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Ravi Kiran
I help ambitious businesses in Middle India scale. Rapidly and properly.

What is Bigger – the Game or the Playfield?

Except in e-commerce and technology, most people start thinking of a business that would serve the immediate locality. It’s simpler to think of customers sitting next door to you than those hundreds and thousands of miles away. Expansion of geographic scope comes later. This is the reason why we see many Middle India’s entrepreneurs build robust and profitable companies, but unknown to many of us until we visit their towns.

I guess something else must have been going on in the minds of Milind Chittawar and Shashank Garg of Nagpur when they started their respective businesses.

In many ways, Chittawar and Garg are very different individuals.

Chittawar’s self-effacing personality is the first thing that hits you when he starts talking about his career. He makes each of his ‘setbacks’ look very planned and achievements accidental. Son of a Public Works Department engineer, he tells you how he almost missed getting into even an Engineering Diploma because his name was third on the waiting list. Although he eventually got his graduate and then post graduate degree in Engineering, his modesty expresses itself when he says “I am extremely thankful that I failed everywhere”.

Today, he is the owner and CEO of SEE-Tech Solutions, a consulting and technology company that focuses on safety, environment and energy and helps businesses optimise their energy consumption amongst other things. Unlike many other consultants, he is working on at least one client [based in Mumbai] where his remuneration depends directly and solely on how much energy he can save for a large company, whose energy bills must be running into crores of rupees every month. In his energy conservation demo laboratory in Nagpur, which he claims is India’s only such lab, he can already demonstrate 20 out of a possible 150 conservation measures. “Within 3 years”, he says, “I want to be able to demonstrate all 150 measures, convert my lab into an energy museum. I want people from the USA and Japan to visit my lab to see conservation at work”. He has already invented potentially revolutionary energy improvement products including one that can improve the productivity of automotive air conditioning and saving fuel consumption.

Chittawar’s businesses could have been based anywhere, but he chose to remain in Nagpur, an excellent city, but not quite as well known for business as its cousin Mumbai. “In Nagpur, businessmen have always used professionals to grow their business. I want to show the other way.”

Shashank Garg – I would imagine he is 10 years younger than Chittawar – isn’t immodest either. But he is supremely confident and equally passionate. Like Chittawar, he is in the knowledge business, he also helps businesses improve productivity and build competitive advantage. He too would not want to move out of Nagpur to build his business. Garg is the Founder and President of InfoCepts Technologies, a business intelligence company that already employs nearly three hundred people and is hiring more, serving clients in just one market – the USA.

Unlike Chittawar though, he followed a less radical career path, finishing his graduate engineering [also in Metallurgy, coincidentally] in Nagpur’s venerated VNIT,  post-graduation in the USA, followed by his first job there, and then  returning to Nagpur in 2003 to set up InfoCepts. Unlike Chittawar’s 248 connections on LinkedIn, he has 500+, which could be a 1000 or more in reality.

Now, I haven’t analysed Garg’s company balance sheet [nor Chttawar’s], so I cannot comment on how well the company is doing financially, but then, this isn’t about financials.

This is really about what keeps ambitious people like Chittawar and Garg in ‘less fortunate’ towns like Nagpur and what opportunities they see and the challenges they face. When you talk to these two gentlemen, not for once will you see a hint of regret that they stayed in Nagpur, instead of relocating to a bigger city. The fact is, they chose to stay in Nagpur and build businesses. Even more important, unlike many entrepreneurs in towns of Nagpur’s size, they haven’t allowed their ambition to be scaled down.

Chittawar wants to grow his revenue 50 times over the next decade, create new jobs and make Nagpur a visitor attraction in energy conservation. Mr Garg takes pride in not chasing growth for its own sake [“we are not under any pressure”], but is very proud of the product he delivers, the customers he serves and the number of jobs he creates. He is deploying some of the best global practices in creating a participative workplace and although he didn’t say it himself, my guess is he wants InfoCepts to be known some day for its workplace practices, something very few Indian businesses really care for.

They are not without challenges.

Chittawar feels he needs mentoring and help in business planning, if he were to scale his consulting only company successfully and reconfigure his client composition. I feel he has another challenge of protecting his IPs, which he hasn’t quite thought of. Garg is worried about how the company culture may change as it transitions from a few-dozens to many-hundreds employee organisation, as he creates his second line leadership.

