Scoring a century with a straight bat

HARSHVARDHAN BHATKULY goes down memory lane on how this magazine came into being; and the various milestones in the journey of BUSINESS GOA

Are 100 issues a big deal? Yes, when you were expected to publish not more than 3. Yes, when you a self-sustained independent media entity, which does not depend on a larger enterprise to fuel its publishing urge. Yes, because you have made a difference to the way business journalism is practiced in the entire state.

As I look back at the last 100 months of my association with Business Goa, I am reminded of a conversation with my co-founder Rajiv in a bus journey from Pune to Goa, which led to the birth of Goa’s only business magazine. We spoke about the challenges that Goa faced as a business destination in the matter of perception and image – outside the state. That maybe a newsletter or a magazine speaking about the various industrial players and entrepreneurs in Goa could be put across to the nation to alleviate such misconceptions. It was a classic pain point which the magazine hoped to address as part of its marketing strategy – this was the only plausible explanation that I would mouth when people would look at me with raised eyebrows as I spoke to them about our plans to launch a business magazine for Goa. Well wishers sent me letters and text messages trying to talk me out of this mad experiment that I may have subjected myself and my close ones to. But I felt that I have got everything worked out in my head. Someone said it right – fools rush in where angels fear to tread. But then, it also required a generous helping of being foolish to make this venture work. Even better was the fact that I was not a pedigree journalist, so to speak. I say this with candour, because today while assessing opportunities, there are too many questions rather than answers. Experience can seriously impair your appetite for risk.

That said, work began happening on the magazine. There were hurdles in quick succession. People who had promised to send in their stories went back on their word. There were delays on all fronts. But since I did not have any grand plans, coupled with the fact that I am an experienced midnight-oil-burner, the putting together of the magazine was done rather deftly. I was lucky that Rajiv took the load of writing a few stories. The others I wrote – and even translated one from Marathi to English. I also sold ad space, co-ordinated the launch; and being eight years younger than what I am today, put that energy to good use, often saying this David Ogilvy quote to myself – “Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work.”

Business Goa was launched on a rainy day in July 2009, at a rather glittering function in the presence of the swish set of Goa. One good omen that happened while the dignitaries were speaking on the dais was that our volunteers, without a cue began distributing the magazines to the people seated. There was immediate rustle of unmasking the plastic wrapper and guess what? people began digging in to check out the content of the magazine. This would look rude to the onlooker, but I was filled with pride – that some people would not mind looking discourteous and begin reading our magazine while people were speaking on stage. Business Goa had begun to make a difference.

Release of the commemorative souvenir at the NRB Group presents Business Goa Awards 2017. (From left) Harshvardhan Bhatkuly (Publisher-Editor), Urvija Bhatkuly (Group Head and Co-Publisher), Narayan Bandekar (Chairman & MD, NRB Group), Piyush Pandey (advertising guru and Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather, India), Rajdeep Sardessai (senior journalist and consulting editor at the India Today Group) and Sushant Tari (MD, TPT Productions Pvt Ltd)

This reminded me of the day I had launched my advertising agency. In many ways it was similar to the magazine that I created many years later. It was a 16 page supplement on fashion titled ‘Designer Times’ that I had created for The Navhind Times. I had a close friend helping me then as well – adman and style guru Sumeet Bhobe, who wrote a fair bit of the content. I sold ads. And made them too. But I can never forget the magic of the printing machine just as you saw paper being fed into the press from a fat roll that twisted and metamorphosed into in a long, single fed sheet and came out neatly folded – with all your work ready to make an impression on the reader. That minute I knew that this is the calling that I was meant to pursue. I was barely 19 then. When Business Goa was launched, I had done enough time in the business of advertising and media. But the thrill of seeing something in print is still something that I get high on.

Coming back to the launch of Business Goa – many guests patted me on the back and had good things to say about the magazine. I was generally elated. But then I overheard an elderly pressman tell another guest, while he had his mouth half full of the pastries that were being served. “I doubt this will run for more than 3 months,” he said. I felt a knot in my stomach. Not just because I had not had the vision for issue number 3, but because I had not inspired confidence with what I thought was a fairly decent first issue of a publication. That sentiment was echoed by a news vendor a few days later. But at least he said this to me out of concern. Why both these gentlemen chose 3 months/issues is a question that played heavily on my mind.

So you can imagine what a relieved man I was when our fourth issue hit the stands in October that year!

