Three timeless lessons for start-ups


Intellectual capital

No books or information were available on the Agarbathy industry that required perfumery knowledge. Most Agarbathies manufacturers counted only on forest produce and natural oils and knew nothing about Aromatic chemicals. Every manufacturer had kept the process a secret and would not share it with outsiders.

Even though there was a huge custom duty on books, my father imported three Volumes of Poucher books on perfumery from Germany, investing Rs.600/- in 1950. It took six months for him to get the books. His competitors in Bangalore mocked him behind his back “there is this stupid Brahmin who thinks he can make Agarbathies by reading foreign books.”

My father was the first manufacturer in India to realize the importance of not using forest produce alone for making Agarbathies. He started using synthetic substitutes after gaining knowledge from books on perfumery.

He demonstrated that start-ups must acquire intellectual assets to achieve sustainable competitive advantage. 

This is a lesson in developing competitive advantage and why investing in knowledge is essential. 

Ranga Rao learned about perfumes from scratch, and the rest is history. If you were an entrepreneur in 1950, would you have invested 15% of your capital in acquiring knowledge?


Swimming against the tide.

If you need 4000 square feet of carpet area, there is only one place available”, Broker Sathya, with holy ash smeared on his forehead, said.

 “Where is it?” my father asked.

 “It is on 100 feet road,” said Sathya.

 “How much is the rent?” my father asked him.

 “The rent is Rs.100/- per month, negotiable”.

 “That is OK. Take me there,” my father said.

 Sathya was silent for a few seconds and mumbled slowly

 “There has been no tenant there for ten years” “Why? My father asked him. “The building is more than 70 years old and belongs to Raghavendra Mutt. They received it as a gift from the then Maharaja of Mysore,” he said.

 “Is the building untenable?” my father asked. “No, it is rumored to be haunted. No tenant has stayed there for more than a few months,” he said.

 My father said eagerly.

 “Then they will give it for Rs.75/- per month with Rs.2500/- advance. I am sure you can convince them,” my father said. He took place for rent in 1958, and in the twenty years that he carried out his manufacturing there and increased his revenues from a million to Rs. 15 million by 1978.

I’m constantly fascinated by his guts in swimming against the tide.  

This critical lesson taught me to grab an opportunity where others fear to tread.


Trademarks and brand names.

The biggest lesson I learned from my father was to brand every product or service I had created. It is a way of distinguishing yourself from competitors and clarifying what it is you offer that makes you the better choice. 

“Appa, why is there a cycle on every pack?” I asked my father. I was Eight.

“Because Mona, many people cannot read. How will they ask for our product? We must give them a visual cue, no? People who cannot read will ask for our product by asking for “the one with Cycle on it,” he said.

Communicating effectively with consumers is a significant problem facing marketers, particularly among low-literacy consumers of non-personal products. My father realized the importance of trademarks and brand names even though he had no formal education in marketing. 

In India, among the very few symbols with a common name in all the 14 languages was the Cycle mark that everyone could easily recall.

 The one big lesson I learned from my father was to brand every product or service I had created. It is a way of distinguishing yourself from competitors and clarifying what it is you offer that makes you the better choice. 



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Inner Trek
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After being threatened by a Bangalore mob boss, retired Indian businessman Mohan Ranga Rao takes a vow to trek around Mount Kailash, a holy Tibetan Mountain revered by over a billion people. What starts out as merely a challenging high-altitude trek soon becomes a life-changing adventure. With a blend of humour, honesty and keen insight, Mohan journeys toward a deeper understanding of the world around him. A memoir of a road less travelled and a true story of self-discovery at 19,000 feet.

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