Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry but every once in a while adversity brings about unexpected benefits of unprecedented proportions. It was adversity that drove Arvind Singhal to entrepreneurship and subsequently towards the kind of success that men spend an entire lifetime trying to achieve. Arvind, narrating toYourstory on how one of the most successful home-bred consulting firms was created in the 90s, says "Most of us aspire to become an entrepreneur sooner or later, but somehow do not take the plunge...maybe its due to inertia.
In 1990, Birla VXL fired me on a one day notice without any explanations; and I feel I was doing pretty well in the organization. That day I decided not to work for anyone anymore. So the decision to become an entrepreneur for me was a forced one, one that shook me out of my inertia and forced me to act in a different way. It took me a year and a half to figure out what I should do since I had no seed capital. Finally, consulting seemed to me the best thing I could do without much of an investment. That was when Technopak Advisors was started."
Technopak Advisors was formed in 1992 with 3 consultants and 2 other colleagues. Operating out of 3 locations: Delhi, Bangalore and Bombay, Technopak provides consultancy/advisory services in 7 verticals:
Technopak Advisors also has major holdings in 3 companies: Foley Designs: which is into product designs.VerteBrand: which is into branding and Tapio: which provides sourcing solutions to retailers and brands. Today, Technopak, alongwith its subsidiaries, employs over 400 personnel.
From its very inception Arvind ensured that Technopak was not just all talk. Infact it became their distinguishing factor and a key element in their business strategy, Arvind says "The Difference between us and other consultancies is ‘Implementation’. Most of the major consultancies, like McKinsey and BCG, which provide strategic advice
do not implement. We, apart from providing strategic and operational advice also implement it. For example, for a typical retail store project - from opening the first store, to hiring people, to training its staff, down to the store design, and even the selecting of vendors- all elements are looked after by us. Another example being in the case of textile industries, we don’t just help our customers setup complete businesses but also help implement quality improvement measures, improve labour quality, etc.". "It's always about going that extra mile", says Arvind.
Yourstory asked Arvind what as been his biggest barrier he has faced while building his thriving practice to which he replies "All these 16 years have been very good for me. I haven’t faced any distinguishing challenge. The challenges that I face are normal business challenges. Many customers are not clear about what consultants bring to the table. They do not value the advice. This has always posed a challenge all these 16 years. Also, to be better than your rival firms and thus attracting the smartest of the smartest people to work for your company is a challenge. You have to constantly keep upgrading your skills - this is a challenge...its like a treadmill without a pause button. But this is equally exciting as well where I learn something new every single day of my job. It does give me some kind of intellectual arrogance", says Arvind with a laugh, adding, "the good thing is learning never stops".
When it comes to past mistakes Arvind believes that he has not laid a single foot wrong. He explained to us why he thought so, "I would say,there is no single mistake that stands out. There have been times when I have tried to do things in a different manner which I should have not. Some time back, I started building a strong 2nd and 3rd tier management in my company, which loosened the control or management instead of strengthening it. But now I have done it again and its working for me now this time around. I would say I have not been very good at managing transition planning in my company."
He also gave us his take on a recent edition of the Economist that says ‘India is the 2nd biggest entrepreneurial country after US’. "The growth in entrepreneurship in India is for real. At present 65% of Indians are self employed. This is majorly due to the structure of our economy. The Govt. has in the past failed to provide jobs to everyone and hence most of the people became self employed, be it small traders, electricians, artisans, etc. So entrepreneurship is not new to India. Although, the access to finance and intellectual capital was not there. But in the recent years, along with the desire to be self sufficient,the accessibility to capital has eased up. Though not very significantly. Access to intellectual capital, and so much information over the web, availability of knowhow, etc has increased. Also the economy has crossed US$ 1.2 trillion and is able to absorb a variety of products and services. This has boosted entrepreneurship" says Arvind.
"This has a flip side to it, particularly in India. It is like a double edged sword. With 1.2 billion of population and more than half of it in their youth, there is more competition than any other country in terms of entrepreneurship. If you have an idea right now, chances are that a 100 other people will have a similar idea at the same time.
With a birth rate of 25 million, every year 25 million people will look for opportunities, say 2 years from now. This means fierce competition. So its those who execute well and keep themselves ahead of the competition who will survive", adds Arvind
We asked him if there has ever been a moment where he wanted to do a normal job instead of immersing himself in the rigours of his calling, to which he answers "Never. I think no entrepreneur would ever want to go back to a job. Once you have the slightest of success, the sheer ecstasy of being in control of your destiny, will keep you from thinking about a job. Also, as an entrepreneur you have to look at carrying 100s and 1000s of people with you. Any mistake you make is your funeral and you have yourself to blame."
He then proceeded to tell us what he considers his biggest achievement and laid out his plans for 2020. He said "I think the biggest achievement for my organization is that a young purely Indian origin company is competing with the big names in the business like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc which have been around for 60-80 years. Winning business against such companies has been our biggest achievement. At present we are among the top 3 or top 5 consulting companies in the country, that too in a relatively short time span of 16 years, which I feel has been remarkable. For 2020 there is no directional aspiration,
but there is a purely mathematical aspiration, to grow in numbers and revenues by partnering with other companies, which for us has already been started. Although for 2030, we do have a goal of being in the top 3 companies world wide by revenues. How will we reach there is not decided yet. We are relatively slow for that goal but we are steady. The advantage that we have in our hands is that we are debt free at present and have no shareholders. So there is an enormous scope for financial leverage, which can help us start making big ticket acquisitions, which I think should work for us."
Yourstory also received some advice on entrepreneurship from the seasoned veteran, "I think entrepreneurship is about succeeding an idea which you are passionate about. Most of the time people are thinking on similar lines, if the buzz is social networking everyone follows the line. I think it should be about chasing your own idea", says Arvind drawing from his own experiences. "Do a reality check on your idea, try to find a market which is real and existent. You cannot wait for 5 years to reap profits as an entrepreneur. Your business should start making money the next day. Make sure you have done your financial modeling on excels very well even though business is much more complex than excel sheets, but a business plan serves as a valuable guide and benchmark. Your product / service should have a value which the customer is willing to buy and should leave a scope for profits. Business is about making profits, people sometimes fail to understand this simple fact."
Yourstory thanks Arvind Singhal and Technopak Advisors for their valuable time which they gave to us and the readers at Yourstory, hoping that in future too, a company's loss will continue to be the shot in the arm that will jolt yet another Indian Entrepreneur out of his inertia.