A common theme that runs across the entrepreneurial stories of the young achievers who are a part of the Fortune India 40 Under 40 list each year is their steely resolve to tread the path less taken and break down established barriers and stereotypes while transforming an innovative business idea into a sustainable business.
So it seemed like a good idea to get some of India’s finest young business minds on to a common platform and discuss the need, merits, and ways of disrupting the status quo, during the felicitation ceremony for the class of 2018 in Bengaluru on April 29.
The key takeaways that emerged from the fireside chat with Ritesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of hospitality company Oyo; Manu Kumar Jain, vice president of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and managing director of Xiaomi India; and Ankit Nagori, co-founder of healthcare startup Cure.fit was that constantly challenging the established order is the only way a business can make a mark in a competitive market like India, and that talent is more important than capital while disrupting the status quo.
For instance, Xiaomi, the leading smartphone maker in the country, was a relatively late entrant in the Indian smartphone market. It entered the country when around 300 smartphone brands were already present in 2014. “Everyone was spending hundreds of dollars on advertising each month and more focussed on selling through the offline channel. But we decided to sell online, spend virtually nothing on advertising, and leverage the power of social media for marketing instead,” said Jain, 37. “If you want to do something different and grow disproportionately you have to challenge the status quo.”
Agarwal, who at the age of 24 helms India’s largest hospitality company, prefers the word innovation to disruption, and says that innovation was a must for him to ensure a budget traveller can find a decent, clean hotel room for under Rs 2,000 a night, even in India’s bustling and expensive metros. On the other hand, Oyo is also trying to address the pain points faced by thousands of asset owners who are hassled with the multitude of operations and processes involved in running a hotel, while enjoying low yields. “Our mission to make millions of people find access to a better quality of living and till we can do this the intent to disrupt the status quo will continue,” says Agarwal, who turned entrepreneur right after high school.
For these entrepreneurs, disruption doesn’t always mean changing the business landscape in which they operate. It also relates to the quest for constantly challenging themselves to achieve new goals, often in areas unrelated to their previous professional pursuits. Take Nagori, for instance. After playing a lead role in growing Flipkart’s business from being an online seller of books to India’s largest homegrown e-commerce destination, he decided to leave it all behind and start up again with Cure.fit, an offline-online health and wellness startup offering services ranging from fitness centres and healthy food delivery to mental and primary healthcare centres. “The challenge at Flipkart was to transform an online bookseller to an e-commerce player present across multiple categories in a country where logistics was poor,” recalls Nagori. “The journey at Flipkart taught me to disrupt yourself whenever you seem to getting into a comfort zone and aspire to the next level.”
But disruption that has a positive impact on people isn’t possible without the right team and talent. In fact, these business leaders of tomorrow were unanimous that if they had to choose between talent and capital as the most important ingredient for meaningful disruption, they would choose the former.
“At Xiaomi, I am always looking to hire people who are smarter than me; who are self-starters and can take full responsibilities for projects if empowered,” Jain says. “I feel capital is a little overrated. If you are smart and have the talent, you can think differently and challenge the status quo and win.”
Nagori agreed with Jain, but added that along with talent, “staying power” was also important for startups. “While talent is most important, we have seen good ideas vanish into thin air due to lack of capital,” he says.