Friday, June 11, 2010

The ‘Gymming’ Business..

Looking at the number of Gyms and fitness centers that have mushroomed recently in Bangalore one would feel its one of those profitable business. But they too are dogged by many hindrances that are seen in many businesses today - the most common being Competition and Attrition.

One just has to visit a gym to understand their business model and the troubles they face. To the naive, it might seem a very profitable business given the number of fitness sensitive people one finds everywhere today. The sheer number of people who sign up for these fitness centers is astonishing. But how many actually continue to attend after the first month is unfortunately a very small number. The gym I visit is frequently thronged with new faces everyday and many of them do enroll the very first day itself. But hardly any of them continue after the first few days/weeks. “Customer Attrition” at a different league! But how does one motivate people? - and that too for something as strenuous and boring as a gym? Even a discount in the rates doesn’t suffice to entice people.

The other problem is the competition. In my area alone I see some 4-5 full fledged modern gyms (price ranging from Rs. 800-3000 per month) and many assorted smaller gyms (prices ranging from Rs. 250 – 500). Even though its early days and half of these might close within a year there is still the problem of plenty, considering that the majority of their target audience is in the age group of 15-35. Because of the competition the prices too comes down. The other day after my quarterly payment was due I was offered an Rs.6500 annual fee if I could pay immediately (and of-course I didn’t miss the golden opportunity as it amounted to an annual saving of Rs.3700). But for how long these guys can sustain if they continue like this?

The investment costs for such gyms runs in lakhs (my estimate came up to approx. 10-15 lakhs for a decent establishment – equipment, music systems, AC etc) and of course there is the operational cost (cost of trainers, electricity and maintenance costs). Also there is the infrastructure cost of setting up the whole setup and paying monthly rentals. It will atleast take 1-2 years for them to break even.

One should not only have lots of patience but also the right business acumen to turn it profitable. Many things like renting out the space for aerobics/Yoga during afternoons (when the strength for actual gym is very low), offering family packages, offering special programs for reducing or increasing one’s weight, selling accessories like deodorants, energy drinks, and appropriate food items should be taken up. I hardly see these in many gyms. Also one should even try becoming an agent or distributor for the gym equipments in one’s area. Many people don’t like to go to gyms but would like to buy equipments and use it at home (atleast that’s what they hope for when they buy!) and so there is tremendous potential there. Considering the amount of competition and the problems of sustaining the customer base, one really needs to constantly innovate if one doesn’t want to shut shop.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Times Green Championship!

The day started at around 4:40 AM. I had to get up that early to reach the venue by 6AM. The event was the “Times Green Championship” and the venue was Vaishnavi Group, Sarjapur Road.

A lot of effort had been put in from my side to get here. The previous day I had to take my car to office, so that I could go to my friend - Rajiv’s house to collect his 30K cycle!!. Had to drive all the way from Whitefield to BTM layout to collect the bike and then to Madivala to get it serviced and repaired. Reached home pretty late and by then I had driven about 80Km in peak city hour traffic with a cycle in the boot. I hit the bed as soon as I landed home.

It took me almost 45min on that morning to reach the venue. Looking at the parking lot gave me the first taste of how well this event was organized. The entire parking lot was full of slush mud and there was already a Qualis sliding and struggling to get to the parking lot. The organizers were desperately trying to put saw dust and crushed stones to make it more tolerable. I didn’t want to take any risk so parked at one of the side roads. It took me about 15 min to get the cycle ready (had removed the front wheel to get it to fit into the car). I was all set by around 6:10 for the 60Km event which was scheduled to start at 6:30. However it got delayed and eventually started around 7:10. Another example of how well the event was organized.

I was joined by my cycle enthusiastic friends Babu, Harish and Nalla. There were quite a few participants, but the best attraction was watching the Indian team contingent for Commonwealth games participate in this event. Just goes to show how many such events happen in India - for them to participate in such small events. They were just awesome and the pace at which they rode was a treat to watch. Anyway we were off to a good start with no crashes anywhere. That’s when my troubles began.

With a cycle that costly and reputed to help you go fast I was struggling big time. I had to really pedal with all my strength to go forward. But I pedaled on and on and it felt like one of those herculean tasks that never gets you anywhere. It took me almost 3 hours to finish the 63 Odd Kilometers. The time really didn’t do justice to the reputed bike. Only later when I showed the cycle to my friends, who are more regular cyclists, did I realize that the brakes of my front wheel were actually touching the rim of the frame. It actually was slowing me down big time and I was like not only going against the road friction but also against the brakes. The only thing that saved me I think was my marathon experiences as otherwise I would have given up long time back. Many actually didn’t finish the race but there is always something that makes one feel like dirt if one doesn’t finish the race so there I was pedaling even after I was beyond the allotted time limit of 2.5 hours.

