Till the late 90’s a majority of the Indian military veterans wouldn’t think of roles and jobs beyond areas such as HR, security or admin.
Fast-forward to the new millennium, a growing number of veterans, both young and seniors have started to challenge the old stereotype and launched their ventures in the fields of technology, sports, mentoring, manufacturing to name a few.
To understand how easy or difficult it is for veterans to adjust to the world of business; I spoke to two young soldierpreneur who have ventured into an unfamiliar territory of entrepreneurship. Despite setbacks and challenges, they are holding ground like true soldiers.
Meet Major Vikrant Khare, founder of Azore, a startup that is using smart technology to provide a hassle-free management solution for residential societies.
Its solution is currently being used by housing societies in Delhi NCR, and “it touches over 5,000 families.”
According to Major Khare, their SaaS-based smart city platform provides a wide range of services that are making communication efficient and effective between societies and their residents.
Sports is a natural extension of personality for most uninformed personal, and it continues to stay that way even after retirement. And if one can make a venture out of it – why not?
Captain Ameya Kocharekar founded Proforce; a start-up that works with schools to identify and groom sporting talent.
It is training nearly 10,000 students in 13 sporting disciples in three states of India.
In the very first year of launch, the performance of participating schools witnessed a marked difference according to Captain Ameya.
He further adds, “Don Bosco School, Borivali, Mumbai under their training, won 16 trophies in the academic year of 2016.”
The soldierpreneur seems to have taken to entrepreneurship with ease- let us find out what did they do or not do while transiting from uniform to business suit.
Lessons for veterans on how to become a Soldierpreneur
1. Go for hands-on experience: Both the veterans took a common path to gain business knowledge and experience.
Military “teaches many skills such as management and operations, but other critical skills like finance and business planning are missing’ says Major Khare.
The veterans took the corporate route to learn various skills and nuances of the world of business.
“I joined Meru Cabs at a time when they were growing in size, expanding to more cities” thus “they were also rolling out new technology and scaling up,” says Major Vikrant.
He further adds, as VP Operations; he got to “interact with various players of the startup ecosystem” including PE funds and VCs.
All this exposure came handy when he launched his venture.
During his three years’ tenure with a broadcasting company in Mumbai, Captain Kocharekar learned valuable lessons in hard-core sales and building a business around customer’s needs.
“It was also the time when my company was moving on from cable to set-top boxes that taught me how to handle technology migration,” says the Captain.
Both the soldierpreneurs advocate that veterans should add a few years of corporate experience before launching their own venture.
2. The will to risk: In the second year of business of Proforce, a few discussions didn’t pan out as envisaged and this left Captain with limited options.
“I was facing a tough choice either save my startup or my home; I sold my flat and liquidated all my mutual funds and pumped all the money back into the startup,” says Captain Kocharekar.
He further adds, “I knew it would push my financial stability back by 20 years. However, I was confident…thus, I was ready to take the risk.”
Major Khare adds, within eight months of launch his startup had achieved operational break-even.
However, they were facing a different challenge: their business had limited scope for scaling up and little role for technology.
He and his team took a tough call to move out of their comfort zone and explore a new business model that was scalable and used deep technology. As a result ‘Azore’ was born.
“One thing army teaches is…it is ‘possible’, ” and that gives veterans the courage to take the risk, says, Major Vikrant.
3. One thing at a time: “Initial success gives you a false sense of having arrived” this leads to mistakes says, Captain Ameya.
The success of the first year in business lead him to take some bold calls even before his startup was ready for it.
“We launched `Dream Chasers'” an initiative “to spot soccer talent in the age group of 6-14.”
Despite having a large budget and backing of an international football club; the initiative failed.
According to the Captain, the idea was too early for its time, and thus his startup lost money.
However, it taught him an important lesson “Not to do too many things too early.”
4. Take care of your team: Veterans of the Indian military “believe in the ethos of leadership and soldiering” that deeply imbibes a core value that “the honour, welfare and comfort of the men” is a priority over your own.
According to Captain Ameya, Proforce “pays a regular monthly salary to its coaches that is higher than market rates.” On the contrary, their competitors hire coaches on a short-term contract and pay low rates to coaching staff.
“I am proud of the fact that in three years not a single coach has resigned,” says the Captain.
As a startup, you are tight-fisted on expenditures and resources; but what do you do if you spot a talented employee who can achieve greater heights outside your venture?
You go ahead and create an environment, within your limited means, that helps them reach their full potential.
Major Khera noticed his content manager was hungry for professional growth beyond content writing.
Thus, he organized a training and guidance session paid for by the startup.
The manager went on to clear Combined Admission Test (CAT) with a good score that secured him an MBA seat in a prestigious business school.
This is just a sneak peak into the heart of soldierpreneurs.
Several other startups such as Giftmate, OlivePlanet, PepTurf and WomenCabs in India have been started by ex-defence officers, many of whom have seen combat action.
Migration is painful especially if involves learning new skills to survive and thrive. But defence veterans in India are digging deep into their character to leave a mark in the world of entrepreneurship.