Dream With Your Eyes Open
208 pages; Average reading time 3 hours 27 min
This bookbhook summary will take not more than 11 minutes
- My childhood (1970s) was in a lower middle class environment and instilled in me ways of thinking that would help me later. My first entrepreneurial experience came across in the form of local kids from the building putting together a series of plays & charging parents for attending the same.
- By the time I was 18, I had organised a rock concert in the 3000 capacity Shanmukhananda Hall. The scale of event and the response was brilliant but I lost Rs 50,000/- in the event. To recover this loss, I thought of becoming a model and started visiting advertising agencies for modelling assignments. I got an assignment but it was for a voice-over on a chocolate brand! Nevertheless it helped me recover my losses.
- By this time, I had moved from Cathedral school to B.Com 2nd year in Sydenham College owing to my good academic record. However, the arrogance in me saw me meet my first failure-I failed in the exam. For the next six months I put in all my efforts to clear the exam which I finally did. Lesson learnt was to never take anything for granted.
- In all of this, I learnt about risk and about eliminating the fear of failure. Risk is not about rushing headlong into uncertain and poorly evaluated situations. Risk is about caring more for potential gains than losses. Similarly there is no time that is too young or too old to take a risk. The right time is when you feel confident.
- My first real business came about in 1980s with Lazer Brushes. It had nothing to do with a brilliant idea or an ingenious insight. It was all about being able to spot a business opportunity and trusting intuition.
- I happened to tour a toothbrush factory in London with my father. I spotted a couple of Belgium made automated toothbrush making machines that the Addis toothbrush factory had declared as scrap. These machines were three years old and my instinct told me that they could easily work for another decade or so. I knew that toothbrush selling companies like (then) HLL & P&G could not make their own toothbrushes due to government regulations that restricted toothbrush manufacture to small scale industries. This clearly was an opportunity to manufacture toothbrushes for these big companies. I asked Addis Company to hold on to the two machines for 60 days while I worked out the process to get these shipped to India.
- Without a registered company, and my machines still in London, I approached some of these companies for a purchase order. All I got was a letter of intent that on a sampling basis the company will buy toothbrushes from me but there would be no advance or purchase order.
- I had to then look for funding. After a lot of negotiations, one bank agreed to a loan against the value of the machines and my net worth (which was zero)
- While I was setting up Lazer Brushes without any capital, I was clear that I was not going to work fulltime on this. I was not keen to work on the shop floor. I then started looking for a co-founder and built up a team. In the meanwhile, Lazer Brushes moved from 500,000 brushes in the first year to 50 million in a year over the next eight years.
- My entrepreneurial journey began when I was very young and therefore had an impact on my hobby as well. I started enjoying theatre by the time I was 16. Theatre gave me a lot of self-confidence and a strong platform to become a good communicator. I strongly believe that “Communication is a form of currency for entrepreneurs.” Lazer Productions, a theatre production company, was my entrepreneurial venture in the theatre space.
- My belief in communication, built during the early years in theatre, holds true even today. Communication builds a company’s culture. I ensure participants in meetings do not have their cell phones on them. I also find it quite rude when someone keeps looking at his phone screen and tapping away while I am speaking. I believe that communicating with courtesy liberates people.
- What lies at the core of effective communication is authenticity. I try and reply to each of the more than 300 emails that I get every day. I do it to establish a culture that believes in reverts and courtesy. As a leader it is my job to enable a culture of open communication.
- While theatre helped me build my belief in communication, do not assume that you need to be a great orator to be an effective communicator. Whatever mode (written or spoken) that best showcases your communication effectiveness is the best communication mode for you.
- Shortly after Rupert Murdoch visited UTV’s small basement office in Mumbai, I was asked by News Corp’s London team to come across to London to take discussions forward. I landed in London all alone thinking it would be more about information exchange, only to find a battery of lawyers, strategists & bankers from News Corp ready to close the deal the same day.
- I thought through the following:
- If I delayed the discussions saying I need my team with me, there will never be another time when News Corp will put together such a team for deal closure with a small Indian company like UTV
- Given the preparation level of the News Corp team, they clearly planned to close the deal the same day.
- News Corp team might be doing this kind of deal every day. If I delay today, they will move to someone else tomorrow.
- I decided to go ahead with the discussions and called up my team in Mumbai to be on stand-by all through the day. By the end of the day, UTV & Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp had struck a deal. It was an example of effective communication being about getting things done under any circumstance.
- UTV’s foray into Bollywood as a production house was not a rosy journey. UTV was an outsider in Bollywood, having dealt with TV content only. While we did get initial success like Parineeta & Rang De Basanti, the path was not easy and we soon realised we needed to partner someone who was already well established in the business of film production and distribution.
