Momentum Works encourages our portfolio and friends to share their thoughts (and challenge ours) through The Low Down. For this article, we have Shayak Mazumder, CEO of Eunimart, sharing his personal experience. Eunimart is a cross-border ecommerce company that is specifically catered to sellers in India.
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Where do the #best #minds of the business world converge to get the best in business education? INSEAD, of course! (editor’s note, Momentum Works’ CEO is an INSEAD alum as are many of our friends in the industry.)
What is INSEAD’s flagship course? The Global Executive Masters in Business Administration or, as it is commonly called, GEMBA.
What do they study? The fastest growing businesses with global scale.
This is where the script diverges. Instead of the mega companies from around the world, the GEMBA students asked Professor Gabriel Szulanski to feature a live company to do a case study. Management schools have their cases written over years and their content ready well in advance. Yet, here was a class full of very senior management professionals asking for a live case. So, he turned the matter over for sometime in his mind, before giving me a call.
Professor Szulanski is the reason I had joined INSEAD. I was at the Welcome Day at INSEAD when I heard this amazing case study by Professor Szulanski and made a instant decision to apply for INSEAD. After starting my MBA, I realized that Professor Szulanski did not actually teach the MBA students. I actually joined a new subject called Dean’s Innovation Project at INSEAD in order to get a chance to work with him. It was a dream come true. His simple yet precise way of looking at complex management challenges completely changed the way I looked at solving problems.
When I started my own venture in India, Eunimart, he was the first person I turned to for mentorship. Quite surprised at this turn of events, given that he is used to advise the Chairman of KPMG and not mere startups, he agreed to my request. It took him a year before he even asked me the first few questions. Until then, he simply attended the monthly Advisor meetings and silently observed. When he came up against the challenge of having to produce a live case with less than a month to prepare, his first thought was of Eunimart. Why, you ask? Consider the following:
- Crossborder ecommerce is a $500 BN market growing at 30% plus CAGR and supposed to become a $1 TN market by 2021 (Alibaba and Paypal report)
- You can actually sell a $10 item from India to Mexico and yet become competitive and profitable. Chinese merchants have turned this into a finely honed science. They are selling $2 items to the opposite side of the globe and turning a huge profit annually.
- Most of the manufacturing in the world actually happens in Asia whereas most of the purchases happen in North America and Europe. This leads to a huge disparity in trade volumes where the enterprise businesses triumph over small manufacturers due to their large scale, reach and knowledge.
- This opaque market actually leads to a very large opportunity for disruption through technology. If you can solve the problem of connecting the end buyer with the large numbers of small manufacturers from across the globe, you will create the next Alibaba and at the same time create employment and bring societal change to hundreds of thousands of impoverished manufacturers
- At the World Economic Forum recently, Jack Ma said that crossborder ecommerce would be what would change the way the world trades. If Jack Ma speaks about it with such vigor, you can bet your shirt that you should know about it.
What is really surprising is that almost no one outside of China and some manufacturers actually know about this really large and rapidly growing business opportunity. While the difficulty lies in solving the various regulatory challenges, figuring out logistics, crossborder payments and channels to access consumers, the real secret lies in being able to identify the patterns in the market and monetize them.
When Professor Szulanski called me, I was pleasantly surprised at this opportunity. As an early stage startup with proof of concept and good traction, Eunimart has pioneered crossborder ecommerce in India. However, for a startup to be featured on such a stage is an unbelievable opportunity. It would give us the chance to open up our business model for some of the smartest business people on the planet to evaluate and comment on. Can you think of a better or a quicker way to validate your hard work over the last few years? It would also give us great exposure to some of the top corporates and open up the portal to investment, partnership, new models, growth and scale. Of course, we could also be grilled for our terrible decisions and shunned as a completely ridiculous idea. However, such is the hubris of a founder that this thought never entered my mind.
We spent weeks sharing data, plans that we had painstakingly built over the entire year to create a database which the GEMBA students could study and form their own conclusions. We also spent many nights finalising the processes so that we could present the same, formalising the mini case study that was to be presented and worked on the financials and future strategy. Given that this was going to be an intense scrutiny of the strategies we had adopted and an analysis of a future course of action for Eunimart, I went through a special review of all my plans. On the night of 13th January 2018, I was awake at 1am in a cold sweat. The fact had finally caught up to me that I could be making a major fool of myself in front of a hundred brilliant business leaders.
I don’t know when I fell asleep, but when I awoke, despite the time difference and lack of sleep, I could feel the adrenaline course through my veins. This was my stage! When professor Szulanksi called me in front of the class to present, all I could think was how my life had changed in 2 years. From being a clueless student sitting in the hall, listening to the Professors talk to standing in front of an august gathering, talking about my own company!
I spent 12 straight hours from 8:30 in the morning till about 9 in the evening with a short break for lunch. The students were amazingly smart and probing. They did not give up continuously pushing for information, harnessing insights out of each answer I gave. They probed every aspect of the business, their individual backgrounds leading them to newer insights about the possible future of Eunimart. Slowly, before my eyes, I could see opinions starting to form. I could see them go through my entire journey over the last 20 months in a highly accelerated timeframe, aided to some extent by my data and insights.
What was heartening to me was that the overall impression was highly positive about Eunimart. They were excited to be a part of Eunimart’s journey. They felt the passion that we have towards making a change in the world and were carried away by the potential. I was ecstatic that not only did people love the idea, they were coming up with suggestions, partnership requests, etc. exactly as I had imagined. The next day was the day of reckoning. The teams had worked overnight, and were supposed to present. They were split into teams of three and self selected the best slides to present. The final presentation was given by 8 different teams.
Interestingly enough, although the first layer of understanding was the same and everyone identified technology and business model to be the differentiator, all the teams diverged from there to form their own conclusions. It was almost like seeing the evolution of my various thought processes for the last 20 months in real time and seeing what would have happened if I had taken the time to pursue all of them. I was learning the nuances of strategy through the experience of having built my own company through the eyes of 100 of the smartest business leaders. Saved me hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of consulting and also showed me the way ahead.
A couple of weeks after the event, I am just starting to realise the impact the event had on me and Eunimart. The barrage of congratulations, the heightened interest, the greater excitement among people are just the surface benefits. I am looking at tying up with major banks and one of the world’s largest marketing companies and that is just the beginning. We have a long way to go before we fulfill our promise to the small and medium enterprises from around the world and give them a platform that is fully automated and enables global commerce. The GEMBA experience was a glimpse of the exciting future for Eunimart.