The Business of Quirky

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THE TREND OF BUSINESS HAS PIVOTED TOWARDS INNOVATION AND THE NICHE WHICH IS TURNING OUT TO BE BOOMING AND LUCRATIVE. YOUTH INC FOLLOWS THE JOURNEY OF SEVEN PIONEERING BUSINESSMEN THROUGH THE INCEPTION, FORMATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF THEIR QUIRKY ENTERPRISES
It would be foolish to state that the starting up of any kind of business is an easy feat. From the germination of an idea to the formation of an organisation to recruiting the right people and finally building on all these factors is anything but simple. For a mainstream business, the process would be relatively easy, but for something new, and one that has never before been attempted, the challenges do not stop at being just one or two.
With the start of a new year, we at Youth Inc are exploring new and varied business models that are coming to the fore – some, that are already well-known, and many others that are gaining momentum with the passing of each day. Crowdfunding – a year-old concept on Indian soil is in every way creative, quirky and innovative a venture. It is also a concept that very few Indian were acquainted with. But within just a year of it being popularised by Kunal Kapoor, our cover star and the co-founder of Ketto, it is already creating waves and making headlines for the causes it has undertaken to fulfil athlete Shiva Keshavan’s dream of participating in the Winter Olympics for the fourth time. And, more famously, it has enabled the sponsorship of Shweta Katti – the daughter of a sex worker at Kamathipura  in Mumbai – via a US scholarship.
An unconventional business, much like Ketto, takes time to grow and become a recognisable name. But once the pace has been set and the business takes flight, it becomes a force to reckon with. Nano Ganesh is one such example. It was born out of the dire circumstances founder Santosh Ostwal’s family was plagued with. It is today a revolutionary mobile device for farmers, and Ostwal says that he is now considered a leader in the field of this technology – someone that both his equals, subordinates and laymen look up to.
Vivek Ravisankar, of HackerRankX, when narrating his story, mentioned that every disruptive business looks unconventional at first, but as it goes through its own set of trials and tribulations, and stands on its own feet, it becomes an obvious idea that would have taken shape anyway. Every one of the seven quirky businesses in our cover story has had its fair share of ups and downs and, has in the end, emerged victorious; not just because it was an obvious idea, but also because it was created by driven and passionate founders.

Crowdfunding for a social cause

Bollywood actor Kunal Kapoor, and Varun Seth talk about founding the celebrity-driven crowdfunding company Ketto which helps raise funds for social causes

EUREKA MOMENT
Kunal: Ketto was something I was thinking about for a long time. I wanted to use technology to create a bridge between people who wanted to give and people that needed to receive. Somebody said there were two young guys who were thinking of something similar. I caught up with them and got talking. We were supposed to meet for 15-20 minutes but we ended up talking for 4 hours. That was my  eureka moment.
Varun: I had a very boring job; I was working as an interest rate swap dealer. As a youngster, I was very interested in fund-raising and doing something for a social cause. In 2010, I attended a tech conference where a lot of people were talking about the social sector and the lack of funding. It made me wonder, why can’t technology be used as a platform to make people aware about social challenges?

CELEBRITY-TURNED-PHILANTHROPIST
Kunal: I have always believed that if an actor can sell colas, shirts and cars, they can sell a good cause and create awareness. If you are in a place where people look up to you, you can get people to follow you or you can create awareness. Change begins with awareness. As a well-known face, I try and get the cause more mileage.
Varun: Our core team consists of Zaheer Adenwala, our highly experienced Chief Technology Officer who handles the technology operations. I run the business side of it. And Kunal helps with marketing, promotions and public relations because he is the face of the brand.

THE BUSINESS MODEL
Kunal: We wanted a model that would be fun. We wanted a system similar to Facebook where people can follow and share with others. It becomes more like a community of people. That is our dream – an interactive and communicative platform where people can contribute to help others and also come together to meet like-minded people.

