Very often even the general public doesn’t know what it needs until it is presented to them. Who would have guessed that the entire population would go around carrying a phone in their pockets?
Bhatbhateni Super Store became an overnight success because it filled a void that nobody else was interested in filling.
People generally don’t have the ability to foresee a need of the public at large. And every time an entrepreneur does identify a need and fills the void, success follows. Of course, investing comes with a risk; ‘what if there are no returns’ is always on the mind of an investor, but you can’t always be 100% sure. That’s when gut instinct and foresight play a crucial role. Knowing what will fulfill a need and the belief that it will generate income are the two factors one needs to take into consideration. Just as Sony envisioned a world of young people carrying a bulky Walkman to listen to music and Steve Jobs saw a future for personal computers and ipads when nobody else did, there are many opportunities for investment. Very often even the general public doesn’t know what it needs until it is presented to them. Who would have guessed that the entire population would go around carrying a phone in their pockets?
What somebody should invest in now is a concert hall. This is not a conclusion drawn from my own experiences playing music, but from the fact that there is no perfect venue for rock music, period. Either they are too small or are not equipped to satisfy the needs of concert goers. I have been for years suggesting to people in the music industry to invest in a hall with a big capacity. Of course a concert hall can also double as a conference hall and serve as a venue for school functions and such. The venues we have today cannot accommodate large crowds or don’t have state of the art equipment to meet the needs of professional musicians. Such a concert hall can also have a restaurant and coffee shop that are open to the public in general and not only to concert goers.
In the 1960s a Jewish teenager who had come to the U.S. as a refugee after escaping from Nazi Germany, lived in a foster home and went on to become an iconic figure, recognized as the greatest promoter of rock music. Changing his name to Bill Graham, he opened two concert halls, one in San Francisco known as Filmore West and the other in New York known as Filmore East. They were the two venues where all the major rock acts like Santana, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and scores of others performed week after week making them the twin Mecca of rock music. Not only were the concert halls large with seating capacities of 2,654 but also had the best P.A. systems using 28 speakers. But what differentiated Graham from other entrepreneurs however, was that his motive was his love of music rather than a need to make money which he incidentally did anyway. In Kathmandu, there may not be a concert every day but other days can be sold to conferences, festivals, competitions, besides school programs. If the facilities are modern and well equipped with good acoustics, they will attract would be customers. Standards are always rising in this developing country, and what is good enough today becomes outdated in a few years. Look at the school offices today; they look like corporate offices (Xavier International, Kalo Pul is a case in point).
Looking back I am reminded of times when my ideas were rejected and at other times when they were implemented. In 2004, I came up with the idea of doing a lifestyle magazine that incorporated fashion, gadgets, entertainment, art, reviews of books, music and movies etc. but that didn’t go anywhere. Now the market is saturated with lifestyle magazines although some have folded up. Our newspapers have also incorporated lifestyle into their publications even bringing out a supplement completely dedicated to lifestyle. The need was always there, but nobody saw the possibilities and the income it would generate through ads. The knock-on effect was amazing; the ads boosted the economy.
Bhatbhateni Super Store became an overnight success because it filled a void that nobody else was interested in filling; so too, the Banquet venues! Similarly, Nanglo Bakery started a chain which fulfilled a different kind of need. You may be living in Lagankhel or New Baneshwar but want to eat at Nanglo Bakery. Driving through the traffic jams discourages one from travelling so far just to enjoy a meal; so branches that Bakery opened solved the problem and took their business to greater heights. Customers could go to the nearest Nanglo Bakery; and they all did very well until competition cut into their business. Today, there are numerous bakeries all over town: Alina’s, Hot Breads etc and they all have chains.
I myself find it hard to believe, but I had a hand in kick- starting the Veg momos trend in Kathmandu. So I hardly expect anyone to believe the following story. Everyone will however, remember a time when momos meant ‘meat’ momos. Even chicken momos were not available in the early 1980s, so veg momos were out of the question. As mentioned above, people don’t get into a business unless they are 100% sure it will be a success. Now, how could you find out if the Nepali people would go for Veg momos or not? The only way to find out was to ‘sell them’.
It’s an interesting story that began with a bus journey. I had heard that tasty vegetable momos were sold in Pashupatinagar, Ilam, but had never tried them, nor was I interested in trying. On this journey, when I got off the bus, I met the artist David Douglas, who attended the same school as I did. “Hi Dai, we must go together hai!” he shouted from across the street. So there I was waiting for David but he seemed to have disappeared. After a long wait, his sister Dolly (she has since passed away) who was nearby asked, “Dinesh, are you waiting for David? Don’t; he’s gone down to the market.” By then all the taxis and vans had vanished as well. Someone instructed me to cross the border and catch a vehicle coming back from Mirik, a popular tourist destination. But all the vehicles were reserved and wouldn’t stop for me. Behind me happened to be a restaurant with a small sign that said “Vegetable momo available”. I was hungry too, so I ducked in to this tiny eatery by the wayside. After eating my first veg momos, my reaction was, “Wow, that was tasty; why don’t we get them in Kathmandu?”
Back in Kathmandu after my short trip, the ‘veg momos’ were constantly on my mind. One day I was talking to the owner of Calcutta Sweets (now New Kolkatta Sweets) in Gyaneshwar, when I suggested to the lady, “Why don’t you make vegetable momos?” She looked back at me with those big Bengali eyes and a sarcastic smile on her face, “You want a sweet shop to make momos! Dimag ta thik chha? (is your head alright?”) So I gave up that day, but never stopped pestering her. “Just try it; it’s like making samosas,” I would keep nagging her until one day she shouts, “Eh Kalu! Vegetable momo banaunu paryo.” (Hey kalu! We need to make vegetable momos). Everyone was skeptical, but they tried it. Bang! They had a booming business going as veg momos were not available anywhere else in Kathmandu. The staff began to complain, “Because of you Dai, we have to make momos from morning till evening.” They were used to hanging around waiting for customers before, but now they were always cutting cabbages, making dough and wrapping momos. I just gave them a sadistic smile! (Kalu also sadly died some years ago). Their biggest selling item became veg momos until other sweet shops followed suit. I sometimes walk up to the huge Bengali lady and tease her saying, “You owe me about two Lakhs for giving you the veg momo idea!” She gives me a blank look and replies, “What are you talking about?” Today most Indian sweet shops sell veg momos besides the regular momo shops and I get a big kick out of it; it’s the deed that counts. Ironically, I almost never eat them!