'Every Franchisee is an Entrepreneur First'

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Viswanath Pillutla, Owner of Triumphant Institute of Management Education (T.I.M.E), has navigated through the tunnels of education business at a time when this sector hadn't seen the light of digital ways of the world.

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An IIM and IIT graduate, Pillutla has been at the forefront in planning and implementation of the expansion of T.I.M.E and T.I.M.E Kids across the country through a large network of franchisees. Today, T.I.M.E is a formidable brand in the field of test preparation with the 236 offices in 112 cities across the country and 250 centers of T.I.M.E. Kids. Pillutla is actively spearheading the inclusion of digital education in the brand's portfolio. In an exclusive interview with Entrepreneur, Pillutla shares his perspective on the importance of building and sustaining strong franchise partnerships for a brand.

What's the secret to maintaining a strong franchise relationships?
The franchisors and franchisees must understand that it is a mutually beneficial relationship. However, it's a bigger responsibility for the franchisor. Most people who seek to take franchise of an established brand would be aspiring to do something on their own without too much of knowledge or involvement in business. It's the responsibility of the franchisor to ensure that there is a certain amount of responsibility into this relationship. In case of any dispute between the two parties, the franchisor needs to take charge of the situation to maintain a life-long business partnerships.

How should a franchisor treat his franchisees?
It becomes really important for the franchisor to realize that the franchisee is not an employee; he is also an entrepreneur like the franchisor. This sort of regard and respect should exist in such partnerships. The stronger the brand grows, the gap between the two parties could also become large. As the organization grows bigger, deal negotiations with the franchisees are done by people who are lower down at his organization. So the franchisor should also ensure that their executives deal with the franchisees in the same manner.

What are the qualities your brand hunts for in a prospective franchisee?
The company tries and understands the intention and quality of the people who are involved and are coming together to take a franchise of my brand. In our industry which is primarily people-based, it is the service that matters. The kind of people, the focus they have, the amount of care they would take of the students coming to our classes – these qualities take top most priority. Our executives take negotiations forward on these lines.

When is the right time for a brand to opt for franchising?
There are at least three to four levels of interactions that take place before we take a franchise relationship forward. There are three things that a business owner should check before he opts for franchising -- having a good product or service in place, get a decent brand name and be fairly ready with your system and processes so that one can explain the business model to another person.

What have been your key learnings as an entrepreneur so far?
It's very important for an entrepreneur to get an outsider's perspective about his business model. At some stage, entrepreneurs should get external mentors or financial advisors to analyze their business process. Today a lot of people start ventures purely from a valuation point of view, the focus drifts away from the product somehow. Focus on product, service and valuations will eventually follow.

Today, when T.I.M.E has pioneered the brick and mortar domain of the education sector, the brand is trying to upgrade their skills in the digital front of the business. T.I.M.E as a brand believes that even though digital education can be used to supplement classroom coaching, India is not digitally strong to replace classroom education anytime soon.

(This article was first published in the April issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)