One HelL of a venture… (‘Just Tea’ at IIM Lucknow)
Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking – Anita Roddick
Survival was a much bandied about word especially when it comes to the first year at HELL a.k.a. IIM Lucknow. Reputed to be one of the most rigorous of campuses, one dare not think beyond academics in the first term, and summer placements in the second term. I, like the rest of my 375 colleagues, was sucked into the maelstrom of b-school life. Fun, no doubt; but a sense of rigmarole associated with it all left the Gujju in me squirming with discomfort. Lectures, case studies, assignments, presentations just did not satiate my pangs. In Term 3, a few seniors dabbled in the idea of a tea joint on campus and they were looking for someone from the junior batch to build upon that. This was the opportunity I was looking for. An opportunity to implement the classroom theories and see the output for real.
The next important step was to form a core team to run the business. Which proved to be quite an exercise in team building, given the amount of time to be pledged towards the venture coupled with the academic rigor in Term 4. And I wanted a team which would complement each other and be as passionate about entrepreneurship as me. It took a lot of convincing and negotiations from my side (a valuable experience in itself) to get 4 like-minded, yet diverse partners on board. Our team was set to operate IIM Lucknow’s very own tea shop “JUST TEA”. The next year was one of the most enjoyable years of my life. Managing academics with business was difficult no doubt, it reflected on my grades. But nothing beats the thrill of watching your cash register ring at the end of the day. JUST TEA was a kind of a parallel curriculum which taught me as much (if not more) than the pedagogy at IIM Lucknow. I won’t bore the reader with a blow by blow account of my venture (he/she is free to contact me for that). However, I will share a few precious nuggets I have collected from JUST TEA:
1) Selecting the right team is sine qua non. This is the most important fact to be borne in mind when you start out. My team members were those with whom I spent most of my waking hours with and it was imperative to have a cohesive team. The business itself throws up a lot of problems, a right team ensures that the business will weather all storms and grow steadily.
2) HR is the most important function. I say this tongue firmly in cheek. Especially for a startup, the kind of labour you hire initially, the training imparted is crucial. A satisfied and competent employee ensured that we were free for higher level decision making. Although the salaries we offered were not something which would make our employees scream with joy, we ensured that we gave them enough perks to keep them motivated. (Which is something we learnt in Herzberg’s two factor theory!)
3) Strategic Business Negotiations should be a compulsory subject. And not an elective which sees frenzied bidding in Term 4. It is an indispensable tool for any JD, more so for managers in any function. We had to negotiate with our suppliers, the institute, our employees and even our customers. A right approach is essential to create a win-win situation every time. Athough ironically, it can never be taught in the cozy confines of a classroom.
4) Idea is the ignition. Passion is the fuel. Bottom lines do not reflect the true state of the business. It will run only so long as the team remains zealous. Conflicts are bound to arise in any team but managing it efficiently is what keeps the spark alive. JUST TEA too had its share of turbulent times with one team member pulling out at a crucial stage. This point is hence dependent on the first point to some extent.
To end on a philosophical note, I have read Rashmi Bansal’s “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. My advice (as humble as humble gets) to the target audience of this website is it would be foolish not to be hungry. The 2 years at a b-school are decisive from your career point of view; but how effectively and efficiently you utilize them are decisive from the point of view of your attitude. Something which will impact every aspect of your life from here on. JUST TEA was my calling at IIM Lucknow. The kicks I derived watching it grow over a year to a potential second outlet are what kept me ticking. B-school life has a plethora of such “kicks” lurking. Know when to present your derriere!
I could never learn what I’m learning at college. They don’t teach it there, because it can’t be learned in that way.” – Philip Hartman
– Kiran Shah
(The Author is an alumnus of IIM Lucknow – Class of 2011. He has done his B.E. (Electronics) from D.J.Sanghvi College of Engineering, Mumbai. He is currently working as Associate Brand Manager in Procter & Gamble. He plans to join his family business of handmade ice-creams)
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