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5 Pieces of Advice to Young Professionals Entering the Fashion Industry

(The following is the video and the text of the Commencement Speech by Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, at the Convocation of the batch graduating in 2019 from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Patna, India.)

I would like to just share a few learnings from my own career. I hope some of these learnings will provide you some food for thought, and if they stick, I hope they prove valuable to you in some way in your own career.

I think as a graduate of a professional institute, there are 5 life-skills or attributes or pieces of advice that could be useful to you.

  1. Approach work in an integrative manner, not distributive: As you enter the industry, you will find that there is a tendency to specialize. Entry level roles are functionally specific. As an individual you need to make a special effort to not lose the larger perspective. As you grow in your career you will find that an ability to connect the dots and show others the bigger picture will be a more valuable skill than you can imagine today. So, if you are a designer, as about a hundred of you present here are, please spend time and effort understanding the intricacies of manufacturing, the nuances of marketing and the thrust of business development. If you are a merchandiser or a technologist, please make time to expose yourself to art, music, cinema – what might seem to you as entertainment (or even a waste of time) today will go a long way in preparing you for leadership roles, because you will be able to not only understand your own function but understand what makes the other parts of the organisation tick.
  2. Be available to others: No matter what work you do, it is never in isolation and depends on support of your colleagues and peers, within and outside the organisation. By making yourself available to others – whether to help in a professional situation or personal – you lay the foundations for relationships that will support you through your career and your life in ways that you cannot anticipate or plan. All professional success is built on foundations laid by others. The best way to express thanks for their contributions is by making yourself available to make others succeed.
  3. Learn. Learn. Never stop learning: As you graduate today, I hope you will have no illusion that you have learned everything you need for the rest of your career, and that you are set for life. The world is changing faster than ever, and so is the market and the industry. Make your skill set something that is refreshed all the time. If you don’t cultivate the hunger to learn, it is very likely that there will come a point in your career where you are feeling stuck and will not have the tools available to push yourself into a new trajectory or career orbit.
  4. Have integrity: Be honest to the work that you do, be honest to the organisation that you work for, to your colleagues, to your customers, to your suppliers, to your juniors. The word “integrity” has its roots in “intact” or “whole”. When someone lacks integrity, it is as if they have a split personality – thinking or believing one way, while behaving another way. The greater the difference between the two, the more energy you will waste. If you have integrity in life, if your thoughts, words and actions are aligned, all your energy will work in the same direction. I know this could be possibly the most difficult pieces of advice I’m asking you to follow, but I think it will pay off for you in building your career.
  5. Adopt a responsible approach towards the environment: As graduating students of NIFT you need to realise that you are becoming a part of the 2nd most polluting industry in the world after oil and gas! As India’s economic growth continues, the fashion, consumer products and retail sector are expected to grow as well. It is critical that today’s youth actually start questioning how this industry runs worldwide. Please don’t blindly accept that just because the global industry has worked in a particular way for the last 80-100 years, it is the right way. The fashion sector runs on planned obsolescence – i.e. products are planned to be discarded within a short time, even if physically and functionally there is nothing wrong with them. At a recent industry conference, I called fashion a “zombie industry” – zombies are supposed to be dead but they act as if they are alive, as they run about eating people’s brains. Don’t become another zombie in a zombie industry. Find ways to fight the waste created within and by this industry. If you can make it more sustainable, less wasteful, it is your own world that will be a better place to live in.

Thank you so much for patiently hearing me out. I hope some of the advice would have resonated with you, and will prove useful. I wish you all the very best and offer you my congratulations, on behalf of all the other alumni – welcome to the industry. Thank you!

The Brave New (Old) World

Over the past few years, the Internet has been revolutionising the way we interact with each other, as individuals, as companies or corporate entities, providing a mass of information keeps growing with no end in sight. With cheap and direct access, we can quite simply move around with a few clicks, most of the time locate what we want, make an informed (and even comparison-based) decision, and exit. Surely, as many pundits forecast, the Internet should bring an end to intermediation of any sort. Well, yes. And no.

Yes, the Internet makes information more easily accessible to everyone. Every week there are literally thousands of websites, hundreds of portals and at least a few dozen exchanges that spring up. These get hit upon either directly, or via the many search engines that, in turn, are also constantly updating and fine-tuning their search algorithms, pushing to create sensible shortlists that are useful for the researcher. One is even named after the butler created by P. G. Wodehouse, with the implicit claim that it will anticipate your needs even before you know of them! However, these are only attempts at generating intelligence (at best), more often just information, quite a lot of which is unintelligible, and very far from the “knowledge” that we human beings seem to create in our minds quite automatically as we go about doing our tasks. Just a few days ago, I was searching for hotels in the US – what I downloaded was a morass of information, and I spent a whole day sorting through it. In this case I could have just as well requested a trusted travel agent to come up with a few appropriate options for me, from which I could have booked my choice.

