An evening with Kunal Bahl of SnapDeal.com

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Kunal Bahl, CEO Snapdeal.com, spoke enthusiastically to the members of EO New Delhi, sharing details of his fascinating journey of founding and growing the very successful Snapdeal.com. It seems like it all started back in 2006 in Kunal’s bedroom when he and his friend, Rohit Bansal, an IIT Delhi graduate came up with an idea for a business that provided discount coupons.

Though they lacked market research and business analysis, their enthusiasm, determination and simply put, their guts allowed them to forge forward and start their business. Their initial months of effort were disappointing. Even though they experimented with different products, nothing they proposed struck a chord with either retailers or consumers!

Somewhere amidst their struggles, Kunal realized the tremendous potential of digital commerce and decided to jump into the online realm. They began working on their online platform and it wasn’t until February 2010 that they named themselves snapdeal.com! With no clue how to run this internet company, the team faced many hurdles! Not only were retailers unwilling to try something new, they were still running the company from their homes, were unable to hire competent staff and were still spending most of their seed capital on salaries!

Cut to 2013 when snapdeal.com has proved itself as one of the largest online marketplaces in India. It has over 2 crore registered users, more than 40 lakh listed products, more than 500 categories and a sales force that exceeds 1000 employees.

This session was graced with the presence of members from EO Kolkata, EO Pune and EO Japan.

Some excerpts from the Q&A session with Kunal Bahl

EO: How do you handle supply chain issues?

KB: In other business models, sellers ship directly to the consumers of their choice. At Snapdeal.com we have created a technology to integrate all courier companies. We select these courier companies on the basis of their service and performance. So we have 100% track-ability and full control over shipping of the product. Our 20% – 80% of orders are shipped within 24 hours.

EO: How do you select your vendor? What role did an IITian play in company?

KB: We look at sellers’ financial statements, product samples and their willingness to sell. Also there is a seller score on the website. IIT helped us on the technology side.

EO: Amazon is entering our country, what’s your strategy?

KB: Most well established companies foray into Indian market with a set framework but fail, as the industry is highly unpredictable. Our philosophy is that if a person is rich he will not shop online. We target the middle-class that forms 80% of online shoppers in India. No one who matters to this ecosystem knows about Amazon. Amazon has to start at zero with them.

Kunal Bahl: Experiences & Learnings

1. Don’t do it alone: Finding the right partner and being persistent is the key to success.

2. Need for speed: It’s best not to over think your idea. Start small and learn quickly!

3. Know whom to hire, when to hire: Place great emphasis on your hiring policy. At SnapDeal, candidates have to clear 4 rounds of interview and present their own business plan in order to get selected. Kunal explained that he prefers candidates who can market themselves, have good communication skills and who put their hearts into their work.

4. Your culture will define your success: Place great emphasis on the work culture in your office. Kunal described the work culture at SnapDeal as positive and informal. Its employees are called team members and are all provided the same office space. In fact, the office is like an extended living room, has a balanced gender ratio and much emphasis is given to motivating employees.

5. Be a missionary company: Always set goals and missions that seem beyond your reach. Kunal explained how goals are defined for each quarter at SnapDeal and employees are motivated to achieve them. He said that goals that had seemed impossible were achieved many times!

6. Step out of your comfort zone: Push yourself and be shameless in competition! Kunal elaborated by mentioning a successful campaign by SnapDeal wherein they sold Durex condoms for only Re. 1 on Valentine’s Day. Even though all the marketing gurus disapproved of their idea, they were able to sell 1.5 lakh condoms.

7. Investment in brand is good: It is always good to invest in your brand. Brand building exercises can often bear interesting fruits! Kunal shared his experience of how a village in North India named Shivnagar changed its name to Snapdeal.com Nagar after the company provided them fresh water!

8. Make your company stand for something and live it, breathe it: Streamline your activities to suit your target market. Kunal explained that SnapDeal doesn’t want to cater to everything and everyone. It specifically targets people who want to save money. All their activities and even their taglines (‘Bachatey Raho’ and ‘Helping India, Save Money’) have made this crystal clear.

9. Phenomenal growth: SnapDeal has surely experienced a phenomenal growth. It sells a saree and mobile every 2 minutes. It adds a new product every 30 seconds and has a strong network of sellers. Kunal then showed a moving video of how SnapDeal has changed the lives of small town retailers.

