What is the perfect time to start a business? Like in the recent pandemic situation, businesses having online platforms are booming. Sometimes it’s confusing whether online businesses are booming due to pandemic or due to the internet and digitalization. But does it really matters? If your vision is clear then any such situation can not alter your destiny. You might have observed that so many billionaires across the globe like Elon Musk or Gautam Adani have multiplied their asset values in recent times.
Overall the right timing reduces your struggle period and you get early success. And the wrong timing can elongate your struggle period and you gain success late. In such a situation, even people left the business in between. But again if you are determined for your business success, no matter what, you will achieve it.
“Business opportunities are like buses, there’s always another one coming.” – Richard Branson
Here are the stories of two billionaires, Sunil Mittal & Tadashi Yanai, about timing in business. For one timing was wrong but for another it was right. But due to determination, they both succeeded and are now billionaires. (Excerpt is from “The Self-made Billionaire Effect” by John Sviokla.)
Story of Indian Billionaire
Sunil Mittal, the billionaire founder of Bharti Enterprises, is having first-hand experience with catastrophic timing. Mittal started his first business in 1976 selling bicycles and bicycle parts in Ludhiana, Punjab, where, he said, “Everyone is an entrepreneur of some kind.” Mittal soon saw that his bicycle business had a limit to how big it could get, so he moved to Mumbai (Bombay at the time) and switched to selling a variety of imported products. He saw the development of India, a growing middle class, and a demand for products that were available in other countries but scarce in India. Soon he was importing portable generators through a partnership with Suzuki, and starting to make some real money, right up until 1983. It was the time when the Indian government issued a ban on imported generators. From one day to the next, Mittal was out of business. It was not the perfect time to start business.
Actually, he got into imported generators at exactly the wrong time. But from his collapsed business he preserved the core concept of importing established products for which there was low supply and high demand in India. He had existing relationships with a number of foreign businesses and a proven track record as a reliable partner. Those connections made it easier for Mittal to persuade large manufacturers to partner with him to bring their products to India, whose economy was otherwise closed to foreign competitors until the 1991 economic reforms.
With those relationships as his focus, Mittal took some time after his generator business collapsed to travel to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan to identify other products he might be able to import and sell. His experience of losing a business at the hands of a regulatory change was top of mind, and likely informed the product he ultimately chose—touch-tone phones and, later, cellular devices, which he imported on behalf of major manufacturers and sold across the Indian subcontinent (India didn’t have any native manufacturers of those products at the time). Establishing his business in phones allowed him to urgently learn about the telecommunications market over many years of first importing and later manufacturing telecommunications hardware.
By the 1990s, Mittal was in a position to establish Airtel and urgently bought one of the telecommunications licenses that the Indian government was issuing as part of the process of privatizing more of its industries. Today, Airtel is one of the largest telecommunications companies in India, a company made possible by good timing learned from a bad experience.
Story of Japanese Billionaire
Tadashi Yanai, the billionaire CEO of Fast Retailing Co., owner of the Uniqlo brand of mass-market clothing stores, was more fortunate than Mittal with the timing of his first business. When Yanai was coming of age in the 1980s, his father owned a group of stores that made formal men’s suits, a typical clothing business in Japan at the time. In fact, Japan’s penchant for formality was reflected in an underpopulated clothing industry made up of small-scale retailers that produced formal clothing, each company focusing on either men or women. As Yanai explains it, “There weren’t many stores selling casual clothes back then. Clothing stores sold suits, like the one you’re wearing, or formal wear. Casual clothes meant cheap clothing for young people.”
Yanai initially had no intention of getting into his father’s business, but ultimately conceded when he found himself without a job after college and no real desire to do anything else. He nonetheless knew he didn’t just want to do what his father had done. Yanai had already traveled a bit at that point in his life and he had seen what clothing retail looked like in other countries. He’d seen the low prices of “Made in China” retail items in Hong Kong; he’d seen the omnipresent popularity of The Gap in the United States, and of Marks & Spencer in Great Britain, brands that sold classic staples at affordable prices. Japan didn’t have any similar brands. There was a gap in the market, which Yanai had the Empathetic Imagination to see, and then acted with urgency to fill. In 1984, he launched his first Uniqlo store in Hiroshima to sell high-quality casual classics at affordable prices.
“What we did was change that image of casual clothing into practical and comfortable clothing. We discovered and created a completely new market.” In just seven years, Uniqlo was on its way to becoming Japan’s largest casual clothing retailer, with thirty-three stores opened in 1990 alone.
Yanai without a doubt had excellent timing. He saw a gap in the Japanese market, and he had the empathetic insight that young Japanese men and women of his generation would want alternatives to their parents’ clothing. Yanai saw a purple ocean where timing was of the essence, and he set out to exploit it, growing Uniqlo with Patient Urgency over a period of decades until it became the largest clothing retailer in Japan. Uniqlo has been expanding internationally, with stores in major urban centers in China, the United States, and Europe. As of 30 November 2021, the company reported that 2,358 Uniqlo stores were operational worldwide.
So now what is your opinion on the perfect time to start business? Are you still waiting?