What you see on the surface is a restless, confused child but dig a little deeper and you will find a young man hungry for knowledge and zealous to bring about a change. That is Ayush Jaiswal for you.
What you see on the surface is a restless, confused child but dig a little deeper and you will find a young man hungry for knowledge and zealous to bring about a change. That is Ayush Jaiswal for you.
If I had a rupee for every time I have suffered bladder pains because of not being able to use a public toilet, I would have been able to afford my own minivan with a loo in it.
“My mother would come to my room to give me food and water, almost every day for several months. I wouldn’t even get up to wash my hands..
Years ago, in the lesser known outskirts of Pune, a young boy who excelled in football, hockey and several other games topped his 10th Grade Board exams. The following year he tutored his younger brother who subsequently topped his Tenth Grade exams. The following year his younger brother’s friends were taught by him and all of them topped their school. When the boy’s youngest sibling was tutored by him, yet again history repeated itself!
This young boy who was born in Kerala and later brought up in Pune, Maharashtra, used to help his parents run their bakery in Vishrantwadi after school hours. Going around on his cycle selling bread, butter, jam and Keralite bakery items, with a smile on his face, the boy who exhibited exceptional brilliance in academics is now fondly known among his students, friends and well wishers, as Anees Bhaiya.
Back in 1988, the young Anees who was immensely popular in his school and neighbourhood for his wizardry in mathematics, set up a full-fledged coaching centre named Anees Classes to help mould young students for admission to India’s National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune.
“I didn’t have much money to buy refreshers and guides,” a smiling Anees recalls his school days.
“After school hours, my friends would come to me seeking help in solving problems. They would also share their refreshers and guides with me. That’s how my first teaching experience began and I realised that I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
He recalls his years from class 1 to 10 to be a bumpy journey with a lot of fond memories. Often he had been made to stand outside his classroom as he couldn’t pay the fees on time. It was at such times that the kindness and affection showed by his teachers got him through.
Miss Govandu, Mr. Thacker, Miss Patwardhan are the few teachers who helped him. “I was always the teachers’ pet,” he reminisces. “I switched schools for my class 11 and 12, and that required a long distance travel from home to school. It was at that time that I took up teaching further and started charging Rs. 50 for my evening classes. My father initially told me that I was doing a foolish thing as I would earn more if I just continued selling the bakery items but my mother supported me and I continued teaching and embarked on home tuitions as well.”
“After my class 12, I was in a dilemma as to what to do further. I wanted to go for medicine but didn’t have the means to pursue it. I didn’t want to become an engineer and due to family’s frugal financial condition, I ended up pursuing a course leading to a Diploma in Electronics and Communication Engineering which I never enjoyed. My passion was for teaching and by now I had around 40-50 students in a batch. I taught a multitude of subjects including Marathi and various syllabi simultaneously.”
Anees, who himself experienced the pain of not receiving career advice from anyone in his time, freely offers career counselling to all his students. While speaking to him one can’t help but notice the warmth and friendly nature he shares with everyone, be it his staff, students or a visitor. He is nothing less than an Academic Superman.
He tells us his story amidst some counselling for some kids.
“Later on, I bought the premises that had been the family’s rented abode and dedicated a separate area for my classes. If on one side of the class I was solving sums for students in one syllabus, two minutes later I would be solving sums to another batch doing a different syllabus.”
One by one his own students became teachers at Anees Classes. The one criterion he stipulated was that all the teachers were to be trained in his classes. This ensured that all the teachers were well acquainted with the style and methodologies followed there.
Today, Anees Classes is spread over 11 locations in Pune and have students coming from all over India. With hostel facilities and food provided for the students, Anees Sir ensures that the students get the best of everything. For this, he has expanded the courses offered starting from stress management classes, coaching classes from class 1 to 12, foreign language classes, soft skills and personality development to various workshops, summer camps, and so on.
But how did he start preparing students for the NDA?
“Back in 1993, three students from Sainik School, Satara (a system of schools to prepare students for entry into the National Defence Academy and Indian Naval Academy) had come to me. All the three got into the NDA. The following year, seven came and later on 10 and then 16. Later I got to know these were Sainik school students. It was then that I started providing them with food and accommodation at my own place”.
