A Talk With TGC Prasad, Founder & CEO of India's Fastest Growing B2B2C E-commerce Company in the Construction, Interiors, and Infrastructure Category: MSupply.com
How do you become a better leader? If you are like me, sure bet, books, podcasts, and a few conferences are your paraphernalia. However, one of the best ways to gain insights is to ask those who have pushed boundaries and spring up with idealistic ways to progress their professional endeavors.
They infuse their organizations with vitality and innovation. These visionary leaders tackle a multitude of challenges, ranging from fostering enterprise growth and efficient task completion to customer acquisition and maintaining authenticity in the workplace, among other aspects.
They test the waters by making an 'in the clouds' move and tend to be pragmatic problem solvers. Lurching from one trial-and-error, they earn expertise and acumen, people and profit, along the way.
American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, once said, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
This leader has done both. Not only had he rooted the foundation of India's fastest growing B2B2C e-commerce in construction, interiors, and infrastructure category, MSupply.com. But also he has penned several management and fiction books. We had the opportunity to interview him and here are the excerpts.
A civil engineer by qualification, he completed his post-graduation (Gold Medallist) in management from Tata Institute. He has been an instrumental part of the initial teams of many prestigious brands. Earlier, he worked as the Country head and Board Member for Misys, India, a USD 4 billion global IT Software Product Company.
TGC was one of the initial start-up teams of Mindtree, a USD 900 million IT Services company. He has worked for Alcatel-Lucent, leading the M&A Org Strategy for Europe, South and Asia Pacific theatres.
While with Coopers & Lybrand, he was responsible for the implementation of Enterprise (SAP) & Supply Chain Management solutions. He has also authored several books such as 'Unusual People Do Things Differently' (Portfolio, Penguin), 'Along the Way' (Rupa), 'From the Eye of My Mind' (Random House), Working Hard is Not Good Enough (Random House), The Last Ten Percent (Penguin Portfolio).
He attended, delivered programs, and wrote research papers – at Stern School of Management (NY), Fordham School (NY), IIM-Ahmedabad & IIM-Bangalore.
Over a couple of years since its inception, MSupply has left an indelible mark on the e-commerce Spectrum of India. Through its sound practices and customer-centric Innovations in the construction, interiors, and infrastructure categories.
It has posted robust growth, ensured a journey toward profitability, and delivered superior services for its customers. Today it caters to 22,000 pin codes via its commerce platform and has access to a 14,000-supplier network.
MSupply started in August 2015 with Singapore as its headquarters and Bangalore as the India headquarters, in India. MSupply currently operates in fifteen cities and towns and is rapidly expanding to an additional twenty pretty shortly.
The company so far has raised USD 13 million in two rounds of funding from global investors Artiman Ventures [a US-based (Palo Alto) Private Equity fund and IIML, Mumbai. The construction supply chain is vast, and there is hardly any technology disruption in this segment.
The organized manufacturers constitute about 20% of the total space. The rest are small and medium-sized manufacturers with limited marketing reach and distribution scale.
MSupply ties up with small, medium, large, and global manufacturers and helps sell products using its marketing and distribution network.
The products are marketed to the wholesale segment, causing a transformative impact on the supply chain. The network efficiently handles inventory management, demand forecasting, and logistics for both the manufacturers and wholesalers/retailers. This is merely the initial glimpse of the brand's potential, as it's projected to achieve positive cash flow in the upcoming six to nine months of FY9-20.
While not particularly verbose, he generously allocated time from his hectic schedule to engage with us and answer a few questions. Herein lies the exchange:
Taking it back to the beginning, how did the ideation of the business come about?
The construction, Interiors and infrastructure segment is $600B. Covering almost 30% of the GDP, and organized manufacturers constitute about 20% of the total space. The rest are smaller manufacturers with barely any marketing and distribution approaches.
The idea was to collaborate with them and enhance their business by selling their products into the supply chain. Thereby managing inventory on both ends – the shop floor and the shop.
