Who says you need money to make money? Four entrepreneurs tell us how they dreamed different, broke the rules and struck it big.
Vijay Nair: The man behind powerhouse music firm, Only Much Louder
When Vijay Nair decided to take a year off from college in 2002, he would have been hard-pressed to explain how he meant to spend his time. After all, what did one mean by ‘managing bands’? “Many of my friends assumed I was wasting my time,” explains Nair. “They told me this gamble was not going to pay off. I find people are pessimistic for you either because they care – or because they don’t.”
Nair began by convincing bands to take him on as a manager, booking shows, organising gigs and even touring with them. “You didn’t need money to do this,” he says. He also helped clients make and distribute albums, and started organising music festivals. It all evolved into an idea for a company: Only Much Louder (OML).
Today, a decade later, that three-letter brand is one of the most sought after on the Indian music scene. OML still manages bands – including Pentagram, Swarathma and Dualist Inquiry – it organises ace music festivals like Eristoff Invasion and the Bacardi NH7 Weekender (which will kick off in Bangalore from December 15-16). It also produces music shows like Sound Trippin and The Dewarists, and brings international artists to India (Lady Gaga, Imogen Heap and David Guetta were OML projects).
Today, Nair’s business employs 85 people. “For me, this period is more exciting than ever before,” says Nair.
Nair’s Cheat Sheet
Many people think they can hold down a day job and pursue their dream in the evenings. It does not work like that. Your business should get all your time. Don’t chase the money. Chase what you are good at. If you are good at something, the money will flow automatically.
Shubhra Chadda: The woman behind the kitschy souvenirs brand Chumbak
Would you sell your house to finance your dream? When you’re on maternity leave? Shubhra Chadda did. In 2010, she sold her Bangalore flat for Rs 40 lakh and put that money into her quirky India-themed lifestyle accessories brand, Chumbak. “I was working for a company called NetApp and I got to travel a lot,” explains Chadda. “I’d pick up a fridge magnet from every place I visited. One day, it struck me that none of my magnets were from India. That’s when I came up with a plan to make India-themed magnets.”
Her boss was not encouraging (“How many magnets will you sell?”), so Chadda went back to the corporate grind. A couple of years later, when she decided to have a baby and take a year’s break, she figured it was time to transform her dream into reality. “I was a constant cribber and never wanted a desk job,” says Chadda. “So when Samara was born, I thought to myself ‘let’s do this now’. I made a list every morning, got samples ready, registered the company, and went ahead. I wasn’t scared because I knew I had spotted this big gap, and I wasn’t deterred by negative criticism.”
There certainly were some eyebrows raised. An elderly gentleman looked at her spoofs on Indian stereotypes and accused her of “making fun of Indians” but ultimately, the joke was on him. Chumbak broke even within its first year and now retails from 120 stores across India. “We joined Facebook early, and had an online store in a month’s time,” she says. Of the stores that stock Chumbak, “ninety per cent approached us, and now, my challenge is to improve our in-store displays.”
Chadda’s Cheat Sheet
Put in your own money. Risk something to get the reward. Do your homework well. Find a product that you feel passionate about. Try and fill a gap that either your customer knows and wants or a gap that no one has spotted up to now. If you are going to be a me-too, you need to do it 100 times better than the other products out there. Understand every aspect of your business. Quality is important. Don’t cut corners with data or details. Build a brand for the long term.
Nina Lekhi: The woman behind the bags and accessories brand Baggit
Many students are asked to stop coming to class when they bunk too many lectures. Only that Nina Lekhi used that year off to kickstart her own bag-making business at the age of 17 in 1984. “I had no idea I was going to be an entrepreneur,” says Lekhi. “Even now I still see myself as a designer.”
Even her family had difficulty grappling with her work. “My father would ask me, ‘Why are you doing all this when you’re eventually going to get married and make rotis?’” recounts Lekhi. But still, they let her turn the living room into a
factory and her bedroom into a storeroom.
So she persisted, designing bags, selling them in consignments, making deliveries via buses and managing all aspects of the business from purchasing to sales. “I had no fear because I had no targets and I never saw myself as an entrepreneur,” explains Lekhi.
Today, Baggit is a Rs 50-crore business. Its bags, purses, belts, shoes, multi-purpose pouches and wallets are stocked at major malls and 16 Baggit stores across the country. But Lekhi’s not done just yet. “I want 200 stores and I want to retail abroad. I’m just waiting for their economies to grow.”
Lekhi also confesses to thinking about business “all the time”. “On holiday, if I see a woman with a nice bag, I immediately start following her.” And even during the photo shoot, when we ask Lekhi to pose with her bags, she picks up each one and first asks her sales staff, “Will this be in stock when the story comes out?”
Lekhi’s Cheat Sheet
Have an appetite for risk. I love adventure, I just went shark cage diving in South Africa. Don’t juggle a job and your business. You need to give it 150 per cent. Don’t chase results. Do something because you enjoy doing it. Figure out ways to turn your employees into partners as your business expands.
Riyaz Amlani: The man behind Mocha, Smoke House Deli, SHRoom and Salt Water Café
You know the feeling. You’re at a friend’s party. The food’s lovely, the booze is flowing, the music divine, the mood chilled. And someone says, “If we could bottle this evening, we would make a fortune”. You nod, sigh, take another sip of beer and forget all about it.
Except Riyaz Amlani didn’t. It got him thinking that “there was no place where one could hang out with friends in the middle of the day other than Udipis and five-stars. So in December 2001, back when nobody knew what a café meant, he and a couple of friends started Mocha Coffees and Conversation in the 500 square feet outside area of a restaurant his father ran in Churchgate, Mumbai.
Amlani, who had no experience in running any kind of restaurant (he’d been a shoe salesman and an entertainment consultant), didn’t have it easy. He had to deal with a lot of scepticism from the restaurant people he consulted. “I was told, ‘Selling coffee will not pay the bills’,” he says. “But coming from a non-hospitality background helped. When you come to a business completely un-jaded, you are in a better position to do something different.”
The gang did indeed do it differently. They took a loan of Rs 5 lakh and “got their hands dirty” setting up Mocha. “We faced so many hurdles,” Amlani recalls. “The manager quit on opening day, and before that, we realised we had no money to buy furniture.”
Despite their problems, Mocha turned out to be a runaway success. It was one of the first places to serve serious coffees like the Jamaican Blue Mountain, and do gigantic desserts like the Chocolate Avalanche, and have cool variations on instant noodles. People loved it – and it set the ball rolling for Amlani’s firm Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality, which now has 17 brands in 11 cities, including Mocha ArtHouse, Smoke House Room and Mocha Bar.
“Right from the age of 15, I knew I wanted to be my own boss,” says Amlani, and he’s been happily living his dream. “We worked as hard as we needed to make it work, and finally, I think, a little luck is important too.”
Amlani’s Cheat Sheet
Have a great deal of conviction. That’s all that matters. There must be belief in what you can deliver, and that comes from the depths of your conviction. Create something without constantly looking over your shoulder. People will see what you are doing, and they will either embrace it or turn away. If it works for you, it will work for other people. But if your idea does not flow naturally from yourself, it will be jarring for others. Don’t be afraid of hard work. Be willing to put in the hours.
How to hide it
Behind the photo frame
It’s where Anil Kapoor found the ‘faarmoola’ to become Mr India. It’s good to stash cash too.
In a ZipLoc bag behind the toilet flush
In Hollywood, this is where the guns, drugs, the documents and the cash always end up.
From HT Brunch, December 9
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