Rajesh Krisnan is 41, hailing from a middle class family in India. He lives with his wife and two children in Bangalore. Rajesh is keen in innovating and passionate about change. He started out his career as a scientist and engineer in the biomedical field, initially developing glucose sensors for people with diabetes.
Rajesh later moved on to commercial roles in the same area and have spent almost half my career in marketing new technologies to the consumer and healthcare markets. His career has exposed him to all aspects of a product life cycle in the medical technology space. He has primarily worked in start-ups and understand what it takes to build a great company. His education started with B.Tech in chemical engineering from IT-BHU (1994) after which Rajesh did his Master of Science at University of New Mexico and later graduated with an MBA from University of California-Berkeley (2005).
Currently, Rajesh is running his own venture, PerfectHome Solutions, dedicated to creating innovative solutions that will improve quality of life indoors. When he is not working, he spends a lot of time with his family and watching his children grow.
The Asian Entrepreneur has the privelege of speaking to Rajesh today about his work.
What exactly is HighrisWhat exactly is Perfect Home Solutions?
Perfect Home Solutions is a venture dedicated towards delivering innovative solutions for quality-of-life related gaps indoors. We believe that solutions for problems that improve health and lifestyle simultaneously will ultimately contribute to better quality of life. We focus on making our products and solutions simple and easy to use. We currently make and sell Cactus moisture absorber, a product for home use through modern retail chains. This category of products is designed to provide a preventive solution for moisture related damages like the formation of fungus and mould in homes; pervasive damp and musty smells in bathrooms, kitchens and lofts.
How did you come up with the idea of Perfect Home Solutions?
After moving to our apartment in Bangalore, my wife had to painfully clean up a nasty mould infestation and even get rid of articles that were mould-ridden. She was getting tired of cleaning indoors frequently to get rid of the nuisance.
So, in 2011, we decided to start the company. We figured that everyone must be going through this at least once, if not more. It is just an unspoken problem that is ignored or taken care of by frequent cleaning whose effectiveness is questionable and short-lived. Since both of us have a healthcare background, we sometimes wonder if allergies in our son could have been triggered by floating moisture and mould indoors at that time.
We initially solved the issue by placing many sachets of silica gel throughout the house. That helped a lot and she didn’t have to clean so often and our stored articles were not being damaged any more. Plus, the smells were not there anymore. Start ups have been my entire career and I like working for small companies. While starting a venture from ground up has been a dream, it is also exciting and there was an opportunity that was presented to us.
How has it been like managing the business since?
The company was started in June 2011. It has been exciting and challenging. It is always exciting to do something from scratch and see it get a shape and grow. The challenges are multi-fold. It certainly seems like the wrong age to become an entrepreneur. Without an income, it takes a toll on the entire family. It is something I and my family reconcile every day. I am lucky to have their support. Doing business in India where product innovation is a rarity presents a challenge.
I sell my products through the fmcg channels of modern retail trade and it is something that keeps me up all night in figuring out how to make this category into mainstream one.
While people have a lot more exposure to and acceptance of new products and solutions, this will certainly not be a cake walk. I manage all aspects of the business from manufacturing to selling and marketing, customer care and there is not a single day where I have not learned something new and often I learn about myself to top it all. The most difficult thing is running the company on pretty much zero cash and a payment cycle that slows you down. With growing business, hopefully this will change. Emotionally, the journey has been stressful and fun at the same time.
Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?
The single most difficult thing is funding. Most often startups fold because they run out of cash. It is absolutely true and you have to be highly disciplined. Every day is pretty much about survival. Organized investors are few in number for start up ventures and investments are fewer. So, we rotate our cash to grow the business and it severely hampers the speed. In my opinion, more than money, the right investing partner will also bring in connections that will catalyze the growth of the firm. While there are no solutions until funding comes through, I have to be creative on how to stretch every dollar. Beg, borrow, do what it takes.
How was the initial reaction from the consumers?
The reaction has been very positive. When the solution is explained, there is a light bulb that goes on in the mind of the customers. The problem of moisture and the damages related to it are things that most home makers have been living with and taking care of in many different ways including ignoring it. Most often the reaction upon hearing about the product is a “wow” and the satisfaction that someone is solving a problem. In fact, before deciding to take a deep plunge into the venture, I first sold silica gel to residential apartments as a validation to gauge the need for the product and saw that there was a need. The speed of growth of the category is going to be dependent on being able to educate and create an awareness of the product and category.
Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?
Fmcg business is fraught with competition. Marketers scramble to latch on to small parts of customer perceptions to position their brands. However, given this is a new category, competition is limited. PHS is the only indigenous manufacturer of this category for the consumer market. However, there are a couple of players who import their products. PHS will continue to differentiate by being innovative and innovating fast. Both are crucial to set us apart in this market.
What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?
Air care is a category that is seeing a lot of growth in the FMCG space and we want to capitalize that on that growth curve. Dabur and Godrej report 25%+ growth in air care which includes air fresheners, fragrance sprays and diffusers etc. In the fmcg value chain, the retailers are at the top of the pyramid and enjoy a lot of market power and so does the consumer. Consumer purchasing behavior is continuously evolving with evolving lifestyle, urban developments and so on. This industry while being very attractive is seeing and going to see a lot of change and only those who hold a steadfast focus on the consumer will survive.
How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?
Being a new entrant is both exciting and risky and it is imperative that we stay relevant. We have no cashcows to rely on while we jettison the not-so-relevant. Our product SKUs are carefully picked and designed to suit the use-scenarios of the end user. We have a pipeline of ideas that will further strengthen our offerings and stay relevant. Our current products came into existence after discovering a gap in urban lifestyle that was dying for a solution. So, we believe and hope that we are relevant.
What are your future plans for Perfect Home Solutions?
Although we started the company with a single product, the idea behind the venture is to become an entity that delivers innovative and relevant solutions (products or services or a combination) that can fill gaps that affect quality of life. We are interested primarily in theintersection of health and lifestyle where we believe there are number of gaps which require solution be it quality of air or water so on. There is room in both consumer and institutional markets. We have product ideas in dust control and air quality as a whole. We believe that the Indian market will continue to be price sensitive as always. So our ability to make things locally will be an advantage both from a cost perspective and being able to deliver what they need.
If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?
Hindsight is always 20/20. But I would spend less and try to be more cost effective when it comes to commercialization related expenditure.
What do you think about startups in Asia?
I am not an expert in Asian market. From an Indian perspective, the so-called ecosystem is in its infancy. There is a lot that is yet to be accomplished. It is a great time for startups in the hitech spaces like mobile, cloud etc. However, the country as a whole can benefit from the ecosystem including manufacturing sector. It is imperative that India sees a balanced growth so that it sees a sustainable growth and has a chance to close the wealth gap. I believe startups can play a major role in this.
What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?
Integrity is high on the list. Appreciation for the human value chain. Doing what you like or at least something where you can partially park your heart.
What is your definition of success?
Being able to control the means and the end.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I have always been in small set ups. I like it and wanted to continue that. Plus, it gives a good chance to try and hit it big. Got to try!
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
It takes hard work, time and luck. Don’t hesitate for anything. Ask for help and take help. Shed shame. Develop a thick skin.