For manufacturers, the expansion translates to a tenfold increase in revenues, while dealers gain access to products, demand, and streamlined credit operations. These improvements lead to substantial enhancements in their business and profit margins. The foundation of this success lies in technology-driven buying and selling, bolstered by a well-structured supply chain network, and the results have been highly positive.
How big is the company right now? Brief us about the offerings.
MSupply exclusively partners with local, regional, and global manufacturers who often lack the marketing and distribution capabilities to effectively reach their target audience. In this collaboration, these manufacturers sell their products within the supply chain, primarily targeting wholesalers and dealers.
In turn, Wholesalers/Retailers use the commerce platform to get credit from banks/NBFCs and access demand from potential customers like retailers and project customers. From a team of 100 people, we are doubling probably soon.
We have also signed an MOU with the Government of Andhra Pradesh (India) for setting up a material park for Manufacturers to display, stock, sample, and manage logistics. Alibaba, Amazon, Rakuten, Walmart, and Homedepot are global models in this business.
How did you build your reputation?
I think I am committed to people who trust me and straightforward and transparent in my dealings with people, co-workers, partners, investors, and my team.
Importantly being a role model in demonstrating hard work, integrity, customer focus, and exceptional excellence, which are our core values at MSupply.com.
How do you measure your success as a leader? What has been the secret ingredient to your success?
Success is relative. So is the failure. Neither lasts long. Both are just perceptions. What matters is the journey of creating something valuable for the community and people. Creating economic value, employment, and leaders who can make and lead companies will help a community prosper.
That I would call a 'fulfilment of a lofty goal'. There is no secret ingredient, though I would say that hard work combined with an inhibition-less mind that is willing to overcome any challenge is a great combo for success. I like what Peter Drucker said, 'Not all problems need to be solved, and most can be circumvent or managed'.
Are you a risk taker?
The risk appears when the potential chance of failure outweighs successful outcomes. However, what people forget is that – "inherent in the risk lies tremendous learning, which prepares people to build resilience over failures. "
This is the foundation for better and lasting outcomes. Secondly, if one has the right skills, aptitude, and attitude to fall back on to earn a lively hood – where is the risk?
What is the most rewarding part of leading people?
When leaders become successful in the goals they take up. When they become great contributors, managers, and leaders. When they can stride forward with confidence and create value for the ecosystem.
Importantly when, they become great human beings who can make a better community. Lastly, when people don't need me anymore and become accountable, independent, and empowered to take their own decisions and execute them.
What motivates you to be a leader?
"The challenge of growing a company against many odds."
"Secondly, influencing people to see the big picture, think differently, execute, and stretch, to become great contributors, managers, and leaders." As I said earlier.
What is a day in your life/profession look like? How do you start your day?
Usually, my day starts very early, at about 5 am. and winds up by 10 pm. This has made a significant difference. The early morning hours help me get things sorted in my mind.
A typical day starts with a lot of brainstorming with people, meeting customers, investors, suppliers, partners, reviews,s and so on. Corridor conversations are very important to me.
I make it a point to have lunch and coffee with people from across different functions. It helps me to understand their perspective. I travel almost 15-20 days a month, meeting customers, manufacturers, and financial institutions.
The insights I gain are terrific. If you ever want to run a business, then you have live more than half the time on the street pounding the roads. There is no other alternative.
How do you encourage the development and motivation of everyone around you?
Raise the bar significantly. Ask for the sky. Pose difficult questions. Push for data, and measure outcomes based on metrics.
Conduct thorough assessments, acknowledging exceptional achievements with suitable recognition and addressing subpar results with clarity. Provide guidance, fostering self-assurance, and offer timely feedback as required. Challenge them with tasks that stretch their abilities, while offering support during challenging times. Uphold honesty, concentrate on their strengths, and inspire their highest potential.
Prioritize upfront communication, maintaining unwavering trust. Lastly, nurture their humanity, contributing to their holistic development as individuals.
What is the most significant change that you brought to the organization?
People, teams, investors, partners, and many others have told me that we have changed many times in the past and very fast. But I believe that most start-ups fail because they don't change fast enough, and they don't quickly discard what is not working. If we had not changed and morphed rapidly, we wouldn't have existed today.
