Harish Behl is a serial entrepreneur, is an incubator in the internet space and owns the most successful internet brands. But before getting into the internet space, he built bullet proof cars. Harish is the founder of Smile Interactive, Quasar and Tyroo. They also built the technology behind makymytrip.com.
Today, Harish is an incubator, getting successful professionals to take the plunge and become successful entrepreneurs. We at IAMAI, organized an interaction with Students under our CEO Series. Here are some excerpts from his musings.
Journey as an entrepreneur
Even as a child, while in school, I was convinced that I was not going to work for anyone. And, this was due to a very clear mathematical association in my mind: if someone was going to pay me, say Re. 1 for doing a particular job, I would certainly be bringing in at least Rs. 2 for the person, else why would the employer pay me Re. 1. So my thought process was, if this logic was correct, why should I part with something I had created. This is a DNA issue with some people like me.
Over the years, I also learnt another aspect of the way people and organisations worked. As in every other case, there existed the 80:20 rule in terms of the efforts put in by people and the benefits accruing to them. In every organisation, it is only 20% of the persons who work and the rest 80% reap the benefits of their work. Which essentially meant, that if you are that 20% who is working then you are earning for the other 80% as well. In a sense you are earning Rs. 5 but getting into your personal kitty only Re.1. I realised early on, that I was one of the 20% but I was not going to sit there and earn for someone else. Therefore I was very clear that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. However, everyone can not become an entrepreneur.
When I stepped out of Engineering College, I knew nothing about starting or running businesses. I was not a very bright student in college; just an average student.
Again, in my mind, there was a mathematical formula for business: profit equals selling price minus costs. While this is very basic, the fact is that the greatest value you can create is profit. Unless your business venture is profitable you can not play the valuations game.
It is difficult to start a business when you are young and inexperienced. While you are high on energy and passion, what goes against you is the fact that you are not quite sure of how to go about things and you lack support. Today, after I have run a few businesses successfully, people will listen to me and support any idea I might have, however, when you have nothing to show for success, people will not support you.
You need to recognise an opportunity when it comes your way and then have the courage of conviction to implement it. My first business opportunity had nothing to do with computers, even though I am a computer engineer by training. Infact, the entire company had only three computers between 700 employees. The opportunity was to make bullet proof cars.
Here I recognised that there was an opportunity to make profits, as there was only one other company in India making bullet proof cars and there were orders waiting to be delivered. There was money waiting to be made and the task for challenging. The Government of India had orders for about 500 bullet proof cars. Anyone who was willing to make them would have been given the order. I decided to capture the opportunity and become that person.
Within 6 months, I ensured that my clients, who I was supposed to advise on making bullet proof cars, had taught me how to make them. Within a year, I was the largest manufacturer of bullet proof cars in India. So it is all about recognizing and capturing an opportunity.
A great idea, with a great team being implemented at a bad time will never work. However, an average idea, with an average team brought out at the right time, will be extremely successful. While choosing your business idea and the sector you have to ensure that it has enough tailwinds for the next 10-15 years. If the sector is getting into a headwind situation, the going will be tough and it is unlikely that your idea will be a great success. Today, there are a number of youngsters trying to set up software offshoring companies, there is little chance however, that they will become the Narayanmurthys of the future. For that matter, naukri.com wasn’t such a great idea either; it is just that it was an idea that was launched at the right time. Therefore entrepreneurship is more about practical thinking.
And, for some people the charm in the opportunities wears out sooner than later. For me, the kick I was getting from making bullet proof cars wore out quickly. There was no more innovation to be done, it was routine and the environment was not very conducive either. I recognised the weak signals and decided that I needed to move on to another sector, another business altogether. I decided to shut shop and look for another opportunity, once again clueless of what I was going to do.
I gave myself three years and decided that if I was not able to make a successful business, I would take up a job somewhere. The million dollar question, as they say, was what is that business idea that I was going to make into successful business. Since I was unable to find an idea, I decided at least I must find myself a name and then the name could be changed around based on what I was finally going to get into. Since I smiled a lot and I thought it would be nice to do something to make my clients smile, I decided to call my company “Smile”. But Smile was incomplete, and I to make it a complete name I decided to call it Smile Marketing. I am more of a jugaadu than a technology person, which was also the inspiration behind adding the “marketing” to the name.
My first client in my company happened to be a friend, who was working with Jagatjit Industries. He was trying to figure out what I did and then suddenly asked me if we did multimedia CDs as that was something they were looking to get done on an urgent basis. I sensed an opportunity, and said yes, even though I had no idea how it was going to be delivered. Jagatjit’s current vendor had given them a timeline of 6 months and a budget of 2 lacs, Jagatjit had neither time nor the budget of this kind. They needed this done in a week’s time and I agreed.
Now came the next hurdle, my friend asked me to make a credentials presentation. I had no credentials to present in this area. So I created a beautiful looking CD cover, took a CD scratched it so it wouldn’t work and went to meet my friend the next morning. In those days, laptops were very rare and even if you had something to present on a CD it was an achievement in itself. In the meeting the CD obviously did not work so I told my friend that there might be some problem with his computer, as the CD had worked in my computer that morning. I then convinced my friend that I could deliver the job in a week’s time and quoted a figure of Rs.50,000, when he expressed his surprise at the figure I thought it was too high and so I reduced the fees to Rs. 40,000. But I had a big name in my pocket. In this case, credibility wasn’t really the issue but speed was of essence. And, you need to be smart enough to recognise what is important in which situation.
Now the third hurdle; how was I to deliver something I had no clue about. I started my search through my network of friends and finally found someone, who was struggling to run a small business and was learning some multimedia software. I told him I wasn’t going to pay him but could give him an opportunity to do some live work. The person agreed and we delivered our first project.
I went on to establish a number of companies. These include companies such as Quasar and Tyroo, wh