Our minds are, yet, the best-known computer to man, in terms of versatility. Our minds can store enormous amounts of data – a surprising amount remains in long-term memory (despite the fact that often we can’t seem to remember the name of the person that we just met in the lift!). More importantly, we can connect and inter-relate seemingly unrelated items of information, for example, creating travel itineraries covering flights, hotels and various other details into a plan that is most effective and efficient keeping in mind the time constraints, costs and our objectives for travelling. We are still not fully-there from robot programmes which will automatically find you the best prices, and the most convenient locations or times, let alone do that for hotels AND flights AND trains and any other items that your itinerary contains. Travel is actually probably one of the simpler examples – you could still create parameters which, provided the base information about price, time or location is provided by the service providers, can be used in programmes that can analyse patterns of new and past data, and revert with some shortlisted options.

Let us think of a more complex example – the textile and apparel supply chain . It is one of the most fragmented industries, and possibly one of the most global in terms of trade flows. There are multiple layers of raw materials and intermediate products, most of which pass through some sort of intermediaries (such as commission agents, stockists, importers etc.). In such a form the industry is a prime candidate for opening out to the Internet, where suppliers can create their websites, or store their information through other platforms (such as “exchanges”) which can be accessed by buyers from around the world – easy to set up, independent of time zones and very very low cost. Get rid of the multiple layers that mostly add costs, book orders directly, get rid of stocks… sounds like a heaven-sent opportunity!

Well, that is how it is being seen by the 70-80 exchanges that have come up around the world, or are in various stages of being set up. Some of these have been set up by existing industry players, some by technology companies, and yet others by people who have set up exchanges in other sectors who believe that similar business principles can be applied to the textile and apparel supply chain as they have applied in the other sectors. This should dramatically raise the direct access between suppliers and customers – be the end of agents and other intermediaries – and basically make millions for the companies promoting the exchanges!

Yet, around the world, retailers and brands that buy finished products and raw material do not seem to be rushing to stake any significant proportion of their purchases to web-based sourcing. And there are multiple reasons for that.

Firstly, such a proliferation of exchanges seems to be only a reflection of the fragmentation, and there does not seem the likelihood that any clearly dominant player will emerge in the next few months. There is little or no differentiation between most of these exchanges – most of them offering a sophisticated yellow pages capability, while others offer possibly a few add-ons such as functionality that allows buyers to bid for stocks, or suppliers to quote for products.

Secondly, in certain areas, buyers or suppliers themselves have got involved in setting up exchanges. Some of these are private web-based initiatives (such as Wal-Mart or Littlewoods on the retail end, or LiFung.com or TheThread.com on the supply side), while others apparently are more public and collaborative, such as World-Wide Retail Exchange.

Closed web-based systems are excellent for the company that is initiating it, because it enables the company to streamline operational processes. However, it does create another platform for people to adapt to, though web-based systems are less painful certainly than EDI or other proprietary systems, which require specific investments. Also, occasionally it brings up the question of conflict of interest. For example, how comfortable would one supplier feel in sharing internal information with another supplier who has taken on an additional role?

Other initiatives, such as the WWRE, have got off to a good start, but here internal stumbling blocks are inevitable due to the composition of the groups. Consider the WWRE: 27 retailers currently, in four separate areas of operation (as diverse as food and clothing), with different geographical bases, which make the business imperatives very different for the various participants. Add to that the fact that people are loath to share knowledge that is considered proprietary by them, whether process knowledge or supplier contacts. It is a long-drawn process of consensus management in such a large initiative.

Thirdly, what kind of a service offer is the best? As of now, there is are options available from various B2B service providers, offering varying areas of benefit, from listing services to “software solutions” for various applications, to loose working relationships. Not only do the service offerings actually vary, there are varying degrees of claims and counterclaims that muddy the waters further.

The scenario is actually as confusing as it seems to be – players, whether exchanges, portals or any other kind of company, are dynamically evolving their business models, with changes seemingly almost every week, and new players emerging all the time. In such a scenario, buyers (who are early-adopters) will get into as many exchanges as possible to get the maximum choice, and to hedge their bets. On the other hand, the majority – which comprises of buyers who adopt new technologies later – will hold back to see which exchanges come up as the most widely accepted or most appropriate for them.

Finally, whether we like it or not, textile and apparel products are inherently emotional products. They are, of course, driven by specifications, and those specs can be defined fairly precisely. But what the specifications cannot ever completely convey is how a buyer feels instinctively about including a product in a range. Or, indeed, what the impact would be of making some minor adjustments that can be visualised, discussed and decided in an interactive session between a buyer and a supplier. Or, for that matter, what is the best way to reconfigure a supply chain, under pressure of a new order, or an unforeseen delay in the process. Intermediation is something that has become ingrained in the textile and apparel supply chain.

In such a scenario, it is unlikely that intermediaries will disappear immediately. What is certainly happening, however, that while previously buyers were willing (or forced) to pay for having access to information, pure information itself is being made a commodity. In this frame of reference, companies are seeking out “genuine value-for-money” before they will shell out a buying or selling commission. Process or domain knowledge is an absolute must – only this can enable web-based companies to create unique and genuine value-adding web-solutions. Simply putting up a ‘telephone directory on the web’ will fetch very little in return. Even though a telephone directory has hundreds thousands of entries, how much do you pay for it? Relationship-management and process-management capability will remain in demand, and many of the existing intermediaries certainly show a lot of that.