10. Be positive, content and happy: Above all, Kunal said that he believes that to be successful a person needs to be happy and optimistic.

An Interaction with G M Rao

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Following its theme – Live, Laugh and Learn, Eo New Delhi held an enlightening event with Mr. Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao, Founder and Chairman of GMR group, who shared his life story from humble beginnings to private jets! An introductory video was played to showcase the journey of GMR group, which evolved from a jute company to a well-diversified group.

When Mr. Rao took the podium and addressed EO members, he said that his daughter and son-in-law were a part of EO as well, and he found EO to be a great forum to learn.

He then shared his own and GMR’s growth story. Mr. Rao shares a common goal with EO: a Thirst for Learning. In every role he played, be it a student leader, trader, manufacturer, banker, and infrastructure developer he learnt valuable lessons and desired to learn more.

Mr. Rao was born in Rajam, a small village in Andhra Pradesh. In his early days he helped his father in handling the family Jute business, which gave him an insight into managing diverse stakeholders. Later he graduated in mechanical engineering from Andhra University, where he was a student leader. The leadership and teamwork skills he learnt in that role helped him highly in his whole career. His father insisted upon him to get a job and thus he worked briefly for A P Paper Mills where he recalls observing closely how a businessman runs a company. Then he joined as an Executive Engineer with the state’s PWD and it was here he was introduced to infrastructure projects.

When his father passed away, Mr. Rao left the job and joined his family business. Though the Jute business was yielding profits, he had a burning desire to step out of his comfort zone and achieve more. It was this desire that made him foray into manufacturing operations in 1978 and over the License Raj years set up 28 units in steel rolling, ferro alloys, sugar, alcohol and banking, amongst others. As a manufacturer he learnt two things, 1) how to manage workers and 2) God is in the details.

The other valuable lesson he learnt was 3) not to be emotionally attached with his businesses which is evident by the fact that he has sold off many of his businesses. A brewery he started in partnership with Shaw Wallace, was sold off to Vijay Mallya. There was a sugar mill, which was sold to EID Parry. From agro-business, GMR moved into finance, buying shares in the Vysya Bank, of which he then became chairman. At Vysya Bank, his network widened to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “Every business I diversified into was new to me”, said Mr. Rao.

The economic liberalization of India in 90s proved to be a great opportunity for Mr. Rao. By then his sons were MBA graduates and helped him in the business, suggesting strategies and charting a vision statement for the GMR group. They decided to focus on the two main sectors Agriculture and Infrastructure. GMR group was already into Agro business so they tried their hands at infrastructure and put up power plants in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

By the time there was a bid to built the Hyderabad airport, GMR group was already into building roads and power plants. He won the bid beating L&T, even though he wasn’t sure how to go about it. He spent a lot of time, energy and money; and hired the best consultants and visited airports all over the world to learn the complex system of airport construction and management. As an infrastructure developer he learnt that whatever you do make it world class.

“When given the option to build an airport, I chose New Delhi rather than Mumbai because Mumbai has a lot of constraints. There were challenges in Delhi too. It was my first business in Delhi and coordinating with 58 departments was difficult, but there was a passion for the life time opportunity”. GMR group completed IGI Terminal 3 New Delhi Airport project on time. The airport that even EO New Delhi members are proud of.

Mr. Rao gives a great importance to family and has implemented the best practices of European business families. He proudly shared his idea of family constitution, with EO New Delhi. Each of his family members is allotted a mentor. The family council meets regularly to sort out even the smallest of issues and also encourages the participation from female members. All his family members are involved in the business – son-in-law Srinivas Bommidala runs the group’s highways and urban infrastructure business, while his sons Kiran K. Grandhi and G.B.S Raju run the airport and international business.

Mr. Rao is a humble man and dreams of a small fiat car and small apartment in Visakhapatnam. He is a stickler for details and gave innumerable examples of how he always keeps a close eye on quality control, technical processes, and the nitty-gritty; be it in the sugar mill he runs in his home district, or the power plant in Mangalore, or the runway at T3. He places a great importance on values, beliefs, and social responsibility.

