Lessons from the accidental entrepreneur: Dr Batra on business, passion and values
The red and blue logo of Dr Batra’s often needs no introduction. Homeopathy in India has been synonymous with Dr Batra's - the chain of modern homeopathy clinics that pioneered the use of technology to bring standardization to homeopathic healthcare solutions.
Dr Mukesh Batra, Founder & chairman emeritus of Dr Batra’s group of companies, is credited to have worked ground up by championing this stream of medicine in the country and as well internationally, especially the ‘Gulf’. And, owing to his ability to successfully treat his patients’ ailments, Dr Batra attracted some of the biggest movers and shakers of India’s movie industry, politics, singers and directors.
Dr Batra set up the first state-of-the-art branded homeopathy clinic in 1982. Today with over 200+ clinics in seven countries and a product company dealing with FMCG products for haircare, skincare and personal care, the founder has been instrumental in driving the acceptance and adoption of homeopathic line of treatments. In his autobiography titled The Nation’s Homeopath, published by HarperCollins, Dr Batra chronicles this journey and what it took to build one of the largest chain of homeopathic clinics.
Work for experience, not money
It was in 1974 when Dr Batra was among the youngest to graduate as a homeopathic doctor as a 22-year-old. In his early years of practice, he decided to intern at a reputed homeopathic clinic in the mornings for no money and took to opening his practice in the afternoons. Even though he had no patients most days, he continued to attend to the rare occasions when a patient would drop by.
He writes, “I believed in myself and I knew at some stage recognition would come my way. I pursued my charitable work with dedication, and no monetary expectation. When you're starting off in a profession, look for experience not money. If you do a job well you don't need to chase money, money chases you.”
Making the most of opportunities
An advice Dr Batra shares for young entrepreneurs and professionals is, “If you're asked to write something, or speak somewhere, do it. You may wonder about the point of it. So many people are writing and speaking, what's your two pennies’ worth going to achieve? You imagine it will sink into the vast sea of content and lie ignored on the ocean floor, next to the wreckage of the Titanic. But words once spoken or penned are always alive. And there may be some influential person who likes what you said, salvages it from the bottom of the sea, and gives your career a shot in the arm.”
He quotes his own experience of writing his first article for the ‘Mirror’ and how it led to one of Bollywood’s greatest playback singers, Mukesh Kumar reaching out to Dr Batra’s for consultation.
Besides writing columns for various publications, Dr Batra also anchored a weekly show on health and exercise on Zee TV, that went on to be aired for 100+ over three years. “It made Dr Batra’s a household name,” he writes.
“Through both media, I was able to popularise and propagate healing through homoeopathy. As an entrepreneur, you need to believe in yourself, be fiercely passionate about what you do, and bet your bottom dollar or rupee in your belief to achieve.”
The need to ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’
Dr Batra takes his readers back to 1982 when based out of a 400 sq ft clinic he decided to invest in an HCL computer that occupied half his desk and a dot matrix printer ‘that shook the entire building’. People thought he was foolish to do so when he could have spent the same amount in hiring a team of doctors and chartered accountants. Onboarding a nerdy patient and his team, Dr Batra was instrumental in making the first manuscript of an electronic medical health programme.
“My clinic was the first computerised homoeopathic centre in India, and it generated buzz everywhere. Journalists wrote about me. But more importantly, doctors from prestigious institutions like Bombay Hospital, Jaslok Hospital and Breach Candy Hospital would come to see the set-up. Years later, computerisation helped me set up the world's first cyber clinic as well.”
Soon after, yet another situation demanded yet another act of foolishness, writes Dr Batra. When he was asked to move out of one of his rented clinics, he decided to set up a new one. Given that healthcare wasn’t considered an industry those days and hence wasn’t funded, he was able to get some loan from a bank and borrowed the rest from individuals at a staggering interest rate of 36 percent.
“But, I was hungry, I had self belief, very important for an entrepreneur, you need to put your money where your mouth is.”
Expansion strategies: Key learnings
The years to come saw Dr Batra’s expanding, starting with a clinic in Bengaluru, and then to Vadodara, Delhi and so on. Here he says, one of the key learnings was to build a reasonable patient base and create good awareness before moving to a new city. “As it is, every new city I went to, people asked me, ‘You may have treated hundreds of patients in Mumbai, but how many have you treated in my city?’ That was a big learning for me and for anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur. People want to see results in their own city.’ He adds that once a brand or business is able to establish trust, word of mouth then opens the floodgates to customers.
He explains that expansion also necessitates a standardised business model that can be duplicated with precision and speed. Driven by this realisation, he assembled a strong operations team to put together protocols, comprising technology, the look and feel of the brand, standardization in medicine, training, treatment method and comprehensive localized marketing.
Dr Batra writes, penetrating the market is a logical next progression to setting base in metros and standardising the business model. “Having established a brand in a specific market , increasing the market size and share by penetrating the suburbs and peripheral locations helped us divide our overhead and marketing costs. Our strategy is to increase our reach to people based on a study that stated most patients will not travel more than three to five kilometers for medical assistance. Therefore you almost always find a Dr Batra’s clinic within walking distance of a major bus, train, or metro line. He adds that, ‘First impressions are also key, and brand recall plays an important part in ensuring success and market penetration. We therefore consciously sought locations that were in high speed areas, while still being accessible and convenient.”
Losing to win
In his autobiography, Dr Batra delves deep about his expansion internationally, challenges that came along the journey and how he was able to leverage his networks to address those. Talking about a clinic he launched in an upscale locality in Dubai that was to stand like a jewel, which he shelved soon after, he writes, ‘A good entrepreneur not just knows how to make profit, he also knows how to staunch losses. You may have created something very dear to you, but if it's failing and has become gangrenous, cut it off. Otherwise, you will lose the battle. I learned this extensively.
He also talks about hiring and letting go of a highly-paid blue-chip CEO who was to lead the international headquarters in Dubai. ‘Because while they may be qualified and deserving, they don’t always justify their salaries. You need not always have extensive people’ - being the bottomline that came out of that experience.
Building an organization that outlives
“Even as we chased growth, there were some things I never compromised on -- values were one of them. A company's values of safety, innovation, passion for excellence and care with compassion, have stood the test of time. It has helped us build a value-based organization. Value-based organizations succeed in trying times when others fail,” he writes.
In the book, Dr Batra touches upon the fact that as entrepreneurs there will be times when you are compelled to shift your focus from your original passion to something that needs attention. He also explains why growing as a professional, as a company, never stops. The book also draws upon his growing up years in Agra, his student activism days, experience of meeting actors, politicians, and even a brush with people connected with the underworld as a doctor who was delivering on his oath-bound duty.
“Through our passion and a vision, we doggedly pursued a goal to take Dr Batra’s to every home and give patients a choice. And as the old adage goes -- evolve or die. Our formula might not have been always right, but we were able to drive in the past lane and take Dr Batra’s brand from one to over 200 clinics in less than 20 years,” writes Dr Batra. This perhaps sums up why entrepreneurs must add this book to their reading list.
TITLE: The Nation’s Homeopath
AUTHOR: Mukesh Batra
PUBLISHER: HarperCollins India
BUY NOW: https://bit.ly/TheNationsHomeopath