Meet the entrepreneurs – Anuj Kapoor, Founding Director, Himalayan People Ltd  and Five Benches Promotions and Advisory Services

1) Give us your elevator pitch.

Curating the best of theHimalayas. Building on the enormous untapped potential in a geography extremelyrich in flora & fauna and natural charm, but severely lacking in management
and technical ability. The area is nestled between the two large and most
rapidly growing economies (China and India) and therefore a huge potential
opportunity.

2) Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I wanted to try doing things my own way and build something
ground up.

3) Have you adapted your
business model since starting out? 

Yes, the model has evolved quite a bit. I think I’ve tried to
stay glued to the core deliverable but the mechanics of it have changed. There
has been a lot of learning which I think leads to a continuously evolving
model. 

4) What has been your biggest
entrepreneurial challenge?

I think people often don’t
realise how much the context affects your ability to build a new or an
innovative business. The seed of an idea that one tries
to grow into a full blown organism can only develop past its infancy if you have
the right environment. My biggest challenge has been working in two countries
(UK and India) both of which have their own sets of constraints to rapid
testing 
and implementation of entrepreneurial ideas.

I think as an entrepreneur you need to fail fast. You will
always fail and stumble along the way. What’s important is that failures happen
quickly, so you either shelve an idea or improve it with speed. A slow process
of testing an idea isn’t helpful. The half belief that something might succeed
can sap a lot of energy and more crucially time. A sort of ‘Simon Cowell
moment’ is needed in any business to get quick reality checks on one’s dreams.

5) Is there anything you’ve
done that you wish you could turn back time and try again?

Yes, I had to move from being predominantly an online aggregator
and brand 
builder to getting involved with production and product development. I would
like to move back into the more communication technology interfaced space.

6) What single decision have
you been most proud of? 

To go and spend real and quality time with the planters, makers
and growers.
This seems to contradict a bit with what I said in my previous answer, but the
truth is that knowing the real people doing the real work is extremely
important to ‘own’ a product. I feel otherwise one runs the risk of being a
specialist in one part of the value chain and therefore susceptible to and
underprepared for changes in the broader industry. Also, it is quite a bit of
fun to get away from the city to the countryside and see the grass roots of the
business.

7) What funding have you had so
far? How did you secure it?

The project is largely self-funded. I have not approached anyone
for funding.
A bit of funding from other people on the team is all that we have used. We
have tried to grow the business organically. We have been getting small orders
and getting our production done to meet those orders. This has allowed for a
degree of working capital to be available. Also roadshows in London and
elsewhere have given us surprisingly good sales and liquidity to conduct our
market testing.

8) Do you think India has a
good entrepreneurial culture?

The definition of entrepreneurship in India is somewhat
different. The hunger and aspiration among people in general and the young
demographic advantage mean that India has a lot of people wanting to start out
on their own. However, lack of adequate physical infrastructure and soft skills
with respect to quality of production, design and innovation remain a bit of a
challenge. Given the wide disparity in socio-economic stature of people in
society, there is sometimes a separation of entrepreneurial tasks into
‘Managerial’ versus ‘Low skill on the ground work’. This is unhealthy as it is
important for the entrepreneur to get into the minutiae of the operational
tasks to get the best outcome. So delegating too early in the life of the start
up can damage its viability.  

Also, the system of funding and pitching in India is only slowly
beginning to take shape.

9) How does your experience of
start-up culture in London and New York differ to the culture in India?

The fact remains that California with the Silicon Valley remains
the only true
place for entrepreneurs. New York is a bit more receptive to new ideas compared
to London, but I think the fertile ground for ‘planting your seed’ is on the
west coast of the US. In current times, IT entrepreneurship is looked upon as
the benchmark both for the speed of establishing the business as well as for
the degree of financial success. This can be a double edged sword, in that it
spurs entrepreneurs on but can also lead to very unrealistic expectations in
industries such as tea for instance where the pace by definition has to be
different. 

I started out in London and continue to work there. The issue
with London is that because the systems and institutions have been so good and
entrenched, there isn’t as much support for individuals acting out of their
living rooms or cafes. I think people’s trust in large and long standing
institutions is still too strong to take start ups that seriously.

Start ups have a huge uphill task to get the kind of support in
funding they need. The culture in California by all accounts is that of of
abundance of infrastructure, cash and ideas, so people can try new things
without fear of financial ruin. That remains a challenge in London. Cost of
living and rents are so high, that a young woman out of university, or after a
few years of experience, wouldn’t be able to get away from her desk job at a
bank to experiment with her ideas that easily. The UK has quality education,
intellectual capital and physical infrastructure but lacks in support for risk
taking.

In Indian cities the cost of living is lower, therefore people
(upper middle classes and the rich) are able to experiment with their ideas.
However quality and depth of innovation I find is still lacking a lot of the
time. As infrastructure standards and skill levels are not always up to the
mark, the quality of entrepreneurial projects isn’t always as remarkable.
Infrastructure and skills need to be built up in India rapidly.India has
succeeded in developing a significant risk taking culture though, which coupled
with energetic youth I believe is its strong suit. Both NYC and London have
more talented and skilled people inclined to building things that can scale and
a far better appreciation of the cutting edge in innovation.

10) If you could change one
thing in India to help other entrepreneurs what would it be?

I would want a sort of standards institute for entrepreneurs in
India, where
entrepreneurs can evaluate themselves against global benchmarks before setting
sail. A structured funding system too would be a huge boost.

About the author: Riaz Kanani

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