The entrepreneurial journey


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Millions of people set off on their own unique entrepreneurial journeys every year. Business Strategy Review charts the experience of 5 London Business School Alumni: Justin Waghray (MiM2012), Shivani Parmar (MBA2012), Esin Akan (EMBALJ2013), Ravi Sinha (MBA2011) and Abhishek Carodia (MBA2012).

This was first published in Business Strategy Review Volume 24. Issue 3-2013. Subscribe today to receive your quarterly copy delivered to your home or work place.

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The entrepreneurial journey

  1. 1. The entrepreneurial journey Millions of people set off on their own unique entrepreneurial journeys every year. But, what is the experience like? Business Strategy Review charts some of these journeys. © Copyright 2013 London Business School
  2. 2. MY JOURNEY: JUSTIN WAGHRAY You have an idea for a company and you’re not exactly sure how it works or even if you started a company what you’d be doing day-to-day; what your tasks would be, what it would be like in three or five years. The clincher was we applied for and were accepted on the incubator programme at London Business School. That was external validation saying that there is actual potential for a company, there is a need here and you can develop a business around it. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 1
  3. 3. Most of our time is currently spent doing market research and preparing our documents for investors so that we can create a dialogue about what the time frame is like, what the different milestones are; preparing a very specific kind of value proposition so we can put that to investors. I’m working on it full time. We’ve got two neurosurgeons, on our team who work on a part-time basis. And then we’ve also got an engineer working part-time. ‘This isn't rocket science, it’s brain surgery’, is the line on our website. Our product is basically a surgical Swiss army knife. In neurosurgery there’s constant switching between tools. It could be scissors, it could be diathermy for cauterising or suction to drain fluid. Surgeons will do this dozens to hundreds of times during a several-hour operation. Every time they do this they break their focus. They switch and they risk damaging the tissue as well. So what we came up with was a device which combines the four most commonly used functions in neurosurgery into a single tool. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 2
  4. 4. We have validated this across different surgeons, ENT surgery and retinal surgery, to see if this is actually a need. If you look at surgeries now, there aren’t any that can’t be performed given the correct tools. The question is can things be improved? If this results in lower complication rates, shorter surgery times or whatever the metric is, it will be substantially better for healthcare providers and patients. We’re working on a prototype, trying to go as far as we can without seed funding, which is challenging. In terms of what’s involved – setting up a company, commercial property protection, regulatory approval and so on – it’s a long time frame. We may not see cash flow for a few years. The biggest competition is the status quo. Senior surgeons are often reticent to try new technology. There are entire sales forces hired to go and push whatever the latest and greatest is. There is a massive graveyard of failed surgical tools. To actually make a product that people love will be the biggest issue. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 3
  5. 5. MY JOURNEY: SHIVANI PARMAR I spent much of the last ten years exploring the world. I started off doing HIV awareness work, did a lot of public health work, turned to journalism, became a photographer for the US Olympic rowing team and then came to London to start a business. No matter where I went in the world I always noticed there’s amazing people doing remarkable things. I was in India for a year working in the red light districts and trying to do HIV awareness. And as much as it’s very poor, it was actually phenomenally inspiring. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 4
  6. 6. So there’s just a lot of positive stories, even in negative circumstances, and I think there’s a lot of focus on problems in the world and not always on the people creating solutions. Our vision is to share the amazing and positive stories of the world. We launched in February. It involved a lot of testing with customers to see what they get excited about and what drives them. And having done that, we have a clear idea of where we want to go, but we need some time, and for that we’ll need angel seed investment. We’re talking to investors now about an investment of £150,000-200,000. That will get us another year. We’re probably on Plan F or G right now! The business is evolving so much that every month you realise, we’ve learned something new. You come in with an idea but then once you put it in front of people things always change. What I’ve learned is the importance of keeping people really excited and passionate, always having a big vision because otherwise what you have is just a website. You have to always have a vision and a goal that you can get really passionate about so that when things aren’t going well there's actually something much bigger that you're working on. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 5
  7. 7. MY JOURNEY: ESIN AKAN I studied in Istanbul. Then I worked for three years in the fashion industry. I worked in Milan, Paris and Istanbul; studied fashion design and accessories design; and moved to London to get further experience. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 6
  8. 8. It had always been in my mind that I wanted to design a bag that would fit my lifestyle. There is a need for a designer handbag for working women. It stayed in my mind for years, more than five years. There are millions of women working every day, leaving home at 7am and returning often late in the evening. They need a bag that can carry laptops, a gym pack, notebooks and everything in an organised manner. It needs to be practical plus stylish. The average price is around £450 and the range starts from £250 and goes up to £1,000. We interviewed and surveyed hundreds of working women about what they want, what brands they prefer, why they prefer them, what really is not good about them, how we can make a better product than any other option in the market. It was a fascinating experience. I knew about the product, I knew about fashion, but I had no idea about finance, how to value my company, or what sort of ambition I needed to convince an investor to invest in my business or how much my designs would be valued. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 7