Over the years, Anees Classes have prepared over 1000 successful students for the NDA and over 400 are officers in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
He also has his own unconventional techniques for teaching mathematics and has even given them unique names. Jugal Bandi, Chandal Chowkadi, Amar Akbar Antony, Mara Mari are a few of them.
A true philanthropist in every sense of the word, Anees Sir believes in helping every student. He isn’t a materialistic person and gives students the option of a refund in case they don’t like his classes. In the year 1997, he started a family Trust called the Evergreen Foundation along with his father, mother and wife as trustees. Initially this Trust began funding financially weaker students. Besides Evergreen Foundation, Anees Kutty has also co-founded MStartups.biz and the Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Forum. He wants to create a global platform for young professionals and help nurture businessmen of tomorrow. The Evergreen Foundation conducts several events and workshops to promote professionals to pursue their dreams and careers.
Asked about what makes him the happiest, he says,
“The most satisfying part is that all my students are doing better than I do. I have realised that somewhere down the lane my students have picked up the values I hold. They believe in honesty and are genuine. Most of them call and wish me on my birthday and send me Rakhis on Raksha Bandhan. I am always remembered as their Anees Bhaiya.”
So what is the secret behind this good heart?
“I live by three mottos – Accept, Adjust and Appreciate.”
Well, one thing is for sure. Call him Anees Kutty, Anees Sir or Anees Bhaiya, this man with a heart of gold is a true example of
“Teachers don’t teach for the income, teachers teach for the outcome!”
That Meghna was talking to me for the very first time was not evident in the entire conversation. She was chatty to say the least but she was also very open and humble. Maybe these are the qualities that have won her star mentors like Sanjiv Bikhcandani and an A-team for her 3-year old startup Styledotme.
A self-confessed hustler and go-getter, Meghna has that dormant rebel inside her that becomes ferociously active when someone puts her down or tells her that she won’t be able to do a certain something.
“When someone says no, you can’t do it – I have to do it. This was pretty much how Styledotme was also started. The idea was there in my mind for about two years but I wasn’t doing anything about it. The day one of my friends told me that I am too lazy and I won’t ever be able to do it, I started working on it.”
Armed with a degree in visual communication, Meghna was going about her life in Delhi as a graphic designer and at the risk of sounding stereotypical, she does admit to being a typical shopaholic girl.
“I think I didn’t have any style sense, but I love shopping and trying out new outfits. However, deciding on what is looking good on me, or choosing one outfit after trying many was a huge task when I went for shopping alone. I used to be in trial room for hours, sending selfies to my friends and then calling them up to ask what I should buy. In fact, deciding what to wear everyday was confusion in itself.”
She was working in InfoEdge at the time when these trial-room struggles became a bit too much. InfoEdge is also where she met Sanjiv Bikhchandani, one of the most known names of the entrepreneur sector, who went on to become her mentor.
“When I was convinced that this is what I want to do, I quit my job and went back to Indore to focus full-time on Styledotme.”
Going back home was a financial decision more than anything else, as Meghna wanted to save on her living expenses while she worked on her startup. But it wasn’t an easy journey. From friends and relatives who called her foolish for quitting a good job in Delhi to peers who questioned her for being a woman entrepreneur, Meghna had to face a lot of skepticism at every step.
“It is never easy initially but I am glad I overcame that phase with the help of my family and great mentors.”
From being a woman entrepreneur to a single founder to not knowing the first thing about building apps or technology, in the textbook of startup success stories, her credentials came right under “What not to do” and yet here she is proving everyone wrong.
Reminiscing one particular childhood incident, Meghna shares that perseverance is something that comes naturally to her.
“I had applied to Baroda Art School, along with one of my classmates from school. It so happened that both of us got an interview call and just before our presentation, she insisted that I show her mine. Next day, when I met her at the venue for our interview I see that she has copied all of my ideas. There wasn’t enough time for me to redo my presentation and due to the alphabetical order, she was supposed to present before me. When the panel saw my presentation after hers, they thought that I copied from her and obviously I couldn’t convince them. As a result I didn’t get admission there. Long story short, when I went back with a heavy heart and met my school principal she said to me that she believed in me. She said in front of 5-6 people that she was sure I would go to a much better college and something better is in store for me. Those words have never left me and always inspire me to keep doing my work sincerely. Unfortunately, principal ma’am is not with us anymore but her words resonate with me even today.”
