The Disruptive Entrepreneur


The former film and TV tycoon on the mammoth marketing plan for his forthcoming book, and investing in digital media

Ronnie Screwvala | The disruptive entrepreneur

There was a time in the early 1990s when Ronnie Screwvala was lining up outside Doordarshan Bhawan on Copernicus Marg in New Delhi to get his hands on an application form to produce shows for the newly launched DD2. The state-owned Doordarshan, popularly known as DD, was the only channel on air in those days, and DD2 was a spin-off intended to expand the suite of programming offered to viewers.

Keeping him company in the line were Prannoy Roy, Raghav Bahl, Aroon Purie and the Adhikari brothers, among others.

“They were opening the door at 6am in the morning, so all of us were lined up the previous night. Nobody knew the other was going to be there…those were the mad early days,” recalls Screwvala, 58, who met us in his sprawling fifth-floor apartment at Breach Candy house, in one of south Mumbai’s most exclusive residential neighbourhoods.

The setting for our chat couldn’t have been further removed from the scene that he described. We are sitting in a room with bay windows that offer a near 180-degree view of the Arabian Sea. It’s 10.30 on a clear, breezy January morning in Mumbai, and Sprite, the family’s golden retriever, has settled in for a nap (after sniffing the visitors) next to us. Outside, a few parakeets are flying around, squawking loudly enough to distract us now and then from our conversation about Screwvala’s forthcoming book on entrepreneurship, his new digital ventures, his work with the family’s not-for-profit foundation Swades, and a brief digression into his past at UTV Software Communications Ltd.

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One of Screwvala’s earliest attempts at ‘entrepreneurship’ was in the mid-1970s, when his friends and he organized a rock concert at the Sri Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai. They managed to fill roughly half the 3,000 seats. Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint

He knows exactly where he wants to start. For a man who could qualify as a serial entrepreneur, the subject and title of his book, Dream With Your Eyes Open, seem apt. He disputes the description of being a serial entrepreneur, pointing out that he had a near 20-year run in media.

Screwvala’s first business was a cable venture in 1981, which initially offered a video channel for a few hours each day to homes in some localities in south Mumbai like Cuffe Parade, and later expanded across the city. But he got a whiff of media much earlier, when he dabbled in theatre during his college days; this gave him a sense of self-confidence, he says.

In 1990, Screwvala started UTV with Rs.37,500. “When I set up UTV, my ambitions were quite low. We thought, ‘let’s go make a TV show’. Then slowly we moved into ad films because the directors had done ad films and we wanted to fill the time between shows. One thing led to another. But I would say that the reasons for starting it were mildly unambitious.”

Over the next two decades, UTV expanded into businesses that ranged from broadcasting and film production to gaming and interactive media. A turning point came in February 2012 when The Walt Disney Co. decided to buy a controlling interest in the company. The two had been partners since 2006. Screwvala gave up his promoters’ chair but stayed on as managing director; in October 2013, he announced that he would step down as managing director as well.

“Did I, at that stage, have a clear idea about what I wanted to do in my second inning? No. But I was supremely confident that there was enough to be done outside of media and entertainment,” he says.

Screwvala’s second inning looks like it will span many sectors with one common theme—the healthy intent of disrupting existing models and creating new benchmarks.

“Second inning, for most people, get a little too dramatic. For me it was a natural chronology. When one was looking at getting out of media, I took a fair amount of time to figure out what I want to do for the next 20 years…the one thing I am very passionate about is entrepreneurship in this country,” he says. He goes on to explain that he wanted to evangelize entrepreneurship and therefore settled on a book, and possibly a TV show down the road.

Online bookings for the book will begin in March; it will hit the stands in April. It will not be just another non-fiction book that sells on average 30,000-40,000 copies, says Screwvala. Bringing a bit of the hoopla that surrounds the broadcasting and film production world he left behind to the publishing world, Screwvala plans to market the book with a Rs.5 crore budget—unprecedented in the publishing market.

The marketing plan will include, for the first time, a TV commercial along with ads in the print media. Road shows, engaging entrepreneurs and graduates across 16 cities, have been planned. Fifty short videos on entrepreneurship will be pushed out via digital media.

