Lessons from Swami Ramdev – – Saurabh N. Saklani
Aspiring entrepreneurs will do well to study yoga guru Swami Ramdev’s meteoric rise and success over the past four years. The swami’s mission statement, if he had one in his organisational plan, would probably read ”to create warriors of yoga and transform India and Indians back to the healthy and spiritual land of old.” Right from his easy to follow pranayam and yoga exercises to his rants against cola and junk food companies, the swami’s actions demonstrate a carefully planned strategy for success.
During my time at The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) in Silicon Valley, I had the opportunity to hear a lot of Professor C. K. Prahalad’s ideas on business and entrepreneurship. His landmark book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid , makes a compelling case for focusing on the world’s poor for the next round of global economic prosperity.
Interestingly, I noticed that many of Professor Prahalad’s key suggestions have been implemented by Swami Ramdev in his phenomenal rise to become a household name in
India (he is in the UK teaching pranayam as I write this article).
I will share some insightful excerpts from Professor Prahalad’s book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits (Pearson Publications 2004) and then look at the relevant aspects of Ramdev’s entrepreneurial strategy within that perspective.
Point 1: Professor C. K. Prahalad writes, “If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognising them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up.”
Much of Swami Ramdev’s rise has to do with his long-term vision. Right from day one, he did not get influenced by the instant success and fame of other contemporary gurus and preachers who targeted the affluent section of the Indian society. Instead of focusing on the easy pickings—high profile followers such as actors, politicians and businessmen—he entered a significantly larger market by focusing on the economically poorer and resource-constrained masses. Small wonder that a newer and bigger world of opportunity opened up for him rather quickly.
Point 2: Professor Prahalad writes, “What is needed is a better approach to help the poor, an approach that involves partnering with them to innovate and achieve sustainable win–win scenarios where the poor are actively engaged and, at the same time, the companies providing products and services to them are profitable.”
Swami Ramdev has constantly utilised his target segment as partners in innovation, marketing and growth of his organisation. How does he do it?
First, he conducts effectiveness studies during his yoga camps where his staff collects on-the-ground data from participants before, during and after the camp. Given the vast attendance in each of his nearly weekly camps, one can only imagine the volume of data that is collected and analysed. He periodically revises his instructions, based on the results of ongoing research. The way his yoga camps have evolved, it is clear that he has succeeded in simplifying the efforts required to gain maximum benefits from his exercises, with enough room for flexibility and ease of involvement for the average follower.
Second, Swami Ramdev has built some powerful partnerships with various prominent TV channels to broadcast his yoga camps worldwide. During the camps, he routinely asks participants to get up and share their ‘ pranayam success stories’. Inspirational accounts from regular folks—ranging from control of diabetes, normalisation of blood pressure to healthier cholesterol readings and disappearance of joint pains and skin aliments—have proved to be invaluable marketing assets for him. And best of all, they come at no cost!
Point 3: Professor Prahalad writes, “The strength of these innovative approaches, as you will come to appreciate, is that they tend to create opportunities for the poor by offering them choices and encouraging self-esteem.”
This is where Swami Ramdev scores heavily. He has created a great deal of self-esteem among his followers. The common attendee in his programme feels special, interacts and relates to co-followers who are undergoing similar life struggles and aspirations, and gains immense confidence through perceptible and immediate self-development. Ramdev’s lessons in nation building range from fighting corruption to improving our living conditions and are interjected at strategic points during his yoga instructions.
In addition to humour, the swami masterfully conveys a sense of pride and possibility among his listeners. Seeing positive health results makes one feel strong and well- endowed to instill bigger changes in the community and the country. More than the actual realism in these sentiments, it is the message of hope and confidence that creates higher self-esteem and a new found sense of empowerment among the common follower.
Point 4: Professor Prahalad writes, “The traditional approach to creating the capacity to consume among the poor has been to provide the product or service free of charge. This has the feel of philanthropy. As mentioned previously, charity might feel good, but it rarely solves the problem in a scalable and sustainable fashion.”
Swami Ramdev has done no charity. Instead, he has cleverly camouflaged what could have been straightforward ‘pay-per-service’ such as the Art of Living programmes. He charges for attending his camps but only through price discrimination. Those that can pay more are able to get better seats the front. Ramdev’s dynamic revenue management is an interesting adaptation of the pricing model used by airlines worldwide.
Point 5: Professor Prahalad writes, “By focusing on the BOP consumers’ capacity to consume, private-sector businesses can create a new market. The critical requirement is the ability to invent ways that take into account the variability in the cash flows of BOP consumers that makes it difficult for them to access the traditional market for goods and services oriented toward the top of the pyramid.”
Swami Ramdev has indeed created a new market. Or maybe he has simply uncovered a latent one. And yes, he has certainly accounted for the variability in cash flows of his consumers. His masterstroke has been to utilise the masses at the bottom of the income pyramid and unlocking immense value for his own projects and aspirations. By tapping into his follower’s resources based on their comfort level, he is able to secure large collective donations for his gigantic yoga learning retreat in Haridwar.
Not only has he effectively factored the variability in cash flows among his followers, he is also tapping into the more affluent foreign NRI segment at the moment. It is interesting to note that he delayed his global strategy till the time his stronghold in the Indian market became unshakable (as evidenced recently when millions of supporters backed him up amid allegations of the use of human remains in his ayurvedic medicine).
Lessons for Entrepreneurs
Ramdev’s strategy reveals many relevant and powerful lessons for budding entrepreneurs. The list is endless but here are some obvious pointers that one can take home:
Exploring under-served markets; establishing a presence in the large bottom rungs of the pyramid; fostering adoption through awareness, trial, and evidence at a very low cost; maintaining a sharp focus on one’s target segment; saving on marketing and innovations costs by utilising consumers as partners; and going global after ensuring a strong foothold in the domestic market.
Finally, entrepreneurs must embrace the fact that insights and wisdom abound in all areas and are not restricted by domains and industries. In his book, Jack, Straight from the Gut , legendary business leader Jack Welch talks about “boundaryless” sharing of ideas. Since new ideas are the lifeblood of business and success, Welch believes that “The operative assumption today is that someone, somewhere, has a better idea; and the operative compulsion is to find out who has that better idea, learn it, and put it into action – fast.” The not so obvious connect between a yoga guru and a management guru showcases this very powerful weapon that must find a place in the harmoury of entrepreneurs.
“All the techniques, all the methods, all the paths of Yoga, are really deeply concerned only with one problem: how to use the mind. Rightly used, mind comes to a point where it becomes no-mind. Wrongly used, mind comes to a point where it is just a chaos, many voices antagonistic to each other, contradictory, confusing, insane”.-OSHO