Meghna is a treat to talk to and the warmth of her persona came across from the moment our short conversation began. She is inspirational in her ways and her passion travels through her gestures and words.
“I am truly lucky to have met the right people who believe in me and my vision. I think if your approach is right and you meet the right people, things do fall in place.”
Shreyans Mehta, who came up with the idea of India’s first Microsoft enabled digital school in Kota is on his way to improve the state of education.
The society in which we grow up only judges us for how well we can swim when thrown in the water. No one ever thinks that perhaps we were meant to fly instead. Bad grades, low GPA, and quitting jobs are viewed as flaws in people and not problems in their lives. However, most success stories are made up of failures treated as opportunities
This is the story of Waqas, the CEO and co-founder of Wonder Tree, a platform that develops games using augmented reality to boost learning and development for children with special needs.
Usman and I have grown up together since he was my neighbor. Usman’s brother has an intellectual disability and required special attention. He had been working on this program for last 10 months with the name of UAB Solutions. When he realized that I was good with marketing, he offered me to join him in the initiative.
Augmented reality is a very unique and new field and it’s being used for various educational purposes. When you talk about using augmented reality with special education, the funny thing is we are the only ones who are doing this right now.
Waqas goes on to narrate his not-so-bright child experiences from school and college.
My subjects in school were related to engineering. I never had any interest in them. Teachers didn’t understand me. I would always zone out into my imagination during the lectures. Some teachers also suggested that I might have some sort of attention problems. They told my parents that they should get me checked.
In college, I followed up with engineering subjects again. I was never a good student because I could never follow orders. That’s why I used to fail a lot and get really bad grades. My parents thought their child was hopeless. There were so many teachers who used to say that I will not be able to achieve anything in my life.
A low graduating score in college meant that Waqas could not secure admission in any of the prestigious universities, or even the mediocre ones. There weren’t many options open for him. Regardless, he never let the world put him down and instead, there was a rebellious spirit growing inside of him.
I thought about how everyone keeps telling me that I am wrong and I can’t do anything. And that I am dumb, and stupid. I thought, maybe they are wrong. And maybe if they are wrong then I can prove it to them. So how do I prove it to them? I need to get better at whatever I do, I need to get smarter. I need to get stronger physically and mentally. One thing led to another.
There is a thing called self-learning and given the resources we have at our disposal these days, it can do wonders. Unfortunately, a lot of us still do not indulge ourselves in it.
I started to self-learn religiously. I learned graphic designing, web development and video editing through which I used to freelance and earn a decent pocket money.
Then he discovered the option of Chartered Accountancy, which a lot of people choose to pursue and most of them fail as well.
One of my friends was pursuing Chartered Accountancy and he said I could pursue CA because they take you in with a low percentage. I passed that test and then I was enrolled in an accountancy school. If you fail one paper in the module, you fail the entire module and you take the exam again. So I failed in one paper in module B which meant I failed in the whole module B. I tried module C and failed that too. My parents suggested I try BBA. Turns out, that was my real forte.
With engineering and accountancy basics, Waqas handled BBA courses like a piece of cake. Meanwhile, he also got a chance to indulge in other ventures and activities. He became popular for his public speaking and design skills and worked on a small startup where he sold customized T-shirts with a friend.
I also have a creative side. I used to love sketching and I was really good at it. I had a sketchbook with me all the time. One day my teacher asked me if I had a rough book and when I took it out, he saw sketches and said that he didn’t want to see this anymore and I was so embarrassed that I started doing it less. Had I not listened to him at that time, like I normally don’t listen to people, I would have done some really good sketching.
Once graduated, Waqas landed at Interflow after hopping around some jobs. It is not very rare that people gossip about you when you’re struggling and want to gossip with you once you achieve something big. Is it so difficult to try to believe in someone’s potential? Interflow being a renowned advertising agency, shut down the worries of several related and unrelated people about what he was going to make of himself.
