Strapline: Shows like ‘Shark Tank’ have made many parents encourage their children to consider a career in entrepreneurship, declares Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg alumnus Anuj Batra, whose latest foray is an exciting underwater robotic application
The show Shark Tank India has opened new vistas for young students to take up the entrepreneurial journey, declares Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg alumnus Anuj Batra, whose latest foray is an exciting underwater robotic application. He says launching a startup business venture is like raising a child. And that is why being able to do something for the youth and guide them in building some compelling startups became a lifelong quest for him.
Mr. Batra is an innovative thinker and a versatile business leader with a track record of leading and managing startups, turnarounds and rapidly growing companies and establishing brands, in diverse business verticals such as fashion, retail, education, wellness, hospitality, real estate, leisure and entertainment, wellness, education and consumer durables. Having spent the initial years of his career straddling different business genres, he made it his life purpose to share his experience with young entrepreneurs, so that they don’t commit the same mistakes that he did. In this avatar, he has played the role of startup jury, mentor and advisor for eminent platforms such as the World Startup Expo, Entrepreneurship Cell, DTU, and Jury and Mentor for IIT-Bombay’s E-cell, VIT, BIT, NITK, SPIT and many others. Taking his passion for sustainable technologies seriously, he is also the co-founder for an electric vehicles startup and his latest pursuit is as co-founder of Andromeida Maritime Solutions that is developing customised patented Robotic products to make water usable. In a wide-ranging interview, he discusses, among other things, his passion for mentoring startups, his eclectic cross-sectoral experience, the traits of a good entrepreneur and how launching a startup and making it stay its course is like trying to fly an airplane and ensuring that it negotiates all the turbulence and air pockets. Edited excerpts:
You have enjoyed a long and illustrious corporate journey, working on some exciting projects. Was your first job a big learning ground?
Oh yes, there was a huge amount of learning involved in every job that I did, The passion for understanding the ever evolving consumer behavior has really helped me in pursuing and excelling in each of the different roles in diverse organisations in my 28-year-old journey as a professional. I started out as a management trainee with Glaxo, selling Glucon-D and Complan, baby food among other products and travelled the length and breadth of the country during my formative years. Even though I started as a management trainee, even after becoming CEO and MD of many organisations, that passion of understanding and addressing the consumer behaviour helps me even today in understanding approaches to how we can build up technologies and products to suit their requirements and solve some compelling issues that the humanity faces. From being a management trainee in Glaxo, I moved to Bajaj and then to Singer. I returned to Delhi and joined Singer India as regional manager, north. In this role, I launched their home appliances and later had the good fortune of launching Reebok in India through Phoenix Industries and over the years, different genres and product categories helped me move further in my career.
You’ve notched up such valuable cross-sectoral experience, from FMCG to consumer durables, technology to fashion? Was there any genre that you liked the most?
No, it so happened that I dealt with a diversity of genres and product categories. Starting with FMCG to consumer goods, consumer durables, then moving out to fashion, footwear and garments. I also brought international brands into India in footwear and accessories. Subsequently, I moved to pharma retail as a CEO of 98.4 and while at Tata International brought some global luxury brands into India. Those were the initial 15 odd years of professional life. Then new opportunities came by when I was the CEO for Birla Global and in that I was looking after the healthcare and wellness verticals in which I started around 10 startups in that space. I then forayed into education where again I ended up launching 6-7 start-ups followed up with retail chains in luxury and lifestyle, art and craft. So, these different genres helped shape my career and gave me an eclectic experience to challenge myself and hone up my capabilities in building some great teams.
Talking about startups, you’ve launched many of them and been on the jury of a few startup competitions. How do you explain your fascination for startups and mentoring new ventures?
Most of the organisations I have worked for as a professional were built from scratch. My enthusiasm for startups used to excite me right from the beginning. Launching or mentoring a startup is similar to raising a child. You have to handhold, make them learn, help grow, create the culture, build teams and develop various skill sets. While generating an idea for your startup, first and foremost it’s important, you have to identify your target consumer and try to anticipate their behavior. So that fascinated me to try out different things and be hands-on in trying to solve the challenges that humanity had to face. During my experience with Wave Infratech as the President Business Development, I looked closely at sectors such as hospitality, leisure and entertainment, bringing water parks and theme parks to India and the company was building luxury malls and cinemas, too. After that stint, I had the fortune to be a jury for the World Startup Expo in 2016 and I was given the opportunity to choose 25 best startups out of India along with a couple of other judges. Sitting at the jury table I realised how beautifully the younger generation was able to visualise the future of the world and were creating differentiated products, but what they lacked was the experience of building organisations that will be able to really succeed. So, that gave me a moment to ponder: Why shouldn’t I share my learnings of both my successes and failures with the younger generation so that they don’t commit the same mistakes that perhaps I had made? How do we nurture those leadership skills which are there in everybody? That excited me immensely. One thing led to another and I began teaching entrepreneurship as guest faculty once a week at NIFT, New Delhi. Then other institutions of eminence such as IIT-Bombay, DTU, Jesus and Mary College and others began calling me to talk to students about the new entrepreneurship opportunities that the students can pursue in the near future. Being able to do something for the youth became a lifelong quest for me so they can build some compelling startups for India and for the world.
