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.
“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.”
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