The other setback (later I could see that as a blessing in disguise) in the early days, was when an advertiser pulled out because we had featured someone who had a publicly criticized his company. I thank my stars that I did not try to sit in negotiation to mollycoddle this advertiser; and quickly made being out-of-comfort-zone a habit at running this magazine. The actualisation that your publishing business is only as good as your last issue hit home hard and we took it upon ourselves to make this work – and not be a puppet to the whims of marketing intrigues. Happily for me, a few years later the advertiser saw sense in being back on our pages.

But in all honesty, I have continuously told myself to stick to the knitting. That results/success will follow after being focused on the job. This is not just other business gyan… but a true story of Business Goa. Now, when I look back at the very many covers of the magazine, I am filled with a sense of pride and achievement.

While leafing through the pages of the years gone by, I was left amazed at the sheer volume of work that we have put in. I was always blessed to have spirited youngsters work with the magazine – many of whom started their careers at Business Goa. They learnt on the job… put in hard work month after month… and helped create something, which I am sure will be an institution some day.

We have also had the good fortune of passionate professionals and writers willing to pen columns for the magazine. They also doubled up by providing me with timely tips and advice over the years

The real test, the final arbiter has always been you, the reader. You have chosen to keep us in business. Your feedback, your bouquets and brickbats have kept me constantly engaged and thinking on what to offer you next.

The other more important part was making this idea work in a way that I had envisaged it – of being totally focused on content – which would lead good advertisers to display their offerings in our pages. This was tough and easy at the same time. Tough because you don’t expect advertisers to make room for you in their media plans in the first year of publishing; easy because I was sure that this should not be a magazine filled with ads with content just being put here and there to make it look anything other than an advertising booklet. I guess that is what has made the difference, which actually worked in our favour and not surprisingly; we were able to attract good advertisers – many of who advertise with us on a long term basis.

Another turning point in the magazine came when I bumped into Ricardo D’Souza of Tito’s at a business awards function in Mumbai. Over a long chat, I happened to tell him that Business Goa hopes to host awards some day. He was quick to tell me that he would provide his outdoor venue for the same and to go ahead with the preparations. Vikram Verlekar walked into my office one Saturday evening in 2012 and professed his desire that his brand, Ulhas Jewellers would like to be the presenting sponsor for the awards. Two years later, Narayan Bandekar of the Vasco-based NRB Group took the awards to the next level by being the presenting partner from 2014 onwards.

The Awards have been a runaway success and a fantastic platform that recognizes entrepreneurship and excellence in business and vocations. Over the years, we have seen over 160 awards given across categories that include manufacturing, retail, hospitality, real estate, mining, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and what have you. Environmentalists, educationists, film-makers, musicians, artists and agriculturists have also been awarded for their work in their chosen area of expertise. Speakers of the stature of admen Piyush Pandey and Prahlad Kakkar, journalist Rajdeep Sardessai, media owners Anurag Batra (Business World) and Ashok Advani (Business India); and travel guru Ashwini Kakkar and management expert Ramesh Jude Thomas have enthralled the audience with their wit and wisdom at the Awards.

Every anniversary issue at the magazine has had a special focus. On completing year one, we had a special story penned by artist-museum owner Victor Hugo Gomes on the traditional trades and occupations of Goa. For the second anniversary, we focused on businesses built on sheer passion and extended hobbies. Our third anniversary issue focused on the challenges and conditions of industrial estates in the state. From the fourth anniversary, our appetite for building up special issues grew like anything. This time it was ‘best business lessons’ that Goan entrepreneurs have learnt. The top 5 players of 24 sectors was the theme for the 5th anniversary special issue. ‘How I started my business’ for the 6th anniversary, ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective Business People’ – what I consider to be the best expression of our anniversary specials came out last year. And this year, for the 8th anniversary, we spoke of eight attributes of business people – to create, innovate, consolidate, motivate, communicate, aggregate, curate and to remain passionate.

Over the years, I seem to resonate this saying from the celebrated thinker/writer Paulo Coelho, “The reward of our work is not what we get, but what we become.” I have in many ways changed myself to make this publishing venture work. I would be lying if I do no say that I have never fought the emotion that told me “There is just too much time and effort in making this damn thing run. Screw it.” But somehow I have managed to beat that emotion and lived to work another day.

As this hundredth issue is laid bare for your scrutiny, I can only do what seasoned cricketers do after scoring a ton. Request the umpire for a fresh guard. Know where your leg stump is placed. Look around at where the fielders are spread. Take a deep breath. And get ready to face another ball…

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