Sunday, October 10, 2010

Interview With Manjiri Gokhale Joshi, Founder Maya CARE

Featuring Woman Entrepreneur

Manjiri Gokhale Joshi
Founder/CEO Maya CARE Services

[Category: Home Sprung Business Models
Capture The Household Services Pie]

Maya CARE was conceived as a small dream - to provide services to senior citizens and a source of livelihood to women. The dream is now a movement propelled by growing a network of volunteers, men and women, across seven Indian cities. Maya CARE's Founder CEO, Manjiri Joshi, had nurtured this concept for quite a few years before actually implementing it. I had an opportunity to understand more about her entrepreneurial stint in an interview with her. Read on to understand her entrepreneurial genius, which has brought out a wonderful business concept, providing immense confidence to Indian socio-cultural set-up.

Q. Let me start with your background. Please tell us something about your education and past work experience. Do you have entrepreneurial roots?
· I have no entrepreneurial roots. My parents are doctors based in Pune. Apart from school and college, I believe most of my education took place at my jobs over the years. Each role in each organization over the past 18 years taught me one aspect of running one’s own organization. The biggest learnings came from my assignments at Zensar Technologies. Heading HR for Zensar’s growing BPO and then as head of Contact Centre at Zensar Technologies in Pune. These opportunities gave me the exposure to entrepreneurship essentials like profit and loss, building and managing large teams, and most important— the confidence to start off on my own.

· My other assignments include: National Manager, Marketing at ICICI Lombard in Mumbai and a short stint with GE e-learning in Delhi. Before that I spent the first ten years of my career in journalism— as a news reporter with the Indian Express, Mumbai and Pune, Director of a Business News programme (In Mumbai TV) and Assistant Editor at Dataquest magazine in Delhi. I started working at the age of 17 – free lance writing for Times of India, Pune and then co-ordinating the Art and Culture page for Indian Express, Pune.

· I finished my Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) from Fergusson College, Pune. I had the opportunity to attend the Women in Leadership and Management (WLM) programme at Bradford University, UK as a recipient of the British High Commission’s Chevening scholarship in 2006.

Q. Is this your first entrepreneurial venture? If no, then which were the earlier ones? Are you still involved in them?
· Yes, this is my first entrepreneurial venture.

Q. What exactly is your business model? How would you define it? Is this a non-profit organization? If no, then what is your revenue model?
Maya CARE is a non-profit but self-sustainable organization. We do not ask for donations, but if any individual or corporate wishes to donate to Maya CARE, we provide them details of how their donation was used, in a transparent manner. Donors can get a picture and contact details of the senior citizen benefitting from the service and even speak or meet the person.

Maya CARE’s revenue comes from subscriptions. Individuals who live away from home gift a Maya CARE subscription to elders in the family. We also have corporate customers where the company sponsors Maya CARE subscriptions for the families of its employees posted away from their home cities.

· The senior citizen can call the local Maya CARE helpline in any of our 7 cities in India between 10 am and 6 pm from Monday to Friday to request a service. On request from the senior citizen, a MAYA Care associate bearing an identity card visits the senior citizen.

· As an extension of these core services, Maya CARE offers similar services to the family members of professionals who may be away on assignments, busy with professional commitments or travel frequently. Therefore these services can be availed by children, senior citizens or any other family members.

Q. What services do you offer?
Services can be customized as per the need of the family. Services could be required in a variety of situations - senior citizens/spouses with children/ disabled members of the family are left by themselves while a professional is working late, travelling/posted in another city. Maya CARE does not provide maid-servant, ayah or nursing services.

· Accompanying family members to the doctor, social/cultural event/shopping/walk. Reading to them/sitting with them in hospital/sitting outside ICU/sorting documents. Seeing them off/receiving at airport/train. sitting with them in hospital/outside ICU, buying medicines, collecting medical reports, shopping, conducting financial transactions…

· Accompanying senior citizens/children on a day-trip. For ex. Mumbai-Pune Or Pune-Mumbai

· Assisting in: writing letters, making an affidavit, applying for a passport/visa, booking a gas/telephone connection

· Getting printouts of e-mails/pictures from the web. Scanning and e-mailing documents/downloading videos

· Shopping for gifts, pooja items, groceries, travel/movie/theatre tickets.

