Of Setback and Legacy - A Lesson from the Geographic Centre of India

Are businessmen in Middle India really different in their approach and behaviour from their counterparts in the Metros? Are they really ambitious? Individual interactions with seven smart entrepreneurs in Nagpur last week, got me thinking. This and the next few posts provide food for thought.

Ravi Kiran
Updated: Jan 13, 2012 02:16:58 PM UTC

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 sizes and in many a geography, hiring and training dozens of successful managers, I continue to be aggressively curious about beings and things. In 2011, I co-founded Friends of Ambition, a Business Growth Platform for Middle India. It works with growth-minded businesses in Middle India and helps them professionalize their operations, build internal capability and become agile. Our focus on Middle India [a.k.a Tier 2 towns] stems from a strong conviction that the next several decades of explosive business growth in India will come from 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.

Last week, I got an excellent opportunity to listen and learn, when I was in Nagpur, Maharashtra for a day and thanks to some kind help by Jay Chopde, a fellow member of the Indian Angel Network, I managed to pack seven intense meetings into an eleven hour work day, between flights, listening to some very smart entrepreneurs from that city. From a pre-revenue start-up looking at raising funds to a large high end business intelligence company working for some very well-known American companies, I found each company and its story exciting and inspiring.

My old boss and friend D Sriram used to say, “If you haven’t been hit by Life with a big setback, you probably haven’t got an opportunity to learn much from it”. A Chinese friend of mine used to say that the biggest job of a speed breaker is to help you appreciate the thrill of racing on a highway.

When I met Anil Adamane, the 40 year old, tattoo-on-right-forearm Managing Director of Legaato Hair & Skin International in the TiE office, I remembered Sriram and my Chinese friend. Would he have been as resolute in his mission to create a legacy, if he was not betrayed [not his word, ‘dost hai mera!’, he still says] by a close friend in 2008, bringing down his INR 18 Cr (USD 4 MM) Bellezza salon business, built over 5 years, to zero almost overnight? Adamane could have fought back, taken legal recourse to snatch the business that was rightfully his. He could have fought a media assisted battle perhaps. After all, he wasn't a particularly unknown man, having been featured by national weekly Brand Equity earlier that year, as an example of rising retailers in India’s Tier 2 cities.

But he didn’t do any of that. He became ‘sad’ for a few months, and then decided to re-build the business under a new name, to create a new ‘legacy’. He adopted an Italian translation of that word and created Legaato. In about three years, he is up to nearly INR 5 Cr (a million US dollars approx) annual turnover with 10 outlets spread over Nagpur, Pune and Ahmedabad. His four brand portfolio is clear as daylight in his mind, with offerings targeted sharply at different market segments. He wants to grow his business tenfold in five years and then double it in another five. Something tells me he was being conservative in describing his ambitions to me. I have not done a deep analysis of the spa business in big cities, but I guess at INR 1400 (USD 30 approx) average ticket, his Six Elements Spa in Nagpur, a city nearly a fifth of Mumbai’s size, isn’t doing badly.

Is Adamane’s story one of success? Perhaps. But more than success, I find two lessons inspiring.

  1. How do young first generation entrepreneurs really bounce back from a huge setback, in real life? It may look simple, but how easy is it? How did Anil Adamane feel to have his ten years of labour of love taken away from him and then think of rebuilding, without the slightest sense of vengeance?
  2. How do entrepreneurs use emotion as a tool to build businesses? It would have been quite plausible if Adamane had slipped into a prolonged state of depression when he found himself without a business on returning from the L’Oreal sponsored study trip to Paris. Instead he felt obliged to start a business to create employment for the dozens of Bellezza employees who quit the company following his departure.

Worth a thought or two.

DISCLAIMER: All facts as narrated by Anil Adamane, not independently verified.

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