ASCENT Conclave 2018: Where entrepreneurs and changemakers gathered to share inspiring business (and life) stories


ASCENT Foundation, a peer-to-peer sharing platform started by Marico Ltd. Chairman, Harsh Mariwala, held its third annual conclave in Mumbai last week.

Harsh Mariwala, Founder, ASCENT Foundation and Chairman, Marico Ltd

The theme of ASCENT Conclave 2018 was ‘Beyond The Conversation’. Speakers and panelists included Bajaj Auto Managing Director Rajiv Bajaj, iD Fresh Food Founder PC Musthafa, Nykaa Founder-CEO Falguni Nayar, Future Group Founder-CEO Kishore Biyani, Apollo Hospitals Executive Director Sangita Reddy, Nalli Group Vice Chairman Lavanya Nalli, actor-entrepreneur Milind Soman, among many others.


Over the course of the event, entrepreneurs, innovators, changemakers, activists and thought leaders shared their inspiring journeys and exchanged ideas, insights and experiences with industry peers.

The conclave commenced with ASCENT Founder Harish Mariwala’s welcome address. He spoke about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. “It is important to have a burning desire to succeed. If you have that, you can overcome all issues,” he said. “Every entrepreneur has to realise that they need to reinvent themselves on a perpetual basis. Stress may come because of risk. Try and de-risk yourself by reducing the stakes. So, even if you fail, it won’t pull you back,” he added.Mariwala also stressed on the importance of having a good team and the critical need for work delegation. He told entrepreneurs, “Select a team whose talent is better than yours. So you’re forced to delegate work to them. When you delegate, you don’t abdicate. You will always be responsible as the leader.”

Rajiv Bajaj, General Manager at Bajaj Auto Ltd

Keynote speaker Rajiv Bajaj shed light on the importance of marketing and how entrepreneurs can make consumers know their product better. “Consumers will reward the market leader for much smaller improvements to their products even when the rest of the companies improve their products significantly more. If we improve anything by 10 percent, it doesn't help in anyway. Be it power, torque, luxury, etc., because consumers don’t feel it. So, at the end of the day, it is the salesman who should be able to answer customers when they walk in and ask: ‘Why should I buy your product?’”

Bajaj also spoke about the need for entrepreneurs to identify their target customers more accurately. “I am not a marketing person but as David Pecker said, ‘Marketing is too important to be left to marketing people. And I can say that taking everything everywhere is a recipe for disaster’.”

The next session saw PC Musthafa, the founder of iD Fresh Food - a food distribution startup that revolutionised the breakfast market in south India speak about his family’s financial struggles and how that compelled him to turn entrepreneur at the tender age of 10. “At that time, my only goal was to get three meals a day,” he said.

He learnt early on that “values are non-negotiable in any business.” Musthafa said, “The customer is willing to pay a premium if they trust a brand. You have to trust your customer, and they will trust you too.”

iD Fresh Foods is regarded among the most innovative startups in India right now. Ask Musthafa how he managed to crack food innovation, and his mantra is simple: “Sometimes the only thing you need is common sense,” he said. “We tend to apply a lot of spreadsheets to a business problem. But, you can use common sense to overcome an uncommon challenge,” he explained.

The conclave’s most stimulating session was on online-offline retail. It pitched veteran large-format retailer Kishore Biyani (Future Group) against new-age ecommerce entrepreneur Falguni Nayar (Nykaa). A classical debate followed, as Biyani and Nayar highlighted the pros and cons of each other’s business model.

Biyani stated, “Unless you get size and scale, you won’t get profitability. In offline, the cost of acquiring a customer is very low, whereas in online, the cost of acquisition plus the cost of delivery would be more than 50 percent of the operations cost.”

“In grocery, you cannot sustain that because it is a low-margin business. And grocery is all about proximity retail,” he added. Mariwala, seated in the audience, concurred with Biyani. “In grocery, it is still the kirana store that rules. The local grocer will continue to be powerful for the next 10 years,” he said.

Nayar spoke about the learnings from having built a successful beauty and fashion venture online. She said, “Ecommerce businesses need to be built with a certain pace. Just having customers on the website doesn’t mean that they will buy your product. Assortment and curation is the most important thing for online retail to succeed.

Biyani opined that retail per se is moving towards an offline-online convergence model, which will lead to an ecosystem of multiple services. He said, “Convergence is happening everywhere in the world. Alliances are getting formed. It won’t be a channel play anymore. It will be an ecosystem play that will include everything from grocery and entertainment to financial services.”

The final, and most offbeat, session of the conclave focused on mindfulness and the need for entrepreneurs to declutter, disengage and relax. It's actually what Rajiv Bajaj observed in his morning address, “To succeed in business, you have to be quiet. It allows you to think, listen, observe and be humble. It gives you the courage to act.”

Former model and now serial marathoner Milind Soman reckoned, “Weakness is in the mind, not in the body. Hence, fitness starts from the mind.” He added, “Everybody’s individual experience is priceless. People have to figure themselves out in order to succeed.”

But, success can be elusive, especially in our intensely competitive startup landscape. So, how can entrepreneurs stay motivated? Gauranga Das, Director of Govardhan Ecovillage, observed, “Life is not just about achievements. Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm. But, one should never lose purpose.”

The ASCENT Conclave 2018 concluded on that positive and enlightening note.


YourStory is proud to be Outreach Partner for ASCENT Conclave 2018.