I can say that MSupply.com is rapidly scaling and is on the path to profitability because we changed with market dynamics and because our people are adaptable and nimble.
Now we are laser-focused on what we want to do. "Customer Focus" and "Execution Excellence" lead to our scalability and profitability. Operationally, as we are scaling, two things matter to us, 'the right skills for the right role' and 'no English, only Math'.
How did you handle a time when you had to make an unpopular decision?
Popular or unpopular decisions are short-lived perceptions. As the Founder & CEO, I am not running a popularity contest. My responsibility as the CEO is to do what is right for the company and for the larger ecosystem.
My strategy involves gathering individuals around the table, presenting the issue at hand, soliciting perspectives, deliberating on advantages and disadvantages, analyzing the quantitative aspects, acknowledging the emotional aspects, and addressing them whenever possible.
Subsequently, the decision is made. Typically, individuals rally in support of the decision. When leaders and managers wholeheartedly embrace the reasoning behind it, a chain reaction ensues, effectively managing the necessary changes.
Well, there are times when I had to take tough decisions contrary to general perception. But I still went ahead and took the decisions. In the long run, it helped the company tremendously.
In the short run, some people choose to move on, which is fine. Nothing wrong with their decision either. All these things are contextual.
What is your greatest strength?
Vision, seeing the big picture, number orientation, detail orientation, and ability to attract, influence, and rally people – are some of my big strengths. Besides, I can work endlessly and don't tire quickly. Well, I am emotional, I have cried a few times in the past, but I can laugh at myself, I reflect, and can apologize quickly too. In the end, we are all very human. Aren't we?
What is your greatest weakness?
So many weaknesses – impatience, getting irritated with people who lie, playing politics, giving excuses, don't stretch, are not number driven, and not detail-oriented.
I over-pack my calendar and don't give adequate time to my family and personal commitments. Workaholic and tend to check emails and call people on holidays and at odd timings.
What is the most difficult part of being a leader?
"Simply put, being a role model. You will have to be what you inspire others to be."
If you were to write a book about yourself, how would you name it?
"If I can, you can too!"
Name three websites/blogs/books that you cannot imagine your day without.
Nothing specific that I have to devour every day. A daily dose of ET and Mint is necessary with coffee. Then I read blogs on 'Medium'. In addition, watch many TED talks on YouTube. I must admit that I read a lot of Bollywood and Hollywood gossip too. I am a movie buff.
Your favourite top three places on the globe are.
"My backyard, Helsinki and California."
Apart from running the company/organization, what else do you love to do in your unoccupied time?
Unoccupied time is a misnomer. I do my best to spend time with my son, walk for hours at length, watch movies, go on drives, listen to music, and read books.
What leadership style do you use?
Contingent leadership style, which is a combination of Influencing, Coaching, being directive, and at times being authoritarian. Different situations, different people, and different contexts need different leadership styles.
My focus is to drive values in our people viz, Integrity, Customer Focus, and Execution Excellence. Importantly it helps them think better, see the big picture, and grow as great managers, leaders, and good human beings.
What improvements would you like to make regarding your leadership skills?
"Being more patient."
What advice would you give someone who is assuming a leadership position for the first time?
"Be yourself. If you are into it, give nothing short, but your fullest. Believe that people are everything. Many will give you advice, listen to it, look at the big picture, do not worry about popularity when making decisions, and do the right thing. Success and failure are both short-lived – stick to integrity."
Finally, what is next for the company? What other plans do you have for your business?
Construction, Interiors, and Infra is a $600B market in India. Unorganised and not disrupted, and the opportunity is immense. Besides, India is going to be the world's largest construction market by 2022-23.
This sector is growing at almost 10% year on year, and there is no country in the world anywhere close to this kind of growth rate.
This is the second largest employment sector in India after agriculture. Therefore, for MSupply, we plan to continue to expand and scale significantly and achieve our vision of achieving a $1B transaction value by 2022-23.