“You have to take an interview.” the voice on the other side of the phone said. “It’s a guy, Anant, Passing you his contact details and the primary profile”
“Alright”, I said in a slightly distracted tone and hung up. I wasn’t expecting much. I was under the impression that it was yet another bloke looking for publicity through the website and will bore me with an overly subjective diatribe about his work. Little did I know that I was in for a surprise.
On reading and conducting the interview I found out some astounding things about Anant and the way he works. Things that I feel, if not extraordinary, are at the least, amazing and noteworthy. So let’s get started.
The call begins on a fresh Sunday morning. He was in Hong Kong when I first called him.
“So, what do you do Anant?”, is the usual awkward ice breaker I begin with.
He reveals that he is 18 years old and is still in school in Hong Kong. Anant moved to Hong Kong with his parents when he was 1 year old. Which meant that he grew up there itself. He, along with his mother, would regularly visit India, to a town near Coimbatore, in the southern parts of the country. The native language there was Tamil and his frequent visits every summer and winter made him pretty fluent with the local tongue.
Practically speaking, he grew up simultaneously at two places. One city has the most number of Rolls-Royce cars per capita and the other barely managed mobile phone connectivity in all places. There was always a stark difference on both sides and that difference, to a large extent led to a very balanced and proactive thinking that he grew up with.
Anant tells me that at an early age, around 13, he started working with CORD (Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development) for developmental activities that were happening in the villages near him. This is when he noticed that there was already a lot of developmental work that was happening in art, education and, healthcare, however, he saw one more pain point.
Due to an increasing influence of automation and machines in the goldsmith and metal working businesses, a lot of men around his village were losing their livelihood and having been labourers in these fields for a really long time, they had nothing else to look forward to. The women, on the other hand, had a very low level of industrial skills which made it difficult for the houses to now find an income.
This is when Anant stepped in. He was 15 when the thought first struck his mind and he started Thuni Seed. Anant runs a cafe back in his school in Hong Kong, providing kids with packaged foods and other items that aren’t directly available at the canteen. The profits out of this cafe are what he uses to fund Thuni Seed.
Thuni Seed is a sort of an angel investor for the cottage industries. They (well as of now it’s just him) provide small initial investments and business consulting for people who are in rural areas and have no idea how to go about the production of products and their sales.
The first business he ever consulted was a saree refurbishing business by a woman who happened to know how to do it. He helped her set up standard processes for quilting the sarees, get the right equipment for it and figure out the sales funnel. These are really small things when you think of it, maybe a few day’s job at the most but for those who have no clue about it, it could change their lives.
Thuni means cloth and Thuni Seed was chosen as a name because the fabric business was the first one that he ever helped set up. That same summer, he helped 2 more business set up, one of them was a cookie making business. The following winter, he set up 6 more.
“How much did it help them?” I ask him, curious to know the impact and along the way, passively ignoring the genuine effort.
“Well, I believe that anything I do can only be considered as helpful if it continues to exist even after I leave. So last winter when I went back, all three businesses were still running and were growing sales, albeit slowly”
It was pretty mature for an 18-year-old to have such objectivity for business. His idea of what needed to be done, what was sustainable and what wasn’t was clear as daylight. This is when I start to wonder. He is 16, lives in Hong Kong which has a pretty high standard of living and being in school would take him farther away from the compulsions of responsibilities. So why does he do this then? Why take the pain to being with?
His answer was simple and yet again, noteworthy,
“I always felt a deep connect with things back home. Yes, it did not have the comforts of an urban life but it had a calmness that I longed for when I was back in the city. People were more content with what they had back here and life was more about finding pleasure in the things that we had than about finding things that would give us pleasure.”
But the road to starting something like Thuni Seed wasn’t smooth. It did take a lot of research, to begin with, a lot of on-ground research for that.
“I started off by learning about microfinance, the volume of money that comes under microfinance, it’s market and, how easy/difficult it is for people in the rural areas to acquire and pay back on a timely basis. I met a woman who was into the business of making incense sticks. I asked her questions, lots and lots of questions. Parallely I kept researching on what others were doing to make such small businesses flourish.”
There was a determination in his voice. When he tells you he worked hard on something, you can believe him that he did. For once in my life, “are you kidding me?” was a legitimate response to some things, and the answer was usually no. “Act your age!” was probably the most frequent scolding he might here along with a slight undertone of concern given how he seems to always be acting 5 years ahead of his age. This is when we get more into the details of the first business that he started.
CORD, the organisation I mentioned before, has a very tight knit community of people in the rural areas. A community that looks after itself. Here he first started working with two women, Kavita and Maheshwari, who he helped set up a saree refurbishing business. He figured out how he could help them. They started with the sourcing of old/used sarees, assembling them, brainstorming their designs, putting them together, figuring out the pricing and, finally exploring and reaching to avenues where they can be sold.
This is when I ask him, didn’t you ever get told off because you were too young to give business suggestions? That’s when he reveals the secret to his success.
“I never tried telling people what to do, I was never instructing them like they do in the business of consulting. I always looked into what their needs were and figured how I could help them in tangible ways. It was always about getting things done.”
Anant one individual you’d love to follow. I am yet to follow up on how this summer break was for Thuni Seed but I am really stoked to see where he reached. Here’s where you can check it out.