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Posts Tagged ‘India’

Tata Power vs. Krishna Power

My latest brush with Indian bizdev efforts in Israel- who outsourced my Huzpah?!

“No no no,  please don’t talk now!. First we meet, then we see if we can do business together!”

The heavy Indian accent on the other side of the line was brisk and unforgiving. No matter how politely I tried to brush off this upcoming meeting request, he would not take “NO” for answer. The officer at the Israel Export Institute, set me up for a blind date with an Indian businessman who was passing through town and requested to meet me. I was rushing home, tired after a long day and following a brief phone conversation, I concluded that this encounter was not the right fit for my company, but I guess I was wrong.

Mr. Krishnamanyam (Krishna will suffice) was hell bent on meeting me and, meeting me now! And it was this untactful persistence that persuaded me to give in for a brief cup of coffee.
It seems that I”m a sucker for anyone wanting desperately to meet me… a matter of ego.

But first thing’s first.

On the other end of the spectrum, a team of company directors from the Indian empire of Tata Sons Ltd. (India) are heading this way next month, and every man and his dog are getting ready to get some face time with their corporate gang. I was going back and forth with their rep, working on setting up a networking event for the Israeli clean tech space via my efforts at Clean Israel. You can just imagine their outfit- the hotels,  business lounges, and the timely schedule switching between government delegates and top brass corporation, that are lining up to meet them. Let’s hope that my karma will offer me a slice of their time as well…

And they are coming for business! Picking the best of the best, as if part of some reality show, selecting the new Israeli puppy to become ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ and get their cleantech startup rolled out across the whole of India, let alone- the World .

Now back to Mr. Krishna.

Mr. Krishna is neither staying at the Hilton, nor is he escorted around the country by the Economic Attache from our Embassy in Delhi. And while he’s not coming out from yet another feast in the Business Lounge, that’s exactly what we should all be worried about…

Mr. Krishna is hungry!! Hungry to outsource contracting jobs off to India.

Krishna Power (my term for this phenomena) is a one-man show that is no bigger than the great Gandi himself. 5ft tall and weighing 60kg, this retired defense contractor, with a life time experience in large-scale machine shops and engineering factories, came to Israel on a 10-day visa and parked himself in a dorm room by the Central Bus Station. Armed with a local cell phone and a monthly city bus pass, Mr. Krishna is running up and down this land looking win manufacturing contracts to take back home to his affiliated factories in India. Be it machine parts, plastic molding, munitions, you name it- he’ll outsource it.

While other visitors bask at the 1hr domestic flight to go see our solar site in the desert, Mr. Krishna got up early for the 6:30am bus to Eilat (5.5hrs) and had a quick look-see, returning by sunset. Each day he meets new businesses, which in turn set him up with additional leads, resulting in a fat suitcase going home, loaded with sample components and design drawings, all off to be fabricated at “good price, good job“.

The concept itself is well known, yet it is still quite amazing to witness this global phenomena play itself out, live in front of your eyes on the streets of Tel Aviv. To coin it in Friedman’s words: Can the world get any flatter? Mr. Krisha probably didn’t even know where Israel is on the map some 5 years back. But I bet you that the Russian immigrant working on the molding press in Tel Aviv’s south side, will certainly know where his job is being outsourced to, come next year.

How should one respond to such a global play on our economy?

Notice I’m not using the word “threat”. While some see this as threatening our low end jobs, I see it as a tremendous opportunity to showcase our innovative products to huge markets India has to offer. By outsourcing some low end components to Indian factories, Israeli products can become more cost competitive across global markets. For every low end component that was outsourced to Krishna Power, an additional high end component (such as an Israeli software package) was given to him as well, thereby offering that Israeli IT company access to huge markets.

We should take this act as our wake up call, noting that our last remaining competitive advantage [for the time being] is our sharp minds combined with our innovative spirit. This should drive us to maintain a constant investment in education, R&D funding at the seed stage between academics and the business world, and government policy that breeds risk taking in new frontiers such as cleantech, nano-tech, biotech- basically anything that cannot be taken apart by the shipyards in Gujarat.

Anything else, is off to India- even our home grown Huzpah.

“Good things come to those who wait, but only things left by- those who hustle.”

Andy Grove, former CEO, Intel

Indian markets,  photo: Martin Lambie

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Last month I returned from my first business trip to India. After backpacking there over a decade ago, I promised myself that one day I shall return on business to this magestical land.

