Mahesh Shukla, MD, ValueManage Group says that challenges will always be there and there is no formula for success, but if one is clear enough to pursue his or her own dream then success can not be far. He also applauded UAE for introducing reforms and ease of doing business that today UAE has become a prime destination for entrepreneurs from all around the world
How do you think the startup landscape has evolved since you first ventured into your business?
The startup landscape in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has undergone significant transformation since I started my venture in 2005. From a region primarily known for its oil-based economy, the UAE has worked towards diversification and innovation, leading to the emergence of a dynamic and thriving startup ecosystem. In the early 2000s, the UAE government recognized the need to diversify the economy beyond oil and established a vision for a knowledge-based economy. Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City were established in 2000. We ventured into outsourcing services in 2005. ValueManage was one of the first 5 companies to be registered in Dubai Outsource Zone in 2005.
The UAE government introduced measures to ease business setup and foreign ownership regulations, making it more attractive for entrepreneurs to establish startups. They also introduced long-term visas for entrepreneurs and investors, encouraging foreign talent to contribute to the ecosystem.
The UAE continued to invest in key sectors like fintech, healthtech, agritech, and edtech, aligning with global trends and demands. Dubai and Abu Dhabi gained global recognition for their supportive startup ecosystems, attracting entrepreneurs from around the world.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey?
Every entrepreneurial journey has its ups and downs. My entrepreneurial journey is no exception. In 2005, the idea of outsourcing processes was in a nascent stage. Every organization was of the view that any process, be it core or non-core, they will build their own teams for better control and economies of scale. So initially it was hard to explain how outsourcing services could help them in saving costs. One of our first customers in the beginning was a large mortgage house. We worked on a long-term project for the health check of the documentation. Later Lehman Brothers and the meltdown happened. This meltdown had a profound effect on every organization’s approach towards managing their processes as well as teams. We started growing rapidly as an effect of this meltdown. We deal with reputed local banks, Insurance companies. We are proud partners with Etisalat for SME products and services, we are partners with Zoho and many other technology companies. We have grown in to a managed services company and a sales organization. We as an SME One Stop Shop!
We ventured into F&B in 2011. Now we own 3 brands – Gypsy Chinese, Iwok & Box-eats. We have 4 physical outlets and 9 virtual outlets. Gypsy Chinese is one of the most revered brands in Indo Chinese cuisine from Mumbai since 40+ years. We are on an expansion spree now and looking at UAE as well as regional markets such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and global markets viz. United States of America to open casual and fine dining restaurants. We have also received a lot of interest from investors in UAE to obtain the franchise of our flagship brand Gypsy Chinese. Sensing the opportunity, we are reviewing few of the proposals for franchise operations in UAE & Saudi Arabia.
The journey so far has been extremely rewarding. Our learning curve has been consistently growing since then.
How did you become a successful entrepreneur?
Oh, so as we all know, there is no formula to achieve success. It’s all about the dream you pursue, the team you work with and how you adapt to the changing business requirements. I think the success we achieved is due to many factors. First comes the clarity of thoughts, then the team who have been consistent and committed. We did fumble and struggle to achieve the numbers initially but we kept navigating through changing business environment. As we progressed, we have evolved with the changes in the market place and quickly adapted to new requirements of the business. This has helped us to keep going and growing.
Similarly on the F&B scene, the business was 80% affected by your cuisine and 20% technology. Today the technology has taken the front seat. However good your product is, if you do not use latest technology, you cannot sustain the competition.
The key we are successful today, is that we are agile and alert to understand the changes around us and act accordingly.
What challenges did you face on your entrepreneurial journey?
Challenges is the synonym of entrepreneurial journey. Success is a subjective term. At every stage of entrepreneurial journey, however successful the business is, we are faced with the challenges. They could be raising capital, creating the right team, technology, Government policies, natural calamities and so on.
The biggest challenge I feel is to have the right team and how to retain it. Every team member and their skillset is crucial to your business. it’s not easy to hunt the right talent. It’s a continuous process. Any resume I come across, I take a quick look, if this resource could be useful. Once we get the right talent, the immediate challenge is how do we retain that talent. The work environment is so dynamic, we need to be extremely vigilant about their aspirations, expectations and so on.
We addressed these issues by creating a level playing field for them in their respective areas and encouraged by empowering them to take decisions.
