On their marks

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on January 08, 2018

From the Other Side of the World , Elmira Bayrasli (HarperCollins) ₹599

Tales of those who just didn’t give up

When it comes to selling the idea of an entrepreneurial venture situated in a not-so-shiny place outside Silicon Valley, the challenge is as much, if not more, about selling the locale as the business it aims to conduct. In From The Other Side of the World, Elmira Bayrasli elucidates the many trials entrepreneurs in countries as far apart as Mexico and Russia had to face as they began chasing their dreams. Nowhere is this clearer than when she describes how Pakistan’s Monis Rahman attained this epiphany when he was negotiating venture capital for Naseeb Networks. With the country’s reputation for instability, it was a feat of perseverance for Rahman, who had to remind the funders that venture capitalism involved taking a leap of faith.

This spirit is also representative of the other six entrepreneurs portrayed in this book. The author focuses on one specific aspect of the country discussed in each chapter. In ‘king of kebabs’ Turkey, it’s an endeavour of uninterruptible mesh technology that can get around the country’s jagged architecture as well as red tape. In Nigeria, it’s the poor infrastructure that could thwart a big idea of its citizens’ financial inclusion through mobile payments. In India, it’s corruption. In Russia, it’s about standing up to the government and police.

When the setting is an emerging market, the stories are bound by a certain sameness — cultures that lack the instinct to innovate, obstacles in the garb of shabby infrastructure, corruption and regimes that eye businesspeople with suspicion. The entrepreneurs emerge as change-makers, and the author succeeds in conveying that entrepreneurship, ultimately, is about a purpose larger than the individual. Whether they consciously wanted to be do-gooders or not, her protagonists evolve into leaders who realise the importance of having a cohesive and motivated team, build communities that value and sustain their mission, and play crusader, effecting socio-economic change.

As a child, Bayrasli had wondered why Turkey, where her origins lie, could not so much as produce ketchup. The concerns about ease of doing business in such places heightened with age and led her to work with both the private sector and the US government hoping to finding a solution. A stint in war-ravaged Bosnia-Herzegovina and at a non-profit that supports entrepreneurs in emerging markets convinced her the solution lay in self-reliance. And that’s another trait the book succeeds in conveying. The entrepreneurs did not wait for someone to provide the solutions. They took chances, unlearnt old behaviours and trod new paths. Some left behind comfortable lives, some took on extra responsibility beyond their jobs. All faced varying degrees of hardship. They did not give up.

Bayrasli achieves a vivid and comprehensive narration of the background of each venture, what it took to get going and keep going. There are interesting turns of phrase to describe situations and show contrasts and ironies. The book can well serve as a preparatory text for those with a larger vision for a business of their own. The chapter on India stands out for its detailed recounting of corruption at every turn. And for the lesson that being a non-profit is not necessarily the appropriate way to start a noble venture.

Published on January 07, 2018

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