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Devita Saraf gives the lockdown mantra for entrepreneurs to survive the lockdown crisis

ET Spotlight
Who knew a mysterious virus could send almost the entire world under some form of lockdown and affect billions of lives & businesses?! Hopefully, the lockdown will be eased soon, and we will be able to resume work. But given the nature of COVID-19 pandemic, everything is about to change. One segment that will have to face extraordinary challenges are entrepreneurs who will have to adapt to a new reality: that their business will not only have to go through a huge sanitary and health crisis but also battle an unprecedented downturn of the global economy. Luckily, entrepreneurs are fighters, optimistic and resilient.They will overcome this difficult period because they reckon that every crisis is not limitless.

One such businessperson is Devita Saraf, who has carved a niche for herself in a predominantly male world of manufacturing and technology. She started her own company at the age of just 24, and today her company, VU Television, a $130 million (1000cr ) (revenue) luxury television brand, is one of the top selling TV brands in India.The Company manufactures televisions and serves customers worldwide. Devita studied management at Harvard Business School and has been listed as one of Fortune's Top 50 Most Powerful Women in India. She is a member of the Mensa – The High IQ society and has been an Op-Ed columnist for the Wall Street Journal. She has spoken on leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation at forums worldwide.

We spoke to her about how she is coping with the lockdown as an entrepreneur and an individual, and how she foresees the market to be once it opens. Here are some excerpts from the interview where Devita reveals what keeps her going and how other businesspeople can paddle their own canoe during this unusual period:


Q. Being in the leadership position, how are you addressing the challenges faced both internally and externally?

A. During the first phase of the lockdown, most of us were making strategies on using the time as a sabbatical assuming the market will pick up from where it has closed, once the lockdown ended. But with Lockdown 4.0 coming into force, everyone discerns that the market is going to be in a very different shape when we start working again. There will be so many companies that will have run out of capital, many people will have lost their jobs, and not to forget the shortage of cash flow and liquidity in the market. I think the best thing one can do is to stay calm and prepare themselves to piece the business together once the market reopens. When it does, the change will be evident and not being able to adjust to it will be unwise. Taking the cue, we are preparing ourselves both internally and externally for a changing world at VU.

Q. How are you helping your employees to cope with this unprecedented time?

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A. As per my understanding, cash and communication are two keys. We are making sure our employees are getting paid even if it comes at a high cost to the management. We are looking at juggling our finances and budgets in other areas, but we are committed to not give our employees their notice. We are communicating these messages over emails to the staff so that they are reassured about not losing their jobs. We believe this will also motivate them to work harder once they come back and contribute to business continuity.

Q. As being the role model for the entrepreneurs, what are the key points you would like to address to them to deal with this situation?

A. The first idea is to simplify your business. If you have too many different domains of business, are selling multiple products, have manpower and resources deployed asymmetrically, simplify all of it. The market is going to be very confused and everyone will be grappling with inadequate resources.

The second approach is to save. Nothing will help you survive more than having cash flow in hand. Individuals or entrepreneurs – everyone will need money.

The third task is to select. There’s a lot of information and news going around that can get overwhelming. I make TVs and so I know how people are increasingly consuming news these days to stay informed. I want to tell everyone that they don’t need to be addicted to the screens. Be selective of the news, don’t keep a daily run rate of what’s happening, don’t watch every webinar, and don’t follow every post on social media. Be judicious about the sources you want to get your news from and keep it limited. Indulge in some self-care to keep the peace of your mind.
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Q. What opportunities do you see for future entrepreneurs that are emerging from COVID 19 crisis?

A. I believe essential goods and services will be the new cool. Before the lockdown, everyone had been trying to build lifestyle and luxury brands, but this time has made consumers realise that they can lead fulfilling lives even with basic amenities in place. So, even if you are an entrepreneur who runs a glamorous business, make sure that one arm of it deals with the basic products. Add a mid-end section to your lifestyle-oriented brand. I think the change in the market after the lockdown will make business people understand that it is okay to not have a cosmopolitan business but one that makes money and is bigger on cash flow.

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Q. You recently donated your one month’s salary for the daily wagers, what other support would you like to offer them may be in cash or kind?

A. I have donated three months of salary for the cause of daily wage earners. Like I said earlier, I believe that cash can help boost the economy right now and these people need it right now more than ever. I am also helping promote the campaign to encourage more people to donate for this cause. It’s not necessary to give money to a specific NGO, you can give to one that you trust. It’s important to be empathetic and realise that many people are struggling to keep their heads over water. Whatever little or more we can provide to them can go a long way in feeding their families. We could shake up our vacation money or shopping funds or other discretionary notes that we had kept aside.

Another thing I would like to request everyone is to pay their support staff. Holding their salaries in these difficult times when they are not unwilling to work but are compelled to, is utterly insensitive. Our house helps and other staff that take care of us all year long are counting on us and it’s our turn to do our bit for them.

Q. You keep yourself motivated and entertained with your dance regime and other live interactions, what would you like to tell your followers about being positive during this time?

A. I would suggest, think of this as a new routine. I wake up in the morning and begin the day with either yoga or a dance session. I use an app called Asana Rebel, which has a fantastic mix of fun workouts like Pilates, yoga, and cardio. Then I sit on my emails, followed by spending time with family. Evenings I spend on my terrace, walking and taking in the fresh air. So, I have a bit more of a routine around what I like to do. We have all used the initial time under the lockdown to discover or rekindle with our hobbies like cooking, painting, writing, or whatever makes us happy. It is now time to create a routine out of that hobby. Because why give it up even after the lockdown ends?! However, I believe that working out is a very important element to add to your routine – whether under lockdown or not.

(This article has not been produced by ET Editorial team)
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