Deepak Nagrani, who has created and patented MasterPan, a unique and innovative kitchenware, has been living in Hong Kong over the past five decades. His vision and innovation will surely be a lesson for many budding entrepreneurs in India. In a candid interview, Deepak talks about the unique kitchenware he has created and patented, the business environment in HK and the contribution of Indian businesses to the growth of Hong Kong.
Q: How do you become an entrepreneur in Hong Kong?
A: Hong Kong isn’t the easiest place in the world for a person to become an entrepreneur because of its high cost of living. But, there’s one thing which the city offers: there are many wealthy folks here. If you have a novel idea about anything, whether it’s a creative product or a restaurant idea, all you need is a good business plan and the talent to pitch it well and you’ll have people waiting in line to invest.
Personally, I am fortunate to have a very rich partner who has reposed faith in me and in my vision. The difficult part is having patience and vision as bringing an idea to life such as in the case of the MasterPan has taken two years of real hard work.
Ten years ago it was easy to raise money for any project in Hong Kong as banks were very forthcoming and they understood the entrepreneurial environment that HK was built on. However, after the 2008 financial crisis things have changed.
Q: Tell me about your positive and negative experiences in HK…
A: Having lived in HK for almost 50 years I would say that most of it has been a positive experience. You have to be extremely dedicated and hard working at what you do. Very limited red tape, when it comes to the manufacturing industry; so with China as our next-door neighbor, we have access to unlimited resource which is vital in our business. Hong Kong and China are very pro-industry when it comes to exports and manufacturing; so getting what I wanted to do was very easy. I know that trying to do something like this in many other countries might not have been the same.
Q: What is the contribution of Indian business community to HK’s growth?
A: I think that it could definitely be a lot more than what it is considering the large percentage of the business community that we actually represent. However, that gap is slowly increasing with the new generation of Indian entrepreneurs. The old school pioneers that came to HK in the early 1900s such as my grandfather who landed here in the mid1920s never really considered HK their home. They always felt at some point that they would retire back in India as in the case of my father who lives today in Pune after living in HK for 60 years.
However, the younger generation (those who’re born and grew up here) now considers HK their home; they contribute to it more. They contribute by investing their time in the local charities, or by investing in the local property and tourism sectors.
Q: What’s the USP of your product?
A: The unique selling point of the MasterPan is that it can do the job of five separate pans using only one gas hob thus saving time, money and conserving water to clean up only 1 pan vs 5.
Q: How about the work and business environment in Hong Kong vis-a-vis India?
A: I have never worked or run a business in India but from what I hear there is a lot of red tape and restrictions in terms of importing or exporting anything. Running a manufacturing plant is even more complicated with the labor and individual state laws.
I have several friends who live and run manufacturing businesses in India and so hear many of the issues they have to go through on a daily basis. Not that we don’t have similar issues in China but somewhat they’re easier to deal with.
Q: Does the HKSAR government extend support to any entrepreneur in terms of providing land, cheap finance, abundant electricity etc?
A: For small businesses, not really as what you mentioned are available primarily for larger deals like building a school or hospital, etc. But, the government does have SME Loan guarantees for small to medium size companies which in essence is a government guarantee to a bank loan up to HK$12 million (approx USD 1.5 million). Therefore, an SME can apply for a loan at a local bank which the bank will loan but the government will guarantee up to 90% in the event the SME defaults.
Q: In view of the burgeoning affluent middle class, the use of kitchenware is constantly on the rise. What new products are in the pipeline?
A: What we are trying to do is primarily use this initial invention to promote the brand MasterPan which we will then use on future kitchenware related products. We already have Walmart interested in a smaller 3-section version of the 5-section brand in order to bring the cost down to a specific retail price point that works for them. We are working on a MasterKnife set as well as a MasterBoard (cutting board). Basically, we’re trying to create a whole line of Master Products.
Q: What’s the market share of your products?
A: At the moment very minimal compared to the entire market value of kitchenware products which would be in the billions. Our target is to sell at least 1 million pans over the next five years. However, it will depend on all the marketing strategies we are working on right now. We are looking at the Home Shopping Channel in the U.S. as well as in Mexico. We just finished showing at the Ideal Home show in U.K.
Currently, we’re also in talks with the renowned Indian chef, Sarab Kapoor based in Singapore. She loves the pan and wants to be its brand ambassador pitching it on her cooking shows and in her classes.
So, there are many things in the pipeline and our eventual market share will depend on how well it is received. We started on crowd funding platform Kickstarter where we met our goal and were funded; so that was a good start.
Q: Considering the current e-commerce boom, what is your marketing initiative?
A: I am a big believer in the power of social media. We are currently working on using it to the maximum in terms of marketing to get product and brand awareness. We are currently selling through our own website, walmart online USA, amazon USA, Groupon UK and several online platforms in Singapore. What we find with our pan is that it needs to be shown in use so the Home Shopping Network in the US would be ideal to market it. Plus we are in the process of making short video clips to market via influencers in the youtube world.
Q: Does your company contribute to corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative?
A: At the moment not really except monitoring the manufacturers we use to ensure they conform to the social aspects of manufacturing as demanded by certain retailers or banded products. We produce other branded products for companies like Universal and Disney that require our factories comply with their individual social audit requirements.
Q: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
A: I think the biggest problem many entrepreneurs face is commitment and vision. Having a dream is one thing but they need to stick to it and follow through. Easier said than done but they have to believe in their ideas and dreams before anyone else will. At the same time there has to be an equal balance of understanding to decide after all avenues have been exhausted if something is not working and when/if to quit.