My opportunity came in the form of an official trade delegation lead by our Minister of Trade and so I joined the ride, seeking a strategic partner for setting up AORA India.

My 1 week visit left me with a plenty insight into the challenges and opportunities of doing business in the land where by now every rikshaw driver owns a cell phone. Here are few of them worth sharing, listed in a Top-10 format (with only 3 this time):

#3 Timing means everything- time means nothing.

Now is the perfect time to go to India. Their economy is booming relentlessly, with little effect from the global financial meltdown that is hovering over the developed world. As a side note- every month, over 6M new cell phone users join the network! Wrap your head around that number.

And as their economy is climbing so are they becoming aware of its climatic implications, and are in the process of puting public policy in place to address these matter, with solar power being right up in front.

But while timing is perfect, time still runs its own pace in down town Mumbai. As I was setting my back-to-back meeting schedule from morning to night, someone carefully pointed out to me that I can knock off any of the meetings set before 11am. The reason being that with traffic so bad in the city, the big chiefs only come into town in their limmos after rush hour.  “Any person you’re meeting before 11am is probably a low level clerk coming in on the morning train.”

Also on timing, don’t get fussed on people not following up on emails as quickly as you expect them back home. Some Indians take their time responding, letting the email go up and down their internal corporate food chain . Then again, expect a straight answer 2 months later, continuing on from exactly the point where you’ve left the conversation.

#2 Learn to understand the Indian end user- he wants broadband too, but electricity first!

With our solar system fit for ‘Rural Solar’ applications, one has to learn the inner workings of doing business at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). Namely, those 650M villagers across the Indian country side. This posting by no means offers a canvas wide enough to depict the chasm that has to be crossed in order to bridge between the offering of an Israeli innovation and the needs of a typical Indian village. Many times the businessmen across the table confronted me by asking whether I have spent any time at all at an Indian village. And since my answer was “Yes” in account of my month of travelling across the sub-continent in my past life, the follow up question was whether I’ve done any business there, aside from ordering a cup of chai and a room for the night.

Doing business in India at all, but at the village itself is a skill on its own. For one thing, they don’t have an electric grid, and therefore no system for distributing power let alone paying for it. Then again Indians are GREAT early adopters and are into anything new and innovative. Pre-paid methods of payment are catching on very quickly across  the rural country side, especially since the cellular network is enabling to leap frog over existing technologies and bring modern applications down to the masses.

But it all goes back to having a deep understanding of your end customer, what drives his daily life, what are his priorities, and what is he REALLY willing to pay for.

Back to my school days on the street: Playing street cricket inside the workers compound of Mumbai's dobi ghats.

#1 Find the right business partner- one that won’t kill the monkeys !?!

This one is for the books!

From one meeting to another, I was giving my deck of PowerPoint slides to the nation’s leading CEO’s and board members,  searching for the right technical company to become a local partner. At the end of one of my presentations, the CEO sat back for a moment, digesting all the techno-speak that had just thrown at him. And out of that silence, came one soft and single question: “But what about the monkeys?”

“What about the monkeys?” I replied in true Israeli fashion, trained to come back with a question when taken off guard.

The CEO continued to explain that he is worried that the monkeys spread across the country side, will climb on top of our solar mirrors and break some of the glass while they play.

Problem…

There I was, bringing Israel’s latest solar technology over to the developing world, and now I have to overcome them monkeys…

“Not a problem” I replied, coming out with a solution straight out of our military background, which we are so proud to display at any given opportunity.

“See the fence going all around the solar site?” I pointed at the perimeter fence surrounding our facility. “We can easily set it with an electric charge, and that will stop any monkeys from climbing over.”

I felt so good on being able to think on my feet, coming up with a great solution on the spot.

Unfortunately that was not the mood that was resonating across the table. The room went into a ‘deafening’ silence, as the CEO and his team were gasping at my answer…

They all looked at me, amazed when finally one of his board members opened his mouth and uttered:  ” You want to kill the monkeys?!!

It is in that very moment that the image of Hanuman appeared in my mind. The monkey-like god from the Indian mythology looking at me from over my left shoulder, saying “This CEO is about to go bananas!!”

Conclusion

Finding the right partner who knows the inner works of doing business across rural India is more important than an engineering firm, that can install the damn thing. Which leads me to understand- that closing a deal in India- will be no monkey business!

Selling to rural India- is no monkey business at all. Photo: Michael Fairchild

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