Meanwhile, the TV show, if and when it takes off, will be based on the format of Shark Tank—a popular global reality television show where aspiring entrepreneurs try and win over the shark (investors) to back their business ideas. Screwvala has bought the rights for the show in India but says he will launch it on a Hindi general entertainment channel rather than beaming it to the niche audiences that business channels attract.

“My visual for that was this father and son sitting in Chandigarh and watching this on a Sunday morning on a general entertainment channel…. The idea was that the father who has, up till now, been advising his son to get a job, suddenly looks at this and says, ‘there are three ideas that just came on TV and my son’s idea is as good as those’. ‘If they just got funded—Rs.25 lakh or Rs.50 lakh—maybe I am holding my son back for the wrong reasons’. So for that penny to drop, is my objective.”

At a time when Raghav Bahl has launched Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd, a digital media company, Screwvala has announced that he will set up a digital media venture in partnership with executives who used to work with the Network18 Group (founded by Bahl and taken over by Reliance Industries Ltd last year). But Screwvala says the digital media is too nascent for anyone to compete with anyone else at this early stage.

“The more (people) that invest in this, the better,” he says.

This will mark his return to the media in some ways.

“No,” he says, joking that the news media would certainly want to headline it as his “return”. He is more fascinated with digital as a platform. Even an online education venture floated by him in January is more about the digital medium, and is premised on the expectation that the next 10 years will be exciting for the medium.

“Content, learning, utilities, tomorrow it can be securities for all I know. In education and in health, it could have a phenomenal impact,” he says. How big will this venture be? “It would be quite a shame if one doesn’t think 10x of what the last inning was. It’s as simple as that.”

The plan is to do something disruptive at a significant scale in the sectors that they are entering and working in, explains Screwvala, repeating a word that has been peppered throughout the conversation in one context or another.

We’re halfway through our conversation, the coffee has turned cold. The parakeets are getting louder, and impossible to ignore. There are 12 of them hanging around, Screwvala tells us, taking a break from speaking about his ventures for the first time. I use the opportunity to sneak a peek at the distractingly beautiful sea view.

The theme of disruption extends to Swades. Incidentally, Swades was the name of the one of the first few movies that Screwvala co-produced in 2004. His wife, Zarina Mehta, runs the venture, with Screwvala devoting part of his time to it. But instead of picking one area such as health or education to work in, Swades is taking a 360-degree view on providing social services to the villages it works in. It currently works across terrain that covers 3,100km in Maharashtra, with half a million people in 3,000 villages across six blocks. They hope to expand their reach to a million people soon.

Even though the venture is a not-for-profit, there are precise targets in place. They intend to exit each of the villages they work in within six years, having ensured that the villagers are self-sufficient by the end of that period. The idea is to increase the income levels of the people they work with by 10 times, he says, because the process must be seen through from end to end if it has to make a real difference.

“We decided to do all of it. That was one thing we considered disruptive and very ambitious, and what most people thought was mad. But we’re used to that,” he says, recalling that people had the same reaction when he decided to get into movie production. He has more on his plate: his venture capital firm Unilazer, and his involvement in the Pro Kabbadi League and the Indian Super League for football. As we wrap up our chat, I remark on the number of times his favourite word, “disruptive”, has come up in conversation. He has been accused of that before, he says, with a sheepish smile. On a serious note, he concludes, “It’s a need…. For an emerging market that hopes to be the third largest economy in the world, you cannot do it without being innovative and disruptive. There is no choice in the matter.”

Dr. Dhun Noria Receives Order of Ontario


image003It is with great pleasure and pride for the ZSO to share news of the recently well-deserved recognition and award that our very own Dr.  Dhun Noria received from the Government of Ontario. She received the ORDER OF ONTARIO earlier this month. This is yet another significant milestone in a  long list of her achievements and accomplishments. Dr. Noria has been a strong supporter of the ZSO and we thank her for her years of yeoman service for the benefit of all Zoroastrians of Ontario.

We wish Dr. Noria continued success in all her future endeavours.

TSH’s Dr. Dhun Noria Receives Order of Ontario

 

 

The men of steel with a softer side


 

Tata, the Indian company that owns Tetley Tea and Jaguar Land Rover, prides itself on its ethics – 66% of the business is owned by charities. Its unique character was shaped by the passions of its founder Jamsetji Tata and his successors.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, Indian businessman Jamsetji Tata walked into one of Mumbai’s most expensive hotels – but, so the story goes, he was told to leave because of the colour of his skin.