Vertical integration
One of the most important developments that will certainly be an accelerated outcome of the internet, will be the vertical integration of the textile and apparel supply chain. While, in the past, the very diverse nature of the stages of the supply chain has created and maintained multiple layers, web-based technologies are now enabling companies to structure and manage the apparel supply chain from as early a stage as they wish to, be that fabric, yarn or even fibre.

Breaking down size barriers
Another significant outcome is that the web breaks down “size” barriers. Large retailers typically bought from large suppliers, while small retailers typically did business with small suppliers. Any “criss-crossing” (i.e. small companies dealing with larger companies) needed middlemen – individuals or companies that broke bulk or consolidated orders, for small or large retailers, respectively. This had more to do with operating systems, management capabilities and the scale needed for relationship management than it did with actual barriers. Now, however, web-based systems can allow some parity between organisations of different size, because at a low cost the same level of functionality is available to companies of all sizes, This is significantly changing the balance of power, and the overall structure of the industry. Scale was never the only surrogate measure of capability in this industry, but the correlation between actual scale and perceived or actual capability is getting even more vague over the Internet.

The impact of the web on the textile and apparel industry is not going to be immediate – it will take a while to permeate the hundreds of thousands of companies that make up the supply chain – so there is some breathing space.

But surely, in the next five years, the textile and apparel supply chain that we shall be seeing, will be structured quite differently from the existing supply chain. There will certainly be some casualties. What is important is that you – whether you are a supplier or a retailer – should start taking cognisance of the changes to come, and begin changing your own business to avoid being one of the casualties.

Indian fashion stores look for expansion, US counterparts shut many 

Raghavendra Kamath, Business Standard
Mumbai, 16 February 2017

Indian fashion chains are betting big on the consumption story here as American chains shut stores, amid competition from online retailers.

Macy’s, the largest department store chain in the US, said it was closing 68 stores. Sears will also close 42 stores. Kmart is closing 108 stores and and discount chain Kohl’s has closed 18 stores, according to reports.

Indian chains are scripting a different story, despite a strong online retail presence. Future Group-owned Central plans to add 15 new Central HD stores. Central HD has upgraded their décor and has minimalistic fixtures with an aspirational fashion boutique feel.

“The store is designed to offer an enhanced and more customised service to shoppers,” said Vishnu Prasad, chief executive officer, Central. “We have received great response with the new Central HD. We are expecting 15-20 per cent like-to-like growth.”

Shoppers Stop, the country’s largest department store chain, is planning to open four new stores this year and is working on a 35,000 sq ft format for smaller cities, against the average size of 45,000 sq ft. “The new stores have designated shop-in-shops for private brands to provide a luxe experience,” said Govind Shrikhande, managing director, Shoppers Stop. “We are targeting seven-eight per cent like-to-like growth in the department store segment.”

Max, Landmark Group’s value fashion chain plans to open 40-45 stores at an investment of Rs 5 crore each. These stores have the latest retail identity as in their home market of Dubai with omnichannel capabilities in terms of digital displays and a WiFi environment.

Vasanth Kumar, executive director of Max, said, “Unlike the US, India’s per capita retail space creation is very low and so is the share of organised retail. Also, 60 per cent of our population is below 30 years,”. “As a country, we have a long way to go before being saturated,” Kumar pointed out.

Rajat Wahi, partner and head (consumer markets) at KPMG, said with rents declining and e-commerce facing a slowdown, modern trade would resume expanding its footprint, especially in large formats (over 50,000 sq ft) and medium formats (10,000-30,000 sq ft).

“While e-commerce will continue to grow and some categories will be bought predominantly online, most Indian consumers will continue to shop for high-value products in brick and mortar stores,” Wahi said.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer at Third Eyesight, said in a market as fragmented as India’s department stores “have a role to play as authoritative ‘experience environments’ for the consumer and as platforms to showcase diverse brands.”

Marquee labels including Gap, Zara to come with smaller price tags  

Rasul Bailay & Shambhavi Anand, The Economic Times
New Delhi, 14 February 2017

Global marquee fashion and lifestyle brands such as Gap, Zara and The Body Shop are resorting to price cuts to stay competitive and increase their market share in the price-sensitive Indian market.

UK’s cosmetic brand The Body Shop slashed prices across categories in India by 20-30% on Friday while US fashion brand Gap is looking to bring down prices of certain products by 10-15% by allowing its India franchisee Arvind Lifestyle Brands to manufacture them locally.

Arvind will produce 30-40% Gap merchandise in India to be sold here, said J Suresh, chief executive at Arvind Lifestyle Brands. “The process has started and we will introduce them in springsummer 2018,” he said.

Spanish brand Zara, the market leader in fast fashion, too is looking at slashing its prices to bring them closer to Swedish rival H&M, said two people familiar with the matter.

Experts say price cut is one of the most effective ways to increase sales and market share in a price-sensitive market like India, particularly in highly competitive and fast-growing segments such as branded apparels and beauty products.

