Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview With Anjana Vivek, Founder VentureBean Consulting

Featuring Woman Entrepreneur

Anjana Vivek
Founder VentureBean Consulting
www.venturebean.com

[Category: Strike The Niche Segment
Outsourced CFO Model]

VentureBean Consulting partners with businesses, providing inputs in the area of strategy and finance, to help create sustainable value in a rapidly changing business environment. VentureBean works with companies to refine/build business plans and business models and provides inputs in deal related matters, for investment and M&A transactions in a variety of funding aspects from financial forecasts to valuation to due diligence and negotiations. VentureBean’s advisory services range from review and stock take of a business … to working on an action plan to meet immediate needs, to setting long term goals.

Read my interview with Anjana Vivek, to understand how outsourced CFO models are emerging.

Q. I would like to start with knowing a little about your background (education and past work experience). Do you have entrepreneurial roots?

I am a Chartered Accountant, with a degree in B.Sc (Physics) Honours. I have worked in consulting (2 of the Big 4); started my career in a Public Sector Company, worked with a funding agency and also taught at IIMB as a full time faculty member in the Finance and Control Area for a couple of years. So you may say; I was trying my hand at multiple things till I have now settled into working for myself.

I do not have entrepreneurial roots, this was something which happened along the way… serendipity!

Q. Is this your first entrepreneurial venture? If no, then which were the earlier ones? Are you still involved in them?
Yes, VentureBean Consulting is my first venture. I have also co-founded another venture which has been incubated and is an early/start-up stage company – biZkul Education.

Q. What market segment and industry are you addressing?
I am in the consulting, advisory industry, it also borders on mentoring/coaching sometimes. The market segment is growth companies which are driven by a quality management team, typically in the SME sector, with a potential to grow large and make an impact.

Q. How would you define your business model? Do you classify your business model as a ‘me-too’ model? Or would you say that you are addressing a niche need? Why or why not?
The model is a consulting model, with a mix of fixed and flexible fee as well as some stock in a few cases. So in that sense it is not a unique model. The space (niche) that I would like to target is companies which are headed by visionaries. They may not be visible today, but they could be leaders tomorrow. In fact at least 5 companies I have associated with have gone on to get some recognition and awards.

There is a need to provide quality consulting/advisory/mentoring inputs as well as a range of services to companies looking to take advantage of the current economic environment in India. I am connected to a network of professionals who can provided the required services for a company looking to grow, right from funding, to financial planning and budgeting, to accounting, tax and legal inputs.. and more.

Q. How did you arrive at this business idea? What exactly inspired you to start VentureBean?
I love teaching and consulting plus do some occasional writing and was looking for an opportunity where I could choose to do what I wanted to do. While IIMB would provide me with an opportunity to do all the above, to integrate into the academic system, I needed a PhD. I realized that if I devoted time to getting a PhD I would lose out on my specialty, i.e. bringing my industry experience in consulting into my teaching. So after due thought, triggered by the PhD requirement of the academic system in India; I resigned from IIMB and opted to continue my association there as Guest Faculty rather than as a full-time faculty there. This has worked well for me thus far.

Initially, when I left IIMB, my avatar as an independent consultant was incubated by the Nadathur Group (Nadathur group invests in early stage and growth companies, this was founded by Mr.N.S.Raghavan, co-founder Infosys). I was sharing their office space and also worked with their group/investee companies. In addition, I developed my own portfolio of clients. The Nadathur Group allowed me to experiment and see if I could be successful as an entrepreneur and independent consultant. They gave me the courage to venture on my own. After almost 20 months under this umbrella, I came out and re branded the consulting as VentureBean Consulting.

Q. You have mentioned that VentureBean Consulting partners with businesses, providing inputs in the area of strategy and finance. How do you handle competition with the bigwigs like McKinsey, Delloite, Ernst & Young and Accenture etc.?
There is enough work in the Indian market. Each of us has our own space and clients who come to us through referrals.

Q. How have you differentiated yourself from the other strategy consulting companies?
Till date assignments have come through referrals. I am now taking the activities of VentureBean Consulting to the next level and creating a forum which I refer to as..the “Bean City Consulting Network.” The network will have partners who can deliver a variety of solutions. Once the forum has evolved further, it would be time to market it. The differentiator is the plug-and-play model of quality consultants, providing a range of value-add services. It is about the people behind the network, they are the differentiators. So I am going slowly and carefully with this network as it is falling into place.

Q. How is VC model blended in VentureBean services?
VentureBean is inspired by the VC model. VC’s invest financial capital into companies. VentureBean invests intellectual capital. VC’s spend time with portfolio companies, nurturing them as they grow. VentureBean is inspired by the US silicon valley VC model of nurturing entrepreneurs and giving them space for growth, this is driven by innovators and people with dreams. VentureBean works with people who dream… and attempt to create something solid and sustainable.

Q. Will it be right if I say VentureBean is following ‘outsourcing’ model for Financial Strategy? Please elaborate on the various services that VentureBean has to offer. Which is your forte?
Yes, that would be partially correct. Some clients have referred to me as a mentor, someone has called me an outsourced CEO, some, an out-sourced CFO.. the titles vary depending on the role(s) played. VentureBean typically has strengths in finance and leadership, valuation, negotiation, M&A and other deal related matters. The services are offered as an extension to the management bandwidth. For example some large corporates have an in house M&A team. Drawing from this …VentureBean has become the extended arm of the corporate M&A team in some cases. Some companies deal with basic financial operational issues in-house and would like a consultant to help them think through financial strategy. That is where VentureBean can play a role…playing the strategic CFO role. In some other cases, CEO’s have used our help as a sounding board when key decisions are to be made. The CEO’s are often too closely and emotionally involved with the business. They value an external perspective which helps them in decision making. Thus VentureBean works with leaders and innovators.