  9. 9. We have developed the whole collection in the last six months. We found suppliers and our first client, a luxury department store in Turkey. Now we basically need finance to be able to invest in the right thing to make it work and grow fast. The most rewarding thing is to see your product, something that was in your mind and then on paper, becoming real. That gives you a feeling of huge, limitless further creativity. There is nothing to beat it. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 8
  10. 10. MY JOURNEY: RAVI SINHA The company is called Local Pay and we call ourselves an alternate payment gateway for e-commerce. If you shop online and you don’t have credit cards or debit cards, or if you feel insecure about using a credit card or debit card to transact online, you can choose Local Pay, and pay cash at a local retail outlet. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 9
  11. 11. We started life in August 2012 and are targeting markets where the rate of internet penetration is fairly high, but where credit cards or debit cards are not highly used and cash is still largely preferred. India is our first market and we now have an office in Calcutta. One of my partners comes from a family business background in India. He has a very good background in the market. The other, our CTO, is from Estonia. We complement each other as each of us brings in a unique background and experience to the table. The biggest factor in our business was the regulatory aspect. In order for us to start operations, we require approval from the Reserve Bank of India because payments is a highly regulated sector in India. As a young company, getting access to regulators and policy makers has been a daunting task. Just to give a sense of the numbers in India, in 2011 there were more than 130 million internet users in India and of those only eight million people transacted online. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 10
  12. 12. We’re completely bootstrapped so far but we will need to raise money, probably later in 2013, to set up a sales force and to develop a business development team. We are in constant contact with a few angel investors and hopefully this will culminate in our first round of fundraising when the requirement arises. We will not seek external money until we realise that our growth will be impeded by the lack of money at our disposal. Our closest competition is cash on delivery, which effectively means that people pay in cash upon receipt of merchandise. Using cash, e-commerce merchants lose out on working capital. Moreover, cash handling is not the core competency of delivery companies and the risk involved in adopting a cash-on-delivery payment method for e-commerce merchants is significantly large. We firmly believe there’s massive potential in the market. There’s a huge unbanked population in India, which has the buying power, but doesn’t have access to some products. So, if Local Pay takes off, we will essentially be reducing this digital divide. It’s important that people start using technology. The benefits are tremendous – economic and social. That’s a very big part of our purpose. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 11
  13. 13. MY JOURNEY: ABHISHEK GARODIA In 2011, I was in the Philippines on an internship and subsequently in Australia for an exchange term. As a person interested in sports and fitness activities, I was frustrated at not knowing where when and how I could play a game of cricket, football or take a kickboxing class. That led me to think about PlayEnable. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 12
  14. 14. The entire convenience of being able to book flights, restaurants and hotels online seemed to be completely absent in the sports and fitness booking space. When I came back to London, I found the same problem. I also found that gyms and sports facilities did a terrible job of reaching out to customers as they pass through the city. I bounced the idea off friends, got some feedback and dropped my job hunt to focus on PlayEnable. In order to get further validation, I participated in the European Student Startup Business Plan competition and after three rounds, found myself in the finals. I didn’t win but it gave me the encouragement to keep working on the idea. In June 2012, after two to three months of work, I launched the website as a Minimum Viable Product. I knew it would be easier to show people a basic product, even one which was clearly not perfect. I then used the active feedback from sports facilities and consumers to keep iterating and changing as much as possible quickly. The product is now in its 40th iteration. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 13
  15. 15. Today, we have 160 facilities signed up and one or two per day are joining up. Around 2,000 facilities are in our target range in the London area alone. The overall business plan hasn’t changed much. The main aim is to centralise and socialise the workout and exercise experience. With PlayEnable, you can discover all of the fitness-related organisations, gyms, yoga studios, and kick-boxing centres, in your area, browse their interactive calendar of upcoming classes and sessions, and register online to reserve your spot. Initially, I put in £25,000 of my own money. We then raised another £25,000 through the crowdfunding platform Seedrs. Now we are in the advanced stages of talking to angel investors. At the moment we have a team of five who manage finance, sales, technology and an online marketing manager. In addition, we have an admin team in the Philippines and a technology partner in Ukraine. It has been a great learning experience and a high-level perspective, and not just a pure focus on unnecessary details. I hope this helps me as I try to lead the business further in future. BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW 14
  16. 16. This was first published in Business Strategy Review Volume 24 Issue 3 – 2013 Visit our website BUSINESS STRATEGY REVIEW