Dr. Aashish Sharma is the Founder and Managing Director of Singapore Beverages Nepal Pvt Ltd, a Nepal-based soft drink manufacturing company that makes international quality soft drinks like Club Cola, Fancy, Right, Monsoon Dew, and Jeeru. In 2021, Sharma was awarded the Professional Doctoral Certificate in International Business and Marketing by European International University, Paris. He is the youngest Nepali to receive this title.
In a conversation with Nepal Live Today, Sharma shared his entrepreneurial journey, the importance of being economically self-reliant, and the overall business scenario of Nepal. Excerpts:
What is the present situation of doing business in Nepal?
When I came to Nepal after completing my Master’s in Dubai, I thought it would be challenging to work here; I was right but not completely. I had already worked rigorously in Nepal during my Undergraduate and even before that, so I was somewhat ready. In Nepal, we have a very collectivistic culturewhere we value and respect our relationships more than our agendas. This is a big help for anyone who is born and bought up here. But this can also be a hurdle if not appropriately dealt with. Many things are still not developed here in terms of infrastructure and data management. This creates delay, and the problem is that the world is running at an alarming speed where delaying is the most stupid thing to do. At times in Nepal, we just cannot help it. However, Nepal is heaven to live in. Our culture, our norms, our school of thought, and the immense opportunity that we have here are just incredible. If we can get things right, working in Nepal is a blessing
How difficult is it to establish a brand of international standard in a country like Nepal?
This has been the biggest challenge by far. The concept of a quality product made in Nepal is almost obsolete when it comes to non-basic products. We all have, over the years, so rigidly convinced ourselves that if anything is ‘Made in Nepal’, it’s of inferior quality, or inferior technology, or inferior taste, and so on. Nepal is so much dependent on imports that we no longer trust our native products. We need cars made in America or Japan, machinesmade in Germany, but we have the least trust in our local product. As soon as we see a local product, we deem it as a ‘local’ product. It’s not always necessary that a local product has to be inferior. I understand that not all local products are good, but not all are bad too. This thought of school needs to change.
You are working to promote madeinNepal products. Is MadeinNepal is just a cliché, or can it be a reality?
Made in Nepal was a cliché, but it’s not anymore. People across the globe are now identifying Nepali products. Their quantum is minimal, but yes, they do exist. The workforce from Nepal working outside Nepal, the international talents showcasing Nepali culture, tradition, food in the international platform, and the Nepal-based multinationals all highlight the Nepali flag worldwide. And yes, people are talking about it. Nepal is no longer a country of just Mount Everest and Gautam Buddha, it is more. And the world is seeing it.
An established company working for centuries in almost all parts of the world cannot be on the same podium as a company just born in Nepal, which is why young companies need government support.
What barriers should be removed to promote made-in-Nepal products?
I think in Nepal, barriers for made in Nepal is not very important. There are barriers to ‘Born in Nepal.’ Made in Nepal is a temporary solution for us. We need sustainable development; for that, we need ‘Born in Nepal’ products. Wai-Wai is the best example, a product born in Nepal spread across the world. Made in Nepal products bring us some FDI, some job creation, and some excitement. What it will also bring is the dependency on foreign countries.
When a foreign country comes to another country, it rips the benefits of the host country. The foreign country will always be a native of another country serving the needs of their mother nation. Nepal needs something like this. Nepal needs ‘Born In Nepal’ companies, companies representing Nepal wherever in the world they are. We need the government to consider this. An established company working for centuries in almost all parts of the world cannot be on the same podium as a company just born in Nepal, which is why young companies need government support.
If the government supports such new companies, they will be the bugle of Nepal and Nepal’s immense talent across the world in time to come. Nepal doesn’t need an American or German company to come to Nepal; Nepal needs a Nepali company working in America and Germany. This is possible; we have the talent. We just need to showcase it.
Tell us more about your soft drinks, specially Jeeru. What exactly is it?
