From books and beyond, Bangalore BizLitFest sheds light on entrepreneurship and the business of content
The fifth annual Bangalore Business Literature Festival (BBLF) will be held at WeWork Galaxy this coming Saturday. In our second preview article on the litfest, we feature insights from four speakers on entrepreneurship, Indian language content, learning on the job, and self-publishing. See also YourStory’s Book Review section with reviews of over 200 titles on entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation.
The BBLF speaker lineup this year includes Sudheesh Venkatesh (Chief People Officer, Azim Premji Foundation), Sona Maniar (author of Peasants at a Party and Other Stories), YourStory founder Shradha Sharma, Mukund Rajan (author of The Brand Custodian: My Years with the Tatas), Rishikesha Krishnan (Director and Professor of Strategic Management, IIM-Bangalore), and 20 others.
See Part I of our BBLF 2019 coverage here, as well as write-ups on the earlier editions of the festival in 2018 (storytelling, founder tips), 2017 (entrepreneurship, failure insights, founder stories), 2016 (grassroots entrepreneurship, startup ecosystems), and 2015 (business models, startup boom, storytelling).
“Reading is nourishment for the soul; besides gaining knowledge, it gives you great joy and happiness. Hence to get the best out a book, it is super important to read it slowly,” advises Shoaib Ahmed, Founder, Catalyster, and Cofounder, iSpirt.
The key is to have a reliable process of book selection, and also to cultivate a sense of learning from every book that is read. “For instance, The Godfather taught me the power of trust and helped me understand how unwritten contracts operate,” Shoaib explains.
This helped him construct a partner policy with zero paperwork, and was probably was the key to help his firm scale. He advises entrepreneurs to create or join a book readers club that meets every month and discuss books. This can be a very powerful learning tool.
Learning on the job
In addition to the wealth of learning resources offered via books and business schools, the most effective learnings may still come on the job. Business practices and lessons that are best picked up only at work include managing relationships and power and politics, according to Shalini Lal, co-author of The Secret Lives of Organisations.
“While this is often discussed in B-schools, you have to live it to really understand how you can respond in a way that is authentic to you and effective in the organisation,” she recommends.
A notable trend is the rise of books written by academics for non-academic audiences. As examples of professors who are able to take academic lessons and make them accessible to the broader public, Shalini points to Yuval Harari and Adam Grant (see my book review of Originals). “It's great that their books are available at airports. Few people actually visit bookstores anymore,” she jokes.
Entrepreneurship: myths and challenges
Some of the common myths about entrepreneurship are that it is about ruthlessness, high risk, and innate skills, explains Shoaib Ahmed of iSpirt. “While it is true that mortality rate of businesses is very high, there is a clear method to the madness.”
“Entrepreneurship is definitely not a gamble, though it is about dealing with unknowns. It involves cultivating and nurturing your sixth sense, trusting your intuition, articulating assumptions and obsessively reviewing them, and constantly gathering new insights while operating the business,” he says.
Shoaib adds that entrepreneurship is not a skill only some are gifted with. “We are all born to be enterprising. As babies, we learn to walk, climb stairs, run, and entertain ourselves in a very enterprising manner. Babies never take risks; they seem to know their boundaries. In fact babies are natural swimmers, and take to water quite naturally,” he explains.
Unfortunately, parents and society in general exert controlling influences to make the child conform; this kills the spirit of exploration, and instills fear. “Almost every enterprising child, who should be taught the power of imagination and collaboration, is bred in an environment of fear and competition, killing the natural gift of entrepreneurship,” Shoaib laments.
Another myth he identifies is that a successful entrepreneur is ruthless about making money, and that there is no place in business for principles, values, and ethics.
Content in Indian languages
There is a huge potential for growth of content in the vernacular languages of India. “I see publishing companies, including self-publishing and online publishing formats, turn their attention to vernacular content in the next few years,” observes Ganesh Vancheeswaran, author of Underage CEOs.
Apart from helping many writers tell their stories in their native languages, this will also fuel the need for service providers in those languages. “Publishing platforms that focus on vernacular, editors, translators, and proof-readers are some of the streams where opportunity will bloom in the coming years,” he predicts.
“I see a lot of translations into Marathi where people want to read biographies and business books in local languages as they can appreciate them better,” explains Vikrant Pande, writer and literary translator.
There are also some business books and stories that have been published first in Indian languages and then in English. “I was amazed that the book The Tatas: How a Family Built a Business and a Nation was published as Tatayan in Marathi first. Dharampal Gulati's biography Tangewala kaise bana masalon ka shahenshah, the story of the MDH Masala founder, was published in Hindi first,” Vikrant adds.
There is a huge demand for content consumption in local languages. “If good quality content is available in local languages, the demand far exceeds English,” he says. There is a huge opportunity for those who can write in local languages “but in modern prose and not using archaic language vocabulary”. This includes writing original content for Netflix and Amazon, web series, audio books, screenplays, and business portals in local languages, Vikrant recommends.
Self-publishing has democratised the act of publishing books. “It has given authors a more participative role in the publishing process and helped many people take their stories to the world. No wonder it has grown so much in India, because there is a large latent demand for such a service,” explains Ganesh Vancheeswaran.
However, this space still lacks the credibility that the traditional publishing model has, he cautions. “Getting yourself published through one of the major traditional publishing houses gives you a higher stature than self-publishing your book. And this is mainly because of the strict quality control standards that traditional publishing houses adhere to,” Ganesh adds.
He observes that a self-published book in India still leaves a lot to be desired, such as the quality of the manuscript, the editing, proof-reading, cover design and artwork and layout. “Self-publishing platforms and authors must admit this and work towards improving the book in every way. Only then will the credibility of the author and the industry go up,” Ganesh advises.
For authors, hiring an independent professional editor to edit their finished manuscript before submitting it to a self-publishing platform will also help a lot. Ganesh also advises authors to focus more on bringing out “best” books rather than “bestselling” books.
“Authors and publishers should give enough importance to the quality of the content. Slick packaging and marketing of books seems to have become more important than their ability to educate, entertain, enlighten, or transform the reader in some way,” Ganesh warns.
In addition to panel discussions on the above topics, BBLF 2019 will include a session on ‘The Art of Authorship’ by V Raghunathan. This retired professor from IIM-Ahmedabad has been writing a book a year for the last 15 years, and lists collecting locks as one of his hobbies. His books include Games Indians Play, Ganesha on the Dashboard, and Don’t Sprint the Marathon.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)