Interflow was a really big name back then and that’s when my parents realized that I was making something of myself. The challenge was that I was the youngest one. I was young and new in the field and I was doing everything right. So my co-workers were really intimidated. They used to gang up on me and bully me when my boss wasn’t around. There was this time at Interflow when I was questioning everything.
I decided that If I leave I’m going to leave when everyone realizes my full worth. I worked on extra gear. Within one year I learned everything. I was developing entirely on my own. At one point I was developing a behavioral strategy on women empowerment for USAID.
As soon as Waqas had proven himself at Interflow, he left the job. It may have been professionally satisfying but he was seeking growth as a person.
I had four other job offers at that point in time but I had put the entrepreneur plan away for far too long. Now that I had the experience and the time to try it out, I wanted to see what I could do. I ended up meeting a very old friend of mine who used to be with me in ACCA. He wanted to do something marketing related. We decided to grab another person who was a digital marketer and open up a marketing agency. Within a span of 4 months, we were able to get on board international clients. We even did a country wide digital strategy for Telenor.
Some dissonances in his own start-up and an offer from Usman got him thinking about Wonder Tree. Unlike the people around him, Waqas could foresee potential. He had seen it in himself when no one else did, he could definitely see it in Wonder Tree.
Wonder Tree was a zero cash start up. We won IamKarachi brand innovation challenge and got some money from there. Then we won the GISK competition which was an international competition and got more funds. Later we secured the Pasha grant. The fun thing is what we have done so far in that amount of cash is really miraculous. We have a team of 7 highly dedicated people who are over qualified and overworked.
What Waqas learned throughout his diverse set of experiences, he is applying at Wonder Tree. Not just on the work but also in developing the culture of the startup.
We are all friends. Hierarchies and standards are discouraged at Wonder Tree. So we all hang out, go out to eat, do small celebrations. What we are doing is brilliant and beautiful and I have all the hopes that I will be fulfilling my dream of doing something worthwhile. My target for Wonder Tree right now is to make it a global company. It should impact the life of at least a million people. The way we are progressing, it might become a reality in 2-3 years.
The prospects of Wonder Tree are positive and lucrative. That is because it is not just a highly technological startup but one which is strongly needed by the world.
Evangelists in multiple countries literally talk about our product on our behalf and we have said nothing. That is because this is a need and people want it. We haven’t launched it yet but when we do, the cycle will start. We have an advisory board of therapists and psychologists from Dow University and other places. They guide us about the needs we need to cater. We have also started clinical trials and research.
Waqas ended his story with a message that so many young souls out there long to hear.
I want to specially help children realize that they are worth something no matter what society tells them, they can do something. As Jack Ma puts it, “It’s what you do after office hours that’s going to change your life.”
Since everybody is quoting great people every time they tell a story, let us end this one with the saying of another great personality who is my personal favourite, J.K Rowling.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all- in which case, you fail by default.”
“I have been average at a lot of things. Average at studies, badminton, cricket, table tennis, lawn tennis, etc.”
A large portion of our 7.2 billion world population is average. So, on a scale of 0-100, most of us lie are in the middle. Is that defeat? I don’t know, but what I do know is that it is that being the jack of all trades doesn’t mean you can’t master any. This one isn’t a mathematical equation and you needn’t balance it.
“If players are being picked to represent a kabbadi team, I’ll make it to the team but I won’t stand out as a performer. For some reason, maybe I am not that good a player. That’s the curse, isn’t it? Making it to the team but not being good enough.”
Yash Shah, who was brought up in a nuclear family, with his father a businessman and mother a homemaker. Early on in the childhood, he was exposed to a lot of options.
“My pre-high school was at Amrit Jyoti. I think that has contributed to help me get where I am today. They had 18 co-curricular activities apart from major subjects. Things that I didn’t know were taught at school.”
He entered NIT-Surat & picked up Mechanical engineering following the herd as a sheep. His average skills got him accolades and publishing papers. Mentioning Abhishek, his close friend since his school, he says,
“We participated in a lot of competitions together. This one competition at my college won us an internship at IIM Ahmedabad, under professor Anil Gupta.”
The moment he mentions the name of the professor, I know about his experience. They worked on different projects, including designing a platform for GTU students. The relationship with Prof. Anil Gupta went even after the internship. They got exposed to the disruptive ideas of the start-up environment. This wasn’t ‘Aaha!’ moment that got them to initiate a start-up of their own.
