August 13, 2021
DANCING TO TRIBAL TUNES
Vaibhav Gholap’s business was born out of a need to seek livelihood opportunities for himself and his community in his tribal village rather than go to the city to make money.
When the heart belongs to the village, no bright, shiny city can lure you. Vaibhav Gholap is testimony to this. After completing his engineering, he got a job in Mumbai, that city every young professional dreams of to begin their career. But what seemed like a right move professionally didn’t go down well with Vaibhav.
Says he, “I just could not adapt to the city’s life. The traffic, daily commutes, fast pace. I didn’t like it at all.” So, in 2014 he quit his job and returned home to his tribal village, Jawhar in Palghar district. “Since I had to work for a living, I thought of doing various things that could keep me home. Our village is small with a population of about 15,000. Most people practice farming on the mountainous areas that make up our village. They grow rice and ragi in the monsoons”
Jawhar tribals with a tourist
Perhaps it was his stint in Mumbai that made him see the possibilities that his tribal village could offer to city dwellers. “After monsoon, the men in our village go to nearby cities to look for jobs. They go to Mumbai, Nasik, Bhiwandi. And none of them really likes to leave his home and work elsewhere. So, I thought I must find a solution where our boys can earn enough from our village itself.”
I thought of leveraging the difference of our lifestyles. City people, I felt, would pay to experience our kind of life. And if that happened, then people would not have to leave homes and go to cities for jobs.”
With this in mind, Vaibhav did a small pilot project in Jawhar. “Our town is known as a mini Mahabaleshwar of Maharashtra. We have six waterfalls and the Jai Vilas Palace that are tourist spots.” But just having interesting places was not enough. Vaibhav reached out to the Self-Help Group (SHG) and told them about his idea. “The Govt of Maharashtra has an SHG in every single village. Most of these SHGs are simply registered and do nothing much except for maybe cater for an event or so. The aim is to do business.”
Since the state Govt had prepped the SHGs about doing business, Vaibhav found one obstacle crossed. “I told them about my idea and what they would need to do to attract tourists. They agreed to give it a try. We trained them in hygiene, honed their catering skills, cleanliness. We invested in a few items like utensils, a kitchen shed, camping gear and so on. We added camping, Warli painting and forest food festival training as well”. And, with that, the tribals of Jawahar were ready to receive their guests.
We are going on a tribal holiday!
But the main task for an entrepreneur is to sell. And Vaibhav used digital marketing platforms to sell the idea of a holiday in a tribal village. “It worked. We started getting visitors and their stay was comfortable, yet they could explore our lifestyle and culture. We had trained guides who could show them around.”
And happily, the goal with which Vaibhav started the business was met. “No one went to the cities looking for a job. Our members who had an annual income of Rs 30-40,000 per family now were making about Rs 70-75,000. This was really good.”
Vaibhav set up a proprietor firm – Jawhar Tourism that acts as an agent to the SHG to sell their holidays. “I take about 12-15% of the holiday package and give the rest to the SHG.” All was well, but then Covid stuck. “For about two years now, we have been badly hit.” In the meanwhile, Vaibhav joined the TiE Nurture Accelerator and was shown the bigger picture. “My mentors told me to expand my vision. Why stick to just one taluka? Why not develop tribal tourism across the country?”
Tourists experience the ‘grind’
Part of that expanded vision is to include more tribal areas such as Navapur, Kokan, Junnar, Yavatmal, Gadhchiroli, Melghat, Toranmal, Mokhada and more. “These villages have their own unique culture, cuisines and natural beauty that can offer so much to tourists”
His modus operandi is simple – reach out to the SHGs with a proper training package. “It costs us Rs 40,000 for a four-day training program. The tribals understand better when they experience for themselves and not just by lectures. So, I take them to Jawahar and when they see the money that can be made, they all sign in.”
Vaibhav has so far invested about Rs 3 lakhs in his business. “We have yet to break even, largely because Covid hit us badly.” But he is very gung-ho about the prospects. Once this is over, people will definitely like to have this kind of experience. “What job could be better? Here I can earn a living whilst staying in the village.” And the cherry on the icing is the fact that other young men too need not go to the cities in search of a job!
Worldwide, the success rate for start-ups is 10%. But at TiE Pune’s Nurture Accelerator program it is 39%. While our numbers tell their own story, we showcase here our mentees who tell how TiE helped their business.
Anand Mahajan CEO, Zerebral (www.zerebral.co.in) and Nurture mentee gives his feedback on the program:
What does your company do?
Zerebral is a data company specialising in applying web scraping and data engineering techniques to build large scale structured data feeds using the public domain business websites on the internet as a source. We have built the web data aggregation platform from ground-up, and it could be leveraged across verticals like Automotive, Real Estate, Jobs, Travel, e-commerce for various applications like data analytics, search, competitive intelligence.
