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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

It seems to be the age of young turks everywhere around the world. Manu Kumar Jain, the India Head and GM of smartphone maker Xiaomi, joins the list of young entrepreneurs who have made it really count when the opportunity knocked their doors. While the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Talmon Marco, Elon Musk, and the like had the ingenuity that helped propel them to successful heights through entrepreneurial pursuits, it was a shrewd sense of business coupled with sheer timing that have seen one of the youngest business leaders of India to succeed in his every endeavor. For example, although he did his B.Tech. from the famed IIT(D) and followed it up with an MBA from the illustrious IIM (K), it wasn’t until he actually worked for McKinsey & Company that he realized what’s to be made of his career, so he timed his exit from the world’s leading consulting firm well enough so as to join in the e-commerce revolution in India that had just begun to unfurl. This was followed by another smart move – to study a novel business model in a neighboring country so as to ascertain its viability in his own motherland.

The keenness brought him in contact with the right people and opened a window of opportunity that would allow him to pursue his plan of offering something very different and something that would impact a large number of people. And he did that – it was exquisite (almost iPhone-like) yet very reasonably priced – a trend that would soon go on to become the order of the day for most ODMs trying to make hay withthe one billion plus potential customers in mind. Manu Jain was not only able to drive the company’s India operations successfully, but he has been also able to see the company through some difficult times. All the signs of a top business leader in the making. He’s on the way to emulate (to some extent at least) his favorite super hero, the technologically advanced Iron Man withhis career so far treading a similar path to that of Iron Man: has been different in many ways, full of challenges, and quite a few associations that have been way ahead of their time in India (Jabong.com& Xiaomi).

 

Childhood, Education & Early Career

Manu Jain was born in Meerut and went on to pursue Bachelor’s in Mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT, Delhi) in 2003. Right after graduating, he joined Genpact Headstrong as a Senior Associate. This stint brought him the much required exposure to computers and the experience also helped him gain insights into how the internet would become a big thing in the near future. This was very opportune for Jain because up until then he wasn’t much of a computer buff and would have, perhaps, remained so and, consequently, would not have done what he did in due course with internet as the pulpit for business.

The Genpact experience may have been the trigger which made him realise that he ought to learn a lot about starting a business and taking it forward successfully. Thus, to be able to do that, in 2005 he enrolled (no easy task!) for the PGDM course at the world renowned Indian Institute of Management (IIM, Kolkata) to get a hold on the subject of business management.

While pursuing his management degree at IIM (K), he did not leave the opporutnity of getting another MBA from ESCP, Europe (2006) – another top business school; and, to add more variety of learning to his repertoire, he did a summer internship (April 206 – Jun 2006) at Tata Administrative Services (Tata Teleservices).

 

The McKinsey & Company experience

After he was done with IIM (K), it was time for Jain to equip himself further with something more global and the much required business acumen. IIM (K) helped him in getting to the environment where he could all the knowledge, experience and perspectives warranted for effective business administration.

He joined McKinsey & Company (Zambia) in 2007 as an engagement manager so as to imbibe the benefits of a process-driven environment which would enable him to carefully evaluate business opportunities before taking the plunge as an entrepreneur. Being regarded as one of the best finishing schools, the half-a-decade at McKinsey and Company properly moulded Manu’s entrepreneurial bent of mind as he worked across multiple functions in sectors such as sales & marketing, retail, FMCG, and automobiles.

By the end of his McKinsey stint he was already looking forward to give vent to his enterprising self through Jabong.com.

 

Chart-buster success

While Jabong.com had already been co-founded by Arun Chandra Mohan, Lakshmi Potluri, and Praveen Sinha, it got the impetus when Manu Kumar Jain joined it as the co-founder. The company’s success with so much proven talent at the helm was unprecedented. Its business model coupled with a string of marketing strategies, and partnerships made it one of the most visited sites in India with whopping numbers of visitor traffic – and the company closing in on the billion dollar mark (on revenues).

