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This week, I celebrated the anniversary of my luxury lingerie boutique, Boudoir London. As I stood there in the sultry heat of the courtyard in a restaurant in Bandra (northwest Mumbai), a glass of champagne in one hand, congratulatory cards in the other, I reflected on my extraordinary 18 months in India and what prompted a pampered, comfortable Londoner to come to Mumbai. My family and friends said it wouldn't be easy and they were right -- but then, the best things in life are not easy, are they?
India has given the world everything; culture, music, beauty, food... And India gave me everything I could be proud of. Now, it was my turn to give something back to India -- and that was luxury lingerie!
Readers, let me tell you a truth -- all Indians outside India are drawn to India -- European Indians, US Indians, British Indians, Eskimo Indians (there are bound to be some, after all we're a sixth of the world's population!) India is the proverbial mother ship. And, as a British Indian, I am the proverbial satellite. India has what pardes doesn't have -- and that's a billion fellow Indians.
When I landed, with my dreams in my suitcase, at Mumbai airport nearly 18 months ago, it seemed as though all the one billion Indians had arrived at the airport to greet my arrival -- it certainly felt that way.
Within five minutes of my arrival, I had been very kindly offered a taxi by over 40 gentlemen -- "You never get that kind of service in the United Kingdom," I thought. To say that I looked na�ve is an under-statement; newborn lambs have more guile than I did. In fact, one such newborn picked my pocket once.
Nevertheless, "Juhu ke leya kitna (How much will you charge to go to Juhu)" I said to a taxi driver in my comical British-style Hindi. "Pay what you want, madam", he smiled and replied in flawless English. He knew I was going to be good client.
So, like virtually everyone else in Mumbai -- from the hawker in the street to the Malabar Hill billionaire -- I got into the thick of doing business in this town.
Mumbai is alive with business deals -- people tap earnestly into their laptops in hip coffee bars, drinking cappuccinos while talking simultaneously into two different mobile phones. Male, female, young or old, everyone is working to realise the potential of the business opportunities that Mumbai has to offer.
There has been much learning over the last year, which we will no doubt discuss in the weeks to come. There is one consistent comic issue in my life, however, which consumes me on a daily level, and that is time and the very management of it.
I've learnt that whenever I ask for anything in India, I hear, "Two minutes madam..." I have heard these three words a hundred times a day in Mumbai and now I hear them in my sleep too. I must confess to the gullibility of a British Indian -- I actually thought two minutes meant 120 seconds. In other words, something will be done soon, a request is about to be met immediately...
Of course, I can now hear your laughter ringing in my ears. I have discovered that 'two minutes' doesn't mean the same in India as it does in Europe.
I consulted the professor of India Standard Time, Professor D Lay at the University of Some-Time-Soon (he was very late for the meeting). He explained that two minutes in fact means two things in India. Firstly, it means, 'I have no idea when this is going to happen, Ma'am. Keep smiling and good luck...' It also means you'll have to wait at least 20 minutes.
"Why 20 minutes?" I asked Professor D Lay? Well, he said, Indians are 10 times brighter than the rest of the world, 10 times more beautiful, 10 times more efficient... And 10 x 2 minutes is 20 minutes!
Jokes apart, launching a business is a very serious issue and one that you should consider for a long time before you take the plunge. Here are five key learnings from my experience in setting up a business. These should be part of the checklist for any new business.
It may sound obvious but many businesses fail because they have a concept that has not been properly researched. Make sure your business proposition is viable and that you have researched the business concept thoroughly.
If you focus on the small details, the big things will look after themselves. Never let go of the fine business details until you feel you have covered every angle.
In a country as populated as India, you need to spread the word as best you can to your particular audience. You will be surprised at how many people do not get to hear about your business. Advertising can be a very expensive in the first year of any business. Identify your target and try as many inexpensive options as possible.
Never give up
Most businesses take at least 18 months to get established. This is what is referred to as the gestation period. You will always come across many people telling you your idea is not viable. This tends to happen before you start your business or when you are going through teething troubles. At this time, it is important to stay focused and strong. Don't let anyone challenge your vision.
The customer is always right
In any service-led business, you will always have consumers who will be happy and unhappy with your service. You have to adopt a service level that keeps your customers happy and loyal to you. This requires maturity and vision and, often, a fair amount of concessions on your part. Until you become established, you need your customers more than they need you.
I will elaborate on all of this in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, as all my business contacts say in Mumbai, I'll be back in two minutes...
Dalbir Bains' store, Boudoir London, is located in Mumbai.
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