When I was in college, our team won a business plan and the judges – Ajay and Rishav (the founders of Moshi Moshi) gave us a band that said, “ENTREPRENEUR.” I wore that band for many months like a badge of honour, seeking the adventure of real entrepreneurship in the years to come.
I’m not sure if this is an appropriate time to share the incident I will be sharing today, given that this particular story is not over yet. But maybe this blog post will be in two parts – one of how we got the order and then of how we executed it.
We used to have 3 parts to our revenue – corporate sales, retail sales and workshops till COVID happened. Given that everyone changed to a WFH model, suddenly – our corporate sales were dead. Usually, I am on the road meeting potential clients throughout the year. I ask for references, meet HR managers and make a lot of friends in different offices to get us orders for their celebrations.
I’m not naturally an extrovert, but sales has taught me how to be one. I can now confidently engage in conversations with strangers, even throw in a joke or two and strive to impress the other person enough to trust us as a celebration partner. Once, I even randomly started talking to the person beside me in an airplane about Dream a Dozen – a thought which I could not have fathomed 3 years ago.
Anyhow, COVID did not allow me to use these skills. Combined with this, during the lockdown – our kitchen staff was at home and I still wanted them to be able to earn a salary. I tried a bunch of different things, we did piping practice for hours together on video call, we did baking quizzes with different topics everyday and we categorized our thousands of cake photos under relevant folders so it would be easy for us later on.
One of our team members doesn’t own a laptop and has a limited education. I couldn’t come up with anything for her to do, but I didn’t want to give her a salary without doing any work. That’s when my mom gave me an idea. I asked her to download Linkedin and log in to my account, and taught her how to filter to “HRs” in Bangalore and start sending requests. She just had to send hundreds of requests, and I also taught her how to use an excel sheet and make a database of accepted connections using her phone.
Now as Diwali approached closer, I started sending messages to these connections. I sent over 1,300 messages over 4 days. The conversion rate on cold messages is extremely low – so I did not have too much hope. Some people replied with their email id and I shared our catalogue.
One of the facilities managers replied back with his phone number and I immediately called him. After I put down the phone, I did the maths and it blew my mind. This is more than we had ever done before. Just the fact that we had received this query made me stop to take a deep breath. To my surprise, he connected me to his admin and she called me the next day – their requirement was rather customized and it would definitely be a task for us to execute. We would have to coordinate with multiple vendors whom we hadn’t worked with before and pay them large sums of advance much before we would get the payment from the client.
For a second, I was not sure if I wanted to take up the order. We’re a small business and we haven’t dipped into our savings beyond our working capital to fulfil an order before. I called them again to request for an advance to confirm – but they wouldn’t budge. It’s a multinational company with their own protocols. The person that I was in touch with said if he mentioned to the finance team that they would have to pay an advance; they’d ask why they were dealing with a small company. At the back of my mind, I knew he was right. And moreover, when I spoke to him, I knew he wanted to encourage a young and growing business. We hadn’t received the confirmation yet – but I knew we had the order.
They needed candles, face masks, diyas and a few other things as part of their hamper. I started calling people who manufacture these items. The quantity of the order is 375 units, so this would be a big order for most people. I knew I was now in a position to give business to smaller, women run businesses – and that is exactly what I wanted to do.
I found an NGO that supports a self-help group of women that also started making masks called Vanithe. I also found a new entrepreneur – Vaishnavi who makes soy wax candles and runs a business called Earthen Puppy. She tells me these are eco-friendly, which made me realize that normal candles are not eco-friendly. When we put out a story on Instagram asking for candle makers, she was the only one to immediately call me and check on what we’d need. Everyone else DMd us or sent references, but I love people with an extra hustle and I knew if I got the order I wanted to give it to her.
The reason I love this order is not just because it’s my biggest order, but it is also Vaishnavi’s biggest order and the NGO’s biggest order. This money is going to support many girls’ dreams and that makes me happy.
Two days ago, the company asked me to register myself as a vendor. I also had to send a dummy invoice, my MSME certificate and sign an NDA. Once all the paperwork was done, the admin sent me a mail confirming that we can go ahead.
I know that the story does not end here, I know things may go wrong and I will be in a firefighting mode till the execution of this order. There will be some problems that I can anticipate and some that I cannot. But this is the adventure that I was seeking while I wore that “Entrepreneur band” with so much pride. Now the time has come to buckle up and get ready for this roller coaster. Wish us luck.