as a standalone. For a year or two after that, educating the market that we were a separate brand was a big challenge. I also had to create a new management team from scratch. Personally, as well, it was a testing time. Having the umbrella of a larger family business unit gives one a lot of protection. In fact,
Flowering Profits In the past five years, Biostadt has grown nearly five times. Its flagpship product Biozyme, Khorakiwala claims, is India’s largest selling plant nutrient. May 2014 | INC. | 3 7
HOW I DID IT
a lot of people around me questioned if splitting away from the family business was a wise thing to do. But, I was clear—despite the initial anxieties and challenges—I just wanted to be on my own. In the early 2000s, agricultural businesses were beset by stretched credit cycles, sometimes up to 250 days! Biostadt was no different. Plus, we had sales returns of up to 15-20 per cent. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. We realised distribution was the key to this business. We clamped down on some of our distributors and took the tough call to drop some distributors. We added several new distributors, people who had worked with global companies such as BASF, DuPont and Monsanto. Also, we put in systems and processes in place. Vigilant monitoring and tracking can fundamentally revive business and throw up new opportunities. Within two to three years, we had brought down the credit cycle to 90 days, and reduced sales returns to a more respectable two to three per cent. Even as we did this, we increased capacity, first with a manufacturing setup in Jammu in 2004. We also built a factory in Silvassa the same year. We forayed into the growing business for seeds with a joint venture with Mahindra Hybrid for seeds. The next few years were paced with action and growth, including several acquisitions and mergers, such as an aqua culture business in Vietnam, a new division called InGene Organics to focus on horticulture crops, and setting up our government-accredited biological research lab in Aurangabad in 2007. In fact, by 2007, we were doing annual sales of more than `100 crore. I think what has worked for us is our focus. We have created a culture of biologicals, not just crop protection chemicals. Biological stimulants are a tougher sells because farmers have to be convinced that the growth nutrient is working for their fields. He comes back only if he’s happy. At Biostadt, we are very proud that Biozyme, our flagship brand, is India’s largest selling plant growth stimulant. It is responsible 3 8 | INC. |
“We weren’t prepared for what happened—within months the Chinese copied our products! They really can make fakes of everything. But, we survived that. Today, we are seeing almost 50 per cent growth in our sales in China.” for `150 crore in annual sales, and is one of the few `100 crore-plus brands in the Indian agro chemical industry. We’ve also run a tight, merit driven, transparent and process-led company. A unique way in which we have embedded these virtues in our company is by identifying key people as growth champions. And, we have tracked their performance by their impact on the bottom line. Fifteen to 20 per cent of the variable is awarded to them on their bottom line contribution. We ask them to grow 20 per cent on the topline and 15 per cent on the bottomline. This is an extremely working capital intensive business. We’re also certain we don’t want to borrow from the banks to expand our facilities or grow new verticals. We need sustainable, quality growth otherwise there is neither any money for us to redistribute or to invest. This sharp focus on bottomline from all our senior managers has made Biostadt very disciplined financially. The way we disburse their variables had also helped us establish management stability. The amount is paid in three years. If they leave in the middle, they forfeit the amount. Initially, there was much resistance. We worked hard to convince them why we were doing it—we wanted to put a cost of leaving the company. This might sound very removed from modern day HR practices but it has actually brought in a lot of transparency in the organisation—we don’t beat around the bush about why we’ve done this. One thing that gives me great pride is that we have been able to open up the
China market. Selling a product to the Chinese is like selling ice to Eskimos! We entered China with a Japanese JV. We weren’t prepared for what happened— within months they copied our products! They really can make fakes of everything. But, we survived that. Today, we are seeing almost 50 per cent growth in our sales in China. I would reckon, after Bangladesh where the global giant Syngenta markets our products, China is our second largest export market even though we only sell one of our product groups there. My younger son is now planning to move his base to China, and work out of there to convert these prospects. In the next three years, we want to be `1,000 crore in revenues—it should be very, very possible. There are no special, mega plans to get there. That is not who we are as a company. Over the past 12 years, we’ve always taken baby steps in a new area. We learn, and then we act. I’m not somebody who likes to make big moves, and fall flat. I know venture capital is the way companies are built now, and you spend before you earn is the new way, but I believe when you borrow money, there is a tendency to spend more easily. It’s similar with lofty valuations. People disagree with me about private equity funding. But, honestly, I just don’t understand the conversations about multiples of returns. Sustained, stable growth is what we are driven by. We can reach our next milestone the same way. If we keep on growing at a modest and sustainable 20 per cent year on year, it’s good enough to get us to our goals.
