Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Entrepreneurship: Alive and Kicking in Bangalore

India may be known to the business world as the land of the Tatas, the Birlas, the Narayan Murthys and the IITs and IIMs, but the first thing that hits you when you land in India and you drive out of the airport to your hotel or home is the number of shops lining the streets - big departmental stores, tiny shops selling paan, biscuits, chocolates and juices, roadside stalls selling savories and snacks, makeshift stalls for clothes or just men and women squatting on the pavement selling anything from flowers to toys to books.

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A paan seller

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Dry fruits and fresh fruits on a slow Sunday afternoon

I wouldn't be surprised if the number of entrepreneurs per thousand in India is the largest in the world, though I sometimes wonder how any of these businesses make any money at all. Some of these are just tiny businesses with just a table and a row of huge glass jars with some chocolates in them in the front room of a house (of course, that business may not be the enterprise sustaining the families).

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A chaat stand

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A peanut seller finds some shade

Of all the different examples of small business enterprises I've seen, the one that fills me with the most satisfaction is the food stalls operated out of tempos or out of the backs of Maruti vans. Because the vehicles are mobile, they are able to operate out of a small strip of pavement. These vehicles arrive at the designated spot (usually near construction sites of which there are untold numbers in Bangalore right now) with huge vats of smabhar, rice, curries and raagi (millet) balls, throw open the doors and set out the dishes. They also bring with them plates, glasses and jugs of water. There's usually a woman behind the vats serving laborers their breakfast, lunch or dinner.

It's thrilling to see this in operation. The food stall operators make brisk business and the laborers get home cooked meals, the kind they like, probably at even lower prices than the Darshinis.

Another small business enterprise that has gained popularity in Bangalore is the mobile beautician. With every little nail clipper, eyebrow tweezer and cotton ball squared away into their one big bag, the women zip around town in their two-wheelers and snip hair, clip nails, pluck hair, scrub away dead skin, massage tired muscles, moisturize, peel, wax, thread - in short, a provide a plethora of services - all in the comfort of their patrons' homes.

And from all accounts, the mobile beauticians make a roaring business. Building her client list mostly from word of mouth, M, one such beautician I know, works from 6 am up to 9 pm, seven days a week! And on many days she still does not have time to break for luch. At one point in her business, she got so busy that she enlisted her cousin as an assistant and it is a sight to see the both of them zipping through the community on their scooter, or one or the other of them walking briskly to make her next appointment, cell phones hanging around their necks.

With a 10th grade education in which English was part of the curriculum, M does a marvellous job of communicating with her various clients (most of whom don't know Kannada). She has a business card and a rate card and no Blackberry. It is a mystery how she remembers where she has to be at the appointed hour, but she does - she's never missed an appointment and more likely than not, it'll be her calling me to remind me.

Her drive and work ethic are nothing short of amazing, and her level of service exists in a rarefied world. When it comes to deciding whether to head over to a salon or pick up the phone to call M, the choice is clear.

And the day might not be far behind when that Blackberry makes an appearance.


Anonymous said...

And with the BlackBerry in hand, she'll probably start missing appointments. As they say in Japan, "Don't use technology just for the sake of using it."

Anonymous said...

Let me know when M goes international! :)

DesiGirl said...

Long live desi entrepreneurship! I tell ya, these mobile folks have better sense of ethics and standard than most folks sitting behind plush counters in air-con showrooms and parlours.

Anonymous said...

lovely post. and pics.... entrepreneurship is truly alive not just in Bangalore but all over... no wonder India is the land of jugaad!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Vinay, :), probable.

Anjali, she should, she has the drive!

DG, most definitely, and it feels so good when you are handing her the money because you know it's going straight to her and not to anyone above her leaving only a little bit for her.

Charu, thanks. But what is jugaad?

Anonymous said...

here is what jugaad means, and here is a post by charu on this topic.

- s.b.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Thanks sb.

Anonymous said...

Bangalore is known as the entrepreneurhip capital of india. Just like the US was in the early 90's Bangalore will be called the land of opportunities soon...Great post...thanks.