Excerpt from the Q&A session with Mr. GM Rao

EO: You’ve evolved as a student leader; do you think your closeness with the political leaders helped you in anyway?

GMR: It is true that Venkaiah Naidu is my classmate. But there was no political support at any time. Whatever we have achieved it is created by me, my family, employees, values and attitude. We have policies and we follow it.

EO: You talk of business life in two parts, Pre & Post economic reforms. For the pre-economic reforms part, how you diversified into 28 sectors in just span of 15 years?

GMR: My belief is if you empower people they’ll be successful, you just need to review and check them.  I used to do everything by myself in the Jute business and it was a great learning. For every new project I went into minute details at first. The project started slowly and then came momentum. Challenges were always there.

EO: How many hours in a day were you working?

GMR: Those days there were no mobiles or digitalization so I worked for around 14 to 16 hours per day.

EO: What are your core values in life?

GMR: Humility and Teamwork.

EO: What is your view on starting early vs starting late as an entrepreneur?

GMR: I started early, as an entrepreneur but there was an imbalance in my life. There were times when I wasn’t able to spend time with my family and I got stressed. But luckily I moved towards spirituality and yoga and it helped me a lot. Now I spend time with my family and myself. A happy family is a necessity. So whenever you start there must be work life balance. And I personally believe the Universe helps you to achieve your dreams.

“I thought an airport was nothing more than a runway and a building! I had built roads and factories, so I told Chandra Babu I can build an airport!” But we finally built a world-class airport.

EO: I feel proud that we have IGI T3 but as an entrepreneur is it a good idea to get into something that gets you into the limelight? What if something goes wrong and there is a media leak?

GMR: Initially when something went wrong I was depressed. But then I focus my energy on how to prevent it. If there are any gaps I review it. There are 32 service parameters, processes and strong review mechanisms. I spend the whole day focusing on quality control; I feel reviews are very important for a complex project. If something still goes wrong and there is a media leakage, we immediately react and try to not repeat it.

EO: You are a serial entrepreneur. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in a partner?

GMR: If I choose a partner I look for qualities like Humility, Liaising and values. If partner comes to me I look for their capacity to train our people, liaising skills and values.

EO: In last 10 years there has been much growth in  the infrastructure business. How do you see Infrastructure companies in the next 10 years?

GMR: There are many challenges in this sector. The market is unpredictable; there are bottlenecks in the power sector. The only solution is Liquidity and flexible strategy. Therefore I always have a different strategy for each business. I sold most of my businesses without any emotional attachment.

Meet with Amanda Lindhout; A Fighting Spirit

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An award winning humanitarian, social activist, public speaker and writer Amanda Lindhout’s story is one of passion and perseverance. There is truly much for all of us to learn from her.

From humble origins in Canada, Amanda took control of her destiny the day she quit her job as a cocktail waitress and became a journalist. She arrived in Afghanistan in 2007, moving on to Iraq and then Somalia as a freelance reporter. On 23rd August, 2008, she and Nigel Brennan, a freelance Australian photojournalist were kidnapped in Mogadishu; along with their Somali translator and two drivers by teenage insurgents from Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group. As fate would have it, they were kidnapped in lieu of two more experienced journalists who had incidentally increased their security that very morning. Despite many attempts at negotiating a ransom, Ms. Lindhout was held in captivity for 15 months and released only following a random payment by her family. She was hospitalized in Nairobi for two weeks and treated for acute malnutrition.

Following her release, Amanda received a lot of media attention which she shied away from until 2013, which was when she released her memoir, A House in The Sky. Co-written with journalist Sara Corbett, her memoir recounts her experience as a hostage. Eliza Griswold of the New York Times said of the book that, “Her tale … is much more than a gonzo adventure tale gone awry — it’s a young woman’s harrowing coming-of-age story and an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph”. She has also founded the Global Enrichment Foundation to empower, educate and provide aid in the very country where she lost her freedom.

Amanda’s trajectory as a woman of unique resilience, vision and action has made her an inspiring example of how one person can enact positive change on a worldwide scale. In 2012, the Women’s Executive Network named Amanda one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

Amanda Lindhout will be speaking to members of EO New Delhi on 23/01/2014 at The Nilgiri, The Oberoi; 7pmonwards. Please RSVP on Facebook or to Nishtha Bakshi at the earliest.