What inspires me about these two gentlemen is their focus on creating employment and their clarity of thought. I am confident that in a few years, both these companies will be case studies. I also have no doubt that they will face new challenges on the way.

But like someone wise said, it’s the speed bumps that give the highway its meaning.

(Based on conversations with Milind Chittawar and Shashank Garg in Nagpur in January, facilitated by Jay Chopde of Persistent Systems)

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Mathew Joseph. K
Hi Ravi, I came to your page on Linkedin (Your website? Very interesting concept!) and then clicked on the link to be directed to this page. I have attended discussions you were part of in Ad-tech 2011 and the discussion you moderated during Ad-tech 2012. I have to say I enjoy observing you in action with your clarity of thought, quick wits, and honest opinions. In fact I admire your personality. I have not approached you till now because I was not sure whether I was ready for that occassion. In fact during Ad-tech I approached the MD, India of Linkedin, Mr. Hari Krishnan because his social media network has worked positive wonders for our business. The jury is still out on that one but it has helped us open a representative office in London and maybe our first big break after 06 years of conceiving our baby Pepper Tours. Pepper Tours is a bespoke tour operator based in Kochi and like the examples you have mentioned above has made the best of the location it has set up base. When I started my career it seemed as a disadvantage to work here but I seem to have used it to my advantage. Though I am perceived to be a thought leader in my generation it has not contributed much to our financial success. Though that is not our benchmark I would like to know whether Friends of Ambition can help us scale up to a global level if not be a national leader in our class? Kind regards Mathew
Hey Mathew, thank you for coming to this site, read the blog and leave this comment. I am really happy to notice that you decided to stay in Kochi and build your business. It is my belief that the more we try to build businesses in Middle India, the more social and economic value we will create, not to talk of getting to profitability faster. Why dont you send me your coordinates so we can carry on this discussion offline? Two of our co-founders are in Kochi this coming week and perhaps I can fix a meeting for you with them? My ID is: ravi.kiran@foaindia.com. Cheers.

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Thanks Ravi for writing about Nagpur entrepreneurs. Six years back when I choose to start my career's second inning with InfoCepts, I had little doubt about our success. It was not about Shashank but it was about the location. But with Shashank's vision and team's dedication we are steadily making progress and we are very proud of it. In a way we are successful bringing Nagpur on radar of our client community as well as domestic IT professionals. Thanks for writing and elevating our spirits.
All the very best to you and to InfoCepts RC. People need to hear stories like yours from Middle India and I am trying to play my part.
Mr. Ravi, Excellent Observations. I don't know much about Mr. Milind Chittarwar but surely Mr. Garg has given a new definition to Business Intelligence in Nagpur. What really makes me happy about InfoCepts is the Customer satisfaction they provide. It surely is way above what big companies in India provide. InfoCepts yet a small company but it surely will grow to be a bigger one very fast considering the market scene and growth of technology at InfoCepts. I am really grateful to you for such a great article.
Thank you for reading the post and leaving your comment. All the very best.
Ravi, Nice article. I am not criticizing anyone here but I know in and out to Mr. Milind Chittawar. One is really doing employment generation or not, this question should be asked to their employees and it can be decided on how many people follows him as enterprenure. You must go and interview their employees, how he treat them.
Shrikant Raipure
Hello Mr Ravi, thanks for sharing the story, what interested me is people who know Nagpur city and its potential really want to be there and spread the good work and word about it and people to the other part of the world... However, the truth saddens me as the city has been neglected for many years due to some bad politics, thats history now... I would really appreciate if you guide me to set up a small industry in nagpur... i want to get into Resturant business... Awaiting your response..... Thanks, Shrikant Raipure
Dear Shrikant, thank you for visiting this blog and leaving your comment. I will write to you shortly, to understand how I can be of help. BTW, I was in your beautiful city yesterday for the TiE event and had the good fortune of meeting many ambitious and sincere entrepreneurs.
Shrikant Raipure
Hello Mr. Ravi, Thought of checking with you again, i waited for your reply, could you guide me here! Thanks, Shrikant Raipure
Hi Shrikant, have written to you personally. Please respond directly when you have time.
Excellent observations Ravi. Should congratulate you on choosing the perfect stories to present your case. These two gentlemen personify the concept that its the people behind businesses that make things happen instead of the other fringe circumstances. Being an entrepreneur from the same city, I would like to appreciate your effort and thank you for the excellent article.
Thank you Neeraj. I really appreciate your wishes too. Today was my second visit to Nagpur and what a day of learning it was at the TiECon 2012! Thoroughly enjoyed it and met another bunch of really smart and sincere entrepreneurs. Yours is a great city.
Wonder why you use term "less fortunate" for smaller towns. I think it's the metros which are less fortunate, with hardly any scope for quality family time ,self development, introspection etc. Technology at par,infrastructure is a notch less as compared to metros, but better networked business Eco system, and ambitious people make up for it. Net result - time india sees many Nagpur, bhilai, Bhubaneswar and indore (special mention :) come up as new growth centers. I would bet on these " less fortunate" towns.
Thanks for your comment Ashish. I am sure you noticed the phrase within quotes, signifying my attempt to draw attention to the popular perception [and reality to an extent, read on] of mid size towns as less fortunate. I agree with you on infrastructure and ambition. But as I travel through Middle India, my belief that many businesses there are seriously access challenged, is only getting reinforced. Like it or not, world class management and functional expertise is available less easily in Middle India than in the metros. Talent is a serious issue. Funding is a big big road bump. Smart people like you who left 'special mention' towns such as Indore aren't in a hurry to go back there and put their experience to work. Like you, I would bet on Middle India, as well. No doubt about it. But ambition there will not flower on its own, the struggles wont go away no matter how much we philosophise about them. We need serious action. [BTW, your special mention town Indore is my next stop].
Hey Ravi. Your enthusiasm and spirit is infectious. I am glad that your vision is backing up such a revolutionary enterprise. I am certain it will add value to business @ small town, though the journey might take sometime. When in Indore,please feel free to tell me in case you need any refrences/help. I do know few entreprenuers in Indore who might be of some help for your book/cause.
 