Legend has it that he was so incensed he decided to build his own hotel – a better one that would welcome Indian guests.

 

Click here to read on

 

Courtesy : Porus Homi Havewala

Maj Gen Cyrus Pithawalla


Maj Gen Cyrus Pithawalla (centre) at the Republic Day Parade yesterday.

He holds the unique distinction of being the only member of the Armed Forces to have been awarded both the Ashok Chakra and the Vishisht Seva Medal and to have the rank of a General.

View Post

Courtesy: Beyniaz Edulji

Why Tata’s founder was ahead of his time


I admire Tata primarily for his three last projects. He conceived them late in life. He must have known they could take decades to complete. A truly visionary entrepreneur builds for succeeding generations, not just the initial public offering. In the case of the power and steel projects, it is hard to disentangle whether he conceived of them out of a sense of duty to his country or out of sound, long-term business sense. Often, opportunities for business coincide with the needs of a country, but it takes vision to find them.

Tata aspired to the hard-to-achieve. He did not choose the easiest paths to greater wealth. Finally, he believed in people. His use of professional management and his investment in scientific education and research in India are testament to this.

Click Here for the full article by Sunil Kumar

 

Tribute to Fereidoon Demehri


It is with deepest sadness we inform you that Mr. Fereidoon Demehri, the founder of our Zoroastrian News Agency (ZNA), passed away on Sunday January 18, 2015 at 12:57 PM in Vancouver Canada as a result of an unfortunate and untimely car accident. Mr. Demehri was an icon in the Zoroastrian and Iranian communities and will always be remembered for his enthusiasm in culture, the arts, music, sports, films, ancient history, and charity. FYI, some of his works, which includes his O’shihan Cultural Organization, ZNA, Z-film Festivals, etc. have been mentioned in his biography shown below.

His story is one of active generosity and a heartfelt devotion. For him, Zoroastrianity was more than a cultural identity, it was a way to bridge gaps and unite all cultures. It was more than an appreciation for the arts, it was about creating opportunity for our youth to shine as artists. It was more than announcements and events, but rather a vision to create a global community that celebrated and honored the Zoroastrian culture and faith.

He is survived by his wife, his two daughters, and his grandchildren. Fereidoon leaves a legacy that has and will continue to inspire many. The weaver of the web that has for so many years and through so many initiatives brought us closer together to celebrate and to remember our rich cultural heritage, and to create and share new memories rooted in our culture and community.

Please join us as we celebrate and remember his life and his vision. May his spirit continue to inspire us and strengthen our community as he did so tirelessly when he walked amongst us.

Ravaanash Shaad, Behesht-e Barin JaayeGaahash Baad!

FROM: ZNA

It is with deepest sadness we inform you that Mr. Fereidoon Demehri, the founder of our Zoroastrian News Agency (ZNA), passed away on Sunday January 18, 2015 at 12:57 PM in Vancouver Canada as a result of an unfortunate and untimely car accident. Mr. Demehri was  an icon in the Zoroastrian and Iranian communities and will always be remembered for his enthusiasm in culture, the arts, music, sports, films, ancient history, and charity. FYI, some of his works, which includes his  O'shihan Cultural Organization, ZNA, Z-film Festivals, etc. have been mentioned in his biography shown below. </p>
<p>His story is one of active generosity and a heartfelt devotion. For him, Zoroastrianity was more than a cultural identity, it was a way to bridge gaps and unite all cultures.  It was more than an appreciation for the arts, it was about creating opportunity for our youth to shine as artists.  It was more than announcements and events, but rather a vision to create a global community that celebrated and honored the Zoroastrian culture and faith.</p>
<p>He is survived by his wife, his two daughters, and his grandchildren. Fereidoon leaves a legacy that has and will continue to inspire many. The weaver of the web that has for so many years and through so many initiatives brought us closer together to celebrate and to remember our rich cultural heritage, and to create and share new memories rooted in our culture and community.</p>
<p>Please join us as we celebrate and remember his life and his vision.  May his spirit continue to inspire us and strengthen our community as he did so tirelessly when he walked amongst us.</p>
<p>Ravaanash Shaad, Behesht-e Barin JaayeGaahash Baad!</p>
<p>FROM: ZNA