HURDLES OVERCOME
Kunal: In our country people are not sure about crowdfunding because it is still in its initial stage. But over the last year, I have seen attitudes change. People have become more accepting. We reached out to a lot of NGOs, but they were slow to respond. We wanted NGOs that were certified and had their papers in place, so it took time. When it came to reaching out to the public, we started by talking to friends, asking them to check out the website and donate if they found something interesting. We got a good response. Then we reached out to more people through social media. We had many people come forward and help. Varun: I think crowdfunding is really growing in India. One of the most successful examples is the Aam Admi Party. They raised Rs. 20 cores in 9 months with 80,000 donors from all across the world.

VIABILITY OF THE QUIRKY
Kunal: When you try something unconventional, there may be some resistance in the beginning. But once it takes off, a lot of people get more interested in it. In today’s world, out-of-the-box and quirky will always work in your favour. People are looking to be part of an interesting idea.

POSITIVES OF BEING NICHE
Being the front-runner in establishing something is always a plus. Attempting to do something no one has tried requires you to believe in yourself first. If you believe in it, you can convince other people about it and it will ultimately be a success.

EXPANSION PLANS
Kunal: We are planning on expanding the team. We want to get more young and creative people on board; people with passion.
Varun: We want Ketto to be like the supermarket of crowdfunding. We do not want to stop at social causes; we want to include funding for movies, music, publishing etc.

CELEBRITY STATUS
Varun: Having someone credible like Kunal is a plus point. But I wouldn’t say it isn’t possible for anyone to do what we are doing without having a popular face for support. You only need the right idea and the right vision to go about it.

FUNDS
KUNAL: WE STARTED OFF BY PUTTING IN OUR OWN MONEY. VARUN AND I FELT WE HAD TO PUT OUR MONEY WHERE OUR MOUTH IS IF WE STRONGLY BELIEVED IN THIS. THAT WAS WHAT WE HAD TO DO BEFORE CONTACTING INVESTORS, TELLING THEM WHAT WE ARE DOING AND ASKING FOR FUNDS. VARUN: WE ARE THE FIRST CROWDFUNDING VENTURE IN ASIA TO BE FUNDED BY INVESTORS. IT WAS GOOD AS WE WERE FACING CHALLENGES WHILE SCALING UP.

Ketto

SMALL TALK WITH KUNAL

EDUCATION
After I graduated, I did a course in export management. Then I began working in the stock exchange and also assisted my dad in his construction business.

OTHER INTERESTS
I trained to be a pilot. I also enjoy racing and  writing scripts.

BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY
Reaching out to young people and involving them. And changing the mindset of charity. It doesn’t have to be grey and serious, it can also be fun.

COMING UP WITH BUSINESS IDEAS
Find something you are passionate about and interests you. It starts with your passion and then things fall into place.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
Don’t chase the money, chase the dream.

Making a wacky
Statement

Apurva Kothari, co-founder of the organic t-shirt brand No Nasties that supports the farmers in Vidarbha by buying and using their cotton, narrates what it’s like to run a business with a social angle

THE BIRTH OF NO NASTIES
I’m actually an engineer. I worked for about 12 years mainly in the US and  Australia. Just a happy-go-lucky guy with a technology job abroad, earning enough money to live a decent life. There was a point where it wasn’t enough to just get a salary. I didn’t dream of becoming an entrepreneur. It just reached a point where I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing. I read an article about famer suicides. And with that I knew I wanted to start a t-shirt brand. It came to a point where I was moving back to India to take a deep dive into this… I stayed with this idea for almost 5 years until I took action.

FUNDING NO NASTIES IT’S MOSTLY SELF-FUNDED. WE’VE HAD SOME FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM UNLTD INDIA. WE HAVEN’T GONE OUT AND SOUGHT FUNDING YET. WE GOT Rs. 2.89 LAKHS FROM UNLTD INDIA, BUT THE REST OF IT HAS BEEN FROM MY SIDE.