“Most brands strategically lower prices for the value conscious Indian consumer,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight. “In most cases prices are reduced to drive the demand further,” he said.

Gap currently imports all its merchandise into India and its products are about 40-50% more expensive than those of rivals Zara and H&M. Local production will help it bring down prices and compete better with the two faster-growing rivals.

Suresh of Arvind Lifestyle Brands said his company had an agreement with Gap to produce in India since May 2015 when they entered India, but was waiting for attaining a “minimum quantity” to produce here.

Gap has been struggling to keep pace with Zara and H&M in the Indian market. According to business head of a prominent mall in Delhi that has all the three brands, Gap’s sales are at times less than half of sales of Zara and H&M.

A Gap spokesperson in San Francisco said, “We tailor sourcing strategies as appropriate for the markets and channels we operate in to enable competitive positioning.” A Zara spokesperson declined to comment on a specific query about any price cuts in the near future.

The Inditex-owned fashion brand had reduced prices by up 15% when H&M entered the Indian market in October 2015 with its global strategy of aggressive pricing. The move helped record a 17% sales growth during FY16, though that was its slowest sales growth since opening its first store in the country in 2010. Zara posted sales of Rs 842.5 crore during FY16.

Shriti Malhotra, chief operating officer at The Body Shop India, said the price cut will make its products more accessible to consumers. “Lower prices of our best sellers will bring affordable cruelty free beauty closer to diverse consumers across age groups and geographies, recruiting new fans along the way and strongly reinforcing our philosophy of beauty beyond boundaries,” she said.

Price correction is a tried and tested strategy to revive sales in India.

In September 2015, when Arvind Lifestyle Brands took over the business of beauty and wellness retailer Sephora from former franchisee DLF Brands, the first thing it did was a price correction. “We looked at pricing in Dubai and Singapore and we kept it in the band of 5-10% lower than that,” said Vivek Bali, chief executive of Sephora in India.

The company still does small tweaking of prices here and there on slow moving products.

(Published in The Economic Times)

Taj Brings All Its Hotels Under Single Brand 

Sharleen Dsouza, Bloomberg Quint 

Mumbai, 10 February 2017

Less than seven years after launching the Vivanta brand and four years after inaugurating its first Gateway property, Indian Hotels Co Ltd. has decided to re-brand the two verticals and bring them back under the Taj Group brand.

All existing properties run by the Taj Group will now be classified under four categories — Taj Hotels, Taj Palaces, Taj Resorts and Taj Safari. Only its budget chain, Ginger Hotels, will continue to be operated under the existing brand.

Analysts and brand consultants maintain that this entire exercise will have no impact on the company’s performance in the near term. They peg the benefit of reclassification seeping in only after five years, if at all.

Consultants also argue that the rebranding exercise by the hotel major won’t do much to change the perception in the mind of the consumer, which has been dented due to a drop in service quality.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer at Third Eyesight, a retail and brand consultancy firm, is not so critical of the new strategy stating that the new branding will help Taj classify its properties better and build market share over a period of time.

Brokerage house IIFL Ltd. says Indian Hotels’ long-term strategy is to chase profitability over a period of time. “The earlier positioning didn’t do much for the consumer. There was a sense of ambiguity in the minds of the consumer with the earlier classification of hotels. It is very clear that the company is now looking to improve its bottom line,” according to Amar Ambani, Head Of Research At IIFL Ltd.

The rebranding will be complete by the end of 2017, the company said.

Chinami Sharma, chief revenue officer of Taj Hotels, Palaces, Resorts, and Safaris, said the company will spend not more than three to four percent of its revenue on the rebranding exercise.

Indian Hotels’ consolidated revenue in the quarter ended December stood at Rs 1,129.29 crore, down 2.8 percent year-on-year compared to Rs 1,162.19 crore. Its net profit rose to Rs 93 crore compared to Rs 13 crore in the year-ago period.

The reclassification of hotels will not have an impact on the pricing strategy of the Taj Hotels properties, the company said.

(Published in BloombergQuint)

Food Processing – Supply Chain Conflicts and Food Security (Video)

This is a recording of a short, candid talk by Devangshu Dutta (chief executive, Third Eyesight) at the ASSOCHAM’s 8th Global Food Processing Summit in New Delhi, India.

He touched upon the inherent conflicts in the food supply chain we need to be aware of before formulating policies and practices, and strongly urged everyone to look at food security from the point of view of sustainability and risk-management. (Transcript below.)

TRANSCRIPT:

I’ll just take just few minutes to share a few thoughts with you on the sector.

The session was titled “Make in India: Platform for investment opportunity in food processing sector and 100 percent FDI in food retail”.

As we all know, whoever’s been following the news, there’s all this buzz around FDI into retail being allowed, not only for physical retail but also for e-commerce companies, and there are two very strong sets of drivers. On the one hand is the likes of Walmart and Tesco and people who want to actually set up food retail. and you know food is the largest consumption in our basket of consumer products, so they obviously want to tap into that demand. The second side is Amazon and the likes of it where again you know there are no barriers in terms of location, you are buying on the net, tapping into a consumer who’s looking for convenience, and there you need to actually service that demand with food and grocery which is packaged, so there is obviously a very strong push a very strong lobby for that to happen. At the same time there’s a very strong lobby against that because there are domestic retailers who invested a lot of money over the last maybe 10-15 years in setting up a lot of retail stores. In the recent years there have been a few e-commerce companies that have come up as well with domestic and foreign capital. So there is this conflict.

