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Persevere and you will succeed

  ... says Ajit Balgi, Founder of The Happy High, wine and beverage consulting firm. This alumnus of SP Jain, Mumbai, shares his own experiences of starting his unique firm. A tête-à-tête with Alolika Banerjee.  

Wine curation is a very interesting concept. Can you tell us a little more about your company and how you function?

Our company The Happy High educates people on liquor. It’s a place where people can try and understand the essence of alcoholic beverages through consultation as well as experiences. We adopt a completely holistic approach in our consultations based on our understanding of hospitality operations, market knowledge and most importantly subject matter.

Let me give you an example. We organise dining awareness workshops for employees going on-shore or foreign locations. In short, we deal in brand evangelism through tasting and education. (Smiles) 

What led you to start this unique venture?

I was in the wine and food industry for around 14 years when I realised that I was made for wine and spirits, and it was then that I came up with the concept of The Happy High.

There is still a certain mind block when it comes to alcoholic beverages and that comes from not being aware completely about the drinks. The Happy High is that one-stop shop for wine and spirit education and consultancy services in India.

We intend to raise the bar for food, wine and spirit appreciation by creating awareness about quality for both professionals and the end consumer. Our key driving forces are our passion for food and beverages and the standard mediocrity in the food and beverage business which we aim to overcome.

What were the initial hurdles that you faced when you started this company and what are the challenges that you now encounter at this stage of your journey?

The Happy High was conceived in October 2013 and it has been a test of perseverance all throughout. The first year was all about pushing myself and putting doubts of my close ones to rest. The second year was about finding our feet and getting business from existing connections and the third was about branding The Happy High. Each passing year has given me a new wave of confidence.

Who has been your inspiration in your life when it comes to the professional sphere?

In the professional sphere, ‘Life’ itself has been an inspiration to me. Examples from people’s lives and my own, have helped me understand the balance between ambition, relationships, ethics and most importantly living life.

A typical day in the life of Ajit Balgi?

A typical day starts with an hour of newspaper scanning, followed by writing assignments and emails. The second half is usually reserved for wine and spirit tastings, client and vendor meetings. I usually spend my evenings exploring new food and beverage spaces.

What is the most interesting aspect of your profile that you enjoy doing the most?

My work involves travelling to different regions and countries in the pursuit of food, wines and spirits and this is the bit I Iust after. I have been to 4 countries this year and it has been a liberating experience.

What are the three things you keep in mind when you recruit people for your company?

Hunger to learn, sound work ethics and effective communication are the things I look for when I recruit people for my company. I want people in my company who are primarily honest to their own selves. When they are given a task, they must not do it just because they have to, but because their heart tells them to do so. There is no problem in not knowing certain things. None of us know everything. But an inclination to learn is important and I want people in my company who have that.

I have made mistakes while I have hired people in the past. These days I am more careful.

An MBA degree is essential to make a mark in today’s corporate scenario. Do you agree with this school of thought?

I feel an MBA degree is essential to get the initial foothold in the corporate industry. The two years in a B-School shapes you perfectly for the professional life. I believe these are the two crucial life-changing years.

However, after a point in time once you join office, you need to work hard and prove your mettle in order to make a mark. I feel commitment towards your work plays a pivotal role in shaping the career of a person. I have seen people even without an MBA doing great professionally. However, a management degree is good since it can act like an excellent launch pad to an exciting career.

What are the essential traits, according to you, in order to become a successful entrepreneur?

When you are an entrepreneur, you don’t receive the SMS that the world waits for at the end of every month, ‘salary credited’.

This is the most important bit that anyone has to consider while taking that crucial leap. (Smiles) Dealing with uncertainty needs mental strength, being confident of yourselves and your passion needs 100% commitment, and aiming for that breakeven or that big break needs patience or perseverance.

I have often seen that many people fizzle out or are tempted to go back to service as their accounts dry up and they fail to make profits in business. But it is essential to hold on to your passion and persevere, till you reach your goal.

Your words of advice for future MBA aspirants...

Many want to do an MBA because it seems to be kick-starting people’s careers and the placement figures are often alluring. Many want to do it to change their streams from IT to finance.

Many want to do it just for a degree as it may take them higher up in the corporate ladder. So future MBA aspirants need to ask that crucial question to themselves, why they want to pursue their Masters in Business Administration? After introspection, if they get an answer that statisfies them, then only must they go ahead with their management degree.

Is it worth the opportunity cost of not earning that year and the cost of the course? If they can find convincing answers to their questions, they are sorted and must go ahead with their MBAs. 

There are many students who are not meant for MBA. Their priorities in life, inclinations and areas of interest are different from the others. In that case, they can achieve a lot in life even without opting for an MBA.