HURDLES ON THE WAY
Setting up a business in India is always a challenge. There’s paperwork that needs to get done. And it took a while to find the right team – production, supply chain, factories, farmers that we’d like to work with, professionals – something which is a hurdle even today although it’s been three years since the company began. Professional levels are missing, so that’s an ongoing battle for us. Funding is as well because we don’t want to rely on external funding. We want to grow steady within the scope of our means.

THE AIM OF NO NASTIES
It’s not just about doing good but being good as well. We wanted to create a consumer movement in India for people to become conscious of the impact of their purchases. If you become very preachy about it, it doesn’t work. We realised that if we make it attractive enough, make it quirky, make it fun, then more people would be willing to take it. If I give you a very NGO-approach – “Oh, look at the farmer suicides, all this happening, all that happening,” you don’t want to be part of; it’s not cool enough.

BETTER OFF QUIRKY
With more time and space we realised it was better to be unconventional. You stand out from the crowd. We’re doing it with the right principle, right foundation. We’ve got an amazing press coverage. We’re really kicking it off. We just been written about in Outlook Business to Wall Street Journal magazine because we’re unconventional. You want to feel good about what you’re doing, about your purchase.

BEING A NICHE BUSINESS
I think for companies like ours which is very small and self-funded, competing in an open market is not an option any more. In an open market like India’s we don’t have enough money to create a marketing buzz. We didn’t think of being niche. Our vision and values made us niche.

STAYING CREATIVE
We are a very design-centric company – in our website, communication, marketing. All of our meetings are open sessions. We do internal crowdsourcing of designs for our new collection, for packaging ideas, for communications, for projects. There’s a very different vibe in the company. We’re a people-focused company; we’re not a company that does it for profit. The creative process is one of the pillars of the company.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
If I were to talk to someone who was to start something fresh, I would say, make it in line with your values. Make it a model to happiness. Whatever makes you happy. Don’t go and think, “Oh, I have to make a million dollars at the end of it” or “I have to be on a journey to make a million dollars.”
 

EXPANDING THE ENTERPRISE
WE WANT TO GO INTO MORE PRODUCTS BEYOND T-SHIRTS. WE STARTED OUT AS A COMPANY FOCUSED ON THE INDIAN CONSUMER, BUT WE HAVE A GLOBAL AUDIENCE ALREADY IN EVERY CORNER OF THE WORLD. WE’VE GOTTEN QUERIES FROM ARGENTINA TO CANADA TO AUSTRALIA. THEY HAVE BEEN HEARING ABOUT US AND REACHING OUT TO US.

SMALL TALK WITH  APURVA

ROLE MODEL
I have mentors I look up to. My life philosophy is around what the Dalai Lama says: The purpose of life is to be happy.

OTHER INTERESTS
Play Ultimate Frisbee (I actually coach the Bombay Ultimate Frisbee effort), scuba diving

 

NO NASTIES’ NET WORTH
At this point, probably a  crore.

NEXT NICHE BUSINESS TO GO MAINSTREAM
Handmade products

NEXT GAP TO BE CLOSED BY A NICHE BUSINESS
Social media commerce

BUSINESSES I LOVE
Patagonia in the US, Nudie Jeans, Divine Chocolate in the UK, Starbucks in India

BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY
Follow the steps of passion, purpose, people, products, profit.

The photocopy magnates

Photocopy Inc. provides students with photocopying services at 90% subsidised rates by selling ads on one side of the paper. Cofounder and managing partner Sandeep T.M. tells us about this unique venture

BITTEN BY THE BUSINESS BUG
Anand Kumar (co-founder and managing partner) and I were close friends since our school days. We understand and complement each other very well. We always wanted to be entrepreneurs and most of our discussions used to revolve  round relevant and contemporary ideas that had the potential to make it big in the modern world. Three years of working in a professional environment gave us enough confidence to start our venture in 2011.

