Learning unlocks all doors
Newsletter Issue 31 : Dec 1, 2010 - Dec 31, 2010
I remember my first visit to Taipei in late 90's. A prosperous capital city of a small island country.
As a visitor from India, I was awestruck by the well functioning city, beautiful people and all round prosperity. I later visited other parts of Taiwan and even in smaller towns & cities, the trend was pleasantly replicated.
I was really surprised as to how a small island nation, with little or, no natural resources could afford to become such a success.
and why, we in India can not?
The answer started revealing as I went through my business.
I had gone to buy some coil winding machines for the organisation where I worked.
The first meeting took us to a small office that was more like a small office cum bedroom. It was well stocked with furniture & small eats.
After the customary tea session, we went for a tour of the manufacturing set up. Our host who owned the business, took us to the main assembly area housed at the ground floor of another building that looked like a house.
The machines were impressive in their workmanship. The demonstration proved their world class performance. (it was further proved in the tests that followed in the next week).
When we requested a visit to the part manufacturing set up, we were taken to several small workshops in the by lanes. The manufacturing set up though housed in congested areas, were truly amazing in their technologically superior machines, the operating methods, the measuring methods, the workplace organisation, the knowledge of the people working there and the quality of work. It was very difficult not to be impressed.
The surprise came at lunch time. the modest owner wiped his hands off the oil & offered us ride to lunch venue in his gleaming Mercedes-Benz.
The surprise was augmented by the discussion during a spicy Chinese meal, where he shared his share of international business. As it came out, he was a major player in the world market.
What really struck me was:
The awe inspiring stories kept adding up during my successive visits to this small entrepreneurial nation.
I always thought that some day we will have such stories in India.
Today, I find such inspiring entrepreneurial stories taking shape in the whole of our country and this beckons for me the birth of a self assured, rising nation in spite of the ills& limitations that we have inherited.
I came across one such story that I found will resonate with lot of young people and also answer lots of questions.
Given below are excerpts from an interview of Raghav Rangarajan by Shobha Warrier sourced from: rediff.com
Though a mechanical engineer, 29-year-old Raghav Rangarajan was not satisfied with the lucrative software job that he landed after graduation. This courageous youngster knew how to chase his dreams and, two years back, chucked his 'safe' job to become an entrepreneur.
Ignite, his workshop on the ECR Road in Chennai, is India's first 'Green Garage'.
On his love for machines even as a child
My love for machines started at a tender age of 6 or 7 when I was presented with plastic building blocks with pulleys, with which you could make working models of cars, trucks, etc. Right from that age, machines have fascinated me.
In no time, I started spending time in workshops. After school hours, I used to go to workshops and spend my time under cars! I even started tuning my father's car as a school boy.
The first engine I opened was that of my friend's bike's. I was in the 8th standard then and was curious to know how the engine worked.
On studying mechanical engineering
It was but natural for me to study mechanical engineering but the first year and a half were frustrating as I didn't see any machine; it was only theory.
I felt there is a disconnect between what is being taught and what the present scenario is as the text books are quite outdated.
Once you start working on machines after your college, you realise that what you actually learnt makes sense. The fundamentals will not change and it gives you a strong foundation.
So, I will not agree with those who say that what is taught in college is not in sync with what we actually do.
If you don't know the fundamentals, you will be clueless about how a machine works.
Most of the mechanics do not have that basic knowledge; they simply learn from experience. I strongly feel that a professional degree definitely helps in building a strong foundation.
On studying mechanical engineering and then working as a software professional
It is unfortunate that people study something and do something else. I also did the same. I joined a few automobile companies like Hyundai after graduation.
Those were the days of IT boom and my peers in the software field were doing much better than me. I also decided to join the IT bandwagon consoling myself that I could indulge in my passion during the weekends and that I was still into motor sports.
But I was not satisfied with what I did. I was confused and pondered on what exactly I wanted to do in life.
I also felt that I was not following my heart by joining an IT firm.
