Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Entrepreneurship is in my Blood

Going down memory lane, I still recall the day when my mother broke the news to me “Dhinu has lost his father this morning. They did all they could, but… ” . It was more than a decade ago.

Dhinu had lived all his life in a small town in Andhra Pradesh, India; and his world began and ended there. From what I recall, Dhinu was not the kind who was ever interested in studies, so he never really attended school, never bothered to really study or give exams. Let alone, pass in them. I don’t really know how he spent his childhood days and teenage years, but they were behind him!

Dhinu was all of 17 years old when he lost his father. Not the age that most of us can ever imagine living without parents. He was young, at a vulnerable / impressionable age, inexperienced about the world and life, and was at a critical juncture of his life.

He had decisions to make, responsibilities to shoulder (unpaid debts, two unmarried sisters, a home to run) and the world to face.

I remember the first “real conversation” I had with him around that time. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say or ask. I was pretty young myself, and he was even younger and “clueless” about the future. He appeared lost in the world.

So, what is the plan? What are you going to do” I asked
I don’t know Akka (read as sister). But I have to do something.” He said
Why don’t you focus on your studies? If you complete your education and earn a degree you could look for employment” I said with my limited worldly wisdom!
Yes I know that I have to study. But I’m not interested in studies. And also given the current situation, it can’t be full time studies. I have other responsibilities to take care of” He said

Frankly, I was surprised at his response. One because he was clear that his interest did not lie in studies (Something which I could not really comprehend then), and two because he had somewhat “grown up” overnight.
OK Good Luck in whatever you do. If you want any help, you can ask my father. Or if I can help in any way, let me know” I said.
Thanks Akka” He said

Dhinu’s father was an “entrepreneur of sorts” who had tried his hand at several initiatives – Agriculture, food dealer, a cloth merchant, jewelry importer / exporter, water purification and selling of pre-packaged mineral water, money lending, a multi-purpose store, etc etc. And had mixed success in these ventures. At the time of his demise, his primary business was as a cloth merchant.

I later learned that Dhinu continued his father’s business of being a cloth merchant for a while; till he realized that there was limited scale he could achieve in the town he lived.

So he decided to start something on his own.

After some market research and survey, he decided that he would get into the steel and cement business as a supplier to construction sites.

Why steel and cement business? You know nothing about it” I asked him
It’s OK. I’ll learn. I have to start somewhere. I have to take risks. This is the age. If not now, then when? Also, the construction business is going to grow exponentially in coming years, and there are no big suppliers in this area. So there is a good potential. Let’s see. Worst case, I’ll fail. So what? I’m not scared of failure” He said

Honestly, I had nothing to say.

I was happy to see the “spark in him”. The curiosity for the world around, the hunger for learning, the thirst to experience, the openness to try new things, the frankness to call a ‘spade a spade’ and a “valor” which very few individuals truly possess.

My silent prayer for him was “Let him make something out of himself, and I really hope he is successful

The only real issue was mobilizing financial resources to start. Bank loan was not an option, because of his age and inexperience. So the only source was personal connects and relationships.
Fortunately for him, he managed to source the initial seed capital to start his business.

For the next few years, he spent every single waking minute of his life in building his business. His day would typically start at 5 AM and end at midnight. The activities would include meeting with manufacturers / suppliers for business, hunt for good deals, build collaborations / partnerships, understanding the products, understanding the market, etc.; meeting with customers to get new business, site visits to track and monitor materials delivered, building relationships with people in power (politicians, police, government officials, etc) for approvals and business networking.

I saw very little of him those years. I heard from family that he was slowly and steadily growing his business.
Good for him” I thought

Then in 2007, when I was in the US – I was pleasantly surprised to receive his call.
Hi. How are you?” He said
Good. What a pleasant surprise. How are you? How is everything?” I said
Great” He said
Well I have some good news. My sister is getting married; and you have to come for the wedding” He said
Wow. Congrats. Good to hear that. Regarding my coming, depends completely on my work assignment. If I am in India, I will definitely attend. ” I said
No If’s and But’s. I don’t know how you’ll come. But you have to come. Please. We’ve all not met for such a long time. It would be a great re-union. ” He replied

Fortunately, I was in India in time for the wedding. I was impressed to see the wedding arrangements; and he had single handedly managed the show. And I mean, every single detail was perfect!