In this whole ecosystem of food production and supply and retail there are some fundamental conflicts that we need to be aware of, before we get into any kind of thinking about what should be done with the sector.

First of all is foreign vs. Indian; this is a conflict which is there the world over, and I think we will see that increase in Europe, in the US, and in other places. You know, “local versus foreign” is a conflict which we will keep seeing. I think we have moved a little bit away from that within, not only this government’s regime but also the earlier government’s regime, where we started to welcome foreigners back into the country and said, “let’s do trade together”.  I think it’s important to keep it in mind that local interests will always always be take predominance over foreign interests. If any government comes in and says, “I will give foreign interests precedence”, it’s going to not be there in power the next time, so that’s something which is to be kept in mind.

The second is this is a conflict between large and small…large retailers versus small retailers. A Reliance had to close shops in Uttar Pradesh, had to close shops in Kerala because they were impacting small retailers. So it’s not just about Walmart impacting small retailers, it’s also about the large Indian companies impacting smaller companies.

The third conflict is between traditional and modern, and this is happening again even in farming. Indian farmers tend to follow traditional practices, there are fragmented land holdings, and then you have modern entrepreneurial farmers, you have cooperatives which are adopting different techniques, and there is a conflict which happens at that level as well. At the local level it can get hugely political and then it starts raising barriers. So if you talk about the food supply chain, it’s not a simple thing to deal with.

Fourthly, the biggest biggest conflict – and that’s not really a conflict outright because these are people who are working together – but there are differences of interests and, therefore, there are conflicts…that is between retailer, supplier and the farmer, the interests are not aligned. A retailer wants lower prices, a supplier wants even lower prices, but the farmer wants higher yield and higher prices, so that conflict, just something on account of price and commercial terms and various other things, is bound to create friction in that supply chain.

Having understood that, I think we need to also acknowledge the fact that retailers are unlikely to invest in the supply chain and in farming. Amazon is not going to set up food processing. Amazon is not going to set up farms which are contract farming. Let’s face it, even Future Group hasn’t. Future Group has set up a food park. Future Group has taken over companies which are in food production companies but Future Group has has not set up, ground-up, contract farming. They’ve tried but it’s not their core competence, it’s not even their core interest. Reliance has done a little bit, ITC has done a few things but it’s not something which is fundamentally their business. They’re retailers, that’s what drives them, so what they can do is they can create an ecosystem.

Let’s take the example of McDonald’s or a Pizza Hut or say a Domino’s. These are foreign quick service restaurants which have come into the country. A McDonald’s had to actually build its supply chain from scratch to get the potato fries, to get the burgers done, to get the patties done and they created an ecosystem, in some cases they invested or co-invested with Indian partners, but in most cases they encouraged Indian partners to talk to their partners from Europe, US etc.

When we talk about people like Future Group, it has done a lot in being a platform for Indian companies to come on board and sometimes international companies as well. They’re a platform for them to launch and grow their business. So what the retailer can do is create the ecosystem, create the demand pipeline. Beyond that it is up to the food producer, it is up to the farmer, to take that opportunity and move on. It’s not for the retailer to handhold from scratch all the way to selling on the shelves.

In terms of the practices that we need to adopt I’d like to say this, that while we keep talking about international standards, food is a very local thing. We may be going into a world where 50 years down the line all of us will be having a white-gray powder which has no flavour and that’s what the future of food…I hope not!…The fact is the food is a very local thing because of tastes, because of cultures, because of the environment that you are in. And we are actually losing a lot. People who are here from farming, if you look back not, even very far – maybe 20-25 years – certainly, if you look back 50 years, what was being farmed we’ve lost probably 30-40 percent of that produce, because there is no demand, because it is difficult to grow, because it’s seasonal, because it is difficult to process,  difficult to sell. If you go to the sabziwala today versus if we went to the sabziwala 10 years ago, you will find that the variety of produce has actually diminished. So while we are talking about food processing, what is happening is…and I’d like to mention this…You know, sometimes we come to conferences like this and we run our businesses, we run with a split personality. We do what is convenient for the business, we do what is good for the business in terms of cost, in terms of ease of processing, in terms of ease of selling etc. When it comes to us as consumers, we want fresh, we want variety, we want flavor, we want colour, we want all of it. Why do we have the split personality? Why can’t we actually combine the two and do what is right for us as consumers, our children as consumers, the environment, and the future as well?

Sustainability is should be a big driver and we forget that the kind of food processing which is going on right now, by and large the kind of plants which are being put up, are based on technology which was developed in North America and Europe between 1900 and say 1960-70. That’s been the most wasteful part of the last century in terms of energy, in terms of water, in terms of labour, in terms of anything. It’s resource intensive. Now imagine even if 20% of India – over 200 million people – started to live and depend on that kind of a lifestyle and that kind of an industrial structure! This country will be finished, certainly! The world would be finished! We cannot do that, so we’ve got to do stuff which is good for us as consumers, the environment as a whole, and good for the business. It can’t just be one. We cannot be uni-dimensional in our thinking.

