A Two-Month Ride At UM Motorcycles
I could feel a drop of sweat rolling down the brow of my forehead as I sat in the lecture room along with 25 odd people, waiting to meet Mr. Rajeev Mishra, CEO, UM Motorcycles. He had come for a guest lecture at the Institute. Ours was not the section that was attending the guest lecture that day. However, midway through the lecture, we were alerted to the possibility of meeting Rajeev regarding the opportunity of a summer internship placement. I jumped at the chance. Summer internship at a motorcycle company. A company in its initial stages, growing rapidly, and selling motorcycles in the higher power category. It was like the role was designed with me in mind. Ran I did, getting dressed into formals, hopping onto my motorcycle and getting to the room in a hurry. Arriving late was not going to be a reason for me not getting the part. Hence, the drop of sweat.
I’m going to write here about parts that have stuck with me regarding the internship. Not necessarily with a career perspective, but about how memorable the internship was.
It was a short interaction with Rajeev. He asked about our knowledge of motorcycles, talked about how the company was in its growth phases, how work was plenty and how he looked forward to working with us for the internship. Short, charismatic and welcoming. He had the aura of a CEO but seemed humble and approachable. I was convinced. But this wasn’t my first interaction nor the reason for my interest in UM Motorcycles. That goes back to the time of our final management summit held in Delhi by the Industrial Relations and Interaction Committee here at IIM Rohtak. One of the panelists on that day was Ms. Firdaus Shaikh, Sr Brand Manager at UM. In addition to this, she was also the founder of India’s first women bikers club, The Bikerni. I was in awe the moment I heard about her attending the summit. It was somebody I could discuss motorcycles AND marketing with. I was half hoping that she would turn up for the event on a motorcycle. She was an excellent panelist, driving the discussion with her seemingly endless energy and knowledge. At the time, I was hoping that UM would come for placements.
Fast forward a few months, and I have my interview for UM. I had given maybe four interviews by then. They had gone reasonably well but not excellent. I was a bit disappointed and wanted to know where I was lacking. Reading up and talking to seniors, I built up a plan. The idea was to have a structured plan in mind for your career. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to work for? The industry? The role? 5-year plan? 10-year plan? No more winging it in the interviews. Do you want marketing? What specific kind of marketing? Brand marketing? Product marketing? Community building?
I was ready, come the day of the interview. I had my plan set. Brand marketing manager or Product marketing manager in 5 years, Senior marketing manager in 10. But my previous experience working as PR head for an NGO was not in line with this. That was going to take me to PR. That was not where I wanted to go. But I decided to position that experience as my expertise in handling crowds, talking to journalists, and my writing skills. I was going to go to any lengths for this job.
The interview went well, a few questions about me, my experience (or lack thereof), why MBA, and what I plan to do during the internship.
Why MBA after engineering?
The question that pops up in almost 90% (made up data) of interviews. Well, my answer is quite simple. I have a certain skillset (not quoting Liam Neeson, I promise). I developed these from my electrical engineering days. But I plan on working as a Brand Marketing Manager in 5 years and as a Senior Marketing Manager in 10 in a firm preferably in the automobile, renewable energy, electronics or FMCG sector. That requires a different skillset. In order to go from where I am now to where I want to be, I need an MBA. An offer from a premier institute like IIM Rohtak was one that I was never going to turn down. I am a fresher in terms of experience but I have experience working as the PR head of an NGO. I believe my personality and my education can help me get to the position where I want to be.
Hence, an MBA after engineering.
Going back to the interview. We had talked about education, motorcycling, hobbies etc. Things are going well until this question pops up:
“So which motorcycle do you ride? Don’t tell me it’s a Royal Enfield”
An image of my Desert Storm 500 cc Royal Enfield flashes across my mind.
I gulp again.
I go, “Now that you mention it, I was gonna sell my bike anyway. Who wants Royal Enfield anyway”
The interviewers burst out laughing.
See, that’s the thing. You want to be having a conversation with the interviewer. Not a question and answer session. There needs to be dialogue. The more natural the conversation feels, the better.
I knew I had landed the job.
Fast forward a few months again, and it’s 2nd April. First day on the job. I’m dressed in formals complete with a tie. I turn up in the office with 6 others from my institute. Riding there on my Royal Enfield. I parked it under a tree, hiding it away from the front of the office.
The office is on 3 floors. The first floor has the reception and meeting rooms. The second floor has finance, HR, and Operations departments.
Then comes the Marketing department. 4 of us allocated to the marketing department were taken there.
“All the fun stuff happens here.” said a sign with fairy lights hanging from the ceiling. The walls were painted with orange and black graffiti. The colours of the company.
I had a smile on my face as I crossed the marketing floor.
“This is going to be a good two months”, I thought.
We meet with the assistant marketing manager, Mr. Wasim Ahmed. He introduces us to the rest of the team. People in denim and t-shirts, talking, working on posters, advertisements, and people on phones talking to retailers and customers. Much to my disappointment, I was told that Firdaus was on leave that day. I was really looking forward to meeting with her. We were then taken to see the products. Huge motorcycles with relaxed seating positions and a deep drumming grumble from their engines.
The first day, the assistant manager asked me to take the bike out for a spin.
