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BW Businessworld

On Paths Less Travelled

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B-schools turn ordinary graduates into well-rounded managers who go on to make their employers a pile of money. This fetches them (some of them, at least) fat salaries, ESOPs, club memberships, etc. But that is only half the picture. There are some who emerge from B-school as risk takers, with an appetite for trying their hand at businesses that are out of the ordinary. They shun the routine, the mundane... in short, the safe option. They are the ones who go out on a limb and do what they really want to. BW’s Shrutika Verma and Vishal Krishna bring you entrepreneurs who have leaned heavily on B-schools to be able to walk down their unique business paths. While their businesses are very different, they have one thing in common: the will to succeed. One has turned to retail services, another to making wind energy cost-effective. A third has looked up to God, literally, for answers, while another set of entrepreneurs has used technology to find answers for local advertisers. Here are a few of the extraordinary enterprisers... 

Company: RedQuanta
Started in: 2009
Seed capital: Rs 10 lakh
Business: Mystery shopping
Shopping, With A Purpose
A leading salon chain in Bangalore was struggling with customer retention. They approached Pankaj Guglani’s RedQuanta for help. Guglani, through his network of mystery shoppers, figured out that the problem was with the employees focusing more on sales than service. RedQuanta then proposed that employee incentives be tied to service rather than sales. “Ever since, the salon has seen a huge jump in its loyalty metrics,” says Guglani.
A mystery shopper is someone who is sent to a shop or outlet to buy a product or try a service and present her views on it. The assignment can vary from watching a movie at a theatre to trying food at an eating joint. She gets paid once she submits a report on the assignment.
Guglani, 32, started RedQuanta in August 2009 with a bootstrap capital of Rs 10 lakh after quitting as business head at Zapak Digital Entertainment. A portfolio company of Morpheus venture partners, it has currently raised about $1 million from India Quotient, Blume Ventures, India Venture Partners and a group of angel investors in Mumbai. The company does a business of a couple of crores every year.
RedQuanta, as a mystery shopping specialist outfit, works closely with managements of retail and hospitality companies to design programmes to help companies improve their services. “This technique is about 30 years old in developed markets, where nearly 60 per cent of all retailers use it,” says Guglani, who passed out of the Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, in 2007.
Mystery shopping is used extensively to enforce compliance. In the UK, the finance department carries out mystery shopping checks on banks. This technique is also used to keep a check on channel partners or franchisees, revenue leakages, employee integrity, process implementation or acceptance, and service level benchmarking.
RedQuanta currently has about 20,000 mystery shoppers in India, a number it plans to increase to 100,000 in the next 12-18 months. The company is growing at 50-75 per cent year on year. Some of its clients include M&M, Mocha, Bajaj Capital and Fun Cinemas.
The company rates its shoppers depending on their reports and their adherence to time lines. “This way we are able to churn out the bad ones and keep only the good ones,” explains Guglani. RedQuanta currently works with 50 clients, mostly in the beauty and fitness, food anwind beneath their wings d beverage and auto sectors. 
Company: Breson
Started in: 2010
Seed capital: Rs 30 lakh
Business: Small wind turbines

"We are working on the social motto of ‘power for all’
(BW Pic By Umesh Goswami)
Wind Beneath Their Wings
Bhupesh Sharma, 23, was always keen on wind turbines. He wanted to make economical turbines without compromising on efficiency or performance. Currently pursuing his MBA from Welingkar Institute of Management, Development and Research in Mumbai, after doing his engineering, Sharma has a two-year-old start-up called Breson, which designs, manufactures and customises small windmills and turbines.
“There was no eureka moment as such, because it was not a frugal innovation but a planned and a significant combination of design and need,” says Sharma, who invested Rs 30 lakh to start the venture in December 2010 together with his partners Uday Nair, Vikal Chaurasia and Amar Pathak. 
Breson works on designs for vertical axis turbines, which are suitable for cities where the direction of the wind is constantly changing, and have maximum efficiency at low wind speeds.  
After finishing 7-8 pilot projects,  the company has revamped its business model. Its aim now is to make more economical wind turbines rather than stick to a niche category. Its patented technology is in the final phase of production at its Mumbai facility, and it has already completed three pilot projects in Maharashtra. These have helped Sharma earn Rs 20-25 lakh, with a profit of Rs 7-8 lakh. Breson, which can produce about 50 turbines a month, is currently working on a project in Amli village, Maharashtra. 
The company’s wind turbines are in the 100-5,000 watt range. A 100 watt turbine can be used for a street lighting system and a 1,000 watt one can be used for a bunglow or a building, says Sharma. Those above 1,000 watt are purely for use in commercial settings.
“We are working on the social motto of ‘power for all’. The approximate cost of a 1,000 watt turbine, which can light up 50-90 tubelights for 12 hours, is about Rs 2 lakh. We are working to further bring down this cost,” informs Sharma. 
Sharma got the idea when he was trying to develop a self-sustainable house for his uncle. He wanted to develop something that would be cheaper than other renewable energy sources, would require less space, be maintenance free and work effectively for most of the time. “Solar energy is high on maintenance costs, requires a large space and works effectively only for six hours of the day.” 
Breson has orders from public and private sector companies, and is targeting small and medium commercial and agricultural set-ups. 
Learning Solutions
Started in: 2010
Seed capital: Rs 10 lakh
Business: Mythology learnings

