By Celia Alphonsus
As Featured in Digital News Asia
â€œPatience is the key to success Dad!â€ says the 11 year old son of Arun Chandrashekar, when he is trying to get out of what heâ€™s been told to do.
However, the phrase certainly holds true for Arunâ€™s entrepreneurial journey that has spanned nearly 11 years, from the moment that Trunkbusters was a merely an idea till today, where he stands at the precipice of rolling out his first commercial-grade machine.
The journey hasnâ€™t been easy, it was fraught with frustration, disappointments and peppered with emotional highs and lows. But as Arun says, â€œIf you are crazy enough to go down the path of self-funded entrepreneurship, you must truly believe in your dream!â€
â€œWhen the 1997 financial crisis hit, followed by the mini one in 2005, I kept seeing people just suddenly out of a job. I told myself it could happen to me.â€
Economic instability got Arun thinking about the fragility of his future. â€œThere is only one way,â€ he realised, â€œto start your own business.â€
While working for a local conglomerate, Arun stumbled upon an idea that sparked his imagination and more importantly it was an area that he had experience in.
â€œI knew I didnâ€™t have to create a market from zero because there was a problem that was crying out for a solutionâ€. Plus, â€œI will be providing tangible value,â€ he says excitedly.
Arun immediately started developing his revolutionary oil palm trunk pulveriser machine in 2005. While still working with the local conglomerate, Arun applied for the Technofund, a grant scheme under the auspices of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. The scheme aims to stimulate growth among Malaysian enterprises by providing funding for technology development up to the pre-commercialisation stage.
However, as Arun shared, â€œnature has a way of blocking you until you are ready.â€
By the time his application was granted, Arun had already left for an international company and the whole basis upon which the grant was applied was no longer valid.
â€œThe framework for this particular grant was structured in a way where you needed to have a mentor company that would support you while you were on the grant to ensure you are successfully commercialised,â€ explains Arun. As luck would have it, his former boss still agreed to continue being the mentor company until Arun says, they came across a particular clause in the grant agreement which specified that Arun had to surrender 50% of his intellectual property to MOSTI.
â€œThe chairman flipped and said that was nonsense!â€ chuckles Arun.
So, that was the end of that.
In 2007 Arun soon found himself immersed in his new job and he was travelling extensively. As much as he wanted to, â€œit became almost impossible for me to do any practical things to move the R&D forward,â€ he said. â€œEvery time I tried, I soon found myself back on a plane.â€ He decided that he had to leave his international job and join a local company in order to make some progress with the R&D.
By 2010, Arunâ€™s frustration at not being able to bring his dream into fruition reached the tipping point and he made one of the most significant decisions of his life, he decided to bite the bullet and quit full-time employment.
â€œOnce you have a good idea, run with it, and donâ€™t sit on your laurels!â€ he advises.
â€œNo matter what people tell you until you are running your business full time, nothing happens!â€ he says decisively.
He threw himself into the industry, selling his service to all and sundry in what he refers to mischievously as his â€œprostitution phaseâ€.
Soon after he was selected to participate in the Coach & Grow Programme (CGP), a coaching programme spearheaded by Cradle Fund and conceptualised and implemented by Proficeo Consultants.
â€œIt is only when I went through the CGP that I started looking at my business from the customers perspective and changed my business model and sales tacticsâ€ explains Arun.
Looking back he advises â€œExecution becomes very important the longer you are in business. There are many great ideas out there but the ones that eventually become successful in the market are not necessarily the best ideas but rather those that have gone through a good execution process.â€
For example says Arun, imagine telling a plantation owner â€œcan I please test my machine on your oil palm trunks?â€
The reply he kept getting was an emphatic â€œoh tak boleh!â€ Thatâ€™s because â€œWhen you go out and try to sell your R&D, people donâ€™t see you as a service provider instead they see themselves as your guinea pig.â€
Now, compare that to this approach, grins Arun, â€œBoss, I have this machine that can pulverise your pulp and return it to the ground as a fertiliser. Oh yes ah? How much ah?â€
He chuckles and says â€œThe tables were turned and instead of my begging to test my machine, they asked me whether they could test it out firstâ€.
Arun managed to field test 2000 trees in 2012, closing contracts to the tune of RM300,000.
Valley of death
My prototype was proven. Plus I had no problems getting customers. This was my dream coming true but I couldnâ€™t keep up with the demand because I did not have commercial-grade machines in operation to be able to offer customers the service WHEN they wanted it,â€ he says exasperatedly. â€œThis severely affected my cash-flow and thatâ€™s when I realised I was sinking into the valley of death.â€œ
â€œDo you know that if you are a start-up business you cannot get a loan from a bank?â€
â€œThey will tell you outright that you need three years track record in business.â€
â€œI was financially exhausted,â€ he says with a heavy sigh.
In August 2012, Arun applied for the Commercialisation of R&D Fund under the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC). After scrutinizing the application criteria, Arun found that he was a near perfect fit and filled out the online application form attaching all the required documents.
Finally in May 2013, Arun was informed that his application was successful.
â€œIt is by no means a kiss of life but when you are drowning, it is the life buoy that keeps you afloat.â€
Arun is now in the midst of waiting for the agreement to be inked. From the point of drawdown it will take him about half a year to roll out his first commercial grade machine.
While the grant only covers 70% of the cost of building the machine and doesnâ€™t include his own expenses in the building process, it is a small price to pay to finally see his idea materialize.
The silver lining on the horizon is that once SME Bank heard that Arun was awarded the grant, they are currently putting together a loan offer for Arun to build another commercial grade machine.
Dreams do come true
â€œI guess when people see successful entrepreneurs, they donâ€™t realise that dreams didnâ€™t become reality overnight. They are rarely privy to the path entrepreneurs have to endure which are riddled with potholes, obstacles and all manner of challenges that can throw a person into a labyrinth of despair and dejectionâ€ says Arun looking back. My advice to all budding and aspiring entrepreneurs is â€œIf you think of all the problems that you need to solve in your path to success you will never get started. Fortune favours the brave,â€ says Arun with a smile.
As a result of his tenacity, passion and patience, Arun was selected as the top 30% of entrepreneurs from the Coach and Grow Program (â€œCGPâ€) a result which earned him a place on the wall of fame at www.foundersasia.com.