The nitty-gritty of start-ups unravelled
Ideas don’t excite Amit Grover, founder of Nurture Talent Academy, India’s first training institute for entrepreneurs. Understandably, as the 32-year-old’s only job/hobby/muse, which he does with panache and a lot of passion, these days is to hear out sketchy proposals of aspiring businesspersons and help give it a shape. “I’ve heard so many ideas. Some of them are very basic and some extremely complex like 3D gaming, video analytics and customised advertising. I’ve listened to so many business plans that an idea as such doesn’t interest me. What I love is to see people who have passion, are willing to quit their jobs and start a firm. I want to support them,” says Grover.
An alumnus of IIT-Delhi (2001) and IIM-Indore (2005), Grover’s first brush with entrepreneurs happened when he joined Mumbai Angles (A network of angle investors) in 2007. At the same time, Grover was working at Mirc Electronics — popularly known as Onida — as an executive assistant to Gulu Mirchandani, the firm’s chairman and managing director. His primary job was to manage new initiatives, check out their feasibility, coordinate with R&D, analyse sales results etc. “I was in the chairman’s office and responsible for the overall strategy of the firm. I used to take care of any project that could not be assigned as a regular task to the operations team,” explains Grover.
His three-year stint at Onida (2006-09) was a turning point in Grover’s life. This is where he met Sasha Mirchandani (Gulu’s son and MD of Blue Run Ventures), a key player of Mumbai Angles. During the weekends, Grover along with Sasha, Prashant Choksey, CEO of Choksey Constructions, and other angle investors used to analyse potential start-ups for investments. “I used to meet entrepreneurs, see what they have, fight with them, negotiate etc,” says Grover. “People used to discuss their business ideas. But they would be clueless when asked about their business plan, marketing strategy, competitors and funding options. People had a good understanding of their core area but in business you need a lot of things to fall in place. If you’re meeting an investor and not telling him how much money you need then you’re wasting each other’s time.”
This is when Grover realised that while entrepreneurship is growing, people are making a lot of mistakes, which they ideally should not due to lack of training. “It’s not that the entrepreneur is not good or his idea is not workable but neither has he run a business in the past, met an entrepreneur nor did he study at an IIM,” explains Grover. “Even in IIM or IIT we were never taught on how to start a company. We were given training on how to run a large company with the given resources but the basics of how to get customers, how much to pay, how do you start a venture and what kind of investments are available were never answered.”
Despite a growing number of entrepreneur cells (e-cells) in various institutes, the stress is never on entrepreneurship. Academicians largely focus on how students can reach the top of the corporate ladder quickly, get a good pay package at a reputed MNC and so on. However, the going has never been so positive for budding entrepreneurs. India’s GDP growth is nearly 10 per cent and a lot of Indian start-ups like Makemytrip are doing well. The risk of doing business has also reduced — people feel they can still get a job if the venture fails.
However, the society’s perception of entrepreneurship hasn’t changed. “When I started my mother was supportive but there were few relatives who wondered if “Onida ne nikaal diya kya (Did Onida throw him out)? You can only laugh. The perception of working in a large company has its own glamour.”
Grover hopes to further the start-up boom by grooming first-time entrepreneurs. In January 2010, Nurture Talent Academy was set up in Mumbai and over 70 workshops attended by 1,300 plus entrepreneurs have been conducted across 23 Indian cities till now. Grover has also conducted workshops at IIT-Delhi, Bombay, Rupnagar and Kharagpur, IIM-Kozhikode, IIITM, Gwalior, MNIT, Allahabad and Thapar University, Patiala.
Brush with experts
The baby entrepreneur, as Grover describes himself, conducts interactive workshops that includes a bit of information sharing along with an opportunity for networking. Grover usually invites an entrepreneur/investor to share their experiences with the participants. More than 150 people have spoken at these workshops. Grover has been able to rope in corporate bigwigs like Sasha, Rajesh Sehgal, Rajiv Dadlani (angel investors), Sanjay Kulkarni (MD, Stern Stewart India) and Shantanu Surpure (managing attorney, Sand Hill India Advisors). “The purpose of getting experts to talk is not networking, it is to give real guidance, the real picture and a practical sense of doing things,” says Grover. “People may not believe Amit Grover but if the same thing was explained by an expert, you tend to accept and pursue it in a far more positive and realistic way.”