Yash and Abhishek used to participate in a lot of Business plan competitions as a hobby. They even have a patent filed in their name. Yash and Abhishek met Anupama at CIIE during a Hackathon where Anupama presented an idea and both of them joined up with her to work on the same. All of them graduated and moved on with their average work-a-day jobs.
“I got a job in a bank in Mumbai. But still all of us were working on projects together, but now instead we thought of working for clients providing them services as such. Over a period of 5-6 months we figured we were using multiple tools for communication.”
That is when they thought if three people since such a long time are facing this then probably, other established companies also face this. They did their basic research and collated the results.
“Instead of building a specific functionality for a generic user-base, we’re building generic functionality for a specific user-base.”
They have a 12,000 user base, but none of their customers asked them what is so different about them than other platforms. So, Yash out of curiosity went to one of his old customers as to why they weren’t questioning how they were better.
“One of my old customers told me that as a business person all they cared about, was saving their time and money. But there are a lot of competitors, and I look at it in this way, ‘It’s a fairly interesting problem to solve and I’m not going to get bored anytime soon’.”
The average boy from Amrit Jyoti has a come a long way. I asked him about his happiest memory with Gridle and he reminisces about the bitter-sweet moment that made him feel, “It was all worth it”.
“We were pretty small then, and one day our server went down for an hour and half on a Wednesday. I was sleeping after pulling an all-nighter and I started receiving calls from people and of course that shouldn’t have happened. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad, but our absence was noted.”
Gridle has received investment and is a profit making company now, but initially, when they started, Yash tells me they decided not to take money from their parents or put in their own individual money either.
“Previously we had participated in Bplan competitions as a hobby. So, again we participated in 13 Bplan competitions and stood in top 3 in nine of them. That itself gave us an initial corpus of 4.5 Lakhs.”
Nearing the end, I asked him if he wanted to leave Ahmedabad to which he says,
“Although I am a huge fan of being worst of the best, because there is a lot of space to learn. There are few SaaS companies here, but we’ve decided we won’t move out of Ahmedabad, because if we do, nothing will change. There are a lot of efforts by incubators and government to make the ecosystem feasible to work here. We’ll do our bit by staying.”
हमको अँग्रेज़ी नही आती, अगर इंटरव्यू करिएगा तो हिन्दी में करिएगा
(I don’t know English. If you want to interview me, interview me in Hindi)
That’s Pooja for you . Unafraid and undeterred. Coming from a village near Deoria, 26 year old Pooja has set up her business of handicrafts back home, employing over 50 women of her village. When we had this conversation, Pooja had just returned after pitching her business to a panel of investors.
I remember my first startup pitch presentation at an event in Goa. The jitters of doing something for the first time, surrounded by a bunch of smart B-schoolers, minus existence of “B” words in my vocabulary— it was scary. In lunch breaks, the guys talked about valuations, FMAs, Hockey Stick, Sweat Equity. And about convertible notes. And financial projections. Insert some more fancy English words. I panicked. I couldn’t comprehend. At one point, I wanted to run away, enjoy Goa and get back home. I thought my startup idea was about telling stories, I mumbled to my friend on a ‘cheer-me-up-right-now’ phone call.
The reason why I began the article with Pooja’s language preference verbatim, is because I hardly hear such disclaimers. Because I hardly have had the balls to give such disclaimers. Of telling the other person, ‘Hold on, I don’t get these words. Can we talk in a language which both of us can understand?’
We are a country which hails of its diverse culture and language background, how we live in harmony despite the diversity. There are 1652 recognised languages spoken in India, a simple google search told me that, but my point is, “Is language the reason we won’t be successful?”. Take a second, ask yourself these questions: Can you create something? Do you know what are factors that your customers need, in what you’ve created? Can you sell? Can you understand your customer’s emotions, their grievances ? Well, you deserve a pat on your back. In neither of these questions did we face the problem of language. But we will when we reach out to customers who do not understand our dialect. But that is a part which can be taken care of. Either you can learn their language or you can have someone who knows both (Using jargon this person can be called a “translator”) Voila!