Tactics. Trends. Best Practices.
Managing Let’s Just Improvise Companies can use acting techniques to boost collaboration and creativity In November, apparel maker Life Is Good moved about 60 employees, who had been spread over three Boston-area offices, into one new, open-plan space. The change brought together members of the company’s product and marketing teams with its nonprofit foundation. But the arrangement didn’t spark as many spontaneous creative collaborations as the management team had hoped. So HR director Stephanie Manners asked for volunteers to take part in a
workshop led by teachers from Bostonbased theatre group Improv Asylum. In the two-hour session, one exercise that stood out for the 20 participants was the simple “Yes, and…” game. Two people at a time volunteered, with the first starting a conversation with a statement (“I really love my dog”). When the second responded with a “but” statement (“But dogs really smell”), the dialogue ground to a halt. On the next go-around, the partners were
directed to begin each response with “Yes, and….” Now they were talking. It was a powerful demonstration of how to build on someone else’s ideas, rather than shutting them down to advance your own. “You really see how the word no is such a showstopper in conversation,” says Manners. Many other companies are turning to improv to foster communication and creativity. A workplace culture of “Yes, and” tends to be one where innovators May 2014 | INC. | 3 9
Getting to “Yes, and....”
Three tips for staging a company improv Emphasise the business connection
Anyone from a decent improv group can teach the basics of improvisation, says Chelsea Clarke from Upright Citizens Brigade, but you need an instructor who can communicate the goal of each exercise and how it connects to the workplace. For instance, “Yes, and...” can help keep ideas bubbling in brainstorming sessions, she says. And “Zip zap zop,” an exercise in which participants must say the next word in a sequence when pointed to, helps employees stay engaged in meetings and open to opportunities.
Don’t Drop the Invisible Baby! Improv exercises to get the creative juices flowing at your company
Catch: Start by tossing an invisible ball around the room. Add as many balls as you like, keeping track of them all. Or instead of balls, throw invisible knives—or invisible babies. Yes/No Contrapuntal: Two people take turns arguing different sides of a particular point, then switch to argue the opposite side. Mind Meld: Two people stand in the centre of a circle, count to three, and say any word. After taking a moment to silently figure out a word that connects those two words, they try again. The goal is eventually to say the same word. Two-Headed Monster: Two pairs of people face each other. Each pair functions as a single twoheaded monster. Each monster forms sentences by alternating words, one at a time per person. The monsters take turns speaking sentences to each other, starting with an audience prompt, such as “a dangerous job.”
Mix it up
While it can make sense to focus on teams and departments that frequently need to collaborate and come up with ideas together, bringing together a more diverse cross section of workers can lead to significant breakthroughs on the organisational levels. “I’ve found great success when people at the highest levels and more entry levels are interacting together,” says Daena Giardella of MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “Improv is a democratising element.”
Reassure the skittish
Nobody is going to have to stand on a stage alone—almost all exercises are done in pairs or larger groups. And there’s no need to plan comic “bits” in advance. “We say at the start that we don’t want you to try to be funny,” says Robert Melley, director of business development at Boston’s Improv Asylum. Otherwise, he says, if you aren’t, “it’s awkward for everyone.” Things tend to get pretty silly, anyway.