I loved it. It had comparable power figures to my own motorcycle but the throttle response was splendid! I could feel the bike leaping forward as soon as I twisted the throttle.
First day of work, well spent.
The second day of office and enter Ms. Firdaus Shaikh. I wait for the assistant manager to introduce us because she seemed to be busy. I sit at my table and read up on the company some more.
Firdaus seemed to be upset with some creative that the creative agency had sent and was shouting at them over the phone.
“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU PEOPLE SMOKING THERE? THIS WORK IS HORRENDOUS. IF YOU’RE NOT SMOKING ANYTHING, YOU BETTER START SMOKING. BECAUSE THIS IS USELESS”
The whole floor bursts out laughing.
The marketing interns were introduced to Firdaus and she told us we were going to have plenty of work. I was ecstatic. Being a fresher, I needed experience and exposure. I was going to absorb marketing knowledge like a sponge under a running tap.
Fast forward a few days, and I had plenty of work. I was profiling journalists. I was going through around 7 newspapers and categorizing journalists based on their field of expertise. The company could contact them later on for any news or features.
Not an ideal marketing intern situation, I know.
But as I said, I was going to be the best marketing intern in the history of marketing interns.
I was a bit disappointed about the type of work but I still did it.
Next bit that fell on my plate was a ride plan. The company was planning a get-together and wanted me to prepare presentations for the different options in North India, contacting locations, calculating costs for the company and the customer, analyzing the benefits, and how to position the ride. It took me almost a week and I did it well. The company was able to finalize a location with acceptable expenses.
In the meanwhile, I also explore Delhi and its famous street food locations. Little did I know this was not going to end well.
I had built up a good friendship/mentorship with Firdaus by then. The Kerala festival of Vishu comes along and Firdaus, another friend and I eat the traditional Vishu Sadya at a Malayali restaurant. Life was good.
Few days pass and it started raining on my parade.
I fell sick. And I wouldn’t get better despite regular medicine. I head to a hospital and get tests done.
Boom. Jaundice caused by Hepatitis A. Bilirubin levels off the charts. My eyes were yellow.
Firdaus asked me to head home, take rest, and get better. I hop on the first flight to Kozhikode.
While at home, I had the best food in a long time. But I was restless because I wasn’t doing anything productive. I decided to change that. I decided to continue some journalist profiling and also went through social media pages of UM, analyzing reach, time of post, the day of the week, post positioning.
This would pay off later.
10 days later, and I am back in office. But this time, there is a new entrant. A senior marketing manager has joined the company. Sushant Dhar. Experienced marketing strategist with an MBA from Bradford University.
He was brilliant. He kept us on our toes. Complacency and relaxation were not going to work with him. He wanted us to think on a strategy level, not on a tactical level.
My second month of the internship was the exact opposite of the first. I was getting to the office at 9 and leaving at 7. I was loaded with work. And I was happy. I was doing marketing strategy. It was a dream come true.
I got my main project from him. How UM’s community, ROAR (rebels on a renegade) could be utilized by the company.
It was an extremely challenging project.
How it usually goes is, brands build themselves first. They establish themselves. Then they focus on community building. What this does is that the community built up of loyal customers and users complement the brand in its building.
In our situation, the community was growing faster than the brand. I need to devise ways where people would correlate the community to the brand.
I was doing research, applying frameworks, and studying Harward business review papers.
In the meanwhile, I worked on several other small-scale projects.
I was making posters for events, designing magazine ads (the brand/product positioning part mostly), and creating emailer campaigns.
One noticeable project I worked on included Facebook. The company had tie-ups with a motorcycle magazine. The magazine would post on its page regarding the company’s products. The magazine’s credibility and popularity needed to be utilized.
I went through posts on the page from the previous 6 weeks. I checked for when to post, what day of the week to post, and what category of post to make (ads, launches, offers, motorcycling writeups etc.).
I did analysis on excel to identify the sweet spots in order to gather maximum likes/comments.
I realized that we needed to utilize the credibility that the magazine has with its riders. Much like how one would utilize a thought leader.
In line with this analysis, I prepared a post, positioning it in the most popular way on the page, and posted it at the time and day calculated from my research.
An average post on that page receives 80-90 likes.
There were posts with beautiful images of motorcycles from American Companies getting maybe 120 likes.
My post had 2100 likes in two days.
That convinced me of the power of marketing. Your product need not be the best. But you can get ahead with the right positioning and the data analytics.
I felt validated. I felt like my internship was fruitful, to say the least. The company still uses my analysis. It still works too.
I submitted my final project just before my internship ended. It had long-term and short-term plans from different perspectives and to be implemented in different fields. I am yet to see the results. One can only hope it goes well. The marketing head was happy with it is all I know.
The internship was a rollercoaster more than a long relaxing ride, I would say. I worked as hard as I could and the manager was happy to give me work. That’s how it works. If you prove your mettle, you get better and more challenging work that demands you to adapt and overcome. One must not sit still and rot doing the same mundane work. Not if you are a student at an Indian Institute of Management.
So that’s my internship story. Challenging but rewarding. In many ways. I walked away from my internship with an experience working in research, analysis, developing a marketing strategy (that was absolutely the best part), and yes, a pre-placement offer.