Datapreneur Manish Jha Developing A Culture Of Facts

Manish Jha, CEO and Co-founder of Facts Research and Analytics

Manish Jha, CEO and Co-founder of Facts Research and Analytics, goes back in time when sharing how difficult it was for him to convince his parents to come to Kathmandu to pursue a BBA course. “Colleges in Janakpur, my hometown, were only offering BBS so I had no option other than to come to Kathmandu,” he explains. After having graduated, Jha worked in various organisations and it was while at Samriddhi Foundation he thought of starting his own enterprise.

Jha mentions it was not that he did not enjoy working as an employee but the urge to do something of his own was too great to not try. After having looked at several options, he decided to open a research company in partnership with a friend. “But I was very clear from the very first day that no matter who would be my partner, I would run my business as per my management strategy,” he states, adding his partner does not interfere with the daily workings of Facts Research and Analytics.

In 2012, after thorough research of the market, Jha established his company. “At the time there were 41 such research companies in town and some had been around for nearly two decades,” he shares. “It was challenging; however, we realised the other research companies did not focus on data dissemination and that’s what we decided to do,” shares Jha. It is called the blue ocean strategy, he says, explaining that if the market is saturated then one has to apply a different method to capture the market.

Focusing on data dissemination helped the company create a unique identity and build brand visibility. However, Jha shares that starting was difficult because they had only a hundred thousand rupees in funds and had to borrow furniture from his previous workplace. “I did return the furniture later on,” he smiles, “I had to even ask my wife for the laptop we were using initially.”

After a decade of struggle and hitches along the way, Facts Research and Analytics has been able to carve a niche for itself in Nepal, and today has become the go-to place for research and data. In this issue of Business 360, we spoke to Jha about his journey as Facts Research and Analytics reaches a landmark tenth year, aspects of the data research business, and what data means for Nepal.

What was the major reason behind starting Facts Research and Analytics?

I always wanted to start something on my own but it had to be an enterprise that would make a meaningful contribution to society. In Nepal, people tend to believe in rumours and don’t actually speak facts. There are two important factors in decision making – one is authority and the other is information. There is authority in Nepal like in every other country but we lack factual information and that is the reason many people make wrong decisions. With this thought, we established Facts Research and Analytics.

We initially started with two employees but today we are a 75-member team working on regular salary and almost 300 on project basis. And we have enough devices and resources for all of us. To build any enterprise, we need patience and determination and you need to enjoy your work.

Can you tell us a little bit about how data research was viewed in the early years of your establishment and what are some of the positive changes in the last ten years?

We can look at it sector wise. At that time, political parties didn’t have any data practice. Media also used to have lots of stories but not on the basis of evidence. People were making decisions but evidence-based decision making was not applied at that time. So, when we compare the situation right now to that of ten years ago, I see a lot of organisations in the private sector are making decisions on the basis of evidence, market research and data. Political parties are also coming up with research, they want to have their own strategy, campaign and things like voter opinion surveys. There have been huge changes in the last decade. Culturally, people have started accepting the importance of data.

I remember, previously when I used to go to meet potential clients for research services, they used to reject me. Today the same organisations are utilising our services. Things have changed also because a new generation has joined the decision-making process and they are trying to practise in a new way. They have been to international universities and agencies where they have better data culture. We are still far behind but the changes have been satisfactory. Even during the recent local elections, we saw a lot of candidates making strategies on the basis of their voters and their background.

How important is data for doing business? To what extent does an organisation give importance to data in Nepal?

Ten years ago, many organisations used to proclaim that they didn’t need data to operate their business. But today, the same organisations rely on research and data to open even small ventures. They have started giving importance to data. Previously, a lot of enterprises were established but failed. But today, organisations are doing good because they are established on the basis of research, strategy, target group, how to launch and when to launch. Social media and Artificial Intelligence have also contributed to bring this into practice. Moreover, customers are not being perceived as only customers as was the practice earlier. Customers are data now and their opinions count. Organisations are giving a lot of importance to data currently.

However, government organisations still do not have data culture. For instance, during the tenure of the last local level representatives, many local level governments invested funds in view towers and welcome gates which was a huge loss for the national economy. That shows how our elected representatives and government do not practice research and evidence-based decision-making process. This is a big example of the importance of data in the public sector. If they had done some research and found out that such things are just a waste of money, then maybe they would have refrained from making such expenses.

In the private sector, a few big business houses and all multinationals have strong practice of taking decisions based on research and data but again when it comes to SMEs they do not follow this practice. What we have to keep in mind is that the Nepali market is not that big and when the market is not very big, we have to play very strategically and smartly.

Can you elaborate on how data analysis can help improve business efficiency and outcomes?

I will give you a very simple example. An organisation started keeping records on the number of times their male employees used the restroom as compared to female employees. The organisation realised that it was the male employees who used the restroom more so it placed the workplace for male employees closer to the restroom so as to save time. This is an example of the extent people use data analysis. Colleges create campaigns targeting the number of students they’ll admit. Businesses make an analysis about how many units they can sell.

Our telecom service providers have a scheme of providing less expensive data at night and that is supporting a lot of youths who want to talk with their close friends in their free and personal time. It is because of the analytics. Another instance where analytics helps is the recent decision of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal asking domestic airline service providers to use airports outside Kathmandu for night parking which will help reduce the air traffic pressure at Tribhuvan International Airport in the mornings and evenings. Burger House has expanded their branches in 92 locations because Nepalis are eating more fast foods these days and this was possible because of customer behaviour analysis.

What are the data research modules you use and who are your major clients?

We work in four different verticals

  • Retail Measurement Survey (we also call it Retain Audit)
  • We provide Customer Insight
  • We have lots of activities for Data Dissemination
  • And we also work with local level government and political parties for campaign strategies.

Seventy percent of our clients are from the private sector and among them half are multinational brands like Coca-Cola, JTI and others. Similarly, 20% of our clients are from the development sector and 10% are government and stakeholders.

What are the challenges of data security in the country?

Government is not sensitive about data and its importance and practice. That is the main reason for data insecurity in Nepal.

What can the government do to promote or enhance data research?

We need substantial budget from the government. We also need to promote data science in universities and practice evidence-based decision-making.

“Data is a personal character. If you talk in data, your opinion becomes logically strong”

How credible is data research and outcomes in the country?

In research, we have four major components to make it more credible which are clarity on the objective of research; methodology; sample area, number and profile; and required resource and timeline. If we have balanced practice in all these four components, we can expect a credible practice in research.

Data management and data tool ecosystem in Nepal is still in a nascent stage. What are your policy change recommendations to increase data effectiveness in the country?

We need friendly policies to expand this sector and more investment from government to increase data culture and more research related academic practices.

What are the benefits and value of open data?

Open data gives lots of information about the culture and that gives the picture of society. Like, 28% of Kathmandu Valley’s population use public transport and that is why companies like Tootle and Pathao came in. In Dashain, 50% Nepalis want newly printed currency notes. So the Central Bank has to plan to print new currency notes. This is how open data works.

How conclusive is data in predicting outcomes like election results, brand value, etc?

We started an exit poll in Nepal in November 2013. At that time, many people had huge doubts about our methodology because such practices were not prevalent in Nepal. But you must have noticed that during the recent local level elections many media houses conducted exit polls. Political parties too want to do political surveys these days. This shows the reliability of our practices. Many brands want to know about their brand equity and market share and they want to work on that to improve. It is a relatively new practice in Nepal but it is working effectively.

How secure is the big data management systems of the government?

Completely NOT and very weak. As per global practice, the government invests 3% of the GDP for research and development. But in Nepal the government doesn’t have any serious plan for data and analytics.

How can data be misused or manipulated? Are the laws strong enough in this area? And is the technology and human resources adequate to support this industry?

Law-wise we are weak. The government has just ‘control attitude’ but they do not have any facilitation mechanism for institutions like us to grow. We do not have many academic courses in Nepal related to this industry. There are only a few. Let’s hope, there will be more in the future. Since we do not have university courses on data, we need to depend on experts from India and other markets. A few colleges have started data science course and we hope in the future we will not have to depend on neighbouring countries.

What is the future for your enterprise and for data research companies such as yours in the country?

Data is a new fuel. So, companies like ours have the opportunity in global markets including Nepal. But for such service-oriented businesses, innovation is the most important thing – internal and external. Internal innovation creates energy inside the organisation and external innovation creates brand value in the market. And to create enterprise legacy, we needed a decade-long hard work to show how we survived. Now we can grow further. The future is there, but we need to move strategically and innovate continuously.

What are some of your personal goals moving forward in business?

It’s not only a business. It is a mission to contribute to Nepali data culture. And my future goal is to make a strong contribution so that we will not make any decisions without evidence.

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Business 360 is a magazine that delivers on quality business news content, profiles of entrepreneurs and leaders, features on issues that matter, articles that assess and analyze policy and delivery mechanisms in the world of trade and commerce

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