For every entrepreneur, tackling a set of challenges – be it on operations, strategy or funding – is part and parcel of their daily lives. At The Smart CEO, we requested four entrepreneurs to discuss one challenge they faced and how they dealt with it.
TEAM SMART CEO
In the past year, as we got ready for the retail launch of our natural, hi-fiber, ready-to-eat products, there have been many areas where we needed simple instructions to achieve simple tasks in various aspects of the operational chain – food packaging requirements, licensing, barcodes, logistics, etc. During this period, I found that while there is a lot of public information and many consultants who may offer solicited/unsolicited advice, very few actually assume responsibility for what they offer. This invariably results in most things being lost in translation, sometimes even within members of our own team – what one person had heard and understood may not be exactly what is said, not including the frustration!
Of course, as CEO one has to accept all responsibility for everything and so I just decided to work through every piece of data myself. While this may not have been the best use of my time, I feel that detail orientation will be our difference from good to great! Bringing this philosophy to albeit a small team has not been without challenge either, as most things in our operating environment tend to be grey. Why I feel this needed to be mitigated on day-one and may turn out to be a great plus in years to come is because I believe that as a culture across the country we are moving to greater transparency, demand for greater quality and most importantly pride in getting it right!
Jaideep A. Sippy, founder and chief executive officer of The Style Kitchen, a company focused on launching healthy food products
I set out to become an entrepreneur at a late age. I was 55 when I set up Eco Systems & Technologies, which later on became Proklean Technologies Pvt. Ltd. My colleague, Chandrasekhar, who is the co-founder, was 46 when we started. Vishwadeep, who joined us two years later, was relatively younger. We started the company in a completely nascent technology area – application of Probiotics in industrial processes. As such, the biggest challenge we faced was to decide how long we should go on with our own funds and when we should raise money from external investors. Should we risk all we had or should we play safe?
What we decided was, irrespective of how much of our personal funds we risked, we should go on till we developed a clear value proposition for the customer and acquired the first set of paying customers before thinking of approaching future investors. This clarity of thought helped us to get to a stage where we had developed a very unique value propositions in not one, but three different verticals – leather processing, textile processing and hospitality industries. We started selling products to end users and acquired customers who were placing repeat orders. Eventually, this approach helped us to get a reasonable valuation for the company when we approached angel investors for the first round of funding. I would consider this decision as the most challenging to date – one in which we decided to wait it out to raise money.
Dr. Sivaram Pillai, CEO, Proklean Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a clean tech firm that is in the business of chemical replacement products for industrial use.
In the first year the biggest challenge was building awareness among SMBs and acquiring skilled resources – both technical and functional. We were always in pursuit of building solutions rather than products; hence what was required was a highly skilled workforce that could think both with a products mindset as well as a services mindset. We also realised the importance of guiding and consulting our customers (small business owners) who are not very technology friendly.
Our approach was to give them the right consulting advice and educate them about the next generation of new technology and the benefits they could reap from it. Along with that, we also felt the need to educate the market as there is a general lack of understanding when it comes to cloud technology and the many relevant information related to products and services on cloud. Today we see that shift happening and a large percentage of business owners, who invested in change in the recent past, are reaping the benefits of new technology and processes. They have now realised that to not change comes at a significant cost to their future growth, development and brings numerous associated risks like productivity barriers and loss of competitive advantage.”
Vikram Dham, CEO and Co-founder, Emkor Solutions Limited, a cloud computing company that is focused on offering business-function-as-a-service (BFaaS) for SMBs
Operating in a real-estate office space consulting industry, the biggest challenge we faced was in negotiating with a government, which had no clear laws in place for business consulting. Often, we were mistaken to be in the business of buying land, trading or undertaking physical transactions in the real estate sector. Moreover, with the introduction of FDI in real estate, the government officials used to ask us if we were bringing money into the country. The only way to tackle this was to sit through several rounds of meetings with the officials and make them understand that we were an MNC in the office space consulting business and not into real estate purchasing. What would ideally be a 50-day procedure, took us 120 days to complete.
The second challenge we faced was in raising money for operational expansion. Even though we play a role in getting real estate spaces occupied, we were not eligible for the external corporate borrowing scheme. Neither could we raise money through local banks because we had no collateral to offer. Thus, the only alternative we could resort to was to acquire money from the parent company, in the form of equities.
Shrinivas Rao, founding member, Vestian Global Workplace Services, a office-space consulting company that offers a range of real estate services including strategic advisory, facilities management and transaction advisory services.