Mutitec: The story of the Indian entrepreneur

Ramu Ramanathan traces the journey of the Faridabad-based narrow web flexo printing press manufacturer to how it launched its six-colour printing press in an all UV configuration, Ecoflex VSi.

24 Aug 2013 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Amit Ahuja of Multitec saluted the spirit of entrepreneurship by examining four key challenges that an entrepreneur encounters on a day-to-day basis. He did this during the LMAI Conference in Goa, by sharing with the 390 delegates, Multitec’s journey.

 Ahuja began his presentation on the challenges for the Indian entrepreneur by saying, “Entrepreneurs are people who treat obstacles as a daily exercise.”

In our spotlight section, we look at Multitec’s journey and how as a medium-sized entreprenuer based in Faridabad, the firm combatted the four key challenges.

The printer as an all-rounder
The first challenge that Ahuja identified, is prevalent amongst most small-sized firms. This is the task of defining roles.

He said, ”In most Indian businesses, the owner or partner is like Kapil Dev – an all-rounder. He or she has to balance production, sales, HR and probably many other functions. And so, by the end of the day, the owner is: a chartered accountant, a chemist – mixing inks and solvents, a purchase manager – negotiating with Avery Dennison and SMI, a designer who explains concepts to a client, and maybe even an engineer who fixes problems.”

 He expanded on the Kapil Dev theme by saying,  “As entrepreneurs, we can do all functions of our company better than anyone else. We know how each customer needs to be handled in a different manner. We know which employee needs special nurturing and which one is the miscreant. We know taxation, we know costing, we do job scheduling and we also do payment follow-ups. And of course we can do it better than anyone in our organisation.”

 Ahuja’s input was, “Just because we can – doesn’t mean we should.”

 He felt, “as entrepreneurs, we feel that by delegating we are giving up control.” He said, “By doing everything ourselves, we are not helping the business to bloom. 

For it to bloom, we need to work as a team. We need to empower the people with the right skill set to do the right job. And as a team, many big challenges can be overcome.”

Ahuja’s take-away for challenge one was, “This needs a lot of hard work on the HR front, a lot of training, your personal quality time invested in grooming your people. But, believe me, at the end of the day, this investment will be one of your best ones.”

How to be a differentiator in the crowd
The second challenge, Ahuja touched upon was, differentiating from the crowd.

Ahuja surmised that this is a challenge for the Indian entrepreneur because in every field, there are a large number of players. There’s huge competition.

It’s a challenge also because today the Indian market  is maturing, and apart from the local players, international companies are setting up base in India.

Then, Ahuja constructed a scenario. He said, “You have a good talented team, motivated employees, nice machines, good infrastructure. But how does your customer perceive you?” Ahuja’s answer to the question was, “An entrepreneur must ask himself, “What is it that I offer which no one else does? What is my USP?”

According to Ahuja this could be, one specialisation. For example: faster turnaround; or special effects; or better packaging.

He played a little game with the audience. He said, “Think of Maruti, and the words “reliable and cost effective” come to mind. Think of Goa, and the words “fun” and “beach” come to mind. Think of Arctic pole and immediately you will think “cold”, “ice”.”

He requested the delegates to think of their company, and jot down the first words that come to their minds? Ahuja said, “This defines you and this is what differentiates you. You don’t need a big mission statement, or a big vision statement – just something simple. With Multitec, it’s just three words that differentiate us – “Value for money”. That is our differentiator.”

His take away for challenge two was: To decide on the differentiator for their firm.

Brand perception
The third challenge is, brand perception. To underscore his point, Ahuja told a small story.

A man with a severe toothache goes to a dentist. The dentist examines the tooth and says that there’s nothing serious. He says – “Take these medicines for now and cometomorrow for a small root canal procedure.”

So the man says – “Root canal? Is that painful?”

And the dentist replies – “No just a small procedure that we will do under local anesthesia”

On hearing this, the man gets very upset and tells the dentist, “What? Local anesthesia? I don’t want a local anesthesia. I want a foreign one! I can afford a foreign one”

Ahuja explained, “This is perception. I have faced this so many times, that whenever someone says something similar, I get a toothache.”

