This interview is quite early, I fleetingly put it right before my first question. “Earlier would’ve been just fine,” Dr. Lakshminarayana Yeluri, Founder, Impel Ventures, pointed out. And who is Lakshminarayana Yeluri? His answer to this is to the hilt, precisely definitive of his life. “I’m someone who wants to be free. Someone who lived without any bounds. Someone who lived a life while living.” Founder of one of the best-established start-up enabler companies, he is not the one to mince words. Dr. Yeluri’s early childhood was spent dodging the same discipline of life that others learn to get used to, “Things that required thorough discipline like the classroom structure, got me claustrophobic. Once awaiting my turn for punishment in school, I cut loose. I ran.” The same attitude built an entrepreneur out of him and so the story goes.
Many generations of the Yeluri clan had not experienced any kind of business. For Dr Yeluri, what played key here was his inquisitiveness. During early stages of his life, he would often go to his village, a small place near East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh. He would closely observe the interactions of contractors with his cousins, who was a farmer. Quick to catch, he realised, it was the supply chain of such a small item like a lemon that makes money. That was his first interaction with any kind of business, “From birth, you may be gifted with inquisitiveness. Though that is not the end of it. The perspective you develop out of this curiosity is what can benefit you. An eye for detail is good, always helpful.”
The Essential Drive
Dr. Yeluri had his fair share of disagreements within the family regarding his disorderly life. Not just that, new kinds of business opportunities weren’t as acceptable as they are today. Let alone starting something on your own. Those disagreements regarding business and his commitment to his way of living did provide him with that essential drive to do something on his own.
Sometimes out of shackles, when we get the space to do things our way, we get that drive. It is a big factor. If it is revenge against the restrictions that one might have been put under, then so be it.
Entrepreneurship is a spirit-driven field. That spirit, as per Dr. Yeluri, could come out of anything. He backs research that says the motive of revenge could be a guiding force behind successful entrepreneurs. “It is! Sometimes out of shackles, when we get the space to do things our way, we get that drive. It is a big factor. If it is revenge against the restrictions that one might have been put under, then so be it.”
During the 1990s, Yeluri was in Karnataka completing his bachelors in dental surgery at the SJM Dental College. He got his first business experience during this period. In his third year of studies, he started a food-joint with his cousin. An affordable meal-joint for students that served Andhra food. He chose Andhra food as their serving because many Andhra students studied in his college. By this time, Yeluri was still in the grooming age of 22. He credits this early start to time and his friends. “I would study a day before exams and get through. I used the free time to talk to people,” he says.
Networking for an entrepreneur starts right from an early age. It is a skill to possess. The difficult part is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Dr. Yeluri, however, has an interesting rule in making friends, “So I make two types of friends. These are clearly defined types. One who are intellectuals, skilled people who know their trade. The other end is on the opposite extreme. These are the sets of people who have no idea what needs to be done. They are just living day by day. No hope, no care. They are fun people to get along with it. See, both the spectrums are happy, you see. Both have clarity in what they are doing (chuckles).” On being asked, which side of the spectrum does he lie on, he adds, “I like to be on both the ends. I want to live as I want to live, carefree but by being of some use to the community”.
What Is Risk?
At one point in the journey, the risk becomes a crucial word in an entrepreneur’s life. There is always some lingering fear of failure. In the ever-relaxed voice of Dr. Yeluri, he quickly does away with the idea of risk. “What is a risk? What will happen if you fail? You lose money, that is it. How much will you lose, only the amount you have, right? No problem, there is always going to be something you can do. Become a cab driver or maybe teach people in a village. Do something, whatever gives you a 3-time meal, that’s all. In India, your family will anyway feed you at least. A small amount like five thousand can easily give you some Pani Puri for breakfast and meal in the night.” Dr Yeluri believes entrepreneurs should become comfortable in the easy mantra of “start early, fail early”. As per him, there is nothing much you can do with, “You lose only the amount you were worthy of, isn’t it? You can’t lose something that was bestowed upon you more than your worth. That is unlikely for an entrepreneur. So why worry,” he asserts.