· Accompanying pets for a walk/feeding them

· Cheque deposit/cash withdrawal, account opening. Renewal of FDR/Money transfer to another account

· Delivery of library books

· Children’s services: dropping/picking them off at birthday parties, picnics, school events, classes, buying books, stationary, gifts, helping with school project...

· If the family is away, watering plants, checking the mailbox, checking the security arrangements and sending an update to the home-owner on e-mail/phone.

Q. How did you arrive at the business idea of MAYA Care? When was it formed?
· Unlike the Western world where generations have known and thus accepted that children would grow up and move on, this is probably the first generation of Indians facing the prospect of living by themselves in their sunset years. Our infrastructure, social set-up and mental make-up are still grappling with this new reality. The solution – old age homes or re-location to join their children, is unacceptable for most people. On the positive side, several members of the current generation of senior citizens are more active and independent than ever before. Maya CARE aims to assist senior citizens in continuing to lead an independent life while living in their own homes and carry on with activities that give them happiness.

· In 2007, when I was heading the Voice (BPO) business at Zensar Technologies in Pune, we were contemplating setting up an interactive ‘chat’ service for senior citizens who live by themselves. We did not implement it as we realized that with the developments in technology, senior citizens can easily communicate with their loved ones in other cities/countries. It was obvious that senior citizens needed more than to ‘talk’, they actually needed someone to come home and visit them.

· Maya CARE was launched in October 2009.

Q. Do you find difficult in selling the idea of providing personal services to senior citizens and/or to the parents of the NRIs, especially because your model involves ‘letting in’ the strangers in some important part of their lives?
· There are certainly concerns about safety on both sides – people availing the service as well as volunteers and service associates who provide the service. Therefore the customers are requested to take the following precautions:

· Maya CARE Service Associates carry photo ID cards. Their details are deposited with the local police. Request to senior citizens:

· In case a Maya CARE service associate is not carrying her I-card, kindly do not conduct the transaction and call our helpline.

· ID cards are issued on submission of a detailed form and a government issued identity proof – (passport/election card/PAN card)

· Associate details are intimated to the city police.

· Associates are expected to conduct interactions within the guest reception area of people’s homes. Exceptions are made in case the person availing of the service is immobile.

· Recipients are requested not to ask them to enter any other area of their homes or assist in any other tasks like cooking/cleaning/nursing etc beyond the purview of Maya CARE services.

Q. Which cities are you operating in presently? What is your plan for expansion? Do you see scalability in your model?
· We currently operate in seven cities of India – Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi- NCR and Ahmedabad. We do plan to expand to other cities of India and are looking for volunteers to help us set up Maya CARE in other cities. There definitely is scalability.

Q. What is the potential of growth?
· The potential for growth is immense as Maya CARE services can be used or gifted to anyone who needs care – which we all do, at various stages in life! Apart from senior citizens, people with ailments like autism, mental retardation, epilepsy or any other disability can use the service. Young people who struggle to meet the demands of an active work life and the wish to be available to care for their family members can use the service for family members in times of need.

· As Maya CARE completes a year in October 2010, we are launching an ‘Adopt a grandparent’ initiative through which individuals and corporates can sponsor Maya CARE visits for senior citizens who cannot afford the service but still need it as they live by themselves. So many of us could choose to celebrate a festive occasion or birthday by seeing someone share in our happiness. If an individual or corporate donates any amount- even if it is just Rs 200/-, Maya CARE will ensure that the donors know exactly who benefitted from their act of kindness – the name, address and if they wish to – the phone number and photograph of the individual benefitting from the service, will be provided to them.

Q. How different is MAYA Care from YourManInIndia? Do you see them as your competitors? Who are your competitors?
Being a relatively new concept in India, Maya CARE is sometimes mistaken for a concierge service or nurses/household help bureau, or a charity organization.

· Maya CARE is not a commercial venture or charity NGO, but a self-sustainable non-profit organization. Our volunteers and service associates are working and retired professionals, home-makers and students who pursue a part-time career with Maya CARE along with their education, home commitments or another job. The effort is to move away from a professional model that demands 10 hours of a person’s time at a desk. Children can accompany mothers while delivering a Maya CARE service. Children are welcome at meetings as well! At Maya CARE, service associates are paid for the number of transactions/senior citizen visits they accomplish at their own time and pace.

· Service associates are offered remuneration on a per-assignment basis. They are encouraged to continue with their existing commitments and offer their services to Maya CARE as convenient.