What made you join this program:
Zerebral was formed in 2011 by techies who understood the tech side pretty well! We did service contracts initially and then co-developed data feed and API products with one of our US based partners for the automotive sector in the North American region. Thanks to our tech expertise, building the product itself was not a struggle, but growing the business proved to be quite a daunting task after some initial success. We felt the need to understand and excel at all aspects of the business and not just the tech!
I had joined TiE Pune in 2019 and was impressed by the quality & involvement of the CMs driving various knowledge & learning sessions. I got to know of the Nurture program and hesitantly applied for it on the very last day, not knowing whether we are going in for the Indian service company or the US product business! But we went in thinking there is plenty to be gained from the knowledge and experience the CMs/Mentors bring to the table!
How has the Nurture Accelerator helped you:
The entire Nurture experience has helped us think business and not just products/tech! We can now brainstorm/draft/share the strategy/projections with ease, we are a lot more customer & problem centric now than ever before.
With Nurture, we’ve learnt to ask the questions that matter the most, network externally as needed and help us course correct or seek a better direction for our products/business!
We already see a 60% revenue growth in 2021 projected to touch USD 4.2M and a successful go-live of our product in the UK market with a local sales team set up with a potential to add $650K to our kitty by Dec 2022!
Indirectly, Nurture has also opened up doors for us to grow inorganically by way of a strategic merger of our US business with an automotive tech major!
What were the three most important learnings:
(I’d say Learnings with the proof of doing)
1. Business Hygiene & Compliances:
Since we had multiple entities we dealt with (one in India and a couple of them in the US) – on the very first day of our interaction with our mentors they did the due diligence on whether we met all compliance and taxations requirements with respect to our foreign holdings.
As it turned out, we were nowhere close to being compliant and the both our mentors, Devendra and Paresh, rightly pointed those out, and we took up very important exercise of executing the stock ownership deeds, assessed the tax liabilities and compliances needed to be handled in India and worked on reducing our legal exposure from our foreign holdings. Until now, our ownership was only a verbal commitment or showed in emails, but was not legally valid. Our mentors helped us get out of the soup here, all the more important now as we gear up for an M&A for our US business.
2. GTM Strategy Drafting & Focus:
When you have tech co-founders that are very enthusiastic on experimenting with and building out new things, you risk having a lot of products on the shelf without anyone taking those to the market!
Exactly what happened to us, starting from an initial couple of products we recklessly went about creating new adjacent ones without an eye on the ROI and without a proper coordination between the tech and the marketing/sales team.
During Nurture, our mentors pointed it out and methodically showed us how we were dealing with too many segments and products and how the product x segment matrix was sparse, how we needed to study the opportunity product and segment wise and focus our effort and energies only on those that yielded the best revenues for the company and retire everything else that was a distraction!
We now focus on enhancing only the hot selling products and focus on taking those to the market deep and wide!
3. Product Validation & Networking:
The best way to better your odds of success at an early stage in a venture is to validate it even before you start building. During Nurture, we realised this well in the idea validation and design thinking Guru sessions.
But, it’s one thing getting the gyan theoretically and quite another putting it to practice, especially with idea validation and networking.
Since building out and selling new web data feeds, perhaps across verticals and geographies, was going to be a core recurring theme for us, our mentors advised us to give it a try and learn to validate one of our products for a new geography, the UK market.
Our mentors set an initial benchmark for us of winning about 10 prospects with an annual revenue potential of USD 150k, but without building the product. We were also advised to gauge the competition, needs of the target consumer and if it was a fit with our product, the customer’s average spending capacity and sizing the opportunity.
As part of the process, we planned and executed multiple email and LinkedIn outreach campaigns, we learned to network in the process, in an unknown territory with unknown people. Received help from multiple charter members form TiE Pune who had UK connect.
We realised what a daunting but essential task it was to talk to potential customers and understand what to build to their needs. Four months later, we have some interested parties willing to buy our data feed for the UK market, a couple of individuals from the UK with deep automotive tech experience, who know the ecosystem well and are well networked and are willing to help us sell the product in the UK. Thanks to this real life experience our mentors put us through, we now have an understanding of the market, the people, the competition, our advantages, go to market strategies, our market positioning to our advantages and have realistic financial projections!
What’s your message to other founders?
Ideas are a dime a dozen, but validated ideas are very few! In order to build a sustainable, scalable, repeatable, profitable business model you need a zillion things well-aligned, it does not come easy! TiE Pune is full of wonderful, helping, committed, smart businessmen/women who have done this very well multiple times over and have made a big impact in their respective industries! Nurture is a very well-crafted program that touches upon the Entrepreneurship essentials and advanced stuff you must know to excel and above all puts this in your own business context, so help yourself by joining in!