Entrepreneurs who take a study-break to find their management groove

It seems like the best time to start your own business. As the ‘follow your dreams’ mantra grabs imaginations like never before, people are on the hunt to discover what need can their unique talents and passions fulfil and how they can monetize it. With the reach of the internet and mobile phones, there’s also a good chance that you will find some degree of success provided that the need was identified correctly and that your goods or services are up to the mark.

For example, Ashish Pingle, 30, a dentist by education teamed up with a fellow student who was studying engineering at his university to create ‘Hammer & Mop’. He says, “Maintaining a clean & trouble-free home is a problem we all face every day and keeping a clean and error-free house is easier said than done. With the hassle of finding maids who respect our millennial standards, the highly unorganized and unreliable cleaners and repairmen market, and the paucity of time to devote away from work and leisure towards doing such menial chores, we wanted to provide a single, reliable and highly professional solution to home cleaning and maintenance. We bootstrapped and raised some initial funds from friends and family. For the first few months, the two of us were managing the business, and had 10-15 employees on the field. We just dived into solving the problem from day 1! We managed to earn the trust of over 4000 customers.”

However, after the high of the initial success comes the difficult question. Do you maintain your current status quo or do you grow. The lure of the big bucks brings with it issues of scaling up, of managing balance sheets and employees, and somewhere along the line, even investors and this is where your fun endeavour suddenly walks right into the wall of ‘business’.

If you want to grow as a company, you cannot work around learning how businesses work. At a certain point, your need-based / talent-based start-up will need to embrace management and all its associated jargon. Standing at such a crossroad, comes the hard decision – to keep the business running and hope for the best, or to quit their start-up or put it on hold while they gather the necessary skills to better handle their business, or plan their future ventures. We spoke to some entrepreneurs who have taken a break from their business to pursue a one year Post Graduate Programme in Management from the Indian School of Business…

Taking a one year ‘study’ break

Akshit Batra, 26, who’s done his Bachelor of Commerce Honours, Hansraj College, Delhi University, started ‘I Can Pvt Ltd’ to address the issue of quality education in the country. Today, the start-up is in the growth stage, and has tapped into almost 20 of the top institutions of the country, reaching out to over 5000 students. “At its core, I Can is for empowerment and to enable high school and undergraduate university students by providing them skills, experiences and opportunities that they require to become and remain internationally-competitive in the spheres of their choosing. We achieve this through multiple programs that work alongside existing curriculum at schools and universities. Our premier product is the Corporate Political Simulation, a mass-participation co-curricular activity that takes the form of a two to three-day conference where almost 400 students don the roles of corporate tycoons, media moguls, political behemoths, marketers, advertisers, lawyers, bankers, reporters, journalists, writers, and other creative professionals. Financially, we began making profits last year, and project almost 400% growth in net profits this financial year. I joined ISB to improve my knowledge, skills and networks especially in an Indian context. Another reason that attracted me to the PGP is that this programme is only for a year.”

A one year break seems to offer a good balance between time dedicated to self-improvement and developing new skills and staying away from the business for that duration. The one year Post Graduate Programme (PGP), which is ISB’s flagship course, is a regular full time MBA programme consolidated in one year. For entrepreneurs, this would seem like an ideal balance.

Karan Solanki, 28, who has done his Bachelors in Management Studies (Marketing) from Jai Hind College, Mumbai started Propertyfirst.com when he identified an unfulfilled need in the Indian real estate market. “I worked with the top real estate publisher clients in the US, UK and Canada and noticed a huge gap in online real estate information between India and abroad. My vision was to aggregate and curate verified property listings on an easy to use and informative platform with advanced features backed by personalized end-to-end advisory services. I started Propertyfirst.com in Jan 2012.” He’s left his company in the hands of four people who are managed by his father while he develops his skills at ISB.

Learning some skills

Some entrepreneurs, like Solanki, have some knowledge of running a business, thanks to his degree in Management Studies. However, for many, their knowledge might extend in functions and specialisations other than management, and more specifically marketing, which plays a vital role in the growth of a company.

