Jaipur Rugs: Selling a family’s blessing

jaipurWe spend a lot of time in our Developing Market 100 meetings talking about insurgent missions, and because the following sequence has recurred four times now, I will refer to it as the “typical” conversation.

First, we introduce the concept of insurgency: Most founder-led businesses start as insurgents, at war with their industry on behalf of underserved customers. Second, we walk around the room asking the attendees to tell their insurgent stories. At first, they struggle, as most founders default to their latest mission statement, performance ambition or strategy. All of these are statements of intent, but seldom reveal the real insurgency of the company. Third, in the middle of our struggle, one founder, often the quietest in the room, will offer the following sentence: “Oh, now I get it, our insurgent mission was X.” And X is an extraordinary statement of intent—demonstrating that he or she has every intention of transforming his or her industry. The room is inspired, and other founders quickly follow suit.

I explain all this, because I live for those quiet moments when the most thoughtful of founders listens to the discussion and then quietly chimes in with the most extraordinary of insurgent missions. A cherished recent example is the story of Jaipur Rugs and its extraordinary founder, Nand Kishore Chaudhary

Mr. Chaudhary founded the company in 1978 and moved it Jaipur in 1999. Renamed Jaipur Rugs in 2006, it is a leader in hand-knotted carpets and operates in more than 40 countries. While hugely successful in its own right, the company is an extraordinary case study in social innovation, due to the huge investments it makes in supporting local weaver communities. It is also a favorite case study for anyone discussing “the bottom of the pyramid,” given the way it has been able to connect artisans from some of the poorest rural communities in India to art lovers in the West, who display the art on the floors and walls of their homes.

While we were proud to have found out about Mr Chaudhary’s extraordinary company and learn about its social impact, we are equally proud that, through various references, he found our website on the Founder’s Mentality and enjoyed its themes. He regularly uses a selection of blog posts as “pre-reads” to introduce key issues his firm faces as it grows. For this reason, we have started a set of phone conversations that includes the second generation of the company’s leaders. The joint goal on our most recent call was to discuss the insurgent mission of Jaipur Rugs and try to translate that into a “strategy on a hand” so they could use it in upcoming management meetings.

And, off we went. First, we discussed the general concept. Second, everyone talked it over on the phone, offering various versions. Third, after about 10 minutes, Mr. Chaudhary modestly spoke up: “We don’t sell carpets; we sell a family’s blessing.” And, every pun intended, he began to pull together the various threads of the conversation: “The insurgency is simple—we want to connect the story of our artisans and their art to the desires of our consumers to bless their floors and walls with a beautiful carpet. Our consumers demand authenticity and kindness. They want to know that when they buy art, the artisan is rewarded and respected.”

This has completely defined the strategy of Jaipur Rugs. Most of its energy goes to supporting its weaver communities, providing them with orders, supplying them with the necessary yarns and helping them with designs. Moreover, they help in the local communities and work hard to preserve the art form in India. The company works with some of the leading designers around the world to cocreate new designs with the local artists. And the company tries to connect the artists with the consumer that purchases their carpet, so the end consumer understands his or her role in helping the artisan communities.

The founder then told of his time in university. The professor was asking about the purpose of business. One by one, students raised their hands to offer views, and you can imagine the answers: shareholder value creation, serving customers, beating the competition and so on. Mr. Chaudhary raised his hand to speak, telling the class, “Business is next to love. It is the creator and preserver of a civilization.” His teacher commented to the class, “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a successful business entrepreneur.”

I don’t want to get all woolly here (can’t stop with the puns) and ignore the harder, more specific objectives of business. Nor do I want to tie myself in knots (last one, promise) by arguing it is sufficient to say the goal of business is to preserve civilizations. But I will say that there is something extraordinary about the statement, “We don’t sell carpets, we sell a family’s blessing.” As a customer, I’d buy some of that, and as an employee, I would want to sell a bit as well.

This entry was posted in Death of the nobler mission by James Allen. Bookmark the permalink.

About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office and recognized as a leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. He is co-head of Bain’s Global Strategy practice and a member of Bain & Company's European Consumer Products practice. He is co-author, with Chris Zook, of Repeatability (HBR Press, March 2012) and Profit from the Core (HBR Press, 2001 and 2010).

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