Indian startup ecosystem is buzzing with new ideas and vibrant energy. Thanks to increasing digital penetration and PM’s Startup India plan, people across lengths and breadth of India are taking the plunge to solve problems that most of us chose to settle with. Emerging startups from smaller towns and villages, they say, are bringing simple yet fundamental solutions.
“I think startups from smaller cities and villages have more matter in them because they experience problems first hand. Food-delivery is not a problem for them, availability of food is. Innovation in agriculture, edu-tech, healthcare, etc. is made considering limitation of resources. We can’t afford to lose out on these brains, just because they can’t pitch in English,” says Vivek Satya Mitram, founder of AdviceAdda.
“Coming from a media background, I believe it must be a media’s prerogative to create good, educative content in Hindi. How do you explain ‘traction’ in Hindi? Merely translations don’t help. Entrepreneurs coming from tier 2 and 3 cities aren’t usually acquainted with English and the ecosystem that it is now, de-motivates them. On Hindi Diwas, I think we, as a startup community should pledge to embrace people speaking languages other than English.”
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela couldn’t have put it better. Though we are promoting education in English, we discard those who have already been brought up in a certain environment and no one can understand the need of their people better than they do. So, as it turns out, it might be beneficial to learn a dialect and understand our culture once in awhile if we want to see some progress.
Aditi, co-founder of EngineerBabu, is from Indore. She tells me how she doesn’t know ‘convent like English’. Aditi and her team recently raised their first round of funding from Scale Ventures, after bootstrapping their company for over 2 years, building a team of 47. She shares,
“I’ve often had instances when I felt hesitant at networking events, where everyone would speak and preach in English. Not that I can’t speak English, just that I wasn’t raised in that sort of an environment. It is not a language I am comfortable with. Over time, I realised that it is not about English or Hindi, it is about communicating your vision and plan in a right way.”
“I’ve been travelling across tier 2 and 3 cities for last few months, and I have personally tried to understand problems faced by some of the best brains. Language certainly is one of them. Keeping these problems in mind, we initiated The India Network, that intends to connect budding entrepreneurs from these cities, providing them the right connect, funding and giving them the recognition they deserve — irrespective of the language the team speaks or works in. If the idea is great and the team proves itself with the execution, we are good to go!”
Do you remember how Amitabh Bachchan opened the Cannes Film Festival 2013 in Hindi, his mother tongue. And Mr. Modi’s speeches in different countries, including at the UN? If they can do it amongst people who are impervious to the language, can’t we give it a try?
And well, we’ll take a liberty to tell you that Pooja is flying to Germany to learn about art forms and entrepreneurship, if that serves you some inspiration 🙂
Do you remember your first flight? The anxious feeling of clouds passing beneath you, watching the sunrise from up above, or looking down to earth with houses smaller than ants! It’s a high in itself, the feat of flight, overcoming the non-intrinsic ability to fly. Saumya Gupta, a girl who turned her flight around mid-air and landed to score ten-on-ten, when all else failed.
This bride-to-be was raised to believe that there was nothing she couldn’t do.
“I was raised like a boy; not a girl. I remember my mom telling me time and again- ‘there is nothing you can’t do that a man can!’”
She was fascinated with airplanes since she was a kid, decided to become a commercial pilot and got the license for the same in 2007.
“As a child, I was always fascinated by airplanes. In fact, my nursery interview was with an airplane in my hand!”
Even after achieving her dreams of being a commercial pilot, she did not get to live her dreams. Due to the prevailing recession of 2007, she did not get a job.
“We had already spent Rs. 60 Lacs on my pilot training. I was just 20 then. I remember going for interviews and authorities telling, ‘Everything is okay, but how do we give responsibility of so many people to a 20-year-old?’ Some suggested I train further to fly Boeing and Airbus, but that’d mean additional 20-25 lacs with no guarantee of a job.”
Clueless, Saumya took up a job at a call centre that paid her a meagre Rs. 20,000.
“Though I was a professional pilot, on paper I was just a 12th pass, technically. I couldn’t really have any other decent job. Working at call centre didn’t just feel right. On day 1, I knew I wouldn’t last here for too long.”
Frustrated, Saumya’s next stint was working as a gym instructor at a gym where her mother would train.