Students, working professionals and young entrepreneurs have attended his workshops. “Most of the time it is about how to make a business plan, marketing, research, cost of doing sales, team building, how to get finance, working capital management, cash flow analysis, accounting statements, etc,” explains Grover. Typically it costs around `2,500 for a day’s workshop and `1,500 for half-day. “I attended the workshop to get an overview of how the trade works. Other than my core expertise, which is design, I don’t know much about setting up a business. I was glad I could interact with people from diverse backgrounds — an artist was also present. It gave me the right perspective,” says 30-year-old Swati Santani, who attended the workshop in October in Bangalore and runs Working Radius, a furniture design firm. “Grover gave a detailed explanation of how to calculate prices and how to manage finances. I got to know what was missing in my business plan,” says 27-year-old Summaiya Aslam, who runs the ad agency The Blue Pen. “Now, I’m able to guide my employees on how to close a deal.” Hyderabad-based Aslam attended Grover’s workshop in January.
A year’s journey
His first workshop — a month-long one (Grover had initially planned a lengthy course module, which he downsized to attract more people — people want short programmes where their questions are answered, he says) — had only one student, Tushar Gaurav. Twenty-nine-year-old Gaurav, who was working at a data centre wanted to open his own firm, so he linked up with Grover. “While I knew my target group, I needed to understand other aspects of business like cost of the product and where is the money going to come from, hence I attended the workshop,” says Gaurav. “It streamlined my thought process. Such courses are essential. You meet diverse people with whom you exchange ideas. The academy doesn’t show you a pot of gold but makes you realise your strengths and weaknesses.” Gaurav went on to start Ria Info Solutions and was also lucky to get Grover on its board.
Nurture Talent Academy’s second workshop had three people but within a year the number increased to 35. Getting participants was never an issue for Grover. Through Google ads, posts on websites dedicated to entrepreneurs and alumni networks, Grover was able to spread the word. The challenge was to get expert speakers but his database of over 8,000 entrepreneurs was more than adequate. Though Google’s success inspired millions, Grover prefers to narrate Indian stories. “I want to highlight the Indian entrepreneurs and their success stories, so I talk about Makemytrip, India mart, Myntra, etc — they’re like the guy next door, so you could also be like him,” says Grover.
Grover’s immediate goal is to inspire and train 1,000 people to start businesses that will create nearly 20,000 jobs. His ultimate goal is to transform the academy into a large talent pool. “I don’t want to start a campus or degree programme. If we make it too formal and structured and say this is the only way to become an entrepreneur, it will actually kill the spirit,” he says. “I want to be the first person to connect with an entrepreneur at the time he’s thinking about it. When they grow, Nurture Talent grows. An entrepreneur needs mentoring, advising, training, consulting, sales training, investment, incubation, legal and audit filing — these are some of the services I hope to offer at some point. The businessmen who go out of these workshops will come back as experts/investors and share their experiences with other.”
Most of the participants keep in touch with Grover. He’s like a call centre — a helpline for aspiring businessmen. People keep calling him to discuss ideas and network. “When you start a venture, a lot of fronts open up simultaneously and it’s important to know how to prioritise things. This, I learned at the programmes,” says Rajat Kirtania, 39, who attended two of Grover’s workshops and runs Unimax Telecom.
Grover is on the board of three companies. He has a eight-month-old son Ashwin and wife Sona. Nurture Talent Academy also conducts online workshops. More details at www.nurturetalent.com
You can become an entrepreneur too!
Amit Grover believes everybody can become an entrepreneur as long as one is willing to sacrifice certain things. “It’s like love and when it happens you can do it,” he says. “I was meeting entrepreneurs everyday and when you meet Shah Rukh Khan everyday, you want to become a Shah Rukh Khan. The date it happened, I understood this is what I wanted to do my whole life. From then on, I never felt the need to go back to a job.” While there are no qualities that define an entrepreneur, we asked Grover to list out what he thinks are the essentials. And they are:
■ Have an objective. Keep moving towards it
■ Offer what customers want
■ You need to have the tenacity to continue. Around 80-90 per cent give up after encountering the very first roadblock
■ Energy — An ideal entrepreneur has limitless energy, which is required to achieve his vision. This energy allows him to overcome any fatigue, competition, challenges etc
■ Ability and passion — an entrepreneur cannot survive only on passion or ability to do things, it needs to be a combination of both. There are lots of people who are capable but lack passion. While others are passionate, they lack the ability to realise their dreams
Finally, this is Grover’s advise to budding entrepreneurs. “Spend 100 days with your idea. It’s like your wife. And after that if you don’t have answers for questions like market size, competition and team members, then don’t jump into it. You need to balance your excitement against the maturity of being an entrepreneur. Please don’t venture out if you have home loans or other liabilities.”