The organizing itself was pathetic to the core. There was no water available all through the race. As an amateur in cycling I had totally forgotten to carry water bottles and I struggled right from the beginning. Instead of spending so much on hoardings and advertisements, the organizers could have kept some water spots at couple of places along the route. In the third leg of the race I had to resort to buying Tender coconuts from one of the villagers to quench my thirst and reduce the dehydration which was causing me to cramp up.

At the end of the race I was dog tired and had about 3 bananas, biscuits and couple of bottles of water to get back my energy. I returned the cycle to friend the same day and reached home with the utmost satisfaction of completing the race and enjoying the ride despite all the hiccups and troubles. Maybe that’s what makes these events so much more interesting. It’s the surprise elements and your reaction to them that pushes you to keep repeatedly trying.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

StartupCity - Entrepreneurs meet, B'lore 2010

The last weekend there was an Entrepreneurs meet – SiliconIndia StartupCity, at Bangalore, conducted by SilionIndia. It was their 3rd event in Bangalore and 5th overall (the other two events were in Chennai and Mumbai). The sheer number of people who thronged the event made it seem more like a fest or an expo rather than a forum for entrepreneurs. Apparently there are about 1000 startups in Bangalore alone. Just goes to show how many people lately have thought about entrepreneurship as a career option. It was quite an experience for me as it was the first time I even had a chance to look at so many entrepreneurs and so many Venture Capitalists (VC’s) at the same time.

When I first registered for this event I was very skeptical about what I would encounter, but like many things that you do for the first time, you later start questioning as to why you hadn’t done it before! The event was an amazing way of getting to know the pulse of entrepreneurs in India, especially in Bangalore. It was a great forum to understand what it takes to become an entrepreneur, the effort involved, the amount of patience required and ofcourse the ability to sell your idea. It was also heartening to see so many VC’s lending their ears to people who were pitching their products or ideas for some seed money.

The forum was also an excellent opportunity; to not only meet the VCs but also to get an understanding from them as to what they expect from future entrepreneurs. Insights about the way one should go about choosing a VC, how one should prepare for meeting them and also how one should try to sell their idea/product.

The best part of the entire event was the stalls that were put up by budding entrepreneurs to showcase their products/portfolio. There were some very cool/amazing ideas mixed among many ideas/products that I thought would never click or soon be redundant. One of the major drawback or disadvantage that I saw was most of the stalls were all websites/Apps/Technology related, but again coming from Bangalore one cant expect too much more than that!

If ‘YOU’ are a budding entrepreneur or have aspirations of becoming one (even if its anytime in the next few decades!), then my honest suggestion is never to miss such meets. They not only enrich your experience but also give a nice understanding of the kind of ideas floating around. It also is one of the best places to network. It’s an excellent opportunity to mingle and get to know many of the future entrepreneurs whose help/advice/services one might use in future and the icing on the cake is the opportunity to meet the VCs. If one has an idea/product/any sort of offerings, one could have preregistered and presented in front of the VCs or even do a cold call on them (though may not be a preferred method of approach). The entire experience was worth the time and I suggest you to not miss the next event happening around you.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The day I was declared dead – Part 2.

Like I said in my previous post, it was an exciting day and I couldn’t have asked for better results. It was like a dream sequence being played. But, by the time I reached home I was dead exhausted. And that’s when all hell broke loose.

The first set of calls to enquire about my ‘death’ came in around 9 PM when we were having dinner at home. I still remember the first call from one of my ‘then’ best friend to find out whether I was still alive. It was bizarre.

The news had spread among some of the students, teachers and the principal of our school that a boy had died later in the evening after the sports day and somehow it was universally believed that the boy was me. It was a relieved voice on the other side when my friend heard my voice. Thankfully he didn’t think he was talking to the dead. Multiple calls came in that night and by the time another hour had passed, we realized there was indeed a tragedy wherein one of my classmates had died. Now, I don’t want to ponder or dwell over the cause of his death but lets just say it was an unnatural death. So there we were a bunch of 15-16 year olds many of us witnessing death in close quarters for the first time. Atleast it was quite an experience for me!

Anyway the next day the school had declared a holiday and many of us went to our friend’s home to pay our last respects. It was like a big adventure. We didn’t know how to reach his home (it was quite a distance from school), how to react in such situations, how to behave and what to do. But still all of us went. Only when I reached my friends house I realized what death means to the person’s immediate family. My friend was all at peace on his deathbed, but the madness and hysteria surrounding his body was a sight I will never forget. It was indeed painful.

It was at his home that I realized the sheer number of people who thought I was the one who had died the previous night. My principal came to me and said that, after he had heard about a student’s death, he was cursing himself the previous night for allowing me to take part in the long distance running. He straight away had assumed that I was the one who had died. Many of my teachers also said the same thing. Somehow they just plainly concluded that after my adventure that day, it just had to be me who had died. All of us had a hearty laugh about it later.

So many things happened on those two days that it’s etched in my memory. I still remember each moment, each conversation and the feelings associated with the sad demise of my friend. And to be honest more than the loss of my friend, it was even more painful to watch his near and dear ones go through the pains!