Start-up founders must learn the value of persistence
Bragpacker founder Manan Shah says be persistent, rely on your network of contacts, and define your business value early
Manan Shah and his wife were in Brazil in 2014 to watch the Fifa World Cup when they decided to add a few more days to their itinerary to travel across South America. “I was on a backpacking trip through a high-altitude, mountainous region of Bolivia when I became acutely aware of how over-packed and ill-equipped I was compared to Europeans,” Shah says. It was then that the 41-year-old struck upon the idea of launching a travel gear website.
He toyed with the idea till October 2015, when he had his second eureka moment. “I needed to differentiate my venture from other online stores selling travel gear. The idea of a rental model hit me out of nowhere,” he says. At that time, Shah was working as an associate director (corporate finance) at KPMG. He quit the company in December and six months later launched his start-up, Bragpacker, that lets you rent over 150 travel products—cameras, lenses, backpacks, suitcases and trekking gear—for less than 1% of their cost per day, with doorstep delivery and pick-up.
Business-wise:“As a former consultant, I had made business plans for a host of clients. Putting an implementation plan on paper was easy. Executing it was a tough ride,” says Shah. He recalls making nervous calls to vendors for meetings without even finalizing the brand name initially. “It was difficult to be taken seriously by anyone I spoke to with nothing concrete to show,” he says. What helped him through this period was persistence and belief in his concept. “I relied heavily on my network of friends and family for the first few tie-ups and launched in May 2016 with a basic website and a handful of products,” he says.
Another thing he learned quickly was that he needed to define a business model that would deliver value to the customer without relying on discounting. “E-commerce growth is driven by massive influx of capital. If capital dries up, you can go bust quickly. That’s why I knew early on that the discounting model would not work,” he says.
The learning curve: Be persistent, rely on your network of contacts, and define your business value early.
Personal shift: The move from employee to entrepreneur came with a whole new way of life. “The biggest difference is the structure provided by the life in a large institution. In a start-up, there is nobody to tell you what to do, there are no rules of the game,” he says. “I had to have a routine because without one, no work gets done.” Also needed was a lifestyle correction, which included taking more care while making spending decisions.
The learning curve:Create a routine and cut your spending
People management:Shah had to be creative when it came to building a team, especially while he was bootstrapping. Initially, he worked with interns by tapping into the alumni network of his B-school, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, and online internship platforms. He also used freelancers for website design, content generation, etc ., as it gave him greater flexibility. “The strangest thing about this approach has been that I have not met most of my first dozen hires face-to-face. Everything is done remotely over the phone, Google Drive and emails,” he adds.
The learning curve: Use technology, hire interns who believe in your business idea
Managing money:Shah put in all his savings, including his provident fund, into the venture. Since Bragpacker adds about 10-15 new products every month, cash flow is crucial. A direct consequence of this was that his wife, who had been working in a start-up, had to take up a job with Vodafone to keep things going. She also doubles up as a sounding board for Shah’s ideas.
After bootstrapping for two years, Bragpacker finally went in for one round of angel funding in December. “Being bootstrapped for the two years gave us enough time to prove our business model, improve our processes and show traction,” says Shah. Bragpacker, which currently operates in Mumbai, plans to expand its operations to more cities in the next 12 months, starting with Pune.
The learning curve: Rely on your family, expand if you have funding
The good, the bad, and the ugly: “Not having an office, colleagues, a business card of any value, not to mention a salary, is a very disorienting experience,” says Shah. He misses the team of specialists that a big organization hires to take care of supplementary tasks such as accounting. The good part about turning entrepreneur? He does not have to brave the dreaded Mumbai traffic anymore.
Executive to Entrepreneur is a series that looks at the lessons learnt by 9am-5pm employees who set up their own business. Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness