Spirit of a true entrepreneur – Arunachalam Muruganantham

‘The first man to wear a sanitary napkin’ – I was wrong to assume it was another insipid article (on the lines of adult diapers or a big joke) and put It off for later reading.


I was asked by a colleague whether i had seen the video as yet. when i replied in the negative, i was urged to do so. Back from the college after presenting on starting an NGO (access to education), this was a welcome read.  I started with the INK video (here’s the link: http://www.inktalks.com/discover/177/arunachalam-muruganantham-the-first-man-to-wear-a-sanitary-napkin-inktalks). I really enjoyed his talk. Getting on stage before a huge well read and intelligent crowd is frightening enough, but here was a simpleton with his ‘not perfect’ english (openly acknowledged in a sweet way!). Being a Tamilian, i could actually relate to his language flow. Performing an line-by-line interpretation of tamil to english, he started with his narration that was genuine, emotional and witty. 


Sanitary Napkins, as he mentioned, have always been treated as taboo. Shops usually do not display them in full view and if they did they would be wrapped and dispatched to the customers. This is certainly surprising considering that every lady undergoes the trauma and anguish connected with ‘those days’. Even family members hesitate to talk about this topic, but here was this guy on stage, splashed all over in the media for coming up with an innovation in this aspect. 


You will have to appreciate his doggedness and his methods. Identifying a better cotton variant, testing on a trial and error basis , waiting for his results patiently, getting back to the drawing board again and again – he was certainly persistent! Imagine going on the streets and asking for volunteers – i visualised it as a scene of embarrassment wherein the target group does not want to talk about it and here you are, up in arms against a most taboo of topics! The thought of approaching and explaining the work being done gives me goosebumps! 


Despite the hiccups, how to make his subjects comfortable seemed to be his topmost priority. Switching to paper based feedback was actually a great idea since writing our heart out for a person is usually easier than expressing them verbally (ah! the joys of love letters!!). A single point focus on finding a cheaper and safer alternative did turn him into a possessed individual. What was disappointing was the reaction of his family and the ‘doctor’ing of the results by the MBBS students. Here was a dilemma, he was actually analysing the existing pad materials and trying to come up with substitutes – does this term as innovation in the real sense? But as learnt in one of best guest lectures at SPJain from an inspiring innovator – if the new service/product/process differentiates itself and makes money, then it’s an innovation!  


One thing made me wonder though – is why women, who gave us the bullet proof Kevlar vests, the medical syringe, the diapers and the life raft among many others, did not take this up in full measure in countries where it is needed the most.


Bringing down an initialisation cost of Rs.3.5 crores to Rs.65000 is no mean achievement. Loved his values when he steered clear of profit and instead focussed on creating jobs – at least 1 million! Superb finishing lines. 


Sacrifices, doggedness, the courage to keep on trying and failing until you get it right – lessons reaffirmed thanks to Arunachalam. 


Workshop helper -> Inventor – > Entrepreneur -> Industrialist. Hats off to you for being an inspiring figure. 


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