“I was put at the reception and had to wear makeup all day. Back then, I couldn’t even apply mascara properly.”
When nothing seemed to work out, Saumya’s parents suggested her to pursue a formal degree in Commerce. Which she did.
“I enrolled in a regular B.Com course in a college in Mumbai. I wasn’t from a Commerce background, so I hardly understood anything! I began taking coaching classes to cover-up the concepts. I remember, I’d always confuse between debit and credit, and everyone in the class would laugh at me. Eventually, the teacher asked my parents to cease my training. It wasn’t going anywhere.”
At this point, Saumya had no idea about her future. One day, when she completely broke down, she went up to her mother and proposed the idea of exporting designer wear and selling them.
“Har jagah hath per toh maar hi rahi thi, socha kapde hi bech ke thoda time-pass karlu (I was any way trying every possible thing, so I thought why not try selling clothes”. I wanted to rotate the money, and I knew more will come in”, she says.
She bought around 30 garments of high-fashion brands like Roberto Cavalli and Gautier from an exporter and invited her friends and family home for buying them.
“We texted all our friends in Mumbai to come for this small exhibition at home. Most came before the day of the exhibition since everyone wanted a first hand on branded items. We were sold out 24 hours before the exhibition day!”
30 became 45 and then 80. This mother-daughter duo would ensure they are sold-out every time they’d exhibit.
“This wasn’t financially profitable, though. So, I continued to take calls in the call centre to pump capital into the garment line I was creating with my extremely supportive mother.”
Her mother, Ritu Gupta, who is also a co-founder and heads the designing for Ten-On-Ten, showed her the Fashion & You Ads on Facebook. This is where they got the idea of going online.
“We wrote an email to Mr. Rahul Narvekar, the famous Indian e-commerce entrepreneur, and then the founder CEO of Indianroots- an NDTV Ethnic Retail Venture. We didn’t have a registered company, TIN or PAN. I made it clear in the email. A day later, I received a positive reply from his side. This marked our first step towards online retailing. It was a hit, we were out-of-stock on the same day and since then, we never looked back!”
Going online though wasn’t as easy as she puts it above. She shares,
“We were stupid! We had no idea about selling things online. I was asked to get pictures of our clothes on models, and post them online with a description. My mom and I sat all night to write 3 page long descriptions and next day this lady at Fashion and You scraped everything off into a 3 liner!”, she says bursting into laughter.
Too broke to afford models and photographers, Saumya did what most early-stage entrepreneurs end up doing – Jugaad.
“We got hold of some budding photographers and good-looking friends of friends who wanted to build their portfolios. The models would do their own makeup because we couldn’t even afford makeup artists. Sometimes in exchange, we’d give them the dress they shot for at no cost.”
Saumya knew that she needed an edge over her competitors and she also knew what a Ten on Ten client would be like. So, she started with her own manufacturing unit.
“We took a while to gather machinery. Bought second-hand machinery; one machinery a month, sometimes one in two months, depending on how much money was available.”
When I asked her what challenges she faced in her entrepreneurial journey, she said,
“We have bootstrapped since the beginning, and that is very challenging when you are surrounded by Series As and Bs. Apart from this, I didn’t have any knowledge of the manufacturing area. It was all new. I even had to learn MS Excel from the team of Fashion & You. But I learned by burning hands time & again in wrong decisions. Things took longer than what they should ideally, but that was a part of my learning phase.”
The success of this hardworking and perseverant entrepreneur can be found in the popularity of the brand name of Ten-On-Ten.
“We moved from a parking garage to an office, from 1 office we moved to 4, we have won many accolades. We knew the path we had chosen was correct. We are growing. Today we are retailing over 13,000 garments pieces per month and are top sellers in major marketplaces. Soon, we were clocking a very good revenue too!”
The best part is that they achieved all this without taking any loans!
“It was all hard work. This company was built from the scratch by saving every bit that we earned in profits.”
She has achieved a lot since Ten-On-Ten started its operations in August 2009.
“I think winning the award from Kunal Bahl for contributing to his Snapdeal’s success & being awarded as India’s top 100 retail professionals was one of the biggest achievements for us.”
As I draw to a close writing about her achievements, about her struggles, I recollect Christopher Walken’s words behind a podium,
“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”