· The core of the service is attempting to make up for the absence of a son/daughter/daughter-in-law or grandchild. None of us can ever replace a family member. However, as the service associates conduct their duties with responsibility and patience, it is possible to enhance their comfort level and in their own homes. The focus is on flexibility and softness during interactions with customers and yet delivering the service in a professional manner.

· The main differentiator is that Maya CARE proactively recruits disabled people who can leverage their strengths and contribute to society as well. Our creatives are designed by a deaf but qualified graphic designer. Our administrator is a lady with polio who cannot leave home or even sit on a wheelchair. She has been provided an Internet connection and telephone and handles our back office calls and e-mails. We are hoping there will be more people with a physical disability who join the Maya CARE family. If there is someone who is not mobile, they could just volunteer to help with running the Maya CARE helplines in different cities. If there is someone who can visit another person, they can visit senior citizens and read to them etc.

Q. What prompted you to leave your plush job career and go for entrepreneurship? As you know, I’m writing this book/blog to inspire more women into taking up entrepreneurship as their career, what would you like to say to other women regarding taking up entrepreneurship as their career?
· Maya CARE is still in its first year and it is too early for me to pass on advice to other entrepreneurs on running their ventures. But the first step (and often the most difficult) is to recognize whether you are ready to be an entrepreneur. Some families and communities have entrepreneurship in their blood. The ease with which they conceptualize ventures, take risks and plunge into business at an early age is admirable. Everybody does not have entrepreneurial genes. But so many people exhibit entrepreneurial spirit in everyday life – in running projects, organizing a social event or even looking after someone who’s ill in the family. They are the first to take on additional responsibility, come up with new ideas, mobilize support to implement these ideas, and most of all, work with dedication and passion to complete the project they have undertaken. If you have entrepreneurial spirit and a dream idea, maybe it is time to start putting together the rest – information about the legalities involved in setting up a company, seed capital, putting together a business plan, gathering people to work with you. Most important, starting off on the entrepreneurial journey means being fully prepared to make personal sacrifices – consciously giving up a sizable chunk of your personal expenses and dedicating unlimited time and effort to the venture. If you want to conserve your capital and invest the maximum possible in efforts towards growing the company, it is essential to lead by example on every professional expense as well. But if a dream like Maya CARE beckons you, march on!

Q. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder? [If you started this with a co-founder, then answer Q12 or else proceed to Q13].
· Maya CARE Services Private Limited was jointly founded by my mother Dr Vidya Gokhale and me. My mother Dr Vidya Gokhale is a post graduate in Pharmacology having served as a Professor at BJ Medical College, Pune for 27 years. The Board of advisers of Maya CARE include Dr. Kiran Bedi, Ms Vishakha Mulye, MD and CEO, ICICI Venture, Sushma Rajgopalan, Chief Strategy Officer, L&T Infotech and noted journalist Ms Anita Pratap.

· But the key strength of Maya CARE lies in its co-ordinators and volunteers across India.

Q. How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own? When did you hire your first employee?
· The first person to begin work with Maya CARE is a lady called Annapurna Balgude, who joined us as a service associate in October 2009 right when we began work. She now looks after Maya CARE in Pune as a co-ordinator. Annapurna has an MA and was working full time. She had to quit her job to look after her young daughter and home commitments. Working with Maya CARE gives her the flexibility to balance her home and Maya CARE visits and even have her daughter accompany her on Maya CARE visits! Soon came our second pillar of Maya CARE – Manasi Agashe in Mumbai. Manasi is a painter, a Masters in Geography, who never wanted a job that would require her to spend the day away from home. Manasi fulfils her Maya CARE responsibilities working from home.

· Annapurna brought along Maya CARE’s star performer – Jyoti More. Equipped with a telephone and Internet connection, Jyoti has overcome polio to look after Maya CARE’s backoffice for all cities. We have Supriya Dutt in Delhi – a Chartered Accountant on sabbatical.

We have some fantastic, committed volunteers – Karthik Ganapathy in Chennai, Shilpa Bhat in Bangalore, Smita Bhatnagar in Ahmedabad, Arunashree G in Hyderabad, who hold full time jobs but are happy to donate their time for Maya CARE. Sudha Gokhale in Mumbai, Vidyasagar and Sharmila Bhandare in Pune are senior citizens themselves, who happily visit senior citizens as Maya CARE volunteers.

