Connect The Dots


In her first book Stay Hungry Stay Foolish Rashmi Bansal profiled twenty five entrepreneurs who were alumni of IIM – Ahmedabad. Many had then wondered including yours truly, how important an MBA degree is to become an entrepreneur. Rashmi claims this inspired her to write Connect The Dots, story of twenty one entrepreneurs but who dont have an MBA degree. The format of the book is same as her last book. There are twenty chapters, one on each entrepreneur (Gaurav Rathore & Saurabh Vyas who co founded PoliticalEDGE are covered in one chapter) and the entire chapter is based on one single interview.

The book is divided in three sections : Jugaad, Junoon & Zubaan. Jugaadis are those who didn’t get any formal training in business but learned by observing, experimenting and applying their mind. It includes some one like Kunwer Sachdev  of Su-Kam who created a Rs 500 crore company from scratch; Ganesh Ram, who started what is today India’s largest English training academy, VETA when there were no BPOs and no one knew that English coaching would be as big a market as it is now.

Junoonis as the name suggests, are passionate about something that is ahead of its time. This was my favorite section in the book. Gaurav Rathore and Saurabh Vyas envisioned a consulting and research firm exclusively for politics and founded PoliticalEDGE; Satyajit Singh, founder of Shakti Sudha not only created a new industry but also benefited thousands of farmers in rural Bihar; Chetan Maini, founder of Reva, designed a solar car and has been producing electric cars since the time when global warming was  not so well known and creating electric cars seemed to make little sense.

The third section Zubaan is about creative people like Paresh Mokashi, creator of Harishchandrachi Factory, India’s official entry to Oscar last year or Krishna Reddy, whose Prince Dance Group, consisting of daily wage laborers won India’s Got Talent last year.

I had great hopes from the book as I loved Stay Hungry Stay Foolish. The first chapter on Prem Ganpathy is literally a rags to riches story of someone who came to Mumbai with no money and now owns Dosa Plaza, a fast food chain with 26 outlets in the country.The rest of the stories too are very encouraging. The book is replete with inspiring anecdotes and quotes . When I read the synopsis on the third section i.e. Zubaan, I thought it would be probably the weak link in this book as stories on creatives who had made it big in the field of art would be a misfit in this book about entrepreneurs. However, all these artists achieved commercial success by following their passion and this justifies their inclusion in this book about Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship after all is about following your heart.

Generally when the first book is good and successful authors fail to recreate the magic in their subsequent books and that too in the same genre, as people have high expectations. In this case Rashmi Bansal definitely exceeded my expectations. A very good book and must read for some one aspires to be an entrepreneur.

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Stay Hungry Stay Foolish

The title of the book, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish is inspired by the last sentence of the commencement address given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005. In his landmark speech, Jobs chronicled the ups and downs of his life and explained how the low points in his life helped him in achieving great heights. The book is about 25 entrepreneurs who graduated from IIM Ahmedabad and chose the difficult path of entrepreneurship rather than joining or continuing with cushy jobs, high salaries and like Steve, had their low points but did not give up. The author, Rashmi Bansal is an alumni of the institute and an entrepreneur.

The oldest alumni profiled in the book graduated in 1967 from IIM A whereas the youngest in 2004. Most of them were from middle class backgrounds and had been to some of the best colleges in the country as under graduates. Many would be surprised to read that for quite a few of them, taking admission into IIM A was not a result of any well planned strategy but a decision taken almost at the last moment. In those days, IIM aspirants were still in four digits unlike today when more than two lakh people take CAT (IIMs entrance exams).

The book was commissioned by IIM A probably to drive home the point that it does not just produce people who can sell financial instruments & soap. But after reading the book one does not get the impression that the institute imbibes the culture of entrepreneurship in its students. All the people profiled in the book were either Believers (people who knew that entrepreneurship is the chosen path for them even before they joined IIM), Opportunists ( who seized their chance when they saw it, much long after graduating from the institute) or Social Entrepreneurs. There is no instance where the premier B School of the country had influenced or inspired anyone to be an entrepreneur. Of course most entrepreneurs give credit to the “insurance” of a job that an IIM tag gives them and the alumni network which played a very crucial role in some of the success stories covered in the book.

But what about the primary function of any educational institute? Was there any special learning from the institute or any special moment within the institute which played a crucial role in their decision to find their own way ? Very few. A few did take some entrepreneurship electives and the institute now boasts of an incubator (the book is funded by the same) but for most, the institute played little or no role in inspiring or guiding them to strike out new paths.

One wonders what would have been the fate of the same people had they not been a part of IIM A or for that matter any B School ? Would they have been still successful without the “insurance” of a well paying job or the alumni network ? Does a believer really need an MBA education ? Probably a Stay Hungry Stay Foolish – Part 2 which covers entrepreneurs who had not been to B Schools can answer such questions.

Of the profiles covered in the book, there is a good mix of people from different sectors. From the founder of naukri.com, manufacturer of Sintex tanks, a sugar baron to the founder of First Micro Finance Institution in the country. Each chapter of the book is actually a candid interview of the author with the people profiled. Of course, it would have been better if more research was done rather than just basing the entire chapter on one single interview (the financials seemed to be updated & verified). But then the book is not about the businesses that these 25 people founded but about their never say die attitude. The book does not claim to be a primer on Entrepreneurship but like Steve’s speech at Stanford aims to inspire the younger generation with real stories that it pays to remain hungry and foolish. And the book is more than successful in driving home that point !!