Jeeru is like any other ordinary soft drink, just that it’s not ordinary. It’s completely unique, and the taste of it is beyond comparison. When we started working on the Singapore Beverage Nepal product line, our team had a huge discussion to create something authentic to Nepal and Nepali taste. After many brainstorming sessions and many roadblocks, we came up with the most common spice used in Nepal, cumin. Its usefulness is astonishing, and our elders used it in many ways. So we decided to do something with it.
Nepal doesn’t need an American or German company to come to Nepal; Nepal needs a Nepali company working in America and Germany. This is possible; we have the talent. We just need to showcase it.
The challenge was to extract cumin without damaging its flavor. It took a lot of hard work, but we achieved it. It was challenging to make a perfect balance of cumin, ground salt, common salt, and sugar. We spent sleepless nights and days in the lab to finalize that combination. Our team worked round the clock, and after almost half a decade, we finalized one combination, and finally, Jeeru came into existence. We first launched in late 2019.
Since Jeeru is a combination of cumin and black salt, both of which relieve stomach discomfort, it became a tasty and appetizing drink in no time. In 2020, we wanted to go rampant with it, but Covid didn’t allow us. Yet across Nepal, Jeeru made a special place of its own. We are confident that Jeeru will become one of the driving forces in Nepali economy and highlight Nepal’s name in time to come.
We often talk about a level playing field in the business sector. How important is it for boosting the confidence of the private sector?
Motivation plays a crucial role in business, especially for young players. The ease of doing business is determined solely by how easily a business can start and operate in a country. As a collectivistic country, we do have our advantages, but we also have our disadvantages. If you put aside the local sector and compare the MNCs with the Nepali sector, we are disastrous regarding level playing field.
The brand loyalty of Nepali products in some sectors is strong, but in most sectors, it doesn’t even exist. How can a just-born Nepali product compete with centuries-old products manufactured across the globe with tons of money? They just can’t! Many ideas don’t even materialize because of this. Every old company was new someday. When it was new, its country’s government had helped it, supported it; that is why it became big today. If we want the same to be in Nepal, we cannot put a newly born product with centuries-old mammoth together! It’s not practical
How can the government and private sector work together to achieve prosperity? Where can the private sector support the poverty reduction aim of the government?
In my view,the private sector is like the aces in hand. The government bodies have a lot of non-core activities to take care of. However,the private sector exists to do one thing they do best; their business. So, if you let someone do what they do best, the results will be excellent. And it’s a win-win situation for both parties. The government gets a reliable revenue source, and the dependency on imports decreases while the private sector gets to function. This not only helps the nation to develop but also uplifts the quality of life. Sustainable growth is not a one-day process; it’s planning for years. And it’s the private sector that specializes in it. With this, not only the country’s aim of poverty reduction but to be self-sufficient can also be achieved.
Made in Nepal was a cliché, but it’s not anymore. People across globe are now identifying Nepali products. Their quantum is minimal, but yes, they do exist.
What impact do you foresee on the private sector, especially the manufacturing sector, due to the ongoing pandemic?
The pandemic has taught us a lot. It has shown us our loopholes, and it has also shown us where our structure is failing. What we need to do is to look at it and correct it. However, the pandemic is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn adaptability. You aren’t an entrepreneur if you cannot adapt. Many companies adapted to the pandemic;that is how sanitizer manufacturing companies were established and remodeled, and mask manufacturing companies were established. The companies producing alcohol for consumption started making sanitizers; that’s adaptation. Companies making bottles for oil started making sanitizer vessels; that’s adaptation.
However, not all could sail through the pandemic. For such industries, it’s a very tough time, and the calling is going to get worse. The situation is terrible, not just for manufacturing but also for service sectors, trading houses, small-scale industries, and manpower providers. However, the pandemic has given one important thing: time, time to analyze your businesses, time to strengthen your family, time to analyze where your business is going and what you should do about it.