I have been playing sports from school, always a below average sportsman with no serious commitment, the purpose of continuing sports was always from the spirit of fitness. Over the years I played Football, Squash, Badminton and regular morning walks. However I have never stuck to one sport and would loose interest, primarily because I did not excel in the game. This changed when I took to running, its been over two years and I look forward to my training and the upcoming marathons. This got me wondering, whats in running that got my commitment. My thoughts lead to this conclusion that there are lots of common areas between my running and my business. Since entrepreneurship was so well ingrained in my thoughts, that could have been the only reason that I took to running with so much commitment.
Setting the Vision and Mission
At work my Vision is to build the largest air conditioning services technology platform in the world and in the process our mission is to transform the lives of small businesses in this space, generate jobs for technicians. At Running my vision is to run every big marathon in the world and the mission is to stay healthy and age gracefully.
A business to get started beyond an idea needs two important components, a good team and good co founders. My business scaled and grew because of a super team that we built in Nova, this team takes care of over 25000 customers in our portfolio managing over 250 calls a day. An elaborate process of providing consistent and reliable air conditioning solutions. My Startup Pureblu was born out of this domain experience and all I needed was to bring on board a like minded co-founder Manish Jain. Running was no different for me to get started, a community of runners – CCI –Striders, which I was part of made all the difference. These are people who are there with you all through your training and in the journey of you achieving your Vision and Mission . All through this, I found my core group in the running community in Vikram and Nikhil who shared my plan of consistently improving and going around the world doing various Marathons.
Benchmarking against your personal best
In business and in any sport there is enough enterprises and people to compete with, but nothing replaces the fun of competing against yourself. In business every year after year its all about evaluating your performance with the previous year, you want to keep an eye on the top line and the bottom line, its no different in running, its all about the distance you have covered and the pace you have maintained. You are constantly trying to improve on your personal bests.
Discipline and the price you pay
While in business or in running the most common factor is discipline. You have to stay put on your plans and make it happen. Your commitment to achieve this will always come at a price. Most often though its your family and friends who will be most affected, You will miss time being around your family and friends, they will end up making lots of changes to accommodate you. Every time you will be challenged in taking these calls as it comes along , one day at a time . Its a delicate balance about managing your time between your passion and spending time with family and friends.
Running a small and medium sized enterprise business especially in the field of air conditioning has never been easy . The challenges are around Cash flow , attracting and retaining dependable human resources , managing compliance , managing principals and managing competition . All of these challenges comes in the way of an entrepreneur from growing this business .
The No.1 requirement for India is to create jobs for the ever growing pool of youngsters getting ready to be employed . The MSME’s in India are the largest employers and the largest job creators . They provide jobs for highly skilled , semi skilled and unskilled workforce . The Air conditioning and refrigeration trade is one of the biggest job creators , in a trade that is fast growing . The MSME’s not wanting to grow their business is not a good sign when it comes to the task of creating jobs and that is a concern .
So what is it that motivates a handful of them to want to grow , scale up and explore disruptive ideas . The only think that keeps them from doing this is their love for the business. Some of these entrepreneurs have Fallen in Love with the business of air conditioning and refrigeration , they don’t see any of these challenges , for them each of these are opportunities to solve , fix and scale up their business . RATA Day / Refrigeration and Air conditioning Day of India is celebrated in February every year , the day celebrates the spirit of these entrepreneurs who love this business . They have given up the idea of competing with each other and are discovering a whole new way of scaling up their business , collaborating with each other.
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 .
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 .
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 .
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 .