I speak to Dhruv Lakra in this post, who gives us some honest truth about entrepreneurship, some aspects about the social sector in India and the need to be on your toes every second, if only to stay sharp and remain focussed on what you do. We hope this conversation will ignite your imagination.
Dhruv Lakra is founder and CEO at Mirakle Couriers (Mumbai) an organization that works in the very serious business of logistics and delivery, employing hearing impaired men and women to form his core delivery team. With diverse professional experience both in business and the social sector, Dhruv is also an MBA and Skoll Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship from Oxford University and an Echoing Green Global Fellow (this is some seriously awesome stuff!). He is sharp, confident and certainly has a point to prove, but is honest about his journey so far. We get ‘real’ about Mirakle Couriers in this conversation.
Dhruv Lakra does not mince words, he is direct and speaks with an open conviction that immediately gets your attention and respect. That’s exactly what happened one rainy Mumbai morning, at a local coffee shop. It is a common notion that entrepreneurs act on an ‘epiphany’ (spark, idea, inspiration, whatever works!) that ultimately manifests as a venture , and often that is the truth. What possibly goes unwritten (or unsaid) is the events way way before that even happens, I mean really pre-epiphany. This is what we talked about. Dhruv began his journey in investment banking and the financial sector, which he says taught him a few things quite early on. #1 – he says you will learn to develop thick skin and professionalism because work demands it and you will realize how efficient everything can be if you worked a certain way. So don’t diss your job so easily, there’s a reason that real experience matters, it teaches you a thing or two about being organized, efficient, professional and well being cool #2 – while he had the utmost respect for his colleagues and work, he was not completely satisfied with working in that sector and new he had to do something about it. Now that is about having the guts to challenge status quo, and while a lot people can talk a good game, not many people can really play in the big leagues. That’s how Dhruv’s a lot cooler. He went on to identify and pursue another area of interest in the budding social enterprise sector in India (as opposed to the fairly aged institutional NGO sector, with all due respect).
Dhruv worked with a then small strategic philanthropic organization, learning much about the social sector space and ecosystem in India, while contributing to the growth and success of this company. Armed with this almost raw potential and unique mix of interests and experience his ‘light-bulb’ moment was just waiting to happen. And so it did. But wait! Take minute here to focus on the facts. Dhruv invested time and obviously money on getting prepped to take that proverbial leap. It was not all ‘let’s just take a chance’, not in the very beginning anyway. He worked, he went to school, he took a good hard look at the really interesting opportunities in the social sector. He acquired interesting funding and mentor support (Skoll Foundation and Echoing Green ya’ll!).
So the light-bulb moment… The story goes that Dhruv met a young boy on a bus one day who was quite perplexed. Upon further investigation Dhruv realized he was hearing impaired and was struggling to comprehend the bus’s location and next stop, despite the conductor’s frequent alerts. It was here the trigger went off. Could there be productive and dignified work for the hearing impaired? What mainstream business today could employ this type of special workforce? Could that make a difference in quality of life for people like this boy on the bus? Would these resources be a strength or liability to any business?
Dhruv began Mirakle Couriers in 2009, not long after this epiphany moment. Fresh from Oxford, he was keen on building a business that was profitable, but had a clear social value. He was also clear that charity or sympathy votes were not going to spell sustainability for his venture. His keen analytical abilities allowed him to critically examine the logistics and delivery space in India. E-commerce was beginning to catch on. Business to business deliveries were high in the financial capital. The major problem? Trustworthy and capable resources were hard to find and retain in this business. Even supply chain and coverage for a delivery were attainable. Dhruv had to be smart. He was confident that hearing impaired men and women, could prove just as efficient and able, to form part of his workforce.
Today Mirakle Couriers employs hearing-impaired men for delivery and women for back-office administration. The entire organization communicates purely through Indian Sign Language. Apparently the offices are noise-free and completely peaceful (imagine that!). The delivery agents, who use only public transport to deliver packages, handle everything from a package pick-up to delivery. Dhruv’s consistent argument in support of his team is that very little spoken communication or listened comprehension is really required to do this job and they are in no way going to be less efficient or less useful in completing the task. Dhruv pays his employees per industry standards and employs his staff through word-of-mouth referrals and in partnership with a few NGOs working with disabled individuals. He says it is important to hire those people who do not view their disability as a disadvantage and want to seek out gainful employment of their own accord. Dhruv stresses on on-job learning and takes time to train his staff and understand first hand how the job is executed from pick-up to sign-off. That means he’s done a fair bit of package delivery himself!
His staff enjoys a steady income and some financial security, not to mention a dignified livelihood opportunity. Dhruv is also keen on maintaining profitability. He signs on delivery contracts and deals with major businesses not on the basis of sympathy but on actual and measurable efficiency and competitive pricing. Dhruv and Mirakle Couriers have gone on to achieve many awards and accolades since inception.
What is really amazing about Mirakle Couriers, is that it does not stray from its core focus. It is a logistics and delivery business, striving to offer efficient end-to-end solutions in the market. In this mission it provides gainful and respectable employment to those who are perceived as unemployable due to a disability. His social value and business values are clear and uncompromising. Dhruv is also the embodiment of the restless innovator. You know that feeling that plagues you as you sit in your cool office cubicle, appearing to like your life and the job that pays all the bills. Till suddenly you realize you want to feel more satisfied and fulfilled and what you’re doing just won’t cut it? It’s not that you’re unhappy, its that you’re not happy. And so you do different things that will prepare you to manage that day when you will quit and take that head-first jump. Whether it is building great networks, acquiring a fantastic education or making and saving enough money. All the while cooking up a brilliant plan to execute. Yet.. it is not that simple! because in all that preparation you lose some steam, you get used to way things are. The real survivors of this phase make the jump!
If you’re reading this about Dhruv, you feel like you can relate to this story in some way and that is probably correct. If you’ve ever dreamt of taking a great idea and converting it to something real and amazing, consider this – there is a product, solution and service for pretty much anything you can think of today. Yet nearly 40% of the world struggles with an equally real and daunting existence of deprivation – poverty in every sense be it of employment, education, food or security. You can find an innovative way to leverage or even enable just a small section of this population through an amazingly simple and innovative solution, just like Dhruv. And that is where you have to add a touch of heart to thinking with your head, about business and entrepreneurship. Remember you are not any less cut-throat, nor are you a tree-hugging hippie for caring just a little about someone besides yourself and your immediate world. Think about Dhruv, the super intelligent, cut throat, ambitious entrepreneur with the guts and determination to prove this point. You want to be like him don’t you? If you ask Dhruv about what his greatest innovation with Mirakle Couriers is he will tell you it’s that he cracked the model. So there you have it.
Leave your comments (and love) for Dhruv and Mirakle Couriers here!
Written by Shruti Bharath