Villgro senior advisor Chand Das is an executive coach and an angel investor who is passionate about helping entrepreneurs succeed. In this post, we get to know him better:
Why are you excited about the social enterprise space?
It gives me an opportunity to give back to the community. I have greatly benefited from a subsidised education at IIT Kanpur and IIM Bangalore and I believe I can pay back in a small way by leveraging my corporate and professional experience.
What is your background?
Post my education, I have been a career loyalist at ITC Limited where I worked for 35 years in B2B and B2C businesses. My last assignment was as CEO, Education & Stationery Products, a start up business that leveraged ITC’s strengths in paper products & FMCG. Classmate went on to become India’s largest & fastest growing student stationery brand. In my last year at ITC I also certified myself as a CEO coach.
What has been the biggest learning(s) in your career that you would pass on to budding entrepreneurs?
The top line is vanity, the bottom line is sanity.
While modelling your business, always keep the end in mind – namely financial returns, social and environmental impact – this is often referred to as the Triple Bottom Line.
What is your forecast for this sector and for entrepreneurs?
India has a crying need for social entrepreneurs to step up and tap into immense opportunities in under-served markets. Sectors like agriculture, energy, healthcare and education are promising. Besides social impact funds there are a growing number of institutions that can be tapped for grants and CSR funds. A ‘for profit’ social enterprise is more likely to sustain itself than an NGO.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Customer is King! Please have a clearly articulated value proposition that focusses on superior and differentiated products or services.
Have a co-founder with complementary skills and build a strong business model and leadership team.
Why do you like being a mentor?
It gives me immense pleasure to see entrepreneurs succeed. As a mentor I get the opportunity to make a small difference in a selfless sort of way without any vested interest.
My first experience of mentoring social entrepreneurs
After signing off from a 36-year-long corporate career, I began my second innings early in 2016 year as an angel investor, leadership coach and mentor. I signed up with Villgro Iand was assigned 2 social entrepreneurs.
The first meeting was facilitated by the Villgro portfolio manager. But after the initial orientation I was on my own; the boundaries of my role as a mentor were not defined, it was up to me to decide how to proceed. It was also up to me to determine where and how I could start to make a difference. I chose the route of partnering the entrepreneur in developing a business plan for the upcoming financial year.
I sent both incubatees a suggested outline of what constitutes an effective business plan, offering to engage with the respective leadership teams at their earliest convenience. I received a welcoming response.
My first task was to get both leadership teams focussed on what it takes to achieve profitable growth. I emphasised the importance of keeping the end in mind; namely a positive return on capital employed (ROCE) from operations. I explained the drivers of ROCE and how in my previous avatar as a corporate CEO, I learnt how to turn all product lines profitable, including shedding those that did not make the cut within a reasonable period of time. Top line is Vanity, bottom line is Sanity! This resonated well with both leadership teams and the discussions were centered around selection of the ‘right’ product-market combination.
I played the role of a teacher, facilitator, integrator and asked open neutral questions; these are questions that don’t get answered by a simple yes or no, they require thinking and articulating a point of view. I also provoked the team to challenge the status quo, both entrepreneurs had been in business for five years and needed to break free from incremental thinking and doing more of the same.
I observed that the day-long process helped in aligning all members of the leadership team; they were able to see their roles more clearly in contributing to enhancement of enterprise level ROCE.
The importance of articulating a vision, gaining alignment and seeking committment was also emphasised. Entrepreneurs need to be great at doing these things and the mentor drawing upon his or her own experience should share how this can be done.
Personally, it’s been a great start for me. I believe the entrepreneurs are happy with the mentor’s level of engagement at the stage of business planning; both of them along with their respective leadership teams are now more committed to achieving a positive bottom line in the upcoming financial year. More importantly, they believe it can be done!
With planning underway and directions from their respective boards, the next step would be to execute on the plans; chasing the right metrics & carrying out effective reviews; the mentor’s job has clearly just begun.
Effective mentoring lies in building trust with the incubatee; the mentor should have no vested interest – his or her only goal is to help the entrepreneur succeed. The mentor is on the same side as the leadership team – not just a reviewer but a problem solver, a business partner, working in tandem with the incubatee to address all problems and opportunities.
The journey has just begun!