Making a transition from a luxury hotel professional to an entrepreneur is a hard learning curve but Sudhir Gupta, Founder and CEO TLC Relationship Management did the changeover with understated élan
“I was 33 years old, needed to challenge myself and do something that moved faster, where results were quicker and more direct. Sometimes, we folks do get trapped with the day-to-day glamour of being in the hospitality business and find it hard to make the transition of doing something on your own,” discloses Sudhir Gupta, as he shares a little of his journey where every day was nothing short of a lesson learnt.
Moving from a corporate executive to an Entrepreneur is always going to be a learning curve. “You don’t have the brand or the financial/management might of the Organisation behind you. As an entrepreneur, you have to pretty much run all the functions by yourself. One just could not afford to hire top talent in the beginning and then, in the days when we started off, there was just no eco system to support ‘Start Ups.’ And there was little by way of funding, “We tried to save in everything we did to keep the business running. So, you wouldn’t hire the best talent to structure your agreements, or to get your trademarks done, or get the top firms to run your books because you just couldn’t afford it,” maintains Gupta. More often than not, people just wondered as to why one would leave a high-profile job to start a company?” he says.
“We started off as a consulting firm and did some interesting and prestigious consulting projects including work with the Central Government, State Governments and with many reputed hotel companies. We seemed to be doing well, but our cash flow and P&Ls were just not adding up and we were just very busy, whether working on a project or pitching for a new one. I learnt to look at business differently beyond happy and satisfied customers to strong P&Ls and positive cash flows. We are still around as a company because we learnt that quickly,” asserts Gupta.
So here Gupta took his next learning. He quickly ascertained that one should get the best advice, get the best talent and Consultants on board, as when the business becomes larger in size, one suddenly realises that there are certain areas like financial processes, government legislations, the general environment that you are not on top of and should have been. “Today, a big four firm is our Statutory Auditor and we have the top Consultants who handle and teach us areas we don’t know well, whether it is technology, taxation or the changing digital world. I took that conscious decision a few years ago. Everything that we do today is world class, not only from rendering the service to the customer, but also the way the business is run and managed.”
As business evolved over the last 15 years, the diligent entrepreneur gathered these learnings, which over time, became an invaluable resource to creating and evolving a vision for the business as well as to take better decisions in managing it.
Gupta reminisces, “Coming from a family of professionals, with my father being an Architect Planner, mother being a Lawyer and an Architect Sister, the decision to become an entrepreneur was always a questionable one. And I learnt from them. My mother being a lawyer, I went to her with our first Agreement for advice and she said, “structure agreements with easy and low cost exit on both sides, keep an eye on indemnities and never get into a conflict to have to go to a lawyer to fight a case’. And true to her word, till today we have never had a conflict or a legal case with any of our customers.”
As the business developed, Gupta understood that building strong control processes was necessary for streamlining business efficiency and to keep things fair and transparent both internally and with clients. “The nature of our work is such that we have over 25 offices all over the country and in East Africa and we manage more than 50 independent project P&Ls. To figure out what was happening everywhere and to deliver consistent quality was highly challenging. And then we had to work on areas like data security, privacy laws etc to meet some very tough standards set by international clients”. Slowly and steadily the Company created efficient and automated systems, processes, controls, checks and balances. Most of reporting and controls in TLC were moved to online real time Dashboards. “I can proudly say that today we deliver consistent and quality end product to our customers. Most people we work with will recognise TLC as a quality and brand conscious company that works very hard to meet their objectives”.
The TLC business model also evolved over the years. The Company works with top domestic and international hospitality brands and it was important to stay on top of what was happening around the world and see how the loyalty business was innovating and changing with time. “Clients want to see and try something new and different every time you meet them and that is not always easy. So, we kept up with the innovations and changes in our business through lots of reading, subscriptions, attending conferences and learning from our network of clients and colleagues. Our business model has evolved both in terms of the products and offers we market and the channels we use to market them”. As disposable incomes in India improved and people started spending more on lifestyle and experiences, TLC created products and offers to tap into that growing market to drive incremental revenues to their clients.
“In today’s fast changing world, you can’t stay in the same place and in our business; we get competition from both home-grown companies and international players who can set up very quickly in India. We continually research and work with the right people and consultants to deliver the best to stay ahead of the curve and continually raise the bar on what we do and deliver,” affirms Gupta.
TLC philosophy runs true to its core value that businesses must keep evolving and adding value to customer offerings all the time, so as to keep customers and clients engaged. The challenge here for the company is how to keep coming up with innovations and improvements. “In addition to customer feedback, we decided to use our own intelligence and benchmark ourselves to become better and raise the bar consistently. So, we have this standard policy in our company, which says, ‘every time you do something, please ask the questions; How can I do it better? How can I make it bigger? How can I make it more efficient?’ If you ask and answer these three questions, you keep raising the bar in everything you do.”
As an entrepreneur, Gupta admits he is a conservative entrepreneur, qualifying, “I am always very careful, we cut out as much risk as possible while being always positive. I am just very traditional in my thinking, we have no private equity, we don’t understand valuations, have zero debt and just work very hard to run a simple, honest business venture.”