An excerpt from a chapter titled 'The Future is Ideas', from the book 'Daughters of Legacy' by Rinku Paul and Puja Singhal. It's about 12 women who've inherited businesses - and their beliefs, lessons and challenges. This chapter is about Ashni Biyani, daughter of Kishore Biyani.
As part of the core team at the Innovation Cell, she went on to launch Big Bazaar Direct, an omni channel retail format with an ambitious target of setting up 50,000 franchisees across India. The way that the model was slated to work was that franchisees could visit customers and help them browse through a catalogue of Big Bazaar products to conveniently place their order. Big Bazaar Direct later made an entry into the pure-play e-commerce arena. Soaring costs of customer acquisition and fulfilment however went on to render the business model unviable. Tempered by growth concerns the Group eventually decided to pull the plug on Big Bazaar Direct.
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What the episode brought for Ashni were a whole lot of important lessons. 'I realized early that having passion for a project alone wasn't the only determinant of success; many other elements need to come together to make a project viable. It helped that the failure came early on in my career as it taught me the important lesson of disengagement and the fact that you have to work your way through any situation and find your own answers.' What it also gave her was a complete understanding of the mechanics of running a store. 'Since our supply chain was connected through the store, I learnt every single detail-from how accounting works at the store level to how you check for shrinkage which results in lost profits that impact the success of the retail enterprise.' Lessons, that went on to stand her in good stead in her journey as a scion of India's largest retail conglomerate.
Consumers have always been at the heart of all her efforts, a philosophy she went on to institutionalize with the setting up of Future Ideas. 'The thought behind Future Ideas was that we needed to create a consumer think tank of sorts that understood society, culture and technology at the cusp and how it impacted business at large.' Ashni works with a team of anthropologists, sociologists, mythologists and more to identify key themes that impact consumption. Her early passion of observing shoppers has been instrumental in a number of helpful consumer insights. 'Looking at a shopper trolley in Bengaluru, which has Gobindo bhog rice and kasundi, speaks to us of the possible buying patterns of probashi, immigrant, Bengalis,' she offers as an example.
While many such observations led Future Ideas to offer breakthrough insights to the Group, it also led Ashni to use these insights as a currency outside of the Future Group, albeit unwittingly. 'It was when we were sharing our work with a friend who is a large retailer in the Middle East, that he suggested that we recreate the thinking around communities in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. We have, since then had the fortune of working across industries such as retail, real estate, healthcare and more, across geographies, creating ideas and building prototypes.'
If there is one business, however, that is very close to Ashni's heart, it is that of Future Consumer Ltd, which is what Ashni prefers to refer to as FMCG 2.0, where she aims to break a whole lot of classical definitions around FMCG products. Focusing on multiple categories within the FMCG domain, this three-year-old company is on its way to show an EBITDA positive trajectory. 'We have this ambition to become a Rs 20,000-crore revenue company,' she states in a matter-of-fact manner. What drew her to the business, she explains was that she had a chance to apply everything that she had understood about consumer behaviour, here. 'Also the fact that it is in a sense a start- up, something that I am setting ground up, makes it really special. My father has created modern retail and now a modern retailer is creating a consumer goods company. We have a distribution network already in place and we are now creating brands,' she offers.
This is a business model that her father had successfully created in the realm of fashion before with Pantaloons. It is only natural at this point for the conversation to veer towards what have been the perks and challenges of handling a legacy business. She first offers a word of caution, by way of reply. 'I don't really consider this as a legacy business since in the second leg of the journey I have been a co-creator more than a legacy bearer.' She goes on to explain how her father, the visionary behind the dream that is the Future Group, does not believe in the concept of building a family legacy.
(Published by Penguin, the book has 191 pages).