OUR EUREKA MOMENT
During our several brainstorming sessions, we spoke about a Japanese concept that provided subsidised photocopies to students. We realised that India has a huge student population  so the idea excited us. The design had to suit students of our country and had to be adapted so it would be a winwin scenario for all parties involved. Through market research we came up with a solution that would keep everyone happy.

CAPITAL FUNDS
Our model of operations keeps our capital expenditures at a minimum. We invested our personal savings in the beginning and have been able to maintain a positive cash flow so far. Our future expansion plans may require some external funding which we are ready to explore.

HURDLES ON THE WAY
Our challenge was to bring in a completely different perspective to an established photocopying industry. Some people were not convinced about advertisements on photocopies because the concept was new to them. The student community on the other hand was quite open to this concept. Eventually this helped us in a big way to convince the corporates, which got the ball rolling.

THE BIG BREAKTHROUGH
Initially it was difficult to keep the cash register flowing as the corporates were apprehensive about trying out a new medium of advertising. A breakthrough was made when the first client tried our medium. After that everyone started seeing value in the model.  The corporates realised the importance of branding among youngsters. They understand that our business model provides an innovative medium to bridge the gap between corporates and youngsters.

QUIRKY VS MONEY
It depends on the idea. If the idea is good and the product or service is priced correctly, people will go for it. It’s only the initial phase that ventures like these might lack commercial viability. But that will get nullified in the long run.

THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
Targeting the young generation and establishing ourselves among them was the key to our success. If we did not place ourselves in the right market, our whole model would have failed.

STAYING CREATIVE
We love reading up on new ideas and our brainstorming sessions still continue to this day. We try not to take anything for granted and we are constantly looking to improve.

EXPANDING THE ENTERPRISE
We have our presence in Chennai and Bangalore. We plan to expand city-wise and target major cities like Hyderabad, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. Once we  have covered the major cities we plan to expand to tier 2 cities as well.

EASY ROUTE TO A BUSINESS IDEA
There can never be an easy way. It’s an attitude or state of mind. We think about, discuss or come across so many things in our lives. A business idea is one of  those things once we believe it be turned into a commercial venture.

QUICK PRINTS

EDUCATION
Sandeep T.M. – BCom
Anand Kumar – MCom

ROLE MODELS
Sandeep T.M. – Steve Jobs for his vision
Anand Kumar – Richard Branson for his ability to execute ideas

PHOTOCOPY INC.’S  NET WORTH
About Rs. 1,50,00,000

NEXT NICHE BUSINESS TO GO MAINSTREAM
Consulting firms for early stage ventures

BUSINESSES WE LOVE
We have always liked the food and beverages business. Innovations and new concepts in this industry are quite fascinating.

BUSINESS MANTRA
We firmly believe in ‘Under Promise and Over Deliver’. We always try to give our clients more than what we promise. Apart from that, it is usually what works at that point in time and when it stops working we come up with something else to make things work.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
The power of patience and perseverance is often underestimated. Keep trying and one day you will achieve what you set out for.

Hiring Programmers the Smart Way – HackerRankX

Hiring processes in companies are time- consuming and costly. Vivek Ravisankar, the co-founder of HackerRankX, throws light on a process of efficient hiring that he helped co-formulate

THE FOUNDERS
Harishankaran K. (co-founder) and I never really wanted to start a company. All through college we were involved in a series of projects. In fact, HackerRankX – that was previously known as Interviewstreet – was one of them. Once HackerRankX was underway, working on it got all too addictive. We were loving every moment of it and was something that we both had always wanted to do. It was at that juncture that we decided to quit our boring and redundant jobs and began pursuing the project we started full-time. As time passed and one thing led to another, we had formed HackerRankX.

WHAT DOES HACKERRANKX DO?
HackerRankX provides recruiters a platform that tests the aptitudes and the capabilities of a prospective employee before they are hired. We believe that a lot of programmers in IT are not tested appropriately while being hired. To optimally test the performance of a person before being handed over a highly technical job, we create a series of quizzes and tests that permit a wholesome evaluation before they are selected.