Examchampz, which was started by Harsh Mittal, 27, Chartered Accountant, Company Secretary and CISA, along with his close friend, was doing quite well helping aspiring CA and CS students prepare for exams. However, since they felt that it had to be of a certain level of quality, they shut shop when he found that he could not balance it along with his full time job. Now a part of ISB’s PGP programme, he says, “ISB has the right mix of elements I value, the rich quality of students, a quick course which does not take too much time off your professional life and a brand which can truly add value. I realised I needed to know more about the management side of running a business. I am now learning about aspects like the importance of right positioning, marketing, etc, something we never learnt in college or when I did my CA.”

It also helps if you’re learning from the best. For example, ISB’s professors are from Founding Associate schools like Wharton, Kellogg and Associate Schools like London Business School and MIT Sloan, along with a good team of resident faculty.

Pingle, whose business ‘Hammer & Mop’ got acquired, wants to explore developing a business in the healthcare space. According to him, the PGP at ISB is the best platform to find a lasting solution to these issues, where his unique combination of healthcare specialization and entrepreneurship spirit will help him pursue a bottom-of-pyramid innovation which will significantly improve healthcare access and outcomes for India’s underserved population.

Looking for the next big idea

Another advantage of studying in a management institute is meeting like-minded people. For most entrepreneurs, it’s a solitary venture outside of your business partners, especially if friends and family are working regular jobs. However, spending time with fellow entrepreneurs opens opportunities for fresh perspectives and new ideas. For some entrepreneurs, the chance to explore new horizons seems like a good reason to pursue a management degree.

Shradha Agarwal, 26, has two ventures under her belt, Rosscare Veg & Fru Wash (a patented product launched with Emami Frank Ross Ltd.) and Speaking Walls (www.speakingwalls.in), which sold wall art, both offline and online. With a management degree from J.D.Birla Institute, Kolkata, as well as a Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws and a Summer School, London School of Economics & Political Science, Agarwal would seem like an unlikely candidate to go back to school, in this case, ISB. However, the thrill of coming up with innovative products is something that appeals to her. “ISB gives you the opportunity to test and launch your own idea of a start-up, and I am looking at coming up with a good idea and pilot by the end of the year,” she says.

ISB’s Entrepreneurship Venture Capital Club Hyderabad and Mohali has over 300 members and is one of the largest professional clubs at ISB. The club actively encourages its members to pitch any of their ideas to the entire group and help them take these ideas forward to become feasible working models.

Gagandeep Singh Anand, who has a Bachelors in Science in Economics and Business Administration from Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business (USA) sold off his company, VisualWorks Education, a graphic design, web design and animation training centre. However, he remains interested in the education space and is on the lookout for new ideas that he can develop into a business. He says, “Besides the academic knowledge from the professors, I’m also looking at developing a fantastic peer group, a strong network and maybe finding a business partner for my next venture.”

Getting ready for the future 

While there are growing concerns that the start-up bubble is all set to burst, the students at ISB remain optimistic about the future. Solanki feels that there is still major untapped potential in the Indian start up scene. “Easy access to funds has reduced, which has pushed firms from an ‘acquire customers at any cost’ strategy to ‘focus on improving profitability’. This change is necessarily not a bad thing for start-ups with a viable long term business model, but is exposing the ones which do not have a profitable and sustainable business model. Fundamentally, we can never remove the risk factor from any business and a start-up will never be any different regardless of size. Innovation is relatively much harder now than it was a couple of years back, but a focus on impeccable business management and execution opens up a multitude of opportunities for future start-ups to exploit.”

Knowing all the right moves in the business world, along with an understanding of how to run a company will help future entrepreneurs develop their business idea into a feasible business. Entrepreneurs who have discovered these shortcomings in their previous ventures has prompted them to fill in the gaps in their skill sets. Heading back to (b)-school seems like a winning strategy.