Eight years ago, Anand Prakash, an economics graduate from Delhi University, created a sample card for Rs 100. "It was immediately rejected," laughs the businessman whose turnover this year is slated to be Rs 75 lakh. "I look at a hundred per cent turnover," he grins, "and we've always managed it."
His office in Delhi's busy Shahpurjat area is a riot of colours and handmade paper products. "My next idea is to create spice paper like, say, crushed cinnamon mixed with paper," says the designer-entrepreneur who was recently shortlisted for the young Indian British Council award.
Greeting cards may be an anomaly in today's times but "my forte" insists Prakash "is anything and everything related to paper". It started with greeting cards, but soon Prakash realised that he needed to diversify. So there are paper bags, journals, recipe books, scrapbooks and photo albums created in various materials including a combination of handmade paper and brass.
Though greeting cards are just one among 75 different products, with a thousand-odd designs they remain his favourites. "I treat greeting cards as the canvas on which I unleash my creativity," he laughs. Boutique stores like Full Circle, Handpaper World, Temple Tree and Either Or stock Prakash'z Creations, now also being exported to the US, Europe, UK, Singapore and Spain. "I've always got 100 per cent advance for my work," he claims.
As a business model, Prakash's greeting cards business has blossomed into a unique initiative involving the local population in his native Jharkhand. "Daltongunj is one of the poorest districts of the country. But it has a rich source of natural materials that I can use in my work and, hopefully by the end of this year, we would have trained at least 30 people to work for us," says Prakash, adding that his handmade paper business has eclipsed the family's aluminum business.
She'll charge you for suggesting a makeover
Whoever said youth was wasted on the young probably did not know people like 28-year old Varsha Bhawnani, an image and wardrobe consultant and garment exporter. Bhawnani is one of the very who can boast of earning a living by consulting people on what to wear. "This is just the beginning for me," says Bhawnani, who has six women clients "who needed consultation on image transformation and a wardrobe change".
She might have been inspired by shows like Oprah or The Tyra Banks Show but Bhawnani is leaving no stone unturned to turn it into a serious business. "As an image consultant and stylist, I not only put together a new wardrobe for my clients but also suggest hairstyles and makeup to alter their image," she lists. People pay for this? "They do," she laughs, "or else I wouldn't be doing this."
This also includes advising on and overseeing everything from what they say to how they sit in public. "I keep my own list of hairstylists, designers, makeup artistes, fitness trainers and dentists to help my clients," she says. The ISB graduate's retail foray came about as a result of her consulting. Already, she has a flagship store in Mumbai and is hopeful of "a store in Delhi this year, and later in Dubai". The stores will offer wardrobe consultation as part of the service.
Bhawnani threw up her job with a private equity firm when "it became clear to me that I could not work for anyone". Although food interested her, she started off in a less capital-intensive industry: exporting clothes. She started Vinegar Exports with exactly what she did not want to do - bulk orders. "I began with five machines for orders that barely needed any designing. Today I have 100 machines and six freelance designers who conceptualise high fashion clothing for export to the US, Spain, Russia and the Dominican Republic," she says.
Her turnover this year? Rs 6 crore, and counting.
She's made a career out of surprising people
Ruchi Chopra, 24, could just as well be in the movies. Sitting in her Hauz Khas barsati, the first generation entrepreneur laughs at the suggestion. A graduate of the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chopra worked for a couple of years in a clothing company before venturing out to do her own thing which had very little to do with either brands or clothes or even fashion. What she does is "surprise others" with her company, Any Surprise, Any Place, or ASAP as it's now getting to be known.
In other words, she customises everything - from soap bars to greeting cards to linen, rugs, candle-holders, golf accessories, lamps, balloons, travel kits, cocktail shakers, even coffee table books The idea struck Chopra when a friend she was talking to remarked that she felt like having a pizza. "I surprised her by getting a pizza delivered to her," she chortles. That was the germ of a business opportunity, and what started as a Rs 50,000 venture ("I needed to register my name, get the website in place (asap.co.in), do a lot of research") has a turnover of Rs 20 lakh in less than two years.
The choppy waters of the markets notwithstanding, young Indians are spending willingly and happily. "People have the spending power but ironically they lack time, and that's where ASAP steps in," smiles Chopra, who says the only downside is that she has to be available 24x7 for her clients. "Some ladies call me six times in less than an hour," she admits, but with 670 clients and 30-odd vendors, this bubbly, young businesswoman says she oughtn't to be complaining.
