Thursday, July 3, 2008

IIM-A alumnus sells vegetables in Patna


Steering clear of the beaten track, a graduate from IIM, Ahmedabad, once chose to sell vegetables on the streets of Patna to fulfil his career dream.
Meet 27-year-old Kaushalendra, son of a college demonstrator in the nondescript block town of Ekangarsarai in Nalanda district. "I have a dream to build Bihar into the vegetable hub of the country. I want vegetables grown in Bihar on dining tables everywhere -- from Srinagar to Salem and from Shillong to Surat," says Kaushalendra.
Perhaps the most highly educated green grocer India has ever produced, the young man from Nalanda has founded a farmers' cooperative, Samriddhi, which sells vegetables in ice-cooled pushcarts.
The private-public partnership venture, launched about a couple of months ago with assistance from Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) with just one pushcart, has now placed an order for 50 more carts, thanks to a collateral-free loan of Rs 50 lakh from Punjab National Bank.
Nearly 300 farmers have associated themselves with Samriddhi. ATMA, a government undertaking, is training these farmers in matters relating to high-yield seeds and crop protection.
"Our aim is to propagate organic farming and use our expertise in marketing to reach the markets not only in India but also abroad so that the farmers of Bihar fetch good return for their produce. In five years, we target to penetrate the vegetable markets in the US, Europe and Japan," Kaushalendra says.
The ice-cooled pushcart vegetables are a hit with customers in parts of southern Patna. "The vegetables taste garden fresh, are priced reasonably and, to add to that, they are weighed accurately with electronic weighing machines... we are just delighted to have it at a time when we have to make do with shoestring budget thanks to record inflation," says Bharti, a housewife in Kankarbagh area.
Moreover, the pushcart vendor gives the buyers a cash-memo which no other vegetable seller does, as further authentication of the quality and quantity of the vegetables.
"I am not only selling vegetables, but also the name of the farmer and the village where it has been grown. The farmer should not remain an unsung hero any more," he says pointing at the tag on the vegetables which has the mention of the name of the farmer and his village.
"One day," he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "we will be able to build Bihar into a brand... the largest selling brand in horticulture."
Asked about the initial reaction of his family to the idea of their highly qualified son foregoing a lucrative career in the corporate world and opting for an uncertain future, Kaushalendra said, "They were shocked but were later reconciled... now they seem happy that I am trying to do something that would benefit hundreds and thousands of farmers of Bihar."
Asked to comment on the job offers he had, the self-effacing IIM graduate said, "I did not opt for the placement process. So, in that sense, I had none. I saw the farmers of my vegetable-growing village eke out a living by the sweat of their brow and then watch with abject resignation the fruits of their toil rot during the floods. I always dreamt of doing something for them and I am just chasing that dream," Kaushalendra says.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Raghu B Viswanath: Championing the cause of brands

Courtesy: The Economic Times

He’s an engineer from IIT and an MBA from IIM. Having worked in blue-chip brand-savvy companies like Titan Watches and Smith Kline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, he realised the significance of branding as a strategy. So Raghu B Viswanath vacated his lush seat on the corporate bandwagon and climbed aboard the vehicle of entrepreneurship in end-1999. That was the beginning of Vertebrand, India’s first integrated brand strategy consulting firm. “I believed the fast-growing Indian SME brands essentially suffered from a lack of in-house managerial talent, coupled with inadequate financial muscle to take on the biggies in terms of advertising spends,” Mr Viswanath says as he recalls the beginning of Vertebrand’s journey.

Vertebrand was started with a deep desire to assist lesser-known brands in transforming them into valuable powerhouses. Most importantly, the market presented an opportunity since no advertising agency or consulting firm offered specialised brand-building solutions or services. The scientific approach to brand-building was missing. Moreover, branding was often equated with physical identity and advertising. “Hardly anyone was paying attention to their internal business as a whole and therefore its implications on the equity of the brand. Therein, I believe, lay a huge opportunity,” states Mr Viswanath, who’s today the MD of Vertebrand. What came in as an opportunity also brought along a challenge.

Branding was then greatly confined to the advertising industry and brand assignments were primarily awarded to Ad agencies and/or creative design shops. “The market was not willing to easily accept a brand consulting firm which was left-brained in its approach, run predominantly by Engineer-MBAs and who had no Cannes Awards to their credit,” remarks Mr Viswanath. It was certainly an uphill task but Mr Viswanath was able to overcome it. “Sheer perseverance and a belief in the cause of strategic branding have helped me achieve my pride of place today,” he says. One of the key reasons behind the success of Vertebrand has been an exceptionally good team. In fact, Mr Viswanath believes that every member of his champion team is a top-notch entrepreneur! “All of them decided to throw up the trappings of corporate luxury, to work towards the cause,” he asserts.

Vertebrand is undoubtedly doing well today having served a wide range of clients including MNCs, large Indian corporates as well as many progressive SMEs. The concept of scientific branding is today receiving huge attention and Mr Viswanath acknowledges that it is having a positive impact on Vertebrand’s success. People are realising that true branding can impart business revenues and valuations. Today, Vertebrand has carved a niche for itself in the market. In fact, having successfully tried and tested in India, its processes can be replicated across all developing economies. “Vertebrand is poised to become a truly, pan-Asian brand consultancy of repute,” says Mr Viswanath. Of course, the success so far hasn’t come easily. There have been sacrifices on family fronts and huge obstacles in the professional journey. But his family always stood by him through all the thick and thin. Mr Viswanath strongly believes that entrepreneurship should not be equated with a means of becoming rich. Entrepreneurship implies never giving up. That’s his simple message.

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