THE BEGINNINGS
We tried out quite a few different ideas before settling onto this one. Our first three ideas, which transpired over the course of 1.5 years, failed. As part of research during that time frame, we spoke to a lot of programmers, professors, recruiters and companies, and one of the things we found was that irrespective of the size of the company, there were huge inefficiencies in the hiring process. Keeping that in mind, we built technical interviewing tools under the brand Interviewstreet, that is today used by thousands of top technology companies including Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Citrix, Bloomberg and many more. Then we also launched HackerRank to build an engaged community of programmers across all domains of computer science, thus building a platform that plays a part in the entire lifecycle of a programmer. It was only recently that we embarked on the idea of making Interview Street and HackerRank one, thus calling it HackerRankX.

CONVINCING INVESTORS
Our technical recruiting tools solve a range of problems that we experienced first-hand at the beginning our journey with HackerRank. Hours of otherwise productive developer time are spent interviewing unqualified candidates whose gaps in proficiency could have been detected at the beginning of the hiring process with the help of a programming challenge. We have optimised our HackerRankX platform for customisation so that our customers can write their own challenges and keep them fresh, personalised and exciting, and is how we differ from our competition and from the typical perception of programming challenges. The time savings and resulting cost and productivity savings are useful to companies of all sizes; our investors saw this potential while evaluating us and thought it to be the right platform to bring to the market.

HURDLES ON THE WAY
We’ve had plenty of challenges, what with our first business models not being viable. After pivoting to the current business model, we’ve placed our emphasis solely on the programming community by developing the HackerRank platform. But we have leveraged our past experience and our background in the programming industry to build our technical recruiting tools to make it easier and faster for companies to hire candidates for technical aspects required for a programming job.

UNCONVENTIONALITY VS COMMERCIAL VIABILITY
Every venture that is troublesome looks unconventional at the start. But when it starts to make a lot of money and gains popularity, it becomes a commercial hit. A lot of people then begin to think of it as being an obvious idea. Most popular companies and social networks like Facebook, Google, Twitter and several others have also gone through the same phases of growth and development and have emerged victorious, thus delving futher into the thought of an unconventional or a quirky business being profit-making or commercially viable.

EXPANSION PLANS
HackerRank is a programmer’s home for competition and community, but our goal is to grow until the CodeSprints – a programming competition hosted on HackerRank – becomes the ‘Olympics of programming’. It is a competition where candidates from all over the world hone their skills, win prizes and become recognised for their HackerRank participation. Our goal is to develop that aspect until HackerRank is recognised as the leading platform on which a person can compete in the computer programming space.

THE NICHE MARKET – A SECRET TO SUCCESS
If the entire market of technology is a niche, our answer is yes. The opportunities in this sector are massive and we are going to be in this area of business for the foreseeable future.

HACKERRANKX:THEN AND NOW
We’re consistently optimising our HackerRank platform by adding new features, inserting ways for users in the community to connect, and by hosting bigger and better challenges. On the business front, building tools to support the technical hiring process all the way up until the final in-person cultural fit interview is where our roadmap points.

H
HackerRank
QUICK HACKS WITH VIVEK

EDUCATION
I work hard

ROLE MODELS
Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Kamal Hassan

STAYING CREATIVE
Long walks and short naps and of course, coffee.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
Work hard and never give up. 

Building Homes Away from Home

Oravel is an online social marketplace for booking bread & breakfast (B&B) rooms all over the world, be it in villas or homely bedrooms. Ritesh Agarwal, the 19-year- old founder, talks about his enterprise

BEING BITTEN BY THE BUSINESS BUG
I never had the bug of business; however had a very strong bug of doing something and building something which becomes extremely important and valuable for a lot of people. This actually began when I turned a teen, ie 13.

