Growing up in the Bombay of the 70s, I remember Ronnie Screwvala from his days as a theatre personality in Bombay. I recall seeing the ads for The Wiz, a production of his theatre company, Lazer Productions, in the newspapers of that time.
From playing Cassio in Othello to starting UTV, I knew nothing of his journey, until I started reading his new book, Dream With Your Eyes Open.
His book gives us both, a glimpse into his journey of entrepreneurship, and insight into Ronnie Screwvala, the human being – an enterprising, charming and very down-to-earth South Bombay Parsi gentleman with a “can-do” attitude that never quits.
I laughed out loud when he described a cobra scene that just went on and on in the first flop movie he produced.
I felt for him when he wrote about his failure in college and what he learned from it.
I could totally empathise with his distaste at the intrusion of mobile phones in personal communications, this being one of my own pet peeves.
To quote from his book, “Few things are ruder and quite frankly more arrogant than chatting on or tapping away at a phone and ignoring someone who takes time out of his day to sit with you one-on-one or in a group… Attentive and courteous communication breeds a healthy corporate culture.”
He goes on to discuss how he insists on parking mobile phones outside during meetings. I think if more companies begin to adopt this practice, it will greatly improve the quality of our personal communications. It might be a good rule to enforce at the dinner table too.
A very down-to-earth outlook is evident in his observations like, “A lively office culture doesn’t always come from big spaces… The concept of the top-floor corner office is archaic and reeks of an isolated top management team.”
One of the things he emphasizes for an entrepreneur is the role of communicating your message well, and the importance of using the method of communication that comes most easily to you – whether oratorical or email.
In Dream With Your Eyes Open, Screwvala takes us on a tour of his motivations, challenges, victories, failures and missed opportunities – from starting out as a manufacturer of toothbrushes to becoming a content provider for Zee TV, to his innings as an international movie producer.
Though not chronologically, he weaves in tales of his disruptive approach to the media industry, like producing the daily soap, Shanti, and going on to start Hungama TV with its hugely popular shows, Doraemon and (my personal favourite) Shin-Chan.
Many entrepreneurs will enjoy reading the inside story of the takeover of Hungama TV and UTV by Disney followed by his exit from the media industry.True disruption requires urgency across the long term! ~ @RonnieScrewvala, Dream With Your Eyes Open Click To Tweet When you’re being disruptive, there are no half measures. You go all the way, or you drop out. ~ @RonnieScrewvala Click To Tweet
I was especially struck by his account of the exhaustive legwork he undertook to build his cable company, even going on door-to-door sales calls himself. It made me appreciate, even more, his determination to do whatever it takes to understand his customer and provide value to them.
He explains why success has more to do with preparation than luck and offers invaluable tips on learning to grow and scale a business – a section I found especially useful to me.
Tweetables from the book:Embrace failure. But understand that failure is a comma, not a full stop. ~ @RonnieScrewvala Click To Tweet Lose your best people and no amount of data or money will lead to success. ~ @RonnieScrewvala Click To Tweet Entrepreneurs don’t worry whether or not the world is flat. They’re too busy building businesses. ~ @RonnieScrewvala Click To Tweet
Some of the passages that impacted me the most:
I am skeptical about that age-old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Whoever said that didn’t understand the pleasure that comes from growing a business, pushing boundaries and crashing conventions along the way.
The twenty-first century – governed by technology, the democratization of the consumer base and access to information – is all about collaboration and winning, not killing the competition and taking it all as the winner.
In the twenty-first century, it’s all right to not be the first one to hit upon an idea. It’s fine to be a smart second or third, with a lot of insights from others.
Screwvala also has interesting views on that bane of all business meetings – presentations – and has a sharp word for critics, most of whom “have never created, or built anything” and “act as though they are experts in the room.”
“Let criticism and public failure strengthen you, not diminish you,” he says. “In the end, you’re not answerable to anyone but yourself.”
Dream With Your Eyes Open is a book that every entrepreneur (or wannabe entrepreneur) in India should read if they want to understand what it takes to build an empire. Many readers will find their most pertinent questions answered in the appendix, which is structured as a Q&A section.
On completing the book, my wish for Ronnie Screwvala is the very same one his mother expresses, “Why don’t you go back to theatre?” I guess I’m rather fond of remembering him on stage because it’s where I first heard his name.
However, his second innings seem to lie in being the owner of a kabaddi team, rather than on Mumbai’s stage. All I can say is that I’ll be watching his future ventures with keen interest.
Dream With Your Eyes Open is available at all major bookstores.