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MBA who dared to be different.

I joined the MBA with an open mind – to do either business or service. I have a family business background (textiles).

How it all began:
I entered several b plan contests while at SCMHRD. It started with the ITC Mera Gaon Mera Desh contest. We had to develop strategies for ITC products. I chose Mangaldeep agarbattis and prepared a business plan where the company could expand into branded puja items like branded roli, branded haldi etc. That’s how I got into religious products. I was in my first year at SCMHRD then.

The plan did not click with ITC. But I went ahead and participated in Zee TV’s Business Baazigar. I won the ‘mini Baazigar title, incidentally. In my 2nd year I entered many business plan contests and won several – notable among them IIM Lucknow, TAPMI, IIT KGP, IIM Calcutta. I refined my idea – from branded puja items to puja item outlets (like Archies) but in my heart I knew neither concept would work.

Finally, in the last 8 months I arrived at the idea of ‘puja kits’. With the Rs 50,000 Zee TV gave me I researched the idea and created a designer puja kit. The idea was a puja kit as ‘gifting’ item – for corporates and export market. For bulk orders I decided to offer customised logo printing as well.

However I did take my placement. I got into 2 companies – ICICI Prudential and Essar. After placement I took part in 6 b plan contests and won 5 of them. That boosted my confidence but gave me a dilemma. Was it to be the job or my business? I was to join ICICI Pru on 11th May 2006. On 7th May I sent them an email declining the offer.

Thus ‘Sacred Moments’ was born.

Nuts and bolts:
I calculated that I needed Rs 3-4 lakhs to start Of that I had 2 lakhs with me, from all the b plan contests I had won. The rest I borrowed from family/ friends.

I consulted 3-4 pandits before finalising the product. Each kit has 32 items used in the Diwali puja, including murti, haldi, roli, honey and even gangajal. There is a vidhi booklet also, which tells you how to go about the puja.

I made samples which I displayed at the Giftex exhibition in Mumbai between August 3rd and 7th 2006. I got a really good response. In fact the puja kit received the ‘best new product’ award. I was sure that I was onto something big. However, I got mainly enquiries and not actual bookings. But I made the bold decision of manufacturing 12,000 kits. The kits were prepared on a job work basis, the assembly of items was also outsourced. I used my dad’s old office in Masjid Bunder as a base which was very close to all my suppliers.

Of course the orders got confirmed slowly. I secured clients like TOI, AV Birla group, Link pens etc. People bought the kits for both personal gifting and corporate gifting. In the run up to Diwali the kit (which sold under the brand name ‘Blessingz’) was stocked at Asiatic and Akbarallys. Contacts also helped. My alma mater – the Symbiosis society – itself took some kits.

I sold 10,000 kits by Diwali. Strangely enough I got around 500 orders even after Diwali. A Punjabi family, for example, gave it to all their baraatis as a gift! Others bought the kit to present after ‘Bhaagwat katha’. IMT Nagpur gave it to delegates at a conference on their campus.

The gross revenues were Rs 35 lakhs (Rs 350 per kit). After Diwali I took a 3 month break because first my sister got married and then I got married. In the new year I went back and started fulfilling demand export orders.

This year I have expanded production and shifted it to Ahmedabad which is much cheaper. Yes this means I constantly make trips up and down but one good thing is the items I am packing are not very high value, so I don’t have to worry about pilferage. I also have a godown now in Mumbai.

I have plans to launch a ‘grih pravesh puja kit’ and a ‘vehicle puja kit’ also.

Lessons and Learnings:
How did I manage the cash flows? Well export orders were booked on cash basis. Luckily my suppliers gave me credit. I also worked against advances from corporate orders.

I did borrow Rs 25,000 from 5-6 friends just before Diwali to tide over the cash crisis. I repaid them soon after.

How did my MBA help in the project? Well I was condident of overcoming hurdles. A small example: I needed a 20 gm sachet of ghee. Everyone told me it’s not available in Mumbai. They said forget about providing ghee but that did not seem right. So I searched on the net and finally found someone in Tirupur who is packing 20 gm ghee sachets, although for hotel parcel service.

The MBA gave me optimism as well as techniques to work around problems.

Then there are small details. Like knowing people face certain problems during puja. How do you keep the photo of the God upright? We provided a small photo stand. Then, I wanted to give a silver coin but that was uneconomical so we gave a silver ‘durva’.

I think the most crucial decision was to go ahead and manufacture 12,000 kits without having a single firm order. I sold 4000 kits in the last one week before Diwali. If I did not have the kits ready I would have missed that business.

In future I also plan to launch a range of lower priced kits (Rs 200) for the retail mass market under a different brand name (Bhakti). It will have a different design and also less items. I plan to sell 50,000 kits in all this year (2007).

There has been demand to expand to ‘other religions’ as well. There are many many options (Baisakhi, Holi, think of all the other Indian festivals!). Basically it’s a fragmented and unorganised market.

Currently I am handling the business with 2 staff members. When I started I had asked two of my friends if they wanted to join but they didn’t. Now I have a sleeping partner who invests but does not participate in running the business.

Was it worth it?
Yes there is a lot of job satisfaction and I made as much as I would have earned in a job. I made about Rs 5 lakhs for myself in the first year. Year 1 was a learning experience, my production was not so efficient so I had higher overheads.

I did take small risks all along. Like when one my exams at SCMHRD was clashing with a business plan contest I ditched the exam 🙂 My marketing professor Shivram Apte had rejected the business idea totally. We had a lot of argument over it back then. Today, of course, he says he’s very glad he was wrong!

I’m 27 and recently I was invited to give a ‘guest lecturer on entrepreneurship’. It felt really good!.

What struck me about Prakash: It appears that Prakash achieved ‘instant success’. After all a turnover of Rs 35 lakhs in your first 6 months of business is not a joke!

The point to note is that Prakash actually spent 2 years refining his initial
product idea using the business plan contest platform (both Business Baazigar and the bschool circuit)

That’s a route other budding bschool entrepreneurs should consider.

I also think the way Prakash managed his cashflows is worth looking at. You don’t need a venture fund to come finance you. Think out of the box.

Lastly, I like his ‘no compromise with the product’ philosophy. He went the extra mile to produce a puja kit which married utility with beauty. And did not cut corners.

It will be interesting to see how Sacred Moments scales up further. But I certainly think it can and will go places!

Interviewed by
Rashmi Bansal

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