"I thought (with entrepreneurship)… I will deal with new challenges..."
(BW Pic By Tribhuwan Sharma)
Putting His Trust In God 
After working for several years in the corporate world, 28-year-old Rishabh Chopra wanted to do something more challenging. “I thought entrepreneurship would provide me with the opportunity to have no limits on my creativity, and I will get a chance to deal with new challenges continuously,” recalls Chopra. He wanted to create value for the different segments of society and he wanted to do it differently.
It was in 2010, while still interning with MindValley, a leading online publisher in the personal development space, in Malaysia, that he learnt how to track demand for different content online. After spending a lot of time researching and hunting for something that had high demand, he realised that web searches related to Indian mythology were one such untapped space. “Lord Ganesha alone has some 2 million Facebook fans,” Chopra explains.
“I came across the fact that there are about 3 million ideas in ancient Indian mythology but only 22 are popular online or on social media,” he adds. The idea of creating personal development programmes based on Indian mythology was seeded in 2010. Chopra realised there was massive pent-up online demand for information on Indian mythology, especially from places outside India. Chopra tapped this opportunity and approached professors and filmmakers to develop content, and then marketed that through online channels around the globe. 
Chopra’s venture offers content (through e-mailers, DVDs and other online media) that draws from Indian mythology and other ancient Indian teachings to help people with their issues. He has been able to rope in 26,000 users across 20 countries in just 12 months, the most being from the US. His customers include a senior executive of a US-based chipmaker who sits in Africa, and a former minister in Mauritius. 
While, the emailers are free, paid programmes cost $47-97. Chopra is constantly looking for new ways to monetise content.
Transformative Learning Solutions got its final shape and face when Chopra joined ISB in 2011 and the venture incubated at the Wadhwani Centre of Entrepreneurship Development there. He received the initial funding of about Rs 10 lakh in cash and kind. Chopra has recently got a fresh round of capital from angel investors, both in India and abroad. Most of this investment is focused on customer acquisition, anwhen television goes local d since the company is expanding, Chopra says breaking even is still some time away.

Company: Amagi Media Tech
Started in: 2008
Seed capital: Not available
Business: Targeted TV advertising

"We thought of creating tech that would help dth and cable firms"
(BW Pic By N.V. Jagadeesh)

When Television Goes Local
After leaving SiRF, a Bluetooth technology company in 2008, engineers Baskar Subramanian, Srinivasan Karapattu and Srividhya Srinivasan (all in their late-30s) wanted to start a new business. “We looked at solar, media and various other things. We then thought of creating technology that would help DTH and cable companies,” says Subramanian. 
“We also thought we could do content-independent advertising with the use of technology on television,” says Karapattu. The whole idea was to take the set-top box and make it recognise local advertisements on national television channels. In 2008, the trio approached IIM-Bangalore’s NSRCel, the entrepreneurship and mentoring wing of the institution, and convinced the mentors there that their idea would work. IIM-B incubated the company, Amagi, for 18 months, and it was here that the three engineers homed in on their business model.
Amagi’s key message was to explain the benefits of local advertising to television channels and cable and DTH operators. In June 2008, the trio purchased a set-top box from the US for $5,000 only to realise that it used an archaic analog technology that used cables and was  server-based. But they decided to make it work on chipsets and consumer digital signal processing. So, they decided to create something that would not only be easy to install but would also be easy for the DTH and cable operators to adapt their set-top boxes to. Once the technology was sorted, they had to sell the idea. 
The business model was simple: buy inventory from television channels and sell that to local advertisers. Amagi initially started with retail, jewellery and real estate, and currently works with regional FMCG brands and SMEs who need regional (state-wide) advertising. There are 160 million television sets in India and 600 million viewers, with cable and DTH covering close to 120 million homes. “Geographic targeting in advertising is the future; and not language changed ads,” says Srividhya. Their IP is in the software that goes in the advertisement insertion devices of the cable operator and the software on DTH set-top boxes. They have started licensing their technology to international television networks as well. For television channels, say Amagi’s founders, it would be better to target an audience with regional advertising. They have taken their technology to Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America. In India, the company has sold more than 8 million ad seconds, has sales offices in 22 cities, and has tied up with 12 television channels including UTV-Disney, TV-18 and Times TV networks. 
It’s evident that Amagi breathes technology: its data is stored on the cloud, and it interacts with sales teams through cloud-based applications. The founders think their’s can be a billion-dollar company this decade, especially since television advertising is increasing.
Infosys co-founder N.S. Raghavan is the sole investor and has pumped in around Rs 37 crore,  which is being used for increasing sales and channels tie-ups. They have already filed four patents for their technology, and have 1,000-plus advertisers on board. 
They are now focusing on the Hindi-speaking market where there is no regional television option. This means that instead of city-level advertising, they are doing region-level advertising. This has changed the profile of advertisers. And taken Amagi national. 
bweditor (at)abp(dot)in
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 03-09-2012)