Last point: I think diversity is a very, very important part of the food supply chain and diversity means that there are “many”. We tend to look at large companies as being the standard and, therefore, large being good. But the fact is that if you take food which is an integral part of our lives…You cannot live without air, you can live without food and water for a few days, you can’t survive. You can live without clothes for your entire life.

If let’s say the food supply chain and even the processing, the acquisition and everything else, if it gets consolidated beyond a certain point it becomes extremely vulnerable. Anybody who’s looked at financial services risk management or any any kind of risk assessment, you would know that it is good to have a diversified basket. From the point-of-view of farming, from the point-of-view of manufacturing, from the point-of-view of retail, consolidation beyond a certain point is actually detrimental to quality and to safety. So if you’re looking at food safety, if you’re looking at sustainability, we need to actually encourage many, many, many entrepreneurs, many small businesses.

For that…I don’t know if anybody is there from the government sitting in this audience…but Make in India will only happen if we make it easier. Today all of us who are in business know that India is one of the most hostile environments to do business of any sort. It does not matter whether you are in manufacturing, whether you’re a truck driver, whether you are running a consulting business. With all the regulations…we don’t lack regulation, there’s too much regulation…we don’t have an environment where it is easy to do business. If that can happen we will find that we will have an extremely diverse and vibrant ecosystem which will grow and we can actually be the standard, the international standard which can be followed by everybody else. I think what we should do is try and get the government to work in that direction. If we can do that, if that’s one outcome we can achieve out of this conference I’ll be really, really, really happy.

Thank you so much!

Amazon takes up record level of office property in 2016 

Raghavendra Kamath, Business Standard
Mumbai, 25 January 2017

To expand its storage capacity in India, Amazon had opened its largest Fulfilment Centre in Sonipat, Haryana.US-based e-commerce giant Amazon took about a million square feet of office spaces on lease last year, making it equal to what it took between 2008 and 2015 in the country.

Founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said last year that it would invest another $3 billion in India, amid intense competition in the e-commerce space.

Much of the leased space could be used for seller and development services, besides a 30,000-sq ft building in Bandra Kurla Complex for its India headquarters.

According to Propstack, a data analytics firm for commercial property transactions, various Amazon entities have leased about 1.3 million sq ft since 2008.

Amazon launched its online marketplace in India in 2013 but had been present in the country for eight years for research and development services.

An Amazon India spokesperson said: “As a policy, we do not comment on what we may or may not do in the future.”

Properly consultant Colliers International elaborated on the latest activity by Amazon as the year closed — 100,000 sq ft in the Mohan Co-operative area in Delhi, 150,000 sq ft in Ambience Corporate Tower 2 in Gurgaon and 300,000 sq ft in World Trade Tower Noida.

Before that, through 2016, it leased 90,000 sq ft at Ambience Corporate Tower II NH8 in Gurgaon and 350,000 sq ft at Mindspace, Madhapur, in Hyderabad.

Rival Flipkart, which operates through Flipkart India, Flipkart Internet and Flipkart Payment Gateway, recently took 600,000-sq ft office space in an Embassy group project in Bengaluru.

“Amazon has been investing systematically in expanding its product portfolio, bringing Indian merchants on to their Indian and global platform, and expanding its delivery infrastructure,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer at retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

Dutta said with its plans to grow private labels and the current e-commerce foreign direct investment regulations which require companies to increase the share of unrelated merchants, the Bezos-led company requires significant organisational capacity and hence is growing office spaces.

Added Raja Seetharaman, director at PropStack, “Amazon is going ‘all out’ in the battle for e-commerce market share in India. They realise that India would be their next biggest market outside the US. With a median age of 27 and growth rate of 6.5-7 per cent, Amazon is willing to invest ‘whatever it takes’ to win.”

The company’s long-term investments, along with futuristic technology like drone deliveries, which it is already piloting in the US, indicate that Amazon is well positioned to be a leader in the e-commerce sector, Seetharaman said.

LEASE DEALS IN 2016

  • Leases 100,000 sq ft in Mohan Co-operative Area in Delhi
  • Takes 150,000 sq ft in Ambience Corporate Tower 2 in Gurgaon
  • Takes 300,000 sq ft in World Trade Tower in Noida
  • Takes 90,000 sq ft at Ambience Corporate Tower II NH8 in Gurgaon
  • Takes 30,000 sq ft in BKC in Mumbai
  • Takes 350,000 sq ft at Mindspace, Madhapur in Hyderabad

Source: Colliers International

(Published in Business Standard)

Amazon takes up record level of office property in 2016

Raghavendra Kamath, Business Standard 
Mumbai, 25 January 2017

To expand its storage capacity in India, Amazon had opened its largest Fulfilment Centre in Sonipat, Haryana.

US-based e-commerce giant Amazon took about a million square feet of office spaces on lease last year, making it equal to what it took between 2008 and 2015 in the country.

Founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said last year that it would invest another $3 billion in India, amid intense competition in the e-commerce space.

Much of the leased space could be used for seller and development services, besides a 30,000-sq ft building in Bandra Kurla Complex for its India headquarters.

According to Propstack, a data analytics firm for commercial property transactions, various Amazon entities have leased about 1.3 million sq ft since 2008.

Amazon launched its online marketplace in India in 2013 but had been present in the country for eight years for research and development services.

An Amazon India spokesperson said: “As a policy, we do not comment on what we may or may not do in the future.”

Properly consultant Colliers International elaborated on the latest activity by Amazon as the year closed — 100,000 sq ft in the Mohan Co-operative area in Delhi, 150,000 sq ft in Ambience Corporate Tower 2 in Gurgaon and 300,000 sq ft in World Trade Tower Noida.

Before that, through 2016, it leased 90,000 sq ft at Ambience Corporate Tower II NH8 in Gurgaon and 350,000 sq ft at Mindspace, Madhapur, in Hyderabad.

Rival Flipkart, which operates through Flipkart India, Flipkart Internet and Flipkart Payment Gateway, recently took 600,000-sq ft office space in an Embassy group project in Bengaluru.

“Amazon has been investing systematically in expanding its product portfolio, bringing Indian merchants on to their Indian and global platform, and expanding its delivery infrastructure,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer at retail consultancy Third Eyesight.

Dutta said with its plans to grow private labels and the current e-commerce foreign direct investment regulations which require companies to increase the share of unrelated merchants, the Bezos-led company requires significant organisational capacity and hence is growing office spaces.

Added Raja Seetharaman, director at PropStack, “Amazon is going ‘all out’ in the battle for e-commerce market share in India. They realise that India would be their next biggest market outside the US. With a median age of 27 and growth rate of 6.5-7 per cent, Amazon is willing to invest ‘whatever it takes’ to win.”

The company’s long-term investments, along with futuristic technology like drone deliveries, which it is already piloting in the US, indicate that Amazon is well positioned to be a leader in the e-commerce sector, Seetharaman said.

LEASE DEALS IN 2016

  • Leases 100,000 sq ft in Mohan Co-operative Area in Delhi

  • Takes 150,000 sq ft in Ambience Corporate Tower 2 in Gurgaon

  • Takes 300,000 sq ft in World Trade Tower in Noida 

  • Takes 90,000 sq ft at Ambience Corporate Tower II NH8 in Gurgaon 

  • Takes 30,000 sq ft in BKC in Mumbai 

  • Takes 350,000 sq ft at Mindspace, Madhapur in Hyderabad 

Source: Colliers International


(Published in Business Standard)

Are India’s Startups At Risk Of Meddling From Their VC Investors? 

Suparna Goswami, Forbes
Bengaluru, 17 January 2017

The past week saw India’s Flipkart appointing a non-founder CEO who is also part of Tiger Global Management, the online marketplace’s largest investor firm.

A few days later, Snapdeal, another large Indian online marketplace, brought in real estate firm Housing.com’s CEO Jason Kothari as its chief strategy and investment officer. This news comes on the heels of a recent merger between Housing.com and real estate brokerage firm Prop Tiger, which has raised funds from SoftBank – a major investor in Snapdeal.

Are we seeing a pattern of investor overreach into startups in India?

With this latest SoftBank connection, many are starting to lament how young businesses in India are facing excessive interference from venture capitalists. Some experts tracking the ecosystem have written about the number of years left before “impatient investors take control of the startups” – but how well founded are these suspicions? I spoke with a few local venture capitalists for their side of the story, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many were upset with the media for “sensationalizing” a trend that’s not quite the harbinger it appears to be.

Dev Khare from Lightspeed India Partners Advisors, a VC firm, says things shouldn’t be viewed as black and white. “Just because Flipkart announced a professional CEO who happens to have an association with its investor firm Tiger Global Management doesn’t mean [its] founders no longer will have a say in the company,” says Khare.

“In the end it all boils down to making money. If a company isn’t doing well, the equity that VCs and founders jointly hold will have no value. I don’t see this as a battle between VCs and founders,” he says.

For other VCs, it’s all about the individual needs of a company, and labelling the investor’s role as “interference” is the wrong way to approach the issue.

Tarun Davda, managing partner with VC firm Matrix Partners believes that all investors look out for the wellbeing of their investment, no matter how that presents itself.

“We’re helpful when asked for advice but never fool ourselves into believing that we know more about the business than the founders,” says Davda.

He believes there are often cases where founders feel they can better serve their company by bringing on a more experienced CEO, particularly where founders may lack the experience or skills to take a company ahead through all stages of evolution. Davda provides the example of Google, probably the biggest startup success story of our generation, which had to bring in Eric Schmidt as its CEO early in their journey.

Devangshu Dutta, managing partner of venture accelerator PVC Partners, chalks up the media reaction to local culture. Dutta says Indians have a habit of looking down on founders for handing control over to an outsider.

“There is no harm in accepting that sometimes a company needs a new person at the helm to turn around things,” says Dutta. “In India, we tend to take these things as failures; but [they] could be the outcome of well thought out strategic decisions.”

