#4| Mahesh — Kirana Chronicles

The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will – Chuck Palahniuk

Apoorva Shetty
D91 Labs

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The store had a glass display of several hundred micro chips arranged in a peculiar fashion. A young lady at the billing counter greeted me and asked me the purpose of my visit. As she asked me to wait for the owner of the store, we overheard a person talking from a room behind the counter. “Tell me how many pieces you need and send me your location. Don’t worry, I’ll WhatsApp you before I leave.”, he said. From behind the counter appeared Mahesh, earphones in his ears listening to the person on the other end. “Hmmm”, he says, as he gestures me to wait for him to finish the call.

Short Story

Mahesh, a 35-year-old entrepreneur runs A-Z Solutions; a laptop sales and service centre. A-Z solutions have been around for the past 15 years. However, with the constant evolution in Bengaluru’s startup landscape, Mahesh struggles to hire and retain staff.

Business

Mahesh’s family lived a content life with a decent salary his parents earned from their government jobs. That was until his family went into an economic crisis when both the parents lost their stable jobs. Having spent all their hard-earned money on their daughter’s wedding, with no funds to fall back on, the family was in a financial crisis. His parents were struggling, trying to make ends meet and managing to pay for their kid's education, Mahesh took it upon himself to bring the family out of this situation.

During his college years, Mahesh started working in the evenings and attended college in the mornings. Mahesh took up all odd jobs from being a part of a movie crew to working in a laptop store. The owner of the laptop store gave Mahesh a job with a decent salary that was just enough to support his family. A few years later, having learned the tricks of the trade, Mahesh decided to quit and start his own venture.

Mahesh’s room was his office. A-Z Laptop Solutions was started with the intention of providing customers with solutions to all laptop related issues. Soon, a former colleague of his joined him as a business partner, together they set up a store, one that was not in Mahesh’s room. When one of the biggest electronic retail stores opened its branches in the city of Bengaluru, Mahesh and his partner landed a contract with them. This brought to them more than several hundred laptop servicing requests per month. They had hit a gold mine. But success was short-lived. The retail store soon went into bankruptcy, taking down Mahesh’s business along with it.

After a year of struggling to keep the store up and running while barely managing to earn decent salaries for themselves, the partners decided to split. The assets of the store were divided equally among the two. While Mahesh continued to do what he had set out to, his partner went on to start his own venture elsewhere.

As the name suggests, A-Z Solutions deals with everything related to laptops — sales, service, and rentals. The store sells brand new laptops to customers and to companies, in-store servicing is taken up for walk-in customers as well as companies, laptops are rented to several startups and companies based on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

“I have experienced a lot. In 15 years I’ve had encounters with loyal people and even got cheated on by some. I have even suffered a few losses because some vendors duped me. Now I’ve become wiser. When I was working in the first store I had seen all this happen to my boss. So I was very cautious about such frauds”

Payments

  • Mahesh’s store accepts all modes of payments from customers and vendors. He expresses that a business should be flexible enough to accept payments in all forms — cash, digital payments or cheques.
  • He uses net banking for personal purposes like recharging his phone, etc.
  • Large customers like organisations pay through cash or cheque. The older customers who have been doing business with the store are usually given credit.

“In business, you have to be ok with everything. Incase I say I won’t give credit then they’ll go to other competitors.

Banking

  • Mahesh has availed several loans from several banks in the many years of running the business. He had also availed a loan from a digital lending app.
  • In order to enable easier accounting and tracking, separate accounts are maintained for servicing and sales.
  • Mahesh’s plan to buy new land requires him to take a loan for a bigger amount. This remains his motivation to maintain a good score by making timely payments.

“When I had successfully repaid the digital loan, I did not even realize it. That’s why I liked it. Everyday money used to come in and some percent used to get deducted. There was a clear

“It’s not that I really needed to loan the money, but I thought it’s ok let it be. I’ll get a good CIBIL score too.”

Accounting

  • Mahesh's store has a licensed ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software to keep track of everyday transactions. Mahesh claims the complexities and dependencies caused by the previously used software caused him to shift to a more user-friendly and flexible one.
  • Mahesh has trained all his employees to use the software in his absence. He mentions that the software offers him a seamless experience of editing, exporting and sending it to the auditor.

“This is an ERP software. My old boss used to use it. After facing difficulties with the previous software we used to have, I went to my old boss to check it out. That’s when I realised his software was so much easier. So we got one for the store as well.”