Ahuja said, “It is tough for the Indian entrepreneur to make one’s brand globally recognisable and respected locally at the same time.”

Ahuja narrated an incident from his days in 2011 in the USA. He reminisced, “In 2001, I saw our business declining because of the decline in computer forms. Things were going downhill. So, just a fortnight after 9/11, I landed up in the USA to be trained as a press operator on a label press for three months. The idea was to a get hands-on training on a label press.  In 2002, we made our first label press. There was a lot of praise, but it was not a commercial success.”

Multitec struggled till 2008, and then, in November 2008, the Faridabad-based manufacturer launched a new press at Labelexpo India. The start was slow but within eight months, the firm was averaging sales of one press a month.

Ahuja stated that even though Multitec had a healthy number of sales, the firm was not recognised in terms of brand perception. He said, “Everywhere I went, every meeting I had with printers, I heard the same thing.  They said – your press is good, it does what we want, but we are comfortable with paying more for a known brand”. 

Ahuja said that this is brand perception; and that it was a common perception about Indian made presses.

He went on to explain the reason behind this. He said,  “Historically, Indian made machines ran at 30 or 40 metres/min. They were not modern or automated.  Also, they were meant for the lowest end of the label market. Like simple blank labels or price marking labels.”

In such a scenario Multitec was making a reasonably good, value-for-money product, but still faced a huge challenge to sell to leading printing houses.

And so, Multitec made a decision to “attack this thinking”. Ahuja said, in the midst of this, something happened that he felt was “divine intervention”. Ahuja explained, “We were fighting to improve our standing in the Indian market, but the export market opened up for us. Print firms in countries like Russia, Venezuela, Jordan, Dubai, and African countries like Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and even Bangladesh started looking seriously at what we were doing. And in the next two years, Multitec sold presses in 12 countries.”

In 2011, Multitec took the press to Labelexpo Europe. Ahuja said that this was the game-changer, since, “Now, everyone took notice. An Indian manufacturer – competing against the global brands – on a global platform”

This got people thinking and this got people talking. All through 2002 to 2011, Multitec kept fighting the challenge of brand perception and eventually established itself on a global platform.

Ahuja made the point that changing one’s brand perception is a big challenge.  But, even though it is a big challenge, it is not an insurmountable one. It is one that needs serious thought and a super determined approach.

Ahuja’s take away for challenge three was: “You have to decide what you want your brand’s perception to be. And work towards that goal. Everything you do, must be aimed at elevating your brand. Every small decision or big decision that you make – Look at how it affects your brand image. If you start thinking this way, very soon you will see your brand take a leap of faith.”

Managing change in your firm
The fourth challenge, Ahuja spoke about was, managing change.

 He said, “As a community, as an industry and as a country, we are going through a whole lot of change. Change in the service levels that your customers demand. Change in technology. Change in everything.”

Ahuja said, “Change introduces challenges.” Ahuja reminisced how in the early 2000’s Multitec was in a business that today is more or less dead, ”We had to change. We had to innovate. There was no other way for survival. At that time it was a challenge to survive.”

He went on to explain how change – whether big or small helps in evolving an organisation into a more competitive and successful entity. “But not all changes are so huge. Sometimes, there are smaller incremental changes and sometimes external challenges. These could be - because of what your competition is doing; or how the technology is evolving; how digital printing is modifying how we think about short run prints; how linerless labels are adding a new dimension; how LED UVs may become a reality and even how the dropping Rupee value will affect our capital inputs.”

So how do we overcome these external challenges?

Ahuja’s take away for challenge four was: “It’s not easy, and it involves of re-training your team, re-managing your resources, re-thinking your USPs, basically re-everything. It’s a constant evolvement. It’s a constant race. And we have to keep running.”

Ahuja concluded his presentation by stating, “There are some smaller challenges like lack of infrastructure in India, difficult access to funding, untrained operators and so on, but in my mind these are not the huge one. These are ones that we can and we will overcome.”

Ahuja ended his presentation by stating:

Challenge has many names.

For the weak it means unattainable

For the fearful, it means the unknown

For the courageous, it means opportunity