A tribute to the first entrepreneur I ever met

Personal thoughts from my childhood

I did not know much as an 7 year old except three things:

  1. When I grew up, I wanted to be Batman
  2. Watching cartoons should be an official subject at school
  3. I did not want to work

Nearly 15 years later, not much has changed.

The last point was an amalgamation of various beliefs I had at the time, and possibly still do. I thought that if I got a job and went to work, I would officially be ‘uncool’. I would wear a tie and stay away from my family only to take orders from an ill tempered boss.

I constantly wondered why anyone would do it. Until I learned the concept of money. Even then I still wonder.

Maybe the luxury of 3 good meals and a roof over my head has spoilt me, and maybe achieving this luxury on one’s own two feet is a noble goal in itself. A goal that I perhaps can’t relate to, but a noble one nonetheless.

My first interaction with a CEO

My grandfather used to take me frequently for bhutta. Bhutta is a grilled corn on the cob and it tastes like a piece of heaven. It looks something like this

Don’t be fooled by the way it looks, sprinkle it with lime juice and give it a try.

Noticing the vendor making it, I asked my Grandfather, “What is the man doing?”. To which my grandfather responded, “He is preparing the bhutta. That’s his job”.

“Why doesn’t he wear a shirt and tie to do it then?” I asked.

“Well, he can wear whatever he likes. Its his stall. He grills the corn on the fire, we come to him for it. Not by the way he dresses. He has a specific product to offer, and thats what we are here for. He doesn’t have a boss because he doesn’t need one.”

A boss. In every sense of the word

He doesn’t have a boss…because he doesn’t need one. Even my seven year old brain could process this as being so unique that nobody had to tell you what you had to do in this world, because you have already knew it and did it better than anybody else.

He didn’t explain to me the difference in income between him and someone who would wear the suit and tie (and possibly having a boss). But the idea of being my own CEO was something that seemed so unnatural and powerful. I had to have the same luxury.

What Business School didn’t teach me

Fast forward ten years later and I am in business school learning about larger than life companies and their ‘keys to the kingdom’ so to speak. Yet I realized that after all this time studying about business, we only base a success story on wealth gained, not value created. At the end of the day, Coca Cola is just sugared water and Starbucks is just coffee, so why do I have to learn about their management practices, but not the bread baker in Dubai?

Does a company’s revenue make it better than another? Is one company’s offering inherently more relevant than the other? Is being small bad? Is a micro-business, an unsuccessful business? Personally, I don’t believe so, but once I am more than just a grad school keyboard warrior, I will be able to answer that question more intuitively.

Micro-firms: A new business model, or just an unappreciated one

Micro businesses are mostly (not always) niche businesses that either introduce a new product or improve on an existing one, much like the bhutta vendor in India. They do not require much funding (atleast not initially). They are mostly owned by one or two people with a skill and/or passion for delivering a particular good or service, and manage to get paid for it.

Micro-businesses vs Startups

They are not the same as a start-up either. Not the silicon valley kind anyway. But they can be tech related. Most micro-firms are built with the objective of remaining small scale businesses without focusing on growth, but specialization. They may not intend to put a dent in the universe, but rather fix the ones on your bumper. The main goal is not an IPO, but a continuously improving product.

In closing…

This article is a tribute to all the unrecognized CEO’s of micro businesses around the world. Those who pay attention to details so fine, yet so crucial to upgrade the quality of human life.

From Handmade Violin luthiers in London to Leather journal makers in Italy; from Potters in India to Fashion bloggers in America. As well as everyone else in between. I salute all of you. Keep improving your craft and thank you all for allowing us to enjoy the finer details of life that so many of us take for granted.

A special thanks to the bhutta vendor and my grandfather for showing me what I wanted to be at a very early age in my life. A boss. My boss.

Unless I could be Batman.