Courtesy : Parsi Zoroastrian Anjuman of Secunderabad and Hyderabad

Doctor Ni Dyanatdari


Doctor Ni Dyanatdari

 

Mr. Savakshah Manchershah Todywalla was not only an effective Lecturer on the esoteric knowledge of Ilm-e-Khshnoom but also an extremely gifted and competent astrologer.  He was approached by people, rich and poor, who always returned satisfied with his horoscope readings.  Yet, he never accepted a rupee or even a gift for his valuable services . He sincerely believed that the quality of services rendered by priests, astrologers, doctors, teachers, lawyers and the like, would be of a very high standard if not tainted by the lure of the lucre.

 

Often, he would refer to the  Achaemenian  and the Sassanian times when members of these professions and their families were maintained by the Crown or were allowed to charge a predetermined one time fee by way of cattle, crops, camels ,etc. for a specific service. The Law of Limit and Justice was strictly adhered to, nipping mercenaries in the bud. With a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he would ask us to visualize a scene where a doctor, on opening the doors of his clinic, would send up a prayer that God may send him a string of patients that day. “Can a physician pray for the flourishing of diseases to augment his income?” he would ask.

 

This month, we observed the annual baaj of the great Dr.(Ervad) Edulji Hormusji Coyaji of Pune.  He had had the good fortune to come under the direct influence of our revered Ustad Saheb Behramshah Nowrojee Shroff.  Dr. Coyaji, a noble soul, toiled 365 X 24 with his focus on healing, never on his bank balance.  In fact, he kept in his clinic, a money box into which his poor patients could deposit any small sum according to their mite or none at all !  His fame as a very successful doctor spread far and wide and his own philanthropy inspired the affluent not only to sponsor such services but also to donate huge mansions to be converted into hospitals for the benefit of the poor.

 

The highest qualification of a truly great doctor is always the compassion he bears for the suffering of his patients. When a patient approaches a physician for help, he is already groaning under the weight of his ailment and if, genuinely poor, he is doubly burdened by his physical suffering and his poverty.

 

According to our religious beliefs, such suffering is a kind of Karmic retribution arising from our lifestyle in this or some previous birth. The sooner and the more gracefully we manage to acquit ourselves of our Karmic debts, the sooner do we move towards the state of tanpasin .(free from rebirth).  Yet, primarily, we need the fitness of our physical self to achieve this goal. Thus, a doctor plays a very important role in Nature’s Scheme of Things when he truly heals , repairs, restores !

 

No profession is free from professional hazards. A doctor is always vulnerable to contracting some serious disease while treating his patient.  Worse still, the nature of his duties constantly exposes him to various types of “invisible microbes”, druji Hikra, Buji, Nasu, ).  If he practices his art selflessly, while attempting to observe (in whatever limited way his profession permits) religious disciplines (tarikats),  Nature shall shield him from or at least minimize the ill effects of such drujis. The blessings he earns from curing or bringing relief to his patients may likewise protect him.

 

These days, patients are being treated as mere case papers. Knowledge and not wisdom, cleverness and not common sense, greed and not empathy taint the healing approach of many a wayward doctor. Some say that the pharmaceutical industry has turned into a hydra headed monster that devours patients and leads the physician astray to an extent that the medicine often proves worse than the malady !

 

If a doctor falls prey to sops offered by such corporate giants, if he leads his innocent patient into the labyrinth of needless pathological and radiological investigations, if he offers him as a scapegoat on the altar of the surgical table when surgery is superfluous, may God help him for turning his clinic into a mint for printing hard currency.  Undoubtedly, money is a harsh reality of life today when there is no Royal Treasury to maintain the doctor and his family. Yet this is not a license for the physician or surgeon to ruthlessly relieve his patient of cash when he should be relieving him of suffering and disease . Else, the patients shall feel compelled to say, “ Physician, heal thyself ! ”

 

True healing does not demand a state of art set up; it just needs compassion and a spirit to serve.

 

— Rehem.

 

 

References:

1) “Khodai Marg” by respected Bomanji Burjorji Rivetna.

 

2) The Tavil Of Vendidad by Dr. Saheb Framroze Sorabji Chiniwalla, pages 258-261.

 

 

__.,.___

Courtest : k k <K F  Keravala

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