What strategies did you implement to achieve success as an entrepreneur?
In the first decade my strategy was always remaining hands-on with every aspect of business. Be it presentation to the client, project implementation or interviewing the new team before onboarding. I remember we did a huge data migration project for an MNC bank in 2 shifts. The teams use to work from 6 am to 2 pm & second shift from 2 pm to 10 pm. Though I had Managers & team leaders, I use to make it a point to be there at 6 am, 2 pm and 10 pm to interact with the team to ensure the delivery is flawless.
When we embarked on the Gypsy Chinese, a fine dine restaurant project in 2011, I had no background of F&B business. I have always been a corporate banker, worked in banking industry for 20+ years before starting my entrepreneurial journey. Since I always had a fascination for the retail business and therefore, I took a plunge. Those days to understand the F&B industry, I have spent almost 6 hours a day, evening 8 pm to 2 am almost 350 days a year for more than 5 years. This deep dive has helped me in become a thorough restaurateur in coming years.
The second decade, I am now more reliant on my Senior team members and delegate them appropriate authorities to take decisions but still I personally ensure that the systems and processes are regularly followed. Being a banker, I have always been a process freak. Documenting every internal process not only brings discipline but also brings clarity to all the employees and stake- holders. It saves the business from unnecessary interactions and wasting resources. This has helped me streamlining the internal processes in ValueManage as well our restaurant business.
How did you manage to stay motivated during tough times?
I am a diehard optimistic person. I simply do not give up. This is the single most quality I have inherited from my mother. She worked really hard along with my father to bring us up. I saw them struggling but always remained extremely confident that she would achieve what she has planned. My parents taught us that no work is small. I started vending newspapers when I was in 7th grade. My dad, though had his own career, use to help me in vending newspapers when I had my exams. This kind of support has made me who I am today.
One more person whom I owe is my better-half who has always been there not only to motivate me and support me through thick and thin but also to take equal responsibilities in the business and lead from the front.
What role did networking and building relationships play in your journey?
Networking & relationships are the building blocks of our civilization. Be it business or personal, we need relationships to survive and thrive. Working on creating an appropriate network which suits your business and your interest is a must to establish and grow the business.
Networking doesn’t mean to connect with people who can provide business opportunities but it also means to connect where you can contribute. The relationships I built has not only given me abundant business opportunities but it also gave me friends, well-wishers and clients who trust me, depend on me and vice versa.
I witness many people, during networking meetings, distribute their visiting cards. Instead, we should meet few people but strike a dialogue, understand what do they do, how can you help them and create a strong connect during that brief meeting. This relationship would be mutually rewarding and would help to explore new business opportunities.
How did you handle failures and setbacks as an entrepreneur?
Again, it’s a mindset. I am a diehard optimistic person. I simply do not believe in giving up, so I don’t get easily perturbed by failures. My mentor says, “Insulate, do not isolate”. It means don’t run away from the failures but do not allow it to affect your mind.
Most of the times we get clouded with our own thoughts, we marry with our own idea and we refuse to accept the true picture. I am not trying to be spiritual here but, in order to avoid such a situation, I try to view setbacks as well as successes from the distance.
When you view the results as a third person, you do not get emotional about the outcome but can have a real insight into the reasons for the outcome. If its good, repeat and the outcome is not good, be open to accept and change for the better.
One more interesting aspect about failures is, more than a failure, it’s the cost of learning. One has to accept it and incorporate those learnings as we move forward!
Today, technology is driving every sphere of life, so do you leverage technology to grow your business?
Oh yes, technology is the name of the game now. It’s the necessity of the business to keep exploring and introducing the right technology to achieve your business goals. Every aspect of business is driven by technology. As a business, we do take advantage of the cloud-based technology, cloud-based infrastructure, use all sorts of software as a service. This helps us in keeping me updated with the real time reporting.
ValueManage, as the name implies, we help SMEs to convert their CAPEX to OPEX only by using the appropriate technology. We are an SME ONE STOP SHOP. We help SMEs to choose right kind of technology, business apps to optimize their costs. We launched our F&B business with one brand. Today we own and run 3 brands with 4 din-in and 9 virtual locations. Its not possible to manage complexities without appropriate technology.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Just follow the simple Do’s & Don’ts and they are:
Lead from the front!
Take responsibility for the failures and appreciate the team for every success
Do not promise what you can’t deliver!