Often entrepreneurs are seen as smart horses of the business stable. Their approach is expected to scale operations at a demanding pace. In turn, the competitive mindset bends the ethical backbone of the individual. Are you a principled man? I ask Dr. Yeluri. His reply is prompt, “Totally. Nothing without principles. Business of any kind shall not be done without it. This is what your employees, investors and other people would look for too. Our lives get shaped too through such principles. You might lose some money now but on a longer run, ethics are good.”
Honesty, Fearlessness And Trip To Agra
Vocal about space for improvement, Yeluri opens up on his weaknesses, “On the top of my mind comes this lack of daily order. As I said, I never had a proper classroom-type education. So, the day-to-day operational management is not something I’m good at. Micro-management is something I don’t do generally. That means I’m trying to work upon it.” Dr. Yeluri is a believer of fun in life. “I don’t call myself busy. Unless it is a new start-up, I’m mostly free. I enjoy my time with family. I like to sing a lot and play guitar in my free time.”
For Dr. Yeluri, there is no scope for excuses if you want something. Fear of losing as per him is just another palliation. He braved his way early in life with decisions that made him the fearless entrepreneur that he is today. For that, he turns a few pages back in his life and shares an incident that has a lot of learning for budding entrepreneurs. “In a market in Bangalore, I used to see nice pairs of shoes being sold at around 350 rupees. Back in my hometown Vizag, the same shoes were being sold at 750 rupees. I enquired a bit and found out; it was Agra from where these shoes were coming from. I knew, since the margin shift between Bangalore and Vizag is such, Agra markets must be selling them even cheaper. Next day with a little cash, I was on a train to Agra. In less than 48 hours, I was at my own stall for shoes back in my hometown. We sold well and I realized, how many business opportunities are there to work with!”
I had no money on my way back to India. Nothing really. Though, how does that change the king in my heart? I can do any kind of work. I can face any kind of situation. So, any failure or setback, you have to keep your dignity of life alive. That is all that is needed.
Next significant move in Dr. Yeluri’s life came up in the form of trading for dental supplies. The business reached such sustainable heights that he was earning an easy lakh per month back in the 2000s. However, as per him, market gauging is highly important for an entrepreneur. Not to fall in love with the present condition is an important reminder to keep. Applying the same principle, he closed the dental trade business. Despite clear warnings from friends and advisors. “If you can make X amount of money one time, you should have enough confidence to be sure that you can make Y amount the next time around.” After this, he knew, Vizag in terms of business opportunities had been exhausted by him. He now wanted to go to the next level. In that case, what does free as a bird, Dr. Yeluri do?
A search on the internet: “Which is the best place to live in?” It resulted in Melbourne. Melbourne, he went.
That did not work out as planned. Things went erratic for Dr. Yeluri in Australia and now he had exhausted almost all he had. With a mere $500 left with him, he comes back home. Throughout his stint in Melbourne, no matter how disappointingly things turned out, he was never dejected. “I don’t get why any young person should be scared of anything. What is the worst that can happen? I keep telling budding entrepreneurs. We are playing with fire but we play with sincerity and dedication. I had no money on my way back to India. Nothing really. Though, how does that change the king in my heart? I can do any kind of work. I can face any kind of situation. So, any failure or setback, you have to keep your dignity of life alive. That is all that is needed,” he shares with Dutch Uncles.
Such was his personality that even from the bottom-most, he sprung back with his conviction. This was only possible with the set of principles that he kept close to chest. He believes that the personality and character are attributes that over time builds your virtual wallet. An entrepreneur can chase money but money will chase the one who can handle it as per him. “Money in your network at the end is within your reach when you care about ethics and work reputedly. Entrepreneurs should think in this way. Do things with dignity even in bad times. Investment and support will always follow you back.” The same way originated Impel Overseas Ventures, a study-abroad consulting firm. He grew this venture rapidly, in less than seven months. By now, as expected by Dr. Yeluri, the days of Melbourne were long forgotten.