“It’s easy. Even a 7th standard kid can use it. In the case of the other softwares, they have to do a course and all. It is so complicated, it gives me a headache. This is very easy. I can edit, convert to excel and send it to my auditor. He does not even need to come here.”

Customer Management

  • Mahesh deals with several customers on an everyday basis; customers come to buy or service their laptops, small and medium-sized companies place orders in bulk, laptops are also rented out to many individual customers or companies.
  • Mahesh mentions that the peak period, when the store sells maximum laptops is in the month of January. When asked why that was the case, he claims that new startups generally start in and around the month of January every year.
  • A WhatsApp group with several other vendors helps him market his products. Mahesh plans to increase the store’s reach by creating an online platform to sell laptops to multinational companies and individual buyers.

“My business happens on WhatsApp only. I do marketing on WhatsApp. All of the dealers in Bangalore are on a group. If we post things on it we get calls and they’ll come and pick up the products and go.”

Vendor Management

  • Over the years Mahesh has built good relationships with his vendors. Since the store deals with service, sales, and rentals, he is in constant communication with many vendors. The vendors supply laptops and even direct him to sellers and buyers.
  • On some occasions, Mahesh and other vendors like him take part in bidding for laptops. Bidding for laptops happen when an organisation decides to discard its old laptops or sparingly used laptops. Mahesh comes to know about these bidding through his WhatsApp group networks
  • These networks help him to connect with prospective buyers and sellers.

“We have a few vendors who we have been doing business with from a long time. Besides, they also see where service is good, they go there.”

“Whoever gives good payments is a nice vendor. If our service is good they stick to us, otherwise they go to someone else.”

Employee Management

  • Mahesh treats his employees as equals. His previous experience of working under his boss helped him grow, to set up something of his own. He hopes to become an inspiration to his employees as well.
  • The emergence of hyperlocal delivery startups has caused a decline in the availability of manpower. With these platforms providing their employees with more flexible and well-paying jobs, Mahesh often struggles to bring in new employees and continues to struggle to even retain his existing staff.

“We can’t think that only we should grow. There will definitely be some competition. My customers might go to them. But in the end, our business is for us, their business is for them.”

“Everyone has the desire to setup something of their own and become big in life. I have also become what I am by learning from my boss. If I visit him now he’ll be happy, he’ll say — This is my boy, he has set up his shop. That’s it.

“They say — I have my own vehicle, I can do deliveries whenever I want to, I am my own owner. But there’s no future in delivery jobs. Here at least there is a future. By working under us they can learn and set up their own store. There are many people who had worked under me and then went on to set up their own stores.”

Technology

  • Having started his business when the country began to see a rise in technology adoption, Mahesh has seen the subsequent shift technology has brought about to businesses such as his business. From maintaining accounts to marketing his products to vendors on WhatsApp groups, he relies on tech every day for the functioning of his business.

All that was not told

Observations of the researcher that were not covered as a part of the research.

Our conversation takes him back to his initial days at the store, “We worked really hard back then. I would often go to make deliveries. Two bulky monitors on my leg, going up the road, that too on my small moped.” he humours.

Mahesh’s story clearly illustrates the influence of existing ecosystems in the thriving or failing of businesses such as his. While the startup culture in Bengaluru seems to be providing jobs to millions of unemployed citizens, it also affects the availability of labour to hundreds of businesses. He also mentions that the availability of gig work [increase in hyperlocal delivery startups] in the city has shifted peoples’ preferences from long term future-oriented jobs to short-term money-making gig work. However, it is the inception of these very startups that boost his business at the beginning of every year.

As we start to discuss goals, Mahesh mentions that his ideas to scale and grow require him to take on additional stress in life. He’s confident that he can accomplish them if he sets out to do it. However, he believes that as individuals we should be satisfied with what we have and that more greed causes stress and other health problems which are not worth dealing with.

“It does not matter if you go to Hotel Ashoka or to the Ambur Biryani place; you will eat the same quantity of biryani in both places.”

About the research:

This documentation is a result of the in-person interview, along with the participants’ consent. The interviews might be conducted in their native languages and translated to English in the best possible way to reach a large audience.

Disclaimer: The identities of people and places in this documentation have been changed to honour the privacy of the participants.

About D91 labs:

This research was executed and documented by D91 labs. D91 labs is an open-source initiative by setu.co to help Bharat build great fintech products. We organise and publish user research, insights, and frameworks for fintech in India. Please follow us on medium for more exciting stories and insights on Bharat.

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