Flying back home to Mumbai from Delhi, he smiled to himself looking at a chartered plane that wore the tag ‘Alchemist,’ on its tail wing. His thoughts drifted towards Paulo Coelho’s popular novel ‘The Alchemist,’ a fable, as it is described, about following your dream. No sooner his flight landed at the Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji airport, Manish Porwal called his friend and now co-director, Anujita Jain asking her what she thought of naming the company Alchemist Talent Solutions.If a picture tells a thousand words, a book says more, and that’s what I felt when I saw the word ‘Alchemist’ on the flight. Also, Paulo’s allegorical novel had a deep impact on me since the time I’d read it. For quite a few weeks we were going back and forth on deciding the name of the company. But that day, in that very moment, it all fell in place,” shares Manish.
Having worked as the Managing Director of Starcom for almost 5 years, he joined Percept Holdings’ talent vertical as its CEO in 2008. A few months before he joined Percept, Manish was on a table, trying to talk Anujita out of quitting Starcom. But she had other plans. Recalls Manish, “She wanted to be an entrepreneur, a free bird and was determined. Since Anujita had already decided her course and had a model in place, I actually helped her with the name of the company and ‘in return’ asked her to work with Percept Talent Management as a part time consultant to create new products.”
Alchemist was formed almost three odd years ago as a small boutique shop in hiring and vocational learning. Anujita Jain, who continues to be the COO, was the Founder and she ran a small and tight ship till February 2010 when Alchemist changed to its present format.
“When I was in the process of leaving Percept in 2010, I read 'Rich dad, poor dad' and ‘The Alchemist’ for the third time over. That did it. Another former colleague, Raj and I asked Anujita if she could trade her sole ownership with a larger and quicker vision. She agreed and the new Alchemist was born,” says Manish who is now the Managing Director at Alchemist Talent Solutions.
Alchemist is a talents solutions company with a bi-focal vision on two industries, the domains which the promoters understood well – one, MARS (Marketing, Advertising, Research and Space Selling) and the second, Entertainment and Sport. “Both these spaces traditionally have different names – the first is taken care of by the so called 'executive search and training' people and the second by celebrity managers,” says Manish. Based out of Mumbai Alchemist has its footprints across Delhi and Bangalore servicing 50 clients. It also has liaisons in Singapore, Jaipur and London.
“I have heard it many times from my father, to be able to learn of my friends from the friends of the chair. I was reasonably good at it. When I left to start on my own, Alchemist already had more than a dozen clients and we added more than 30 within six months,” shares Manish.
Most clients pay Alchemist a fee for the term, project or strategic involvement in an endeavour. Some others like to stick to the traditional commission mode. That covers Alchemist’s costs and margin expectations.
“I won’t try act cheeky by saying 'what competition?' but actually, competition to us is a moving target. Different people excite us to compete in different zones. While Wizcraft and 70 inspire us in the talent led events, we do like to follow K&J closely on the recruitment front and in training, we are truly unique with little or no competition,” says Manish. He believes the USP of Alchemist is that they don't have prefixed answers to client questions. Since their business is primarily not representing talent, their answers are neutral and strategic to the brand.
“To be honest, it is easier to get clients in our business as the entry and exit barriers are both almost non existent. We currently operate in a Rs 400 crore market of executive search for MARS, which is hugely segregated amongst various shops. The top 20 of them capture nothing more than 45% of the market and at least 30% is yet to come to professional players,” says Manish.
He adds, “On the other side, we are in a wider Rs 1,500 crore market of celebrity management and it suffers the same fate, being fragmented. With quiet a few unorganized set-ups operating in the space, even with a marginal percent gain one can actually jump many ranks.”
Of these two markets, Alchemist aims to capture 15% each by the end of 2014.The idea is to be 100 people and therefore a 100 crore revenue company by 2014. This would mean we grow 15 times over in next 3 years. “While, on the small scale we are, it’s not impossible – it is still difficult. We see ourselves developing our own IPRs which would give us scale, stature and confidence of clients,” envisions Manish.
However, there always remain challenges of scale. Manish and his team’s concern is the issue with such a business is that there is no 'real' competition to acquire their own talent from. People need to be nurtured and trained on the job.”
For now Alchemist is a team of 16 people, not counting administrative staff. He adds, “A new middle level layer of talent would need to be infused in the next 6 months to get there and that would be the end of the flat organisation that we currently are. We would be in three more domains, if not more and that summates our expansion plan for now.”
Alchemist claims to have never, till date gone cash negative in any month. “On the reverse this means, we are underleveraged. We keep discussing internally if the time has come to shift into the overdrive. But we are waiting for the right time,” says Manish. The talent solutions company intends to scout for private funding in the six months.
The company was started with merely Rs 7,260, an investment made in an inkjet printer. Everything else, including office and equipment was hired.
“You will laugh at this,” assures Manish, “Two of our directors are Marwaris and we live up the name! We decided never to stake our family fortunes that they are used to, for our own passion and growth.”