Bangalore: Ajay Kiran could very well be a poster-boy student entrepreneur.
Unlike many youngsters striking out on their own, this 23-year-old founder of event management firm Rocket Events is suave, business-like, and has his marketing pitch down pat.
He has a far clearer view of his firm’s finances than some student start-ups that get into it as an afterthought. He talks about how he needs to integrate his supply chain better if he has to cut his costs.
Student start-ups are often known to look at their business from the supply side—being too focused on their own product and not on the market. Clearly, Kiran has moved on into realistic business considerations.
A large part of Kiran’s savvy can be attributed to his two-year association with the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN)’s eCell in his college, Mysore-based Maharaja Institute of Technology (MIT).
“NEN has been my backbone,” he says. Kiran is one of the 15 e-leaders at the cell, known as Force MIT, and as a part of this, he has organized several inter-collegiate fests and raised funds for the cell’s work.
Much before he started his firm, he had already got a taste of being in the field. Last February, he helped organize NEN’s entrepreneurship week for the whole of Karnataka state, bringing together many colleges. He organized games such as the 32-hour start-up and mock share markets.
It’s no surprise then that Kiran founded an event management firm in September. And he has been moving along at a fair clip. To date, he and his partners, Jeevan R., Avinash M.J. and Somanna T.P. have done 64 events in Mysore.
Also Read| Previous stories in this series
“Before we started, there wasn’t any such full-fledged event management company in Mysore,” says Kiran. There were multiple individual providers of event-related services who were known by word of mouth. Then there were sound system providers who would double up as disc jockeys at events in case their clients wanted. The services were piecemeal and no one did it under one umbrella with scales.
A sore point with Kiran was that every time Mysore needed event managers, firms such as Scorpio Events Management Pvt. Ltd from Bangalore would steal the show simply because there were no local companies.
Thence came the inspiration for Rocket Events. Named after the 2009 Hindi film Rocket Singh, the story of a go-getting salesman who will do anything to make his career turn around, Kiran’s firm has organized everything from birthday parties and corporate offsites to weddings. They have reported a revenue of Rs 4.5 lakh so far.
Log on to www.livemint.com for a live chat with the founders of Rocket Events at 4 pm on Monday
But there have been challenges, errors made and lessons learnt. Rocket Events didn’t make any money in their first few events, even losing money in some because they did not get their costing right. “We were working with an 8% margin,” says Kiran, “but after a while, we realized that everyone else in the industry was looking at nearly 30%.”
Kiran and his team then examined their costs more closely, and realized many of their vendors—tent house, sound system and balloon suppliers, painters and designers—were charging them at the same price they were charging their end-customers. So they negotiated with them to bring it down.
Now, Rocket Events and team plan to raise money through a bank loan so they can invest in their own sound system and vehicle. This round of fund-raising will also help with a concerted marketing push. Rocket Events wants to now advertise with newspaper pamphlets, autorickshaw banners and announcements, and so on.
As part of NEN’s assistance, Kiran has been through mentorship programmes with a couple of venture capitalists who have helped him write out his business plan, and generously picked holes in it.
Kiran recalls an incident at an event called BGyaan, conducted by Mysore’s National Institute of Events as a part of NEN’s activities, where he was to present his business model.
“I was hardly prepared for this. So I started telling them the whole story of the evolution of my business, because I didn’t know how else to go about it,” says Kiran. The judges told him he needed to do a lot more groundwork for a rigorous business plan. Kiran talks about going back and fine-tuning his plan, which is far more lucid now.
What lies ahead? Rocket Events is going to diversify into soft skills training. Kiran, who comes from an entrepreneurial family—his father owns a rental commercial complex, while his mother used to run the only women’s driving school in Mysore—will have to take on the reins of his family business.
But he is pretty sure this won’t clash with his work at Rocket Events. “Event management is a gateway into many other areas that fit well with my own family business.” He has thought it through. “I might open my own hotel with my father, and if that happens, we will have our own venue to conduct the events,” says Kiran.
Like most other student entrepreneurs, the four get their fair share of flak from their parents for their choice of profession. While Jeevan is a sales executive with Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Kiran, Avinash and Somanna are working full-time. It is tougher for Kiran and Avinash because they are also finishing their MBA degrees.
But Kiran is set on his ideas. “I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it took me 23 years to figure out it is going to be event management,” he says. “Now I am sure this is it.”
Named after the 2009 Hindi film ‘Rocket Singh’, the story of a go-getting salesman who will do anything to turn around his career
Product company or services or both Services
Number of founders and employees
Partners: Jeevan R., Avinash M.J. and Somanna T.P.
The next closest milestone they plan to accomplish
Diversify into soft skills training
Rocket Events was among the finalists of the NEN First Dot Student Startup Showcase