Q. What are your plans for expansion? Do you plan to provide an early ’hand-holding’ and/or ‘incubator’ services for the promising entrepreneurial businesses?
The expansion will be through increasing partners in the network of service providers. In fact, I already work with some investors and other service providers, who also mentor companies in the early stage. So in a sense, hand-holding and incubation help is provided through the network.

Q. The corporate world usually feels that our Indian education system (both K-12 and under-graduate/graduate) does not produce smart entrepreneurs. They churn out smartly trained employees. The business creativity does not get imbibed in our students even in post-graduate disciplines. What are your comments on this as a Faculty member at IIM Bangalore?
Please note; I am a Guest Faculty at IIMB, teaching entrepreneurship among other courses. I am no longer a full time faculty member there and cannot comment on the courses they have. I can share my personal perspective and my experiments with teaching creativity and entrepreneurship! I think today, we are having some amount of entrepreneurial teaching and creativity courses, though not as much as one could have. People should be taught to think, with Indian cases and caselets. If students and business professionals are given examples and situations and are asked to come out with possible solutions, this can really help them think differently and be original. For example instead of talking about business ethics .. one can pose a caselet of a situation. Participants are then forced to take a view and this pushes them to be creative (in a positive sense)..to think .. and grow. I am pleased to share this link of caselets which can be used to teach business planning and writing a business plan: VIRTUAL GAME: Writing a business plan.

Q. There has been a growing trend in the Outsourced CxO models, mainly targeting the mid-sized companies. What is your view on the potential of this kind of model? What in your judgment is the potential of the outsourcing solutions in general (such as marketing solutions or financial solutions) market in India?
I think there is a need for these models today. The Outsourced CxO’s bring in expertise. Companies can benefit from these based on the usage. The key would be to have persons

· whom you can trust
· who provide quality service and
· deliver on timely basis.

So the mid-sized companies need to do their due diligence before appointing someone in this mode. The other important aspect in such an engagement is to

· clearly set out the scope of work and
· assign responsibility to these roles.

Further such roles need to be regularly monitored for value-add provided in the medium and long term.

Q. What are the typical entry barriers in this industry?
There is no real barrier; anyone can set up a consulting service. However, they would need to consistently deliver quality to be visible amongst the clutter.

Q. How did you fund your business (starting from when it was incorporated)?
As this is not a capital intensive business, I funded the start-up costs myself and then through revenues generated.

Q. What teething problems did your venture face – finding the business partner, financing the venture or recruiting your first employee? Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
While all those you stated seemed like problems at that time, I do not now see these as real challenges. The main challenge for me is my mindset, to go ask for work and then ask for money. I think; many of us first generation entrepreneurs have this difficulty. I do not feel comfortable marketing myself and maybe also do not know how to do this ... and I know of many entrepreneurs who also have this difficulty. I still have not been able to figure out how to address this discomfort. So I philosophize... whatever has to come my way will come, I am just living my life journey. I did not plan to be an entrepreneur, I did not plan to teach at IIMB.. it just happened and so maybe there is a larger plan at work here?

The other problem for someone used to a regular pay check is living with the uncertainty of cash flow. One sometimes has work and sometimes not … one sometimes gets paid on time and … sometimes … not at all.

In summary, I think the key challenge to entrepreneurship is in the mind. We have seen persons without a business partner, without finance, without a team of employees, succeed over time. The battle has to be addressed first in the mind and then can be won in real life. Networking and counseling therefore helps. Having a friend who will tell you, this too will pass and your time will come, is even better.
Q. Are you profitable now?
Yes, consulting has been profitable from day one.

Q. What would you like to say to other women regarding taking up entrepreneurship as their career?
There is nothing like being your own boss. Much of the working world as we know it today has rules made by men, convenient for men. Today, with different tools to enable us to work, we can choose what we want to do, when we want to do it and balance/juggle different facets of our lives. I am so glad I had time to spend with my son as he grew up and also did quality work along the way. If I had not been my own boss, I could not have enjoyed some of these simple pleasures that life gives us.

On the other hand..it is not easy to create and drive your own business; it takes time and effort. But in the long term the satisfaction of having made it on your own and on your terms is immense. It also helps to have a network of women friends who are your support system. I have a wonderful network which I can tap into and that gives me the strength and inspiration to go on. Please do take time to build these networks, with breakfast, lunch and other meetings as well as through online forums.

Q. Last, but not least, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and the new venture?
I experimented on the dos and don’ts along the way. For example, I avoided meetings in the late evening unless absolutely necessary. I missed dinner meetings. That gave me time for family. Another example, I am not continuously checking mail, I check it twice or thrice daily. Meetings with clients are scheduled and planned in advance. My office is now close to my home, so I save travel time. Where I can, I have a telecon with my clients, it saves their time as well!

In addition, I am a strong believer in Yoga and the Indian philosophy. With practice of Yoga on a regular basis, I find my mental abilities sharper and more focused, so my efficiency has increased. By Indian Philosophy, I mean, I try to work hard and try not to focus on the results. I am not sure if I succeed in this, but I repeat this to myself and try to work on this. Plus of course, now that my son is grown, the responsibilities at home have decreased, so I have more time to devote to work. There was a time when I needed to devote more time to home. Life is a cycle, you play the game depending on where you are in your life cycle, more so for a woman with family responsibilities to balance. Thanks for asking these questions, it has helped me crystallize some of my thoughts as well!

Thank so much Anjana for your time.