- We had discussions with Yash Chopra Films and Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited but both did not work out. We also engaged with Sony (Columbia) Pictures & Twentieth Century Fox, both being keen to grab a pie of Bollywood. Discussions with Sony began earlier than those with Fox and so we proceeded for final dialogue with Sony Pictures. After multiple discussions, we had just two pending issues with Sony and on a 0930 PM call one evening, Sony refused to yield on both the points. I was not happy with the tonality of the Sony team on the other side of the call and decided not to take the deal forward. Sony was taken aback and now asked us take one more day to think through, which I again refused. I was clear that the relationship needed to be built on mutual trust and respect and it was clear that Sony did not feel the same way. Things would have possibly become more complicated if we moved ahead.
- We then began discussions with Fox. Our working relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp made it easier to move faster with Fox. At the final stage, Fox insisted on picking and choosing the films that they would co produce with UTV. For me the partnership was about being equals, and this deal, like the other three, too fell through. Four closed doors with no solution in sight meant that UTV would continue alone in the world of film production.
- This was a blessing in disguise as the very reason why we went looking for a partner (being outsiders in Bollywood film production) became the reason for UTV churning out blockbusters like Life in a Metro, Barfi, Rang De Basanti, The Namesake & The Happening. Between 2006 & 2012, UTV swept all major awards for three of those seven years. All these films were not the usual Bollywood storyline & only an outsider would be willing to back these non-Bollywood storylines with lesser known directors.
- If you are building a business that will last beyond 3 years, and if innovation & disruption are not at the core of the business, then the chances of failure will be very high. The key words are Innovate, Disrupt & Adapt.
- Disruption, though, is not about going around with a sledgehammer destroying everything. Disruption requires deep thought coupled with a vision for tomorrow.
- Shanti TV series is an example of how UTV disrupted TV content. When UTV thought of 260 episodes for Shanti, TV in India was about 13 or 26 episodes & there was no ecosystem to support daily soaps. I believed that if daily soaps could work in South America, then why not in India? After an initial struggle, Shanti ran for three years with close to 800 episodes. It’s phenomenal success not only built an ecosystem for daily soaps in terms of talent and resources, Shanti also enabled UTV to begin its syndication model for Indian television content.
- In some ways, UTV’s kids’ channel Hungama was not a disruption as there were already players in this space in India. However all the content from these players was international and there was a need for local content. This was the insight that Hungama leveraged on. Local content like Shakalaka Boom Boom & new syndicates like ShinChan & Doraemon made Hungama the No. 1 kids channel within 18 months, and was bought over by Disney at a later date. UTV’s youth channel Bindaas was an example of innovation where it decided to focus on non- music content, targeted at the youth. Innovative content like Emotional Atyachaar helped Bindaas reach a phenomenal level of popularity.
- The key to understanding untapped markets lies in the following:
- Who are my target consumers?
- Are they spenders or savers?
- What and how are they going to consume over the next 5 years?
- How do they commute and communicate?
- How are they going to keep up with technology?
- What will their daily lives look like?
- What impact & role do I want to play in this?
- I believe that starting a business, building it and scaling the business are three different mindsets with their own DNA. You can be good at any of the three or possibly, in all three. I am fascinated by scale in business. Scale is the inflection point of a business. The business owner needs to be wary of the comfort of being a big fish in a small pond.
- For me scale and strategy are linked. If you are not focussed on scale, then you are not thinking of tomorrow, and that’s a very dangerous thing. But scale needs differentiation. Unless your idea is differentiated from others in the market, you will normally not be able to scale.
- Earlier in my entrepreneurial journey, I had set up a cable TV business in early 1980s. Cable TV was a new concept then and I needed to build scale. It took me over 100 demos and more than 3000 door to door visits before we got our first cable TV connection sold. This was clearly not going to scale up. So we started targeting hotels to sell our connections. A couple of hotel chains would give us access to at least 10,000 paying rooms, which in turn, would force other hotel chains to offer cable TV as a standard feature as well. The guests staying at these hotels would get to experience cable TV and might go back and plan to install cable TV in their homes as well. To compensate the hotels for their additional costs in installing the cable system, we offered an advertising channel that allowed the hotels to cross promote their other services to the guests.
- Within nine months of our first connection, we expanded rapidly and tripled our business by the next year.
- Failure always helps. Insulating yourself against failure does not guarantee success.