Don’t miss this book if you ever thought about striking out on your own but were bogged down by the risks involved. As the book says, in life there is always risk involved and security is not everything. I can’t agree more.

The 3 mistakes of my life

Despite the fact that One Night At Call Center  was disappointing, I was eagerly awaiting for Chetan Bhagat’s third book as he is one of those rare Indian English writers who writes for Indian readers . In this book, Chetan has combined Cricket, Politics and Business, in trying to portray the aspirations of contemporay young India. It is the story of three young Indians from a middle class background who aspire to make it big. The book succeeds in touching a chord when it deals with the struggle of the three protagonists, Govind, Ishaan and Omi, in setting up their business. Cricket is omnipresent throughout the book but when it comes to Politics, the book is as clueless as its three main characters.

 

There are few similarities between this book and Five Point Someone. Both the books have three main characters and a leading lady for one of them so that situation for the mandatory sex scene can be created. But the similarity ends here. The humour is not as good as it was in Five Point Someone also the sex scene this time somewhat contributes to the storyline unlike his previous books. The book is fast paced and is obviously written with a potential block buster in mind. The prologue of the book succeeds in making this book unputdownable even in the first few chapters, when the book drags a little.

Chetan did an excellent research for Cricket and it shows in the book. However if he had done half that research on Politics as well, the book would have been a must read. Or maybe dumbing down Politics in the book is not such a bad idea, considering the target audience for the book. But the book scores on the portrayal of small town India and its aspirations. When Govind aspires to own a chain of Sports Goods stores one day, he represents ambition and hope of millions of Indians. Through Ishaan, Chetan has taken a subtle dig at Indians for whom watching cricket is a substitute for patriotism. The characters of Govind and Ishaan has evolved really well. But the same cannot be said about Gopi. Infact none of the remaining characters has shaped well.

After IITs and Call Centers, Chetan has chosen communalism as the backdrop for this book. Such a serious issue demands much more research than done by Chetan. Looks like Chetan had just read some riots stories and made an opinion about the cliched communal psyche of the Gujarati society. However the book succeeds in portraying the entrepreneurial spirit of Gujaratis.

A much better book than One Night At Call Center but Five Point Someone is still Chetan’s best book.

The Polyester Prince

 

The Polyester Prince is not just a biography of Dhirubhai Ambani but also a very good reference book about the functioning of the Indian Polity and Media since independence. Hamish McDonald has done a great job in chronicling the life of Dhirubhai Ambani and the fact that the book is banned in India (as the Ambanis found it defaming and fought a court case to get the book banned) would only make it more authentic in the eyes of many. 

The book starts off with Dhirubhai’s adolescence and his participation in India’s Freedom struggle. Not many are aware that it was during the struggle against the Nawab of Junagadh, who was averse to integrating his state with India, Dhirubhai had his first brush with authority and realised the importance of maintaining good relations with the ruling class. The book then chronicles his journey from Yemen to Mumbai. The major part of the book deals with the legendary rivalry between Dhirubhai and Nusli Wadia for the Polyester market. Of course Dhirubhai with the help of his well wishers in Government and Media not only wins this war but makes Reliance Industries a force to reckon with in India Inc. The author compares their rivalry with the Mahabharata but rightly concurs with Blitz, a Mumbai based tabloid now defunct, that in this Mahabharata it is difficult to tell who is Pandav and who is Kaurav ? The purists may scoff at the means of Dhirubhai but for millions of shareholders and investors who grew along with Reliance, Dhirubhai was on the path of Dharma.

In most parts, the book holds your interest as you read about the murky details of corruption and the unholy nexus between Businessmen, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Media. However, the book gets slightly boring when the author writes in great detail about the technical aspects of  Polyester. Hamish has been able to do justice with most of the facts as he has mentioned in detail how Gurumurthy had the support of Ramnath Goenka of The Indian Express and how Dhirubhai had cultivated friendship in not just almost every other major newspaper but also with senior Govt officials and ministers including RBI Governor, CBI Director and senior Cabinet Ministers like Pranab Mukherjee who were always eager to circumvent or change rules to benefit Dhirubhai!! However Hamish fails to reasonably explain why Gurumurthy, convenor of Swadeshi Jagran Manch and an RSS idealogue crusades against Dhirubhai on behalf of Nusli Wadia. One reason could be the fact that Nusli was ideologically close to Sangh Parivaar. His friendship with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani is well known but what is not well known is the fact that his son Jeh Wadia has even worked as a volunteer for an organisation of Nanaji Deshmukh, an RSS idealougue, for an year in Chitrakoot. The book fails to investigate this aspect of Nusli’s life.

Apart from the legendary tales about Dhirubhai’s business acumen that is common folklore now what makes the book different from normal biographies is the excellent research and narration of behind the scenes activities of Businessmen, Politicians, Bureaucrats and Journalists. Hamish who had worked for The Washington Post, Financial Times and the Far Eastern Economic Review has done a great job in leveraging his experience and contacts to make this book a must read for any one who has interest in India’s business history since Independence.