 
Ravi Kiran
As a child, I used to wonder where mosquitoes in winter hide, why fish keep swimming, how birds learn to fly and other such 'un-natural' occurrences. After a career in marketing & communications for over 20 years, building and running businesses of excellent size and in many a geography, hiring and training dozens of successful managers, I continue to be aggressively curious about beings and things.

Today, as a founding partner in Friends of Ambition, a growth advisory company three friends of mine and I started recently specifically with the aim of assisting and guiding ambitious businesses in India’s mid-sized towns [we call them Middle India] in chasing their dreams, I am curious about 1st and 2nd generation business owners in that geography. As I often find myself in cities and towns I might have only heard of just a few months ago, meet business owners there and hear their stories, dreams and challenges, I feel a sense of elation and sadness, sometimes simultaneously.

This blog is a chronicle of my experiences in Middle India - mostly gleaned from real life encounters with business owners, their influencers and well wishers.

Scaling a business is something I have been fortunate to learn firsthand, as I helped build and ran several businesses for Starcom MediaVest Group, a part of Paris based Publicis Groupe, as its CEO- South East and South Asia.
 
 
 
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June 12, 2012 03:33 am by What is Bigger – the Game or the Playfield? – Forbes India (blog) | DirectUSATV.com
[...] Forbes India (blog) [...]
May 28, 2012 13:01 pm by Unknown
Ravi, Nice article. I am not criticizing anyone here but I know in and out to Mr. Milind Chittawar. One is really doing employment generation or not, this question should be asked to their employees and it can be decided on how many people follows him as enterprenure. You must go and interview their...
Ravi Kiran
Ravi Kiran
April 10, 2012 08:21 am by Ravi Kiran
Hi Shrikant, have written to you personally. Please respond directly when you have time.
April 09, 2012 23:17 pm by Shrikant Raipure
Hello Mr. Ravi, Thought of checking with you again, i waited for your reply, could you guide me here! Thanks, Shrikant Raipure
Ravi Kiran
Ravi Kiran
March 04, 2012 21:53 pm by Ravi Kiran
Thank you for reading the post and leaving your comment. All the very best.