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feel comfortable, says Daena Giardella, who teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “Innovation thrives in an atmosphere of safety and non-criticism,” she says. “Improvisation builds a muscle for trusting our own impulses and ideas, before we have to analyse how good they are, as well as helping develop an openmindedness toward other people’s ideas.” There’s a common misunderstanding that improv is all about being funny. It’s not. “You don’t have to feel pressure to invent jokes and come up with puns,” says Chelsea Clarke, a performer and instructor with improv group Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City. “The product is often funny, but it’s mostly about listening and supporting each other, committing to a reality you’re making up on the fly.” In a typical session, there’s not much time to get stage fright—expect to jump right into warm-up exercises designed to get the group mind working. These can include simple word games, communicating in gibberish, or playing “catch”
with imaginary balls. Such exchanges can help participants tune into nonverbal signals. “It’s not just about listening to words, but subtext and intent,” says Clarke. “That’s valuable in business, where a client or partner might be telling you one thing but communicating something else through body language.” Clarke might have a group pretend to be a certain kind of company, like an ad agency, and give them a crazy product to give a presentation about off-the-cuff. The key to a successful pitch is not undermining your colleagues. “You have to listen to each person’s choice that came before,” she says. “You might have a great idea, but if it doesn’t fit with what the last person said, you have to check it. That’s a hard thing to do—but improv helps you realise that you’re going to have more good ideas.” At Life Is Good’s new office, improv training has had a lasting impact, says Manners. “I notice that in meetings now, there’s a lot of language like ‘Yes, we could do that—and we could also consider this.’” —By Adam Bluestein
A Sampler from the “Coach-asBusinessGuru” Genre
The Winner Within: A Life Plan for Team Players, by Pat Riley (1993) On taking one for the team: “The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they’re part of the team is to sacrifice. Without sacrifice, you’ll never know your team’s potential.”
Reach for the Summit: The Definite Dozen System for Succeeding at Whatever You Do, by Pat Summitt (1998) On being driven to lead: “I’m not happy unless I’m driving myself to the limit and driving everyone else crazy around me. Why do one thing when you can do two at once?”
It may not seem like you have a whole lot in common, professionally speaking, with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. He goes into the office on Sunday and spends most of the workday standing up screaming at people. His direct reports are younger, faster, and richer than your direct reports. And on a particularly good day, millions worldwide might watch him work. When you think more about it, though, you and Carroll (and his peers) do roughly the same thing. You’re the boss, and he’s the boss. Both of you have to motivate, train, and mold a group of employees with different skills and personalities into a functioning and successful team. Granted, sports isn’t a perfect metaphor for real business. “In sports,” points out Penguin book editor Scott Moyers, “there are victories and there are defeats. Success and failures are more clear cut than they are in the rest of the world.” But that little detail at least helps you clearly identify who has the most to teach you. That’s pretty much the reason why every winning coach seems to write a business book—and why it’s not necessarily dumb to read them. Last July, former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times business bestseller list, right behind Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Jackson’s volume follows in a long tradition of inspirational/business/sports bestsellers that 4 2 | INC. |
began, as near as anyone can determine, with three-time NBA Coach of the Year Pat Riley’s national bestseller, The Winner Within. After that, the floodgates opened. University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s Success Is a Choice was No. 1 on the New York Times business list in the late 1990s and has sold, to date, more than 750,000 hardcover, paperback, and audio books. There are many others. We encourage you to read...well, some of them (see above). But if you don’t have the time, here are valuable nuggets from some of the greatest coaches (and perfectly acceptable leadership gurus) of all time:
Managing Management Playbooks Reading business tomes by sports celebs is great fun. Oh, and you might learn something
Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices and Priorities of a Winning Life, by Tony Dungy (2007) On focus: “It’s the journey that matters. Learning is more important than the test. Practice well and the games will take care of themselves.”
Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life, by Rick Pitino (1996) On confident employees: “Individuals with great self-esteem will do great things...they’re the ones others count on to boost results when the company needs it most.”
Tackling turnover: Every year, new recruits join the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team. Pat Summitt always looked for kids who were a good fit with UT. “Any first-class organisation will struggle to maintain its work ethic as personnel changes,” Summitt says in her book, Reach for the Summit. “So we have to make sure the players we bring in basically share our work ethic and values. The people in your organisation have to be willing to commit to an agreedon minimum standard of work.” Managing difficult employees: Phil Jackson won 11 NBA championships with two teams, but his most famous management trick was dealing with Chicago Bulls über-superstar Michael Jordan, who, like many talented employees, wanted to do things his way. Jackson’s solution for all kinds of players: Step back a bit and give him some rope. “The more I tried to exert power directly, the less powerful I became.” Jackson writes. “I learned to dial back my ego without surrendering my authority.” Attention to detail: Rick Pitino was much like a CEO when he took over the Boston Celtics in 1997. He changed the way the team operated, from the general manager’s office down to the product on the court. He never did win a pro championship, but he put his professional touch on a poorly run outfit. Among Pitino’s goals, he says in the book’s introduction, was “to provide the fans with an entertaining product” and “build the organisation to a championship level.” —Emma Whitford
Ground Rules for Winners: 12 Keys to Managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks, and Success, by Joe Torre (1999) On getting the Yankees job: “I was being rewarded for sticking to the principles of management I believed in my whole life.”
