Entrepreneur’s – It’s ok to be Vulnerable!! by Ajit Panicker

ASCENT Conclave 2019 – Launch of Entrepreneurial Well-being, A Study by ASCENT Foundation and Mariwala Health Initiative

Running an enterprise was never easy and it comes with its own challenges , So when ASCENT and Mariwala Health Initiative set out to survey mental health of entrepreneurs, it sounded exciting . It’s that one opportunity for every entrepreneur to understand the common stress areas. To any entrepreneur , knowing these would help him understand his ecosystem better, and reach out for help when in need . This all seemed exciting till ASCENT asked me to share my story while launching their report . Who would want to go up on stage in front of 700 other entrepreneurs at the ASCENT Conclave . Our sob stories are very private , Its always been our vulnerable areas and a battle that we choose to fight on our own , and in private . On second thoughts , what the heck , someone’s got to bell the cat , so I took the leap of faith to share my story .

Launch of ‘Entrepreneurial Well-being, Wear Many Hats’. (L-R) Naveen Tiwari – In Mobi , Ajit Panicker – Pureblu , Rajvi Mariwala – Mariwala Health Initiative , Harsh Mariwala – Marico

Experiences after the sharing at the Conclave

Post my sharing at the conclave , I just had to stand in one corner and all through the day . I would have people reaching out to chat with me . I have been at networking events and realise the time it takes to break the ice with a stranger . That day was different , people would walk up to me share their business card and instantly get into sharing their difficult times and how they struggled to cope with it . It only lead to a realisation that ASCENT had touched a very important nerve in the entrepreneur ecosystem . This was here to stay and would go a long way in helping every entrepreneur tide through difficult times .

My Story

Our family business Nova is over 45 years old and among the oldest air conditioning companies in India. When I joined the business 20 years ago , we sensed an opportunity and decided to scale up the business . We reached out to a very large multinational company with an offer to help them access the Indian market. They said the market wasn’t ready for their premium products . We took a chance , went by our entrepreneurial gut and sent in advance payments asking them to send in a container for test marketing . Starting from that day over the next ten years. we went on to build a large enterprise with 300 employees and, 13 offices across India . We had established a global air conditioning brand that did not exist in India . It was then that the MNC decided that they would set up a subsidiary in India and would manage the market themselves . To put it more bluntly , we were no longer required . We were stranded with large unsold stocks , debts to be repaid to our bankers and employees who we could no more afford . Our lives fell apart . This is when my Trust Group at ASCENT foundation came as a safe bouncing board , to get a perspective of the situation . Over the next few years we broke the problem down in three parts .

Part 1 – Not Going Bankrupt

I was fortunate to have family and friends who helped me with this , We bought time from everyone , the bankers and the MNC. to set our house in order in the new changed environment . We reached out to as many people as possible to clear stocks. The only focus was to cut all costs . We reached out to all employees, individually informing them of the situation and with a hope to help them find a job quickly before their services were discontinued . All Regional offices and warehouses were shut down . We reached out to every other competing company in our space to help get placements for our employees . This became the most stressful , most of them had stayed from inception and helped build the business . Some of them had been poached by the MNC who had set up the direct operations . We still needed people to clear our existing stocks , knowing that they would not continue in the organisation . Only a handful of them stayed till the very end till we completely wound up the operations . A saga that lasted almost two years , handling one day at a time .

Part 2 : Alternative Business to Survive

During those two years it was important to keep our lives and costs going , The need was to get going with a business that would start an income enough to sustain with very minimal capital requirement . A separate company with its own small working capital became the focus area to build on our Solutions business only in Mumbai our home ground . The only additional resource required was for me to get to the front line to make sure you got the next order and took care of customers directly ,ensured payments were collected and cash flow monitored on a daily basis . The cost of operations was kept to its minimal to only what was required . The Projects/ Solutions business eventually grew in five years to become our lifeline business even for our services revenue .

Part 3 : Return to Scaling Up – Pureblu

Three years post this incident, we have revived our business , our debts cleared all our ex-employees well placed within the industry and we were profitable again . I now set my mind on how do we get going again with scaling up . Having been through this downside , this wasn’t as easy as I thought. For now ,everyone who cared for me had only one piece of advice , you have done well and be happy with what you have and there’s no need to go the big scaling up path again . I have always held the belief that there are two kinds of entrepreneurs, those who are self- employed, and those who are in business . The self employed are those who build successful and profitable companies , become employees to their own companies and get into their comfort zones . The ones that do business fix one problem after another and get paid for it , and in the process create large enterprises and wealth . It did not take me long to understand where my calling was and I set out to identify the next problem to solve in the domain that I understood so well . I went back to everything that the air conditioning industry did to manage the business and listed down all the inefficiencies and thought through a plan on how to do it better and at a lower cost . That lead to me starting my new tech venture Pureblu with my co founder Manish Jain . Pureblu is a Software as a Service (SaaS) for air conditioning dealers to run their services business efficiently and at a very low cost , thereby increasing their profits . For our SaaS users , Pureblu becomes a lead generation platform , using IoT devices (Internet of Things ) offering Smart AMC and Cooling as a Service (CaaS) to its customers . At Pureblu which is gradually , scaling up we are asking , if air conditioning is not a luxury and is a necessity because it increases productivity and takes care of health , then why is it that only 8% of the population of a tropical country like India can afford to have air conditioning ? . Pureblu aims to make air conditioning accessible to over 45% of Indians .

Mumbai Mirror– Article 22nd Nov 2019 , Economic Times – Article 21 Nov 2019 , Money Control – Article 21 Nov 2019 , The Hindu – Article 23 Nov 2019 , Business Standard – Article 22nd Nov 2019 , The Week – Article 22 Nov 2019 , Forbes India – Article 5 Dec 2019 , Outlook Business – 06th Jan 2020 , Podcast EP.Log 15 Jan 2020

4 thoughts on “Entrepreneur’s – It’s ok to be Vulnerable!! by Ajit Panicker

  1. Awesome Sharing Ajit. It’s easy to share the success stories but tough really tough to share failures.

    Your story and turnaround is Amazing. Wishing You and PureBlu the Very Best. Have an amazing successful journey ahead. God Bless.

    Best Wishes Always,
    Mona Menon, Director
    Marshall’s Wallcoverings

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