 

In search of something different, useful for all

Having achieved great success with Jabong.com and being a part of the e-commerce revolution in India seeing its potential, he wanted to do something different, and something that would be helpful to many people. In the quest for such a thing he quit Jabong with the aim of starting Gynger which would provide best smartphone at the most affordable prices. Thus, he was curious to see how dramatically different online-only sales model which helped in selling almost at-cost worked, in October 2013 he went all the way to China (Beijing) to study the business model of Chinese smartphone maker, Xiaomi. He met the team of Xiaomi and gathered from them the nuances of their business strategy and tried to fit that in the India paradigm.

 

Xiaomi (India) strikes gold

His curiosity that led to his meeting with the Xiaomi team and the subsequent India launch of Xiaomi with Manu as its country head and GM, are part of start-up folk-lore in India and elsewhere. But, what stands out is this:

He built from scratch the India team of 19 (initially) that started out of a small office in Bengaluru.

He and his team filled the launch of Xiaomi’s phones with so much enthusiasm and energy that it created so much buzz wherein potential buyers logged in hours before the sale opened online – which was the only mode (initially through Flipkart)

He was able to sustain the interest and, thus the demand, in Xiaomi’s phone through a series of novel marketing and customer connect initiativeshelping it capture the fifth place in the market in no time.

Did it against high odds - SaaS model (unheard of in India) with Google paly store around unlike China and at-cost pricing

Appointed in June 2014, started selling in July and achieved a sale of 3 million phones in just a year

Initially through Flipkart only but now has spread so wide that it requires to sell its products through Amazon, Snapdeal, The Mobile Store, Airtel and its Mi.com store as well.

He successfully saw off the potentially disastrous litigation filed by Ericsson.

Quotes
  We are not a smartphone company, we’re trying to build a mobile ecosystem
  Our expectation was exactly the amount of devices we got, which was 20,000, in two weeks. We came to India without doing any marketing or advertising. However, lot of technology enthusiasts here knew about the brand. I guess the Indian market is experimental and things happened much faster
  India will continue to be the most important market for Xiaomi next year also. Smartphone and Internet penetration in India has just started. Sales through online channels are just 10% unlike other developed countries ... even in China it's significantly higher. India smartphone volumes are just 100-110 million which will go to over 200 million in the next two to three years
  It was a brand nobody had heard of as there were no marketing efforts taken. Based on a Facebook page, we got over 10,000 people buying the phone. We launched on Flipkart and the page crashed. It was something that got us thinking
  It's a bit embarrassing but it would be unfair to other consumers to have an alternate channel allowing friends and family members (of Xiaomi employees) to buy." - On not giving in to requests from friends to help in getting Xiaomi devices'
  Obviously, in running any business there would be pressure and stress involved. But I don't transfer it with the way I react to people. Not just the court case, even running our own ecommerce platform, a lot of times we are running against stringent deadlines." – On how he handled the litigation case (by Ericsson for infringement of wireless technology patents)
  If I am trying to run a business, why would I want to fool the customers? You cannot hide things from consumers in today's world. In the long term, it will hurt you much more." - On the alleged marketing gimmicks.
  It just isn’t about connectivity; the phone has to be affordable and should add value to the average Indian consumer.
  Any company that grows so fast or disrupts the market the way we have done, is bound to face ups and downs.What is important is, when you face something like this, you have to maintainyour cool. It allows you to think of a long term view and have consistent communication going across your company, partners and customers. This was a major issue (the case). While we were concerned about it, we were relatively calm about it.
  We have already issued an official statement about it. I can give a personal guarantee that all the data is confidential and we are not sending it to anybody
  The exposure of having set up Jabong helps. It's a great journey for me. I am not a tech junkie by nature. (But) Today I know more than 60 features which MIUI (Mi user interface) has.
  I am a big Iron Man fan. I have a custom made Iron Man back cover on my Mi3 phone. I would love the way he operates the computers in his lab through hand gestures to become a reality

Hope viewers caught up the spark…

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