Rashmi Bansal Interview
How did the idea of writing about entrepreneurs occur to you in the first place?
Rashmi Bansal: The idea which led to the book ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ came from Prof Rakesh Basant of IIM Ahmedabad’s CIIE (Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship’). The idea was to document the success stories of 25 entrepreneurs who were IIM A alumni. However, the shape the book took in terms of being conversational and motivational was my unique contribution to the project.
Having written extensively about entrepreneurs and interacting with them, what do you think are the biggest challenges that they face in the country?
Internal factors include lack of support from family, lack of confidence and fear of failure.
External factors include the difficulty of raising initial capital and of monetizing good ideas.
What is that key factor that keeps them going despite all challenges?
Belief, passion, can-do spirit. Also the determination ‘not to fail’!
How many entrepreneurs, do you think have a long term focus and are working towards building long lasting organizations?
In this country, you have to build a lasting organization. Because buyouts and mergers are still relatively uncommon. And would say every entrepreneur in India does want to ‘build to last’ and is, in fact, over-emotional about the enterprise at times.
Can you share your insights from your interactions with entrepreneurs across the country and across sectors that you would like to share with both the entrepreneurs in this country and your readers, a kind of synthesis of your work till now?
First generation entrepreneurs generally have little or no capital. So they enter either the knowledge space (eg IT) or a cash-flow-positive business such as education or food (where people pay up front). Manufacturing remains the domain of the traditional business communities.
It takes 7-10 years for a new business to mature and give results in the form of scale, size and market share. This process is often helped greatly by external factors. Example the explosion of malls helped all apparel makers, lifestyle products by providing a ready distribution platform to those who had understood the business and had created a ‘brand’.
So generally I would advise that if your idea or product is ‘ahead of its time’ you may struggle for a while. But you will reap the benefits over time.
Your stories are told from protagonist’s point of view and that may not give the complete picture of the businesses/organizations that they are running. Do you think adding the other angles like what the customers/beneficiaries/stakeholders think would complete the stories?
I do talk to other stakeholders including employees, investors, family members and others. But unless they mention something very compelling I don’t include it with attribution. But it adds a flavor to the story.
It’s like painting a picture. You have an entire palette of colors but choose which ones to use. I use what helps to bring life, color and a unique stamp of personality. It is an art, more than a science and I do not want to disturb it by bringing in too much rationality.
The formula is to go with the flow.
If there was one advice that you have to give to the youth of this country, what would it be?
Start small but dream big. You can be anyone you want to be – no matter how crazy it sounds. All you need is to believe in yourself.
What is the best reader feedback you have received for your books?
When someone emails me to say ‘I just quit my job’ after reading your book. That means my book was able to light up a fire within someone. That makes it more than a ‘book’.
You focus has been on those who are reasonably well educated. Do we sometimes see you writing about people who thrived even without a good education?
My book ‘Poor Little RIch Slum’ on the spirit of enterprise in Dharavi features several people who have had little or no education. It depends on the theme – I am open to anyone and everyone with an inspiring story.
In future, do we see you writing about global entrepreneurs too?
Rashmi Bansal: Yes, I am keen to write a book on global social entrepreneurs. Am currently researching the idea and looking for funding, as such a project would require extensive travel.