Sports Wisdom in the Office
Overused? Yes. Underrated? Sometimes. The Team-Player Trope
“In the sports world, it’s always a good thing to be a team player. In the business world, this can just be a euphemism for overworking. You know, ‘We need a team player…to come in over the weekend!’ That extra work won’t guarantee that you get noticed. Say your company has a freeze on pay raises. No matter how hard you work, you won’t see the literal payback.” —Dr. Jim Afremow, author of The Champion’s Mind
The Startup Metaphor
“A startup is analogous, in size, to a basketball team. If you recruit all 6-feet-2 players, you’re going to have a problem. Then there’s the football coach, who brings in 20 to 25 new recruits every year. How do you build a culture that initiates new people into the team? Startups can grow quickly, and you have to consider these things.” —Dr. L. Gregory Jones, senior strategist at Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics
“A Fortune 500 top administrator once asked me, ‘Is it OK to have feelings in corporate America?’ She was serious! Sports allow you to be emotional. Passion translates to high performance, so you need to have permission to feel as well as think.” —Tom Mitchell, former coach, leadership counsellor, and co-founder of MVP Performance Institute
Sports = Business
“If a coach has spent his life [in] basketball, I don’t know if he has his finger on the pulse when it comes to working for a construction company. When [he] claims that his situation is entirely applicable to yours, that’s when his book starts to lose relevance.” —T.M. May 2014 | INC. | 4 3
The Way I Work | Naazneen Katrak, Lubeina Shahpurwala, Mustang Socks and Accessories
“Most of our innovations have been chance encounters, not careful planning.”
Many successful businesses have been born out of a gaping need that founders experienced themselves, much like redBus. Mustang Socks and Accessories began that way too. Founder Naazneen Katrak, had an allergy to nylon and synthetic socks, which was all that was available in the 1980s. So, she started her own firm to manufacture cotton socks in 1987. In 2004, she met Lubeina Shahpurwala who wanted to export Mustang socks under her family exports business. The duo got along so well they decided to become business partners and Shahpurwala joined Mustang. Ten years on, their partnership has resulted in great business for the 300-people company as the turnover has doubled to `60-crore since 2004. The company today manufactures one million pairs of socks every month and supplies to some of the biggest international clothing brands such as Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Austin Reed in India, and exports to Europe and the Middle East. Katrak and Shahpurwala tell us about why their very different personalities and management styles have helped weave a growth story for Mustang Socks. As told to Ira Swasti | Photographs by jiten gandhi 4 4 | INC. |
Naazneen Katrak: Running businesses can change people, I’ve heard. But, I think I’m the same person I was when I first began Mustang Socks in 1987. I used to be a socks trader before, and I realised that the market was brimming with nylon socks. I felt that gap personally. I could only wear cotton socks but would find it impossible to get consistent quality and sizes. I decided to manufacture my own. I remember the days when I used to go on my bike to buy yarn, get it dyed and stitched at a tailor, pack it up and take it to the shops to sell— everything by myself. I did that for almost two years till I developed a handicap in my foot. I had to hire more people to do sales for me. Fortunately, I was able to buy a Maruti 800 automatic car. It was specifically designed for the specially-abled. My zeal for business didn’t change with my “handicap”. I continued travelling for work. Even now, I usually drive myself on the way back home from our factory in Palghar. Palghar is a town in Thane district that is about two and a half hours away from our company head office in Mumbai. I spend most of my week—from Monday to Thursday—at the factory, working on production
Array of Creativity It is the joy of creating new designs and themes in socks that gives Katrak a creative high. The new in line are health socks for people with swollen feet.