"I do watch films, shop around, but even there my mind is thinking up new ideas, new designs," she says. Her clients spend anywhere from Rs 5,000 to a great deal more. Her most expensive (Rs 1.6 lakh) surprise package involved organising a two-day stay for a couple at a farmhouse in Mehrauli complete with personalised bath-and-bed linen, stationery, travel packs, a chef to cook their favourite cuisine, a ride on a hot air balloon with a banner announcing "Happy Birthday", a limo service, a customised cigarette holder, even a personalised newspaper.
"I specialise in personalising everything, and though we can plan parties, I don't qualify as a 'tent-rent' person," clarifies Chopra, who says that increasingly corporate houses and MNCs are showing interest in her work.
Have you put on your running shoes yet?
What makes a 47-year-old, high up on the corporate ladder, decide to chuck it all and start - of all things - a venture premised on getting Indians to run? Passion, an instinct to gamble, or just self-belief?
Rahul Verghese, IIM-graduate, ex-Levers, ex-Nestle, was posted in Chicago managing Motorola's global market research cell of the mobile phone business, when he got running. "The first winter, it was really cold, so I bought a treadmill. I ran my first marathon in October 2001 and set myself the goal of running 50 marathons in my lifetime."
Back in India, Gurgaon, two years ago, Verghese found there was nothing for runners like him, which was strange considering that Indians were "well known for their unhealthy lifestyles".
The next thought, "It would be good to start people off on running here," was a logical step and Verghese started with a website, www.runningandliving.com. Initially, it was a hobby, says Verghese, but on August 15 last year he decided to take the plunge, full time.
He had no clear business plan, only a "modest" goal - to get 200 million people in India to start running, not just once a year in Mumbai or Delhi, but regularly and in their neighbourhood. From his long experience in marketing, Verghese realised that running events are participative and would provide sponsors with a wonderful opportunity to engage with target audiences.
The business, into which Verghese has put in Rs 25 lakh of his own (not to speak of the opportunity cost of going without his salary), also includes a line of "world-class but affordable" running gear - shorts, headbands, socks and the like - and running workshops with corporates on how to get the best out of individuals and build high-performance teams.
He's already done four of these, and a few more are "hotting up". Verghese has also started a "fun run" in Gurgaon where, on a Sunday, people come together to run around 5 km, picking litter and garbage along the way. Two have been held, quite successfully as it turned out, with 135 and 200 people turning up. "For the next, on August 10, we're targeting 500," says Verghese.
"Basically," he says, "there's a phenomenal opportunity here. And it's already started with Standard Chartered and others coming up with marathons." Even so, the venture's still a far way from paying off. "I've given myself a year to make it work, Verghese says.
He does special effects for movies
At 29, Gaurav Gupta has a remarkable resume up his sleeves. He steers the year-old post production outfit FutureWorks without worrying about competition. "We have a great working relationship with all producers, and even though we are a young team, FutureWorks is no novice," claims Gupta.
With a degree in economics from the University of Michigan, Gupta came to Mumbai with one focus - he wanted to start a business of his own. "I rounded up a team of 60 technicians and launched FutureWorks." That was in 2007, and he began with subtitling, sound mixing and rendering visual effects for films.
Awarapan was FutureWorks's first big break. Gupta recalls, "We had to get the film ready in 15 days when the film's editor was unable to put together the edited version at the film studio." Gupta shifted the editing equipment to another office and persuaded the editor to finish editing it there so he could "add the visual effects and package the film's visuals for release".
While he intends to be the "finishing studio" for films, the young businessman is also striving to make his post production company a brand to reckon with. "Arindham Mitra has roped us for doing pre-visualisation and colour effects besides other technical corrections for 10 films for Pritish Nandy Communications. We are also working with studios like Disney and Paramount to release their films in India in regional languages," rattles off Gupta.
Currently, Gupta is getting ready to give the Abhishek Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra-starrer Drona its breathtaking visuals. For instance, his team will be working on screen formats to make the metallic components of the hero's costume look more brilliant on screen and add special effects in the action sequences. Drona, touted to be India's largest visual effects film to date, is vital for FutureWorks and yes, Gupta's future.
He personalises meals for your pets
There are presumably people somewhere who manufacture, perhaps even taste the processed foods meant for the consumption of our pets. But have you heard of anyone who creates "gourmet dog food" especially for your pooch?