And in reality, for many startups the Flipkart and Snapdeal episodes are a non-issue; founders are aware of their capabilities and strengths, and their limitations.

Ganesh Shankar, founder of FluxGen Technologies, an IoT startup, is fine to pass on the reins of the company to a person who doesn’t alter the company culture too much. “I guess I [would] be glad if I can find a person willing to take on the top leadership role provided he or she has the experience to scale the business,” he says.

Others view it as a matter of practicality, that these seemingly hard decisions are part of the fiduciary responsibility of the VCs towards their LPs.

Pallav Pandey, CEO of startup BroEx, doesn’t believe that VCs interfere in a company’s affairs unless they’re forced to. “Both founders and investors are stakeholders and after having given enough time to founders [to succeed], if it is inevitable that a new CEO needs to be brought in to steer the company forward, then it should be done,” he says.

However, not all agree with this view. One startup founder I spoke with, who asked not to be named because of the potential harm to his business’ relationships, says the reality of a boardroom meeting is darker than what’s usually projected.

“Founders and VCs are fair-weather friends. One can’t expect things to be always amicable. The main flip side of raising huge funds is that somewhere down the line a founder’s opinion gets diluted. That’s a hard reality,” the founder says.

(Published in Forbes)

Are India’s Startups At Risk Of Meddling From Their VC Investors? 

Suparna Goswami, Forbes  

Bengaluru, 17 January 2017

The past week saw India’s Flipkart appointing a non-founder CEO who is also part of Tiger Global Management, the online marketplace’s largest investor firm.

A few days later, Snapdeal, another large Indian online marketplace, brought in real estate firm Housing.com’s CEO Jason Kothari as its chief strategy and investment officer. This news comes on the heels of a recent merger between Housing.com and real estate brokerage firm Prop Tiger, which has raised funds from SoftBank – a major investor in Snapdeal.

Are we seeing a pattern of investor overreach into startups in India?

With this latest SoftBank connection, many are starting to lament how young businesses in India are facing excessive interference from venture capitalists. Some experts tracking the ecosystem have written about the number of years left before “impatient investors take control of the startups” – but how well founded are these suspicions? I spoke with a few local venture capitalists for their side of the story, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many were upset with the media for “sensationalizing” a trend that’s not quite the harbinger it appears to be.

Dev Khare from Lightspeed India Partners Advisors, a VC firm, says things shouldn’t be viewed as black and white. “Just because Flipkart announced a professional CEO who happens to have an association with its investor firm Tiger Global Management doesn’t mean [its] founders no longer will have a say in the company,” says Khare.

“In the end it all boils down to making money. If a company isn’t doing well, the equity that VCs and founders jointly hold will have no value. I don’t see this as a battle between VCs and founders,” he says.

For other VCs, it’s all about the individual needs of a company, and labelling the investor’s role as “interference” is the wrong way to approach the issue.

Tarun Davda, managing partner with VC firm Matrix Partners believes that all investors look out for the wellbeing of their investment, no matter how that presents itself.

“We’re helpful when asked for advice but never fool ourselves into believing that we know more about the business than the founders,” says Davda.

He believes there are often cases where founders feel they can better serve their company by bringing on a more experienced CEO, particularly where founders may lack the experience or skills to take a company ahead through all stages of evolution. Davda provides the example of Google, probably the biggest startup success story of our generation, which had to bring in Eric Schmidt as its CEO early in their journey.

Devangshu Dutta, managing partner of venture accelerator PVC Partners, chalks up the media reaction to local culture. Dutta says Indians have a habit of looking down on founders for handing control over to an outsider.

“There is no harm in accepting that sometimes a company needs a new person at the helm to turn around things,” says Dutta. “In India, we tend to take these things as failures; but [they] could be the outcome of well thought out strategic decisions.”

And in reality, for many startups the Flipkart and Snapdeal episodes are a non-issue; founders are aware of their capabilities and strengths, and their limitations.

Ganesh Shankar, founder of FluxGen Technologies, an IoT startup, is fine to pass on the reins of the company to a person who doesn’t alter the company culture too much. “I guess I [would] be glad if I can find a person willing to take on the top leadership role provided he or she has the experience to scale the business,” he says.

Others view it as a matter of practicality, that these seemingly hard decisions are part of the fiduciary responsibility of the VCs towards their LPs.

Pallav Pandey, CEO of startup BroEx, doesn’t believe that VCs interfere in a company’s affairs unless they’re forced to. “Both founders and investors are stakeholders and after having given enough time to founders [to succeed], if it is inevitable that a new CEO needs to be brought in to steer the company forward, then it should be done,” he says.

However, not all agree with this view. One startup founder I spoke with, who asked not to be named because of the potential harm to his business’ relationships, says the reality of a boardroom meeting is darker than what’s usually projected.

“Founders and VCs are fair-weather friends. One can’t expect things to be always amicable. The main flip side of raising huge funds is that somewhere down the line a founder’s opinion gets diluted. That’s a hard reality,” the founder says.  

(Published in Forbes)