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and design of socks. My job is to ensure that everything from the yarn coming into the factory to the goods being shipped out of the factory happens on time. One of my former bosses had told me once that if you want anything to go right, you need to have a minute to minute plan. I don’t do a minute to minute plan but I do sometimes have an hour to half an hour plan. For instance, I’ll tell my team that I want this done by 10.30am, I will calculate that it would take half an hour for the sample to reach a certain department and then another hour to reach the next one and so I should have it by X amount of time. If it isn’t there, I want to know why. I think this inculcates a sense of discipline in the staff with regard to timelines. Production and design is my favourite part of running this business. But until 2004, I couldn’t solely concentrate on that because I was running a one (wo)man show, looking into each and every aspect of the company. Thankfully, when Lubeina joined us, she immediately took up marketing and I had all the freedom to be on the floor. That’s the way I would have always liked it to be. Now, I only have to look into the processes and finances of the company on Fridays and Saturdays when I am in the Mumbai office.
NK: The joy of creating new designs and themes in socks is what I live for. A few days ago, somebody with a Jaipur foot was desperately looking for socks that would be comfortable for him but couldn’t find a pair. We designed a pair especially for him and now we have queries from the hospital he goes to for his treatment. I am paralysed on the left leg myself and I need socks that apply a certain amount of pressure on the foot but are still loose and roomy to wear. That’s how we came up with idea for health socks, socks that are comfortable for swollen legs and diabetics. One day, a very elongated sock came out of the machine and it got us thinking—why don’t we make tights for kids? After some trial and errors, we launched tights for children in the market. Most of our innovations haven’t been a result of planning but chance encounters such as these.
Lubeina Shahpurwala: My schedule runs almost the opposite. I am in Palghar for about two to three days and spend most of my time in the Mumbai office, looking after sales, marketing and business development. My days are a little manic up until 3pm as my teams and I are on calls with clients and delivery guys. We export our socks to the Middle East, Italy and Europe and have presence in 1500 multi-brand outlets including Next, Mackays and Max in India. Even before I had joined Mustang as partner, it was one of the most commonly available brands in the market and because of our wide distribution channels, a lot of retailers have actually approached us to keep our socks in their stores to sell. In fact, the store manager at Marks and Spencer told me that his children had been wearing Mustang socks for years and so they were keen on selling them in their stores. Even though I enjoy marketing, I love being in the factory because all the action takes place there! In fact, the biggest high of running this business for both of us is seeing a design conceptualised on paper getting transformed into a sample and then packed to be shipped to a store.
S: I think we’ve been able to create so many new designs because of the thorough homework we do with our machines. Naazneen is a machine enthusiast and she’s always been scouting for new gadgets to use in the factory to produce different kinds of socks. You need a different feature in the machine to produce five toed socks and a different one for producing children’s 3-D socks (socks that have an ear or an eye popping out). We mostly use machines from Korea and Taiwan. Luckily, we’ve reached a reputation in the market where our suppliers are willing to give us two or three sample machines to try at their cost and only if we like them do we need to order them in bulk. Whenever our machine supplier comes to meet us, he’s surprised that we’ve come up with another new feature to be added to the machine. I think he’s happy that he’s constantly pushed to innovate his products as well. NK: People normally go to Dubai to shop for perfumes and clothes. I go to the market where they sell all kinds of tools and machines. These machines are not always for manufacturing socks. But they could be smaller tools like magnetic screw drivers or LED yellow lights that we could put on the machine to make it more convenient to use. I have always believed that the greater the convenience you provide to your workers, the better would be your product. If there’s less back bending, more back support and less eye strain for the worker, it reflects in the quality of your socks. I personally live the
“The biggest high is seeing a design concept getting transformed into a sample and then packed to be shipped.” 4 6 | INC. |
