The Eight Billion Opportunity!
I had known Jawahar since childhood in the sleepy capital city of Thiruvananthapuram in South India, although we never studied in the same school. Since we lived close, we could indulge in some common hobbies such as ornamental fish rearing at home and of course, cricket. Even in ornamental fish rearing, I remember he made more money than us as he managed to sell at better prices for each variety. Being a son of a wholesale merchant, he always had a keen business sense even in his childhood days. I was told he indulged in trading fruits and vegetables grown in their backyard and also chicken eggs while in school. He was the youngest of the four children in his family and they had high hopes on him. But he wasn't good at studies especially in languages and he failed two times before he managed to be a matriculate. Instead of going to a college, he went to a polytechnic for a diploma. Sometimes, he sought my help for drafting letters and also posters for his business. He was good at fixing things whether it was a broken pedal of a cycle or my typewriter or table fan that I often sought his help for free.
After I went to college and later to the world of media, I lost touch with him. I came to know that he had spent some years in Dubai along with his uncle and was partner in his business. I had also attended his marriage although he couldn't come for mine.
After several long years, during the lockdown, I was surprised to a get a call from Jawahar. He said he was running a market research and public policy boutique in Bengaluru. I was surprised to learn that he had acquired an MBA from Singapore. I remember, him scoffing at MBAs while I was in college. Even Dhirubhai Ambani or the Tatas never went to a management college, he used to say.
"I badly need your help in drafting some good press releases," he said. He had done a study on new business opportunities for a leading consultancy firm and it was titled the Eight Billion Opportunity. I was baffled. In this period of Corona what was he talking about billions when people were finding the income flow in trickles!
Then he shared the outline of his report. It was about the huge opportunity thrown up when people are forced to wear face masks. He had done market segregations not only for India but the whole of Asia. How much of it would be captured by unbranded face masks locally produced, how much of it would be made of cloth. More importantly he saw huge opportunities for companies to use it as a branding platform to launch new products or simply brand promotion. He had made some complex calculations about how many replacement masks would be required per person per month and estimated that a huge market was developing if the social distancing and other pandemic restrictions are to continue for two more years. Some companies wanted to know if it can become part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)- giving masks free in schools and to the needy. During festivals in India, he found better opportunity to brand face masks and create an impact in the market. Certain films stars had also asked about using the face mask as a platform to launch new films or for their own self-promotion. So were cricket celebrities.
I could easily prepare a press release and it was published prominently in business newspapers and also discussed in some national channels. But I couldn’t understand his business model and who was paying for his services. More importantly, I was wondering how a person who was scornful of MBA ultimately took one! He then narrated the story. “In global business, you need to have a certain body language and mannerisms. Mostly importantly networking. Also, an MBA enhances one’s business profile on Linked In. I learnt it the hard way,” he said. He had also started an international school and college in association with another business group in Bengaluru.
“This report we have prepared will be sold to leading companies and organisations across the globe as it has invaluable market surveys and studies.” Later, detailed reports will be prepared for other continents. His spoken English had become impeccable and of course the Malayali accent still popping up some times.
As I was just jotting down a draft of this report and wondering whether it will make any sense to the reader. I shut down my laptop and went to bed. But soon my phone rang, it was Jawahar again. “Tomorrow, I have some interviews with channels. They will ask some stock questions like what is your success mantra, what is the advice for startups and all. What should I say?” I thought for a while and said, “Find a Need and Fill it.”. “Anything else?” “Create value in the mind of the buyer.”