It was during a quiet moment that I spoke to him
So, how are you doing?” I asked
All good. It’s been busy the past few weeks with the wedding” He replied
And how’s your business going?” I questioned
Going well. We are growing with every passing day. I have employed 10 people to work with me. My focus is to be largest and preferred supplier for this region. And the good news is that I’ve also cleared all outstanding personal debts, and repaid the money I borrowed to start this venture. The remaining profits were re-invested into my business. And for the wedding, I’ve tried to do everything in my capacity to make my mother and sisters happy” he responded
That’s excellent to hear. Am sure you will only grow from here. And now that I’m based in India, we’ll speak more often. If you need any help / advice, call me” I said

For the next few years, we were in regular touch. An occasional Hello, an SMS for a festival greeting, a brief rendezvous when we are in the same place, a quick FaceBook exchange, an update when there’s a personal milestone worth sharing, a quick exchange / validation of an idea, or an advice..

And then in 2012 he called me
Hi. How are you?” He said
Great. Busy as usual. How do you expect life to be for a working mother?” I quipped
Come on! We all work hard and have our share of everyday challenges. Just face it and move on. Anyways, I have a business proposition for you” he said
What??” I wondered if I heard him correctly
Yes, You invest Rs.X in my business, and I promise you a guaranteed Y% returns in 3 years. And Y is way above market averages. No one will promise you this rate. And if you ever need your money before that, let me know. I will arrange it for you.” He said
Hmm.. Let me think about it. So tell me, how is your business doing? What do you need additional capital for? I questioned
Excellent. It can’t be better. Business is growing in leaps and bounds. And I am having a tough time managing the show myself. In fact, I have given maximum sales to all my suppliers that I have got so many goodies. A new laptop, a new TV, the latest iPhone – By the way! It is super cool, and I know it in and out. If you have any questions ever, you know whom to call! And I am also am entitled to 2 free holidays. One in India, and One international. I am thinking of going to Delhi and London. What do you say?
And I am expanding my business. My aim to be the ONLY “one-stop shop” for all construction related materials in this area – from paints, to iron, to cement, to wood supplies, to bricks, etc etc etc. I need real-estate space to display supplies which I have already bought. I also need to hire more people, and am on the look-out. I need capital. Fortunately this time, banks are chasing me to give a loan. But I’ve decided to put a cap on bank loan, and give friends and family an opportunity to invest in my business. So please invest – It’s a golden opportunity. Anyways, most of you corporate types don’t know how to invest; or manage your personal finances well.

Again, I was speechless

A few days ago, I met him. During our conversation, I asked him “Looking back, tell me how the journey has been so far, and what did you learn?

Here’s what he said “You know Entrepreneurship is in my Blood, and there was no escape. It was only a matter of time. Looking back, I think everything happened for good and for a reason. And as wrong as it may sound, I am happy that I never took studies seriously. If I had studied well, I would probably be in a job which sucked – I see it for most of my friends. I am happy that I started on my own early in life. In terms of the lessons learned, here’s what I’d say:
1) Think big and have a dream; that’s the only way to grow and succeed. And you can make your dreams a reality!
2) Don't be afraid to take risks early in life; With age one’s risk appetite reduces significantly
3) Only difficult times test and unveil the strength of our relationships – You know who is genuinely on your side and who is not! And relationships are key to the success of any business
4) It’s so important to see failure early in life. Don't be afraid to fail ; You learn much more with every failure
5) Success and Money changes everything in life. Today, everyone wants to know me, befriend me and be associated with me :). Since I’ve seen the very lows, I don’t let success get into my head!

 6) Enjoy life when you get a chance. After all, it’s one life to live

Again, I was speechless!

Today (In 2013), he is a “flourishing & successful entrepreneur”. He has had his share of successes and failures in the past few years - but nothing can dampen his "spirit". I am amazed at the scale and success of his enterprise, impressed by how much he has grown and achieved in the past few years and how confidently he faces the world today.

I’ve met and known so many entrepreneurs in my life. But in my view, Dhinu’s story is worth sharing. After all, Dhinu is my little cousin brother, and I am proud to know him and to see him successful. I wish him all the luck and success in the world...

I wish to get my story published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Entrepreneurs Soul in association with BlogAdda.com

2 comments:

  1. ur about me is very interesting :P :P

    and yes the story of course is amazing :)

    www.subzeroricha.blogspot.in

    ReplyDelete