Businesses were being built from scratch by him and he was able to timely move to newer, better challenges. By 2010, Impel Overseas was taking a dip. He again identified it with a clear foresight. During that time, he took a little break and went on to do community service. He started helping a South Indian community set up their business voluntarily. For Dr. Yeluri, being in action is life. Life should always have something going on. That sense of always being in some action can solve many problems. For entrepreneurs, there is no space to resort to a lackadaisical attitude anyway. “Fact that I did not stop after Impel Overseas started going down was important. Eventually, my community service people were impressed with my dedication. And guess who were my investors for my next big project, Impel Ventures? People from the same community,” he adds.
Identifying what gave him the success that he has today, he credits it thumpingly to his resilience. “My resilience gives me the conviction and courage to go forward. This hundred percent belief in my projects and myself, worked in my favour.” For an entrepreneur, success is measured on his abilities to execute his ideas as per Dr. Yeluri. “Success is only when I start executing my plans just the way I wanted and with some speed. Execution is really important. We can call it the major skill to get things done. This is another reason for my success. I would take the venture to its top-most potential, almost always.”
Resilience Develops Confidence
Later on, he went on to start Studio11, a wellness care centre business. Today it is amongst India’s top salon chains. On being asked about his satisfaction on the aggressive expansion of Studio11, he replies, “No! Not at all. I’m never satisfied.”
For Dr. Yeluri, his life’s turning points were his streak of decisions. From the choice of catching up a train to Agra to not fearing anything after the Melbourne debacle. “The best part was my confidence kept growing. From my street-side food shop, Impel Overseas to Studio11, my life kept turning pages. After coming back from Melbourne, starting again with the same self-respect was crucial. Later when Impel overseas was going down, not taking a sabbatical and going for community service was another moment. From negative net worth in 2010 to a successful, diversified Impel Ventures, good decisions were my turning points,” he shares.
What kind of an entrepreneur fails? “The one who is not having their head on their shoulders. Lack of common sense and the will to apply themselves in their entrepreneurial adventures is something that can lead to failure. You don’t want to own up your decisions. You are not fit for the business.”
He also thinks that the landscape of entrepreneurship has changed. It is easier to scale businesses during the present era in comparison to the times when he started. “Use the digital space. That digital space can build Unicorns. This is a big boon for today’s entrepreneurial fiefdom. It is really helping us become aggressive in our planning, speedy and much more capable.”
Fun Should Not Stop
His message to entrepreneurs is an important question that they need to introspect upon. “See if you are capable enough to start any kind of business. Will you be able to handle things financially and health-wise? Later on, check your business positioning. Don’t compete where your company is not meant to compete. These three checkmarks are important.” He further amplifies on the importance of fun-factor in entrepreneurship, “Look forward to challenges. Embrace them. Don’t worry about failures. Though, own up everything. That is the only way to have fun in entrepreneurship. Fun should not stop.”
On being questioned on any regrets that he might be having, I receive a resolute reply in a calm tone, “No. Not at all. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, it doesn’t work that way. I sleep happy. I sleep better. I’m satisfied with life.”
In recent times, as recent as 2020 in fact, when the rest of the world was locked away behind doors, he was busy establishing his latest venture, Muzigal. This is a platform that is dedicated to connecting young musical aspirants with music Industry experts who can teach them and help them overcome some of the barriers that Dr. Yeluir himself faced in his early years. Given that music is one of his life passions, he knows very well the bottlenecks and barriers that young musicians would face, this platform was the answer to that.
Dr. Yeluri also continues to guide budding entrepreneurs through a formalized programme, Residential Programme for Entrepreneurs. Just like that, he also continues to find time to build new hobbies and play his guitar, better every day.
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