Wasiff Khan, 27, does. For someone who was unsure about his future, his epicurean meals for canines are available across Mumbai. "There are a lot of dog lovers in Mumbai," says Khan, who launched his company Home Food in 2004 with hardly any investment. "Though packaged pet food is available in plenty, there was no fresh food option which was available," says Khan, who has created a successful business out of serving fresh food to pets.
His doggie treats sell for between Rs 30-120 per helping, and he even organises birthdays complete with special dog cakes for his roster of 500 clients. The food is simple ("I spoke to many veterinarians for a special dog food mix with jowar, rice, corn, wheat, maize, raggi and a choice of meat and vegetables," he says) and the best part is that it's freshly cooked and delivered at your doorstep.
Happy pet owners, yes, but can you imagine the satisfaction he brings to his tail-thumping clients!
You can buy photograph prints from his website
Till last year, Ajay Rajgarhia was a garment exporter, but his mind was clearly not in the business. Driving from his factory in Noida to meetings in different parts of Delhi, he would pause - struck by a particular image on a street corner, or the play of light on the surface of a puddle - take his camera out (he always travelled with one) and invariably arrive late for appointments.
"Instead of reaching some place in one hour, I would reach in two," he chuckles. Having held an exhibition of his photographs shot mainly in Delhi ("because I had not travelled much till then"), he decided to plunge full-time into photography.
Today, you can no longer label Rajgarhia's dalliance with the lens a mere "pastime" - it is well on its way to becoming a worthwhile enterprise. While his own photographs may or may not appeal to your artistic sensibilities, his e-biz model - a website devoted to Indian photography with works by well-known and upcoming photographers - will surely interest collectors. The works of 30 photographers can be seen on http://www.wonderwall.co.in. These include works of Pradeep Dasgupta, Dinesh Khanna, Karan Khanna, Leena Kejriwal and Malkait Singh.
For the featured photographers, this is obviously a more convenient proposition than exhibiting in a real-time gallery. "Here, they just need to send in low resolution pictures," Rajgarhia points out.
For the entrepreneur himself, the risks - despite switching from a more conventional line of work - are few since there are no overheads. Which is why Rajgarhia shrugs off suggestions that he may have taken a huge gamble at the age of 40, with a family to support and no ancestral wealth, so to speak, by following his "hobby".
Wonderwall's USP is also that it is possibly the only such arty website where buyers have the option of paying online. Though, of course, "the art market being what it is, a lot of cash transactions take place," Rajgarhia admits. A lot of the buyers are corporate, but will this model work?
Rajgarhia is clear about that. "Interest in photography, unlike in art, is still nascent in India. So, of course, I can't compare my earnings from my garments factory with this, but I wanted to have the first-mover advantage in this market," he says. The rest, time will tell.
The juicy way to wealth, and health
When business runs in your blood, it should be easier to jumpstart your own revenue stream - right? Wrong. For 22-year-old Avinash Bharwani, convincing his dad to park some money to launch a health juice bar was more arduous than simply toeing the line in the family business.
"I started off with the family-owned computer hardware and networking institute chain," recollects Bharwani, "but on a trip abroad I became conscious of the fact that health juice bars, which were a common fixture in the West, weren't exploited in India." An alumnus of Mumbai's Jai Hind College, Bharwani started experimenting in his own kitchen with a selection of protein shakes and smoothies.
Figuring that health supplement juices for Indians had never really been marketed, Bharwani seeded his Has Juice Bar with an initial investment of Rs 25 lakh that went into acquiring state-of-the-art equipment from the US and special ingredients from Germany. "I found myself a retail store that was strategically located close to a couple of prominent gyms in Mumbai." And "I recovered my costs within a year," he asserts.
But it was a rocky year. The alien ingredients were costly, and paying a premium for a "healthy" glass of proteins or pulpy slush was novel for most customers. "It took several months and many free juice samples to get the taste right. We wanted our customers to realise that our protein shakes and smoothies were complete meals and not just a thirst-quenching source," reasons Bharwani.
Taking the health supplement concept a step ahead, Bharwani's juice bars have special recommendations for customers who have colds and coughs. "There are special fruits and herbs that can be blended into your protein shake to cure health disorders without spoiling the taste," explains this self-taught juice expert.
Busy fine-tuning his latest "express juice" model, Bharwani is now setting up kiosks inside five BPO organisations, and the franchisee model of expansion is working with 12 franchisees already signed up. "You will see company-owned juice bars in Pune and Nagpur by next month, and three more juice bars in Mumbai," he adds. Go drink to that.
Additional contribution with Anoothi Vishal, Gargi Gupta and Priyanka Joshi