Fortune favours the brave
By Celia Alphonsus September 11, 2013
- When people see successful entrepreneurs, they don’t realise those dreams didn’t become reality overnight
- The path is riddled with potholes, obstacles and challenges that can throw you into despair and dejection
“PATIENCE is the key to success Dad,” says the 11-year-old son of Arun Chandrashekar, when he is trying to get out of what he’s been told to do.
However, the phrase certainly holds true for Arun’s entrepreneurial journey that has spanned nearly 11 years, from the moment Trunkbusters was a merely an idea till today, where he stands at the precipice of rolling out his first commercial-grade machine.
The journey hasn’t been easy but fraught with frustration and disappointment, and peppered with emotional highs and lows. But as Arun (pic) says, “If you are crazy enough to go down the path of self-funded entrepreneurship, you must truly believe in your dream!”
“When the 1997 financial crisis hit, followed by the mini one in 2005, I kept seeing people just suddenly out of a job. I told myself it could happen to me,” says Arun.
Economic instability got him thinking about the fragility of his future. “There is only one way – to start your own business.”
While working for a local conglomerate, he stumbled upon an idea that sparked his imagination and more importantly, was an area that he had experience in.
“I knew I didn’t have to create a market from zero because there was a problem that was crying out for a solution,” he says, adding “I will be providing tangible value.”
Arun immediately started developing his revolutionary oil palm trunk pulveriser machine in 2005. While still working with the local conglomerate, he applied for the Technofund, a grant scheme under the auspices of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).
The scheme aims to stimulate growth among Malaysian enterprises by providing funding for technology development up to the pre-commercialisation stage.
However, as Arun shares, “nature has a way of blocking you until you are ready.”
By the time his application was granted, he had already left for an international company and the whole basis upon which the grant was applied was no longer valid.
“The framework for this particular grant was structured in a way where you needed to have a mentor company that would support you while you were on the grant to ensure you are successfully commercialised,” explains Arun.
As luck would have it, his former boss still agreed to continue being the mentor company, but the two came across a particular clause in the grant agreement which specified that Arun had to surrender 50% of his intellectual property to MOSTI.
“The chairman flipped and said that was nonsense,” chuckles Arun.
So, that was the end of that.
In 2007, Arun found himself immersed in his new job and was travelling extensively. As much as he wanted to, “it became almost impossible for me to do any practical things to move the R&D (research and development) forward,” he says. “Every time I tried, I soon found myself back on a plane.”
He decided that he had to leave his international job and join a local company in order to make some progress with the R&D.
By 2010, Arun’s frustration at not being able to bring his dream into fruition reached the tipping point and he made one of the most significant decisions of his life: He decided to bite the bullet and quit full-time employment.
“Once you have a good idea, run with it, and don’t sit on your laurels,” he advises.
“No matter what people tell you, until you are running your business full-time, nothing happens,” he says decisively.
Arun threw himself into the industry, selling his service to all and sundry in what he refers to mischievously as his “prostitution phase.”
Soon after he was selected to participate in the Coach & Grow Programme (CGP), a coaching programme spearheaded by Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd – an agency under the Ministry of Finance – and conceptualised and implemented by Proficeo Consultants.
“It is only when I went through the CGP that I started looking at my business from the customer’s perspective and changed my business model and sales tactics,” says Arun.
Looking back, he notes, “Execution becomes very important the longer you are in business. There are many great ideas out there, but the ones that eventually become successful in the market are not necessarily the best ideas but rather those that have gone through a good execution process.”
For example, imagine telling a plantation owner “Can I please test my machine on your oil palm trunks?” he says.
The reply he kept getting was an emphatic “Oh, tak boleh!” [“No you cannot!”] That’s because “when you go out and try to sell your R&D, people don’t see you as a service provider, instead they see themselves as your guinea pig.”
Now, compare that to this approach, grins Arun, “Boss, I have this machine that can pulverise your pulp and return it to the ground as a fertiliser.” “Oh, yes ah? How much ah?” would be the response.
He chuckles, “The tables were turned and instead of my begging to test my machine, they asked me whether they could test it out first.”
Arun managed to field test 2,000 trees in 2012, closing contracts to the tune of RM300,000 (US$90,480).
Valley of death, and a life-buoy
But it was still not smooth sailing.
“My prototype was proven. Plus, I had no problems getting customers,” says Arun. “This was my dream coming true, but I couldn’t keep up with the demand because I did not have commercial-grade machines in operation to be able to offer customers the service when they wanted it.”
“This severely affected my cash-flow and that’s when I realised I was sinking into the valley of death.
“Do you know that if you are a startup business you cannot get a loan from a bank? They will tell you outright that you need three years’ track record in business. “I was financially exhausted,” he says with a heavy sigh.
In August 2012, Arun applied for the Commercialisation of R&D Fund under the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC). After scrutinising the application criteria, he found that he was a near perfect fit and filled out the online application form attaching all the required documents.
Finally, in May 2013, Arun was informed that his application was successful.
“It is by no means a kiss of life, but when you are drowning, it is the life-buoy that keeps you afloat,” he says.
Arun is now in the midst of waiting for the agreement to be inked. From the point of drawdown, it will take him about half a year to roll out his first commercial grade machine.
While the grant only covers 70% of the cost of building the machine and doesn’t include his own expenses in the building process, it is a small price to pay to finally see his idea materialise.
The silver lining is that having heard that Arun was awarded the grant, SME Bank is currently putting together a loan offer for him to build another commercial grade machine.
Dreams do come true
“I guess when people see successful entrepreneurs, they don’t realise that [those] dreams didn’t become reality overnight,” says Arun. “They are rarely privy to the path entrepreneurs have to endure, which is riddled with potholes, obstacles and all manner of challenges that can throw a person into a labyrinth of despair and dejection.
“My advice to all budding and aspiring entrepreneurs is ‘If you think of all the problems that you need to solve in your path to success, you will never get started. Fortune favours the brave’,” he adds with a smile.
As a result of his tenacity, passion and patience, Arun was selected as the top 30% of entrepreneurs from the CGP, a result which earned him a place on the wall of fame at http://www.foundersasia.com/.
This article was originally published on http://www.foundersasia.com/ and is reprinted here with its kind permission. FoundersAsia.com is a platform for tech entrepreneurs and works with ecosystem partners around Asia. Proficeo coaches high-potential tech companies to scale and expand into regional or global players.
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