Neeraj Kakkar is the CEO of Hector Beverages, the makers of energy drink Tzinga. He holds a Double MBA from MDI Gurgaon and Wharton School of business. Here are the excerpts of the interview where he narrates his double MBA story and talks about how entrepreneurship is different for those who first spend a substantial number of years in the corporate world. Read on..
Welcome to Twenty19.com! Tell us about your education and your professional career..
My schooling was in Panipat a small town in Haryana and I graduated out of MDI, Gurgaon in 1998. I joined Coke in 2001 and worked for 7 years. I worked at Wipro for some time. Then I went to Wharton to do my second MBA. I came back in 2009 and started a start-up called Hector Beverages.
After nearly 10 years of corporate experience, you had decided to pursue your second MBA at Wharton. What made you to take such a tough decision when you were at the peak of your career?
My first MBA was without any prior work experience and after 10 years of work experience I thought that I need certain other skill sets to do better in my corporate career. Hence I decided to shift out of Coke to do the second MBA from Wharton. There were many questions like ‘why are you trying to break the stability to do new things’. There was a lot of family pressure also especially from my parents, as they have worked in government jobs for a very long time. For them breaking everything and trying to build something new was not a great decision. I had the conviction that my decision could lead to better results and there was lot of potential that needed to be harnessed.
Presently there is a widespread notion that one should have a couple of years of work experience before joining MBA. What would like to advice?
I have no second thoughts. I would say one must have a work experience before going for MBA. But I would not say prior experience is going to be helpful in getting a better job. The chances of placement for a fresher in large company are same as the person with prior experience. In large companies when they have training pools everybody starts at the same level and the prior experience doesn’t get weighed so much. But there are a few exceptional candidates who join as fresher and still take a lot out of B school.
It doesn’t matter which company you work for, be it IT or factory or refinery all are considered as corporate experience. It’s an opportunity to learn about the management, how to be around people. It gives a lot of insight into organization behavior. I think those experiences values a lot. But obviously there are exceptions and one can’t generalize these things.
After Wharton you could have easily become a very successful corporate head. What prompted you to start your own business venture in India?
Wharton is a great school. I was among the top 5 in academic ranking and I was pretty active in other co-curricular activities. It gave a lot of confidence because I was competing with the world’s most brilliant minds. I felt that if you could do better than them in certain fields then you can do better than them in other fields too. I think entrepreneurship was more of a natural choice at that point of time as the education gave me a lot of insights into different fields.
I was very fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. One of our co-founders Suhas quit his company and was looking forward to start something new. Hector beverages was his idea to begin with and I thought it was a good idea to be part of this.
After crystallizing the idea I approached couple of others and one of them was James, my classmate in Wharton. He had a Chemical Engineering degree from Birmingham University and worked with Dow Chemicals for six years. He was very interested in the idea and decided to come to India to partner with us. I was very fortunate to have such people to start with.
How did you execute the plan of starting hector beverages?
The main thing about this company is innovation. I think most of the successful companies have innovation at the core of it. First of all, we tried to prepare a database where we tried to analyze about various brands which are doing so well abroad and not in India. We were trying to find the reasons for its failure in India. Based on that we decided what the bottling format, the taste, the manufacturing and sales channels etc. We challenged everything which was present in the paradigm of established company front. Hector beverages was all about preparing a product for the Indian needs.
What according to you will be a road-map for a fresh start up?
When it comes to our start-up, we owe a lot to Mr Narayana Murthy. He is our mentor and he has contributed a lot. He always says that every entrepreneurship is a long wait and one would not get the results immediately. If you keep persisting beyond a stage you are bound to get the results.I think that’s what I would tell everybody. Do not expect everything to happen in short term.
Second part which is very important is conviction in the business. There will be lot of hurdles when you start. You need to be extremely convinced about your idea. Look at 360° atmosphere, the problems a consumer is facing and their needs. If you try to solve them and make things easier for the consumer, I think things will get better. Take different case studies related to your product and solve them to obtain an optimum solution.
After you get an idea, start having Proof of Concept and try to implement your idea in a small environment. Always have a test piece and I will never advice someone to start off on large scale. When you do it in small scale carefully observe the problems you face and once you validate it in the market, try to replicate it on large scale.
There are a few start-ups in India like Twenty19.com which are promoting internship culture among undergraduate students. Can you highlight some of the advantages of such internships?
If somebody wants to build a long term career in a company and wants to join a corporate set-up after graduation then it’s definitely better to do an internship there. For example if a civil engineer wants to join L&T he/ she should definitely do an internship there and know the company and their set up better. It also helps them to make some impression in the company which may result in final offers. If you want to have a really good corporate career, it is good to do an internship there as it increases your chance of getting a job there.
But at the same time if learning is your goal then start-ups present a decent opportunity. According to me working with a start-up will definitely help you get a holistic experience. You definitely get to deal with top management more often and understand the set-up. Secondly a start-up cannot afford to waste time and money on a person who is not adding any value to the company. So they make sure you contribute properly. By working in a start-up you gain more exposure and experience as compared to working in a big company.
With your vast experience what would you like to advice the young entrepreneurs for a successful start-up?
Definitely my first advice would be that if entrepreneurship is his/ her ambition, then one should go for it . What I’ve seen among Indian youth is that most of them are bound to do something new but many don’t come out due to the fear. One should conquer the fear first. India as a country requires a lot of entrepreneurs. Believe in yourself and your idea and go ahead. Indian youth are extremely capable. Second thing I would say is choose the right thing at the right time. Be clear on your idea and go ahead.