Q. How did you fund your business (starting from when it was incorporated)?
 · Maya CARE was incorporated in October 2009. Maya CARE is a self-financed company, dipping into savings made over the last few years - very consciously set aside to be able to realize my dream one day. At a very early stage, we got an expression of interest to evaluate venture funding from one of the country’s best known business conglomerates and very encouraging feedback from them on ‘Maya CARE as a category creator’. Individuals have expressed interest in funding the venture. But as of now, it remains self-funded.

Q. What have been the challenges – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling etc. Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
Like all ventures, Maya CARE started with a set of assumptions on how people will react to the concept, who will want to work with us, who will want to use the service, what they will want, what will they be willing to pay for and how much. The past year showed us that the concept of Maya CARE has got a wonderful and spontaneous response from all sections of society – senior citizens, their children, corporates as well as volunteers. Every encouraging e-mail from a stranger, every pat on the back is heartening. Yet, we are still to overcome several of the challenges, but have realized that being flexible and responsive to reality, is the only way to move forward.

For instance, we started off as an all-women organization providing services to elderly men and women. Though most of our experiences from customers have been extremely positive, there were two stray incidents of lady volunteers feeling uncomfortable while visiting an elderly gentleman. While nothing untoward has happened so far, we need to be extremely particular about ensuring the safety of our volunteers. We now have a network of men and women volunteers in Maya CARE.

Being a Maya CARE volunteer requires very little time commitment- just an hour or two of one’s time whenever a senior citizen requires a visit in your area. But we need volunteers with a sense of responsibility – of being reachable on their phone. Growing the number volunteers has been a challenge— especially in Chennai, Hyderabad and New Delhi.

When we approached corporates to sponsor the service for their employees’ families in December 2009, we got a mixed response – some senior people across organizations responded instantly spontaneously and whole-heartedly appreciating the concept, others were wary about sustainability, scale and feasibility of the service. The efforts persisted and Maya CARE signed its first corporate customer in May 2010. After that, there have been some corporates who have approached Maya CARE to request services for their employees’ families.

Q. Are you profitable now?
· We are not profitable yet. It is our first year of operation and has been eventful—operations expanding to 7 cities in India with a growing team of volunteers and already two of India’s largest IT companies among our corporate customers. We are working towards Maya CARE becoming a self-sustainable venture. The idea of someone who is educated and as responsible as a family member- actually doing something for your family on your behalf and even sending you an e-mail update on it.will take a while to catch is clear that it will be a while before Maya CARE becomes self sustainable, but we hope that it will definitely happen.

Q. Last, but very important, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and your venture?
· My parents Dr Suresh and Vidya Gokhale are doctors in Pune – both extremely hard-working and self motivated individuals, passionate about what they do. From my father I imbibed discipline and rigour. From my mother – resilience to overcome obstacles and pour in your best in whatever you do. My parents, my brother Madan and sister-in-law Gauri have been my support system throughout the most difficult transitions in my life. I believe being able to bank on your family whatever course life may decide to take… is absolutely critical for any professional and I am truly fortunate to have such family support.

· It is heartening to see my daughter Mahi’s enthusiasm for Maya CARE. Now 11-years old, Mahi shares the Maya CARE dream and is always eager to help out at every step of the way. We have a 76 year old Maya CARE customer Mrs Urmila Lal, who is writing a historical book and was having trouble with her eye-sight. She had to incorporate some changes on the computer and submit the manuscript to the publishers within a month and had her cataract surgery planned. During her school holidays, Mahi worked as a Maya CARE volunteer to help Mrs Lal complete the book.

· But the reason why Maya CARE could take shape was my husband Abhay Joshi. I had been keen on setting up my own venture for the past few years and personal circumstances – especially my husband Abhay Joshi finally enabled me to realize this dream. I had been a single mother for 6 years and it was impossible to think of giving up a job to realize a dream. After Abhay and I got married last year, as a couple we decided that I could take the plunge – he continues with his job while I worked on setting up Maya CARE. Work on Maya CARE has been at a frenetic pace and the teams of Maya CARE co-ordinators and volunteers are now in place. Now that it is clear that Maya CARE will continue to need financial support for longer till it becomes self-sustainable, I have taken up a professional assignment and continue to dedicate part of my time to Maya CARE, mainly so that the financial inputs into Maya CARE continue uninterrupted.

Thank you so much Manjiri for your time and wisdom.

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