I just finished reading "Idli, Orchid and Will Power", the autobiography of Vithal Venkatesh Kamat.
Just a few days back, a friend was telling me that the famous Utility building Kamat restaurant in Bangalore no longer has quality food and hence no longer a popular place. I read this book and it gave the background to this situation - it is no longer being run by the Kamats for whom hospitality is everything, it is now being run by the Kamat that usurped the properties. At least, that's what the book says.
But that's not what the book is about. The book is about the entrepreneur's journey. What I liked about the book was that it was written in plain and simple English, and Vithal writes about his life and the hard work he put in, the mistakes made and the lessons learned from it. It sounds familiar like any other entrepreneur's autobiography, but what made it special for me was that this was an Indian and almost everyone has heard about the famous Kamat restaurants! It was good to read the story of the restaurants and the people who make the place what it is.
During the story, some good traits of entrepreneurs were demonstrated:
- Having knowledge, great ideas and executing them. For example, when Vithal was a kid, his uncle's son was getting married and in that event, the soft drinks were not cooled and there was just 15-20 min before the guests started arriving. Young Vithal then used his knowledge of how kulfis are made, took fistfuls of salt and threw it on the ice which made it drastically go down in temperature and hence all the soft drinks were chilled in 15 min. The same goes for many of his tactics such as putting free buses to and fro the airport to his hotel, the Kamat Plaza, to make waiting less stressful for travellers and that became an instant hit. He said that brought in more customers than any amount of advertising could have done. Eventually, the airways people would suggest travellers to rest at Kamat so as to make them less annoyed about delayed flights, etc. A win-win-win situation indeed.
- Doing a lot of networking. Vithal proves time and again how his networking and at the same time being known for their hospitality and credibility helped him in many a situation.
- The importance of preparation. This is everything in the hotel business, he says. For example, that's how you get your food so quickly when you order (instead of the hours that it would take if you cooked at home yourself).
- Having a great dream, a great passion. Vithal has lost a lot while trying to make his dream 'The Orchid' come true, especially after all the property was usurped by his younger brother, and he had taken many high-interest loans so that he could build his dream hotel while his father was alive (who was dying of cancer). And yet, all the goodwill that he had generated and his will power slowly helped him eke out of the pit and the dream came true. This part of the story was heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. These are the kinds of stories that we see in movies but this is a real true story.
The only downside to the book is that you have to read the parts about the perfect character/attitude with a pinch of salt, because it sounds preachy at times and frankly, sounds too good to be true.
If you ever wanted to know what entrepreneurship is about, don't read MBA sites, just read this book, if you can find it*. And then decide whether you are prepared for it. At the same time, you'll finish the book feeling inspired.
* It is such a tragedy that this book is not available in any online Indian book store that I know of.