With shows like ‘Shark Tank India’ training the spotlight on the power of business ideas, having been on the jury of many a start-up contest, what do you look for in a good entrepreneur?
To begin with, each and every student these days possesses a deep quest for doing something good in life. Secondly, as we have seen on Shark Tank, entrepreneurship is the new buzzword. The parents are willing and allow their kids to pursue startups as a career option. A serious student who wants to pursue entrepreneurship will come up with a great idea just by being a little more inquisitive in his or her day-to-day life. Over a period of time, leadership qualities can be developed and nurtured. But one important thing is that whatever idea you have, you must back it up with a great amount of research. Is the market really good and big or is it just something as a fashion that you are trying to do at that point of time? The best quality that an entrepreneur needs to have is to be able to build and nurture a great team. Always be hands on with iterating your product to suit the market opportunities that exist and ready to face the impending challenges. Life will never be a simple straight road. Even in an airplane flying from Delhi to Mumbai, there is no clear cut path laid out. There is no road but there are coordinates. But when the plane flies, the team that is taking over their company goes through its own challenges, quite similar to the way planes negotiate air pockets and areas of turbulence. The entrepreneurial journey is also like that. There are similarities between trying to fly a plane and making a venture take off. One thing is sure, you will always enjoy your journey and pursue your destination.
You are part of an electric vehicles start-up and a robotics underwater venture. Please explain your involvement with ideas that have a strong focus on technology.
After having worked for decades for others, the purpose of my life dawned on me. The purpose of me getting all these experiences was to be able to share my experience and journeys and to be able to give back to society and nurture young startups and create organisations and startups that will leave the planet in a better shape for the generations to come. We haven’t inherited this earth from our parents and grandparents. We are responsible for future generations and to leave this planet in a much better condition than what we acquired. Earth, fire, water are a few elements that excited me and I thought why not work in these areas, where I can help develop and nurture some sustainable companies. That is why I am working as a co-founder in Andromeida, where we are working with AI and robots to purify water. Water is a scarce resource and there are tell-tale signs potable water may run out by 2030. So, we are developing our technology through AI and robotics to generate data and be able to purify water. My foray into EV was primarily for the reason that the air around us is badly polluted and we must come out with greener technologies which can be less polluting and more climate-friendly. There are some endeavours happening in that and there are around 23 start-ups that I am mentoring in the sustainable and climate tech space. I have interacted and guided more than 163 startups till date.
At what stage is the underwater robotics startup at? And how does the technology work?
When we were looking at the underwater robot segment, Andromeida came through as one of the participants in one of the forums that I was a jury in. I was considering working in the water space and an opportunity came by where they asked me to mentor them. I met these young students who had just graduated from RV College Bangalore and IISC and in another 15 days we will manufacture our fourth robot. There are many robots at various stages of development but the first commercial robot we are going to launch will be in the hospitality and swimming pools space. What the robot does is that it goes into the swimming pool and reads the chemistry of the water on the go: in terms of how much bacteria, how many viruses, what kinds of chemicals, the entire formula of water. It sends this data to the app of the pool manager or hotel, or condominium villa owner. After sending this data, it has another patented technology through which it can dispense various chemicals to bring the water back to its purest form. There are more parents in the pipeline. It identifies algae and sediments on the pool structure and sucks them out into the robot and automatically comes up on the surface in about two hours. We have tested the product in some of the dirtiest lakes in Bengaluru and other water bodies. Going forward we will develop new robots further and look at acoustic modems for underwater communication in the High Seas for data, disinfection, purification, exploration and other activities underwater in rivers and seas.
Please tell us about the time you spent at Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg?
I was born and brought up in Jalandhar and joined Apeejay School, Mahavir Marg along with my siblings after class 5. I have beautiful memories of the school, its beautiful playgrounds and great classmates who became friends for life. I remember my interactions with the Principal, Mr. K K Dubey and a couple of great teachers and still recollect the school slogan: ‘Soaring high is my nature’ that became my life’s motto, too. This is what I want the youth to imbibe. They must soar high amongst nature and create great enterprises that can have a positive impact on the planet.