Naazneen’s electronic typewriter, put it on his head and stood on the table for four hours till the water receded. That was the most expensive piece of machinery we owned and he thought it was important to save it. I can’t top that level of dedication and ownership. NK: Our interactions and meetings with people usually happen post lunch. Lubeina is very particular about having her meals on time. So if she’s in the factory, we’ll have lunch together at around 12:30pm or 1pm. If she isn’t there, I am so absorbed in work that I usually skip it. After about 7pm, I prefer some me-time in office to plan out the next day. That’s when Lubeina and I are usually firing off emails to our teams about the work that needs to be done the next day. This way, by the time we’re in office the next morning, people already know what they’re supposed to be doing. LS: We leave office by 7.30pm or 8pm in the evening, whether we’re in the factory or the Mumbai office. I usually go for a run after that. It’s essential for me to rejuvenate before I have dinner and go to sleep at 11pm. NK: I don’t work once I am out of the factory and switch off until 6am the next morning. I spend time with my pet dog in Palghar and then sleep post-midnight. Running Mustang with Lubeina has been a great experience. We are a Hands on Design To keep the staff alert, Naazneen Katrak great team. It’s never my word or her word. does random checks on the staff so they maintain the Whenever there’s a disagreement on an issue, we socks’ quality and don’t get the chalta hai attitute. have to convince the other logically about why we feel that way and it gets resolved. If there’s a benefits of intuitive, enabling technologies. My automated wheelproblem with production or design, she comes over to the factory. chair can move around the different departments in the factory. It If there’s a marketing glitch she’s dealing with, I travel with her. I helps me be on the floor as often as I want. Even though we have 90 try and make sure I travel with her for the initial dialogue with a people in the Quality Control department, I like to do a random client to understand what they want as far as the product goes and quality check of our socks very often. It keeps the staff alert. By now, when they ask for something we can’t do, I have the knowledge to they have realised how finicky I am about the quality so they don’t say this can’t be done because we don’t have the right machine to fall prey to the chalta hai attitude. make it. Earlier, I used to travel every 15 days or so but now it has reduced to once every 45 or 60 days. I love travelling because it LS: Most of our workers at the factory have been working with us stimulates my brain and gives me a break from production work for decades. So during my day, I make it a point to take out about an in the factory. My foot has never perturbed me or stopped me hour of my time to just sit and chat with our staff. These are usually from doing that. I have been a very active person all my life. I have informal conversations about people’s families. There have been done mountaineering and horse riding for decades. I have sold times when one of our teammates has actually called us at midJCBs and cement mixers in showrooms in Muscat. I built a comnight to discuss a personal problem. But, we don’t mind that. I have pany that today has almost 50 per cent share of the organised a lot of respect for our people. I remember an incident from our old socks market in India. When people ask me what I would do if I office in Dadar which got flooded during the Mumbai floods. One got a chance to live all over again, I tell them I would not live my of our planning heads in the factory, Krishna ji, picked up life any other way. May 2014 | INC. | 47
founders forum Ten Questions for Nirmal Singh
Wheebox’s Nirmal Singh wishes he could be India’s education minister. His experience of founding and running Wheebox, a talent assessment company, has given him many ideas on how to create both jobs and talent to further our economy, so he says. Which TV or movie character you would like to go into business with?
Dr Prannoy Roy, co-founder of NDTV. It takes a lot to pursue passion along with business commitments and scale it up gradually.
What’s the toughest part of being in charge?
What is the best advice you have given your children?
You can’t afford to be very emotional about a lot of things.
If you could time travel, where would you be right now?
In 2050 where India is projected to be the third largest economy and understand what went right and what went wrong.
What company do you not want to start but wish someone else would?
Kingfisher Airlines. What an airline! No airline can match it in quality and price. But, what Kingfisher didn’t understand was that quality and price are directly (and not inversely!) proportional to each other. The biggest myth in business is
That there are plenty of buyers waiting to buy your one in a million idea or product.
What’s one rookie mistake you made early on?
Got the first customer who was 230 kms far! It was a pain to service them. Always get your first customer within your service reach. What’s one skill you want to improve upon personally?
I am dying to learn to play a musical instrument.
What’s the best motivator for employees?
Two things: when they know you are always there in times of need and that their professional mistakes will never be taken as personal faults.
as told to Sonal Khetarpal
Pick up one hobby and make it your career.
4 8 | INC. |
What is the one thing your employees would be surprised to know about you? That I skipped my Class-XII final exam to play cricket for my district. I cleared the exam the year after.
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