THE BIRTH OF ORAVEL
Oravel was a passion product to start with. I used to get locked out of my apartment all the time because I did not carry my keys, and when I would be searching for hotels to stay those nights, random 3-star non-standard hotels would sell for 150 dollars a night when Westin sells for 80 dollars at San Francisco. I felt something is wrong, which is when I realised there are over 700,000 small B&Bs where people could stay with the right price and comfort if made available.

CONVINCING INVESTORS FOR FUNDING
It was interesting. We really like our backers since they could see the potential of the business and felt we are strong ‘execution and passion’ people. The best reason I can think of is because of our die-hard nature and we are highly focussed towards user experience activity.

HURDLES ON THE WAY
Some of the major hurdles were credibility as a no one, very little connections or money, no understanding of scaling and hiring. However, as they say, learning the hard way is always great and that’s how I have learnt and have done reasonably well, probably.

BEING IN THE NICHE MARKET IS THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
To rephrase, FOCUS. We are what we are today is because we said no to hotels in Oravel. We said, only non- hotels and the users could connect and know the difference between us and any other agency.

STAYING CREATIVE
By setting ambitious targets and finding random ways of achieving them. It’s a view that when you set random goals which are generally not possible, you find great ways to get them.

EXPANDING THE ENTERPRISE
We ought to scale and scale fast, but with conscious product growth and understanding. We aim to do this, but by building our product further for scale, attracting high quality talent and, of course, with further rounds of raise.

MAKING MONEY FROM A QUIRKY BUSINESS
For me the top reason to run Oravel is to build amazing experiences and not make money, but money is essential to deliver those experiences. So for us, we don’t make experiences awesome to make money; we make money so that we can keep delivering something amazing.

NO COMPROMISE ON COMMERCIAL VIABILITY
We are growing at a triple digit rate for a while now and set to go even higher. The reason is we are delivering exceptional value and people like the idea. It goes from business to politics.

RITESH’S MUSINGS EDUCATION
I am a drop out but a part of Thiel Fellowship by billionaire Peter Thiel who is a board member of Facebook and is more competitive than Harvard and MIT.

ROLE MODEL
Many. To name one, Bill Gates.

ORAVEL’S NET WORTH
Sorry, can’t comment. We are definitely in revenues of crores.

NEXT NICHE BUSINESS TO GO MAINSTREAM
Boutique experiences in food, stays and travel.

NEXT GAP TO BE CLOSED BY A NICHE BUSINESS
Everything that is non-standardised and opaque. For example, the conference and event booking industry.

COMING UP WITH A BUSINESS IDEA
Feel the pain and say how you are going to solve it.

BUSINESSES I LOVE
Cooking and delivering great taste experiences and creative handmade fashion.

BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY
If you build with love, you will sell it.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
Follow your heart and the day you can’t stop thinking under the shower about your idea, start it.

A Nano Step Towards Change

Nano Ganesh, the brain child of Santosh Ostwal, was formed out of the need to bid farewell to redundant agricultural practices. We take a closer look at this revolution

THE BIRTH OF NANO GANESH
Out of a sheer need to revolutionise agriculture as I knew it, I set out on a mission to transform the way it was being carried out. Farming in my village was not easy. It was, in fact, very difficult a task, as I witnessed my handicapped grandfather tread for miles in the dead of the night just to turn on and off the water pumps located in our fields. The picture of him walking through harsh terrain with just a stick and an oil lamp as guide was one that got etched into my memory and was the sole reason why Nano Ganesh came to be. HOW NANO

GANESH WORKS
Nano Ganesh is a GSM device that famers can use to turn pumps located in their fields on and off; it is also used to check the availability of water at different times during the course of the day. Also, there are certain Nano Ganesh models that notify a farmer in the event of thefts of irrigation pumps.