- For UTV, console games turned out to be a failure. When we acquired a UK based console games company, we did not realise that console games requires a turn-around time of 2-3 years, unlike UTV’s core business of TV content that would be churned out overnight. The only console game titles that were doing well were the sequels of the earlier popular titles, bought primarily by their earlier fans. We naively thought that our creative teams would be able to get us popular titles by sheer creativity. At one point we turned down an offer to sell the console business at a handsome margin & the entire business turned out to be a wrong bet.
- The core entrepreneurial DNA question is “When I fail, how will I respond?” The answer to this needs to be built around a success plan and a survival plan for every business. Survival plan is not necessarily a Plan B but a recalibration indicator. Possibly what is known as pivoting the business these days?
- Resilience, Trends & Exits
- You spot trends and then you also spot trucks. Trucks are trends that are headed the wrong way-your way for a head-on collision. An entrepreneur needs to be able to distinguish when his trend is morphing into a truck. Gauging the future requires an ability to analyse the past while, at the same time, make sense of the present. This balancing needs to be coupled with spending time with your customers as well as understanding various trends building up around you. In fact, UTV has a core trendsetting team.
- I do not believe in luck but I do believe in being in the right place at the right time. But how are they different? They mean the same. I believe being in the right place at the right time requires planning, a high level of preparedness and a positive and evolving mindset. Luck, by its definition, does not require any of these.
- Inequality for me is an opportunity. Find a starting point and begin! Lack of funding is only an excuse. Frugality and bootstrapping helps a business & the entrepreneur DNA.
- As an entrepreneur who has sold some of the stake for additional investment, the question that haunts is “Where’s the exit?” Exit cannot be timed. A couple of decades back entrepreneurs did not build business to exit within three years. It is important to understand the stereotypes being celebrated in the internet world today are not the normal. My exits from my businesses have been never been timed and they have all had their stories in terms of how and when they happened.
- When UTV conceived the idea of kids’ channel Hungama, no one worked on a plan that said we will spend 2-3 years on this till someone buys out the channel at a handsome valuation. Hungama was built in India and Malaysia (Ceria channel) and the Malaysian broadcaster worked with UTV to invest 26 per cent value into Hungama. For us this was a good deal and we agreed. The media broke the story before we signed on the contract. Soon I had Andy Bird, chairman of Disney International, on the phone with me telling me how Disney has been following the success of Hungama in India and would be keen to buy the channel, given that I was going for a 26 per cent sale with the Malaysian broadcaster. We agreed to discuss. I immediately informed the Malaysian partner about our rethink. Within a fortnight we had a deal with Disney to sell 100 per cent of And then it almost did not happen. Disney team started renegotiating the deal, much against the principles on which I had agreed with Andy & Kevin Mayer. We disengaged from the discussions and I called up Kevin to thank him. My conversation with Kevin, while not meant for that, opened our discussions again and soon we had finally closed the deal of selling Hungama to Disney. So much for timing exits!
- My partnership with Disney was for six years followed by two more years as the managing director of the combined entity Disney UTV. In my second year, I had started introspecting if I was the right person to lead the company for the next five years. I could not answer myself in a yes, and decided to move not only out of Disney UTV but also out of the media sector.
- I have, since moving from Disney UTV, been working on the Swades Foundation and the kabaddi
- After exiting Disney UTV, as I regroup and think about the next two decades ahead of me, I have the following three words to guide me:
- Focus: For me there is nothing called hindsight. But if I could go back and change one thing, it would be my focus. Single minded attention to an idea regardless of the outcome, provides the most intense of learnings.
- Choices: As their leader, your team will look up to you for direction-essentially asking you to make the right choices. Our life is a series of making choices. It is important for you to think about how these choices can become a path to a better life.
- After exiting Disney UTV, as I regroup and think about the next two decades ahead of me, I have the following three words to guide me:
- Empathy: Empathy takes away all your self-importance & the arrogance and ego. Building empathy helps take a view that goes beyond day to day operations and helps form a more humane perspective of the business.
- I have a contrarian view as far as having a Plan B is concerned. Yes I did talk about survival plan earlier. But survival plan is not Plan B. Having a Plan B diverts your attention from the single minded focus & faith on Plan A. Plan B encourages you to keep an eye on the exit.
- The entrepreneur DNA requires being honest with yourself. This is not about integrity but about being honest with your own inner self-holding the mirror to yourself. Do not try to justify your failure or rationalise why the business is not doing well.
- As a nation, we cannot depend on a few leaders to help India move ahead. All of us in our respective profession need to stand up and be counted in helping India progress. I believe sporting victories create euphoria that help foster a can-do approach in the nation’s citizens. My hypothesis is that the day India wins more than twenty golds in the Olympics, India would have already become an economic superpower.
- Dream your own dream and dream with your eyes open.
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