On becoming an entrepreneur
It was by accident that I finally became an entrepreneur. When I was working as an IT professional, many of my friends started asking me whether I was going to start a workshop of my own.
They also offered to pitch in with investment if I were to start a workshop. The offers even came from my own bosses at the IT firm. They were genuinely concerned about me and said I didn't belong there.
I hail from a family of working professionals. So, there was no chance for me to even dream about becoming an entrepreneur.
In fact, my parents wanted me to work in a multinational company and be a general manager or someone like that. So, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur did dawn on me at all.
I am sure all first generation entrepreneurs go through plenty of turmoil and confusion in their minds before they start something of their own. I have seen it happening to others too.
I wondered why I didn't have confidence in myself when my friends were so confident about me.
Finally an entrepreneur
When I resigned to start my own workshop, my family was shocked. An educated guy starting a workshop is still shocking for the society.
I named it Ignite as suggested by a friend as the name is connected to ignition and passion.
Starting with Rs 10 lakhs
Nearly two years ago, in February 2009, I decided to take the plunge. I put in Rs 500,000 from my own pockets and my friends pitched in with another Rs 500,000, and that was how Ignite was started.
Rupees five lakh went as advance for the premises and Rs 200,000 for civil works and Rs 150,000 for the equipments. I employed two mechanics.
Today when I look back, I realise that the reserve money I had would have lasted only for two months. If cars had not rolled in, I would have had to close the shop. I knew about this at that time also but I decided to take the risk.
As I had no track record of doing any business, banks were not ready to give me any loan.
The first customer comes after a month
I still remember the first day. It was February 2, 2009.
We had the conventional pooja with many of my friends attending it. The next one or two weeks were the days of waiting.
Not a single car came in. I was very tense. Then I consoled myself that I hadn't done any marketing and nobody knew there was such a workshop.
The first customer who was not my friend came after a month, and it was an Opel Corsa. Till then, we were servicing only my friends' vehicles.
When it took so long for the first customer to come, I made pamphlets and started going to car dealerships. It was like when you were pushed into a swimming pool, you learn to swim.
What actually helped me initially were a few clients who came with problems which could not be solved by others. They were active in automotive forums and when I solved the problems, they wrote excellent reviews in the forums, and it helped us a lot.
I don't believe in taking volumes because I like to work on every car. I test drive and my involvement in the repair is there in all the cars. I plan to do this for another 2-3 years.
I invested in the latest gadgets like the scanner which all authorised dealers have, of that particular brand. I also got all the software needed from the US. I don't discriminate between a Maruti 800 and a BMW!
Ignite, a green garage
I call Ignite a green garage as I take every effort to ensure that our workshop has minimum impact on the environment. Maybe my trips to the jungle helped me love environment more.
Whenever I visited the forests, I saw to it that nobody left any garbage like plastic bags there.
In a commercial work shop, whatever oil is drained is let into the soil or a well. I have a system by which we collect used oil and channel it to civil contractors and oil cleansing companies, and not cause damage to the environment.
I also see to it that minimum paper is used and information is passed via emails. I encourage my clients to accept bills via email.
On how the workshop grew
In the first month, I hardly made business worth Rs 10,000. By the third month, I could pay the rent, all my bills and salary. After that we started making small profits.
We must have had a turnover of Rs 550,000 in the first year and we expect a 30 per cent rise by end 2011.
I miscalculated our growth potential. I thought it would take five years for me to saturate in this place in terms of the capacity of cars to accommodate.
What I thought would take five years took only one and a half years. So, I have plans to expand with some more investment which will not be an issue right now.
Perhaps I am very conservative in my approach. Passion comes first for me and only then comes turnover and profits. Yes, I would like to have a multi branch, multi brand set up.
I feel if you follow your passion, money will follow.
We in India are blessed with intelligence & hunger for success.
With six decades of stability as a nation, the humane culture that has nourished us & the need for doing well, places us right in the place from where to leap forward.
The right nurturing can create a whole lot of entrepreneurial sparks that may transform us as a society.
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