NAMING THE DEVICE NANO GANESH
I am a firm believer in Lord Ganesh and felt the thought of using a mobile phone instead of a typical remote control was bestowed upon me through him via a dream. As soon as I woke up that day, I purchased Motorola’s T810 model and began to play around with the electric modules I had previously created. After playing around for a while, the circuit was finally working all because of the dream I had. This is the story of how the mobile came to be called Ganesh. While my idea was transformed into something tangible, it didn’t meet the farmer’s expectations because it was bulky, costly and tumultuous to install. After improvising on Ganesh for four whole years, I was finally successful in creating something that was ‘small’ in every way possible. After work on the device was done and dusted, four years after remote controls were replaced by mobiles, I decided to call it Nano Ganesh for obvious reasons.

FUNDING THE ENTERPRISE
Initially, getting funds from banks was very difficult as there was no concrete product. In the initial stages of development, it was only my friends and relatives who supported my endeavour. After Nano Ganesh received international acclaim, there were few Indian conglomerates who wanted to get into partnerships, but none of them were fulfilling.

NANO GANESH – THEN AND NOW
Since its inception in 2008, Nano Ganesh has grown from being a national success story to one that has also received widespread international acclaim.
The device and its corresponding technology have been improved to facilitate a farmer’s need for both capsule technology and affordable price. Today, the device is priced between Rs. 560 and Rs. 22,500 and is use for both agricultural and industrial processes. Along with this, talks are also on for the usage of the device in Tanzania, Egypt and Zambia.

EXPANSION
My company has partnered with different national and international institutions and even Multi National Companies across the world. Quite a few Indian states are also showing positive reciprocation and are making Nano Ganesh popular under the mobile governance or m-governance programme.

NANO BYTES

ROLE MODEL
Sunil Mittal of Airtel

INTERESTS
Playing musical instruments and cooking with my wife on Sundays

AN EMPOWERING NICHE BUSINESS
Agritourism and rural- urban family exchange

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
Before you seek to empower the world, empower yourself

The Gift of Greenery

Rajiv Rawal, co-founder of online gift-a-plant service Passion Green, talks about starting the venture with his wife Alka Bajoria

THE BIRTH OF PASSION GREEN
Alka and I always had a lovely collection of plants in our house. Friends would always want us to do their houses. A very close friend who runs a high-end furniture store suggested we put a few plants at her store. We got an amazing response and thus started the ‘gift a plant’theme of Passion Green.

HURDLES ON THE WAY
The biggest hurdle, especially in Mumbai, is that of real estate. Cost of hiring a place in this city can make any business look unviable.The other hurdle, which is an ongoing battle, is to convince people that plants make great gifts.

QUIRKY VS CONVENTIONAL
Quirky business always come with a clause; if they don’t click then making money is almost impossible. The effort to market the concept and make it acceptable is a real challenge. It requires both patience and financial backing.

THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
I guess it depends on the product; we have designed our products to cater to both the niche and the regular shopper. Both of them are equally important. Niche market products can help keep your head above water in bad economic conditions; mass market products can get you to walk on water.

STAYING CREATIVE
Alka is the creative person amongst us, and a lot of mundane and dirty work (not literally) is therefore shouldered by me so that she continues to be creative.

EXPANDING THE ENTERPRISE
We are hoping to work on a franchisee model at some point to create a chain of stores which can cater to this concept as it gathers recognition.

SHORT MUSINGS

OUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND
I passed from the National Defence Academy with a BSc degree. Alka is postgraduate from Delhi School of Economics.

ROLE MODEL
Jason Bourne, if he was real

COMING UP WITH A BUSINESS IDEA
When an idea haunts you, don’t let it go. I think it is a little intuitive and not just an excel sheet calculation.

OUR BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY
Educate people on the benefits of plants, make them aesthetically compelling so that they find a place in their homes.

ADVICE FOR ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS
If you think you have a great idea, give it a shot. It is difficult to give up a regular job and start something on your own; the comfort zone of a job unknowingly can shackle you quite a bit. Doing otherwise may not be so much of a challenge.

Volume 3 Issue 7