We all have ideas. But as I always say and believe, ideas are cheap. It is the execution that matters in taking things forward. This post is about how my life turned topsy-turvy for a month to execute an idea I had in mind for a long time and what I learned in this process.
It’s simple. From my experiences in life, I observed that people are strongly associated with 2 things — what we do, where we live.
Sometimes, we would like to show off our love. That’s the reason why an IITian takes the pride in wearing a t-shirt on his college. That’s the reason why someone who visits a cultural fest or an event gets a merchandise item related to that event. That’s the reason why tourists take away souvenirs from the places they visit.
There are a bunch of companies working on the ‘what we do’ category. So, I wanted to focus on the ‘places’ segment which is still largely unorganized and not so crowded in India. ‘I will make and sell merchandise on Hyderabad’ I decided.
“Which category should I target?” was the first question I asked myself. The following category of people would be most interested in buying products like this –
College Goers / Youth
People who moved to Hyderabad
People who worked or lived in Hyderabad for sometime and moved to a different place now
City residents who have a liking for their place
I talked to various people from these segments, mentors etc. and my brain started thinking.
Although the city sees a footfall of about 6.5 million tourists an year (which is unfortunately declining over the past 2 years because of the political unrest and bomb blasts in the state), dealing with tourists is something which needs more investment and manpower and time and most important – dealing with Government. So, I realized it’s out of my scope for the time being. People who moved to Hyderabad recently – It is difficult to get a database of such people and targeting them and the numbers will be less as well. People who moved from Hyderabad – It’s really difficult to target them, ship to them and accept payments. So, the easiest to start with is the general city crowd which also includes college goers. For the latter, college fests can be a good platform to make sales.
So, all is good. “How do I start? Where do I start?” was the next question.
“I am out of clothes. I need to buy new ones.” or “I will go shopping to buy new tshirts” – These are not really my target customers because the kind of products I sell are different. If you see them, you tend to think “ok, this looks good. Maybe I can have one.” Essentially, the idea was to take the market to the customer (something like a stall or kiosk) rather than the conventional customer coming to market (retail outlet).
And then suddenly, a good friend of mine invited me on Facebook to attend an event. I opened the page and read “ComicCon express Hyderabad”. To be honest, that’s the first time I came to know about Comic Con. I did some research on it and found out that it’s definitely going to be a crowd puller. I contacted ComicCon’s representative and bugged her with a ton of queries regarding setting up a stall there.
They promised about 25000 crowd in 2 days and when it came to the rent of the stall, our chat went something like this:
She: Which stall would you like to rent? We have 2×1, 3×1, 3×2, 4×2 blah blah…
I: The smallest one
She: It costs you Rs.15,000
She: + taxes
I: Oh ok
She: + we charge Rs.1500 for electricity
I: Ohh.. fine
She: + taxes on it
I: What?? ok.
She: Do you need racks for putting your items in the stall?
I: Obviously.. it’s not included in the rent?
She: No. Each rack costs Rs.600. How many do you need?
I: Hmmm.. fine.. Give me 3.
She: Ok, so it’s Rs. 1800
She: + taxes on the racks
Finally I paid close to 21k and signed off the deal.
At this time, I didn’t have a name for the company, not even a single design ready, no contacts of printers, not much money, nothing. But why did I pay to ComicCon with nothing in hand? Because I believe having an idea and storing it in mind forever is pointless. Execute and see the result. Nothing bad is gonna happen.
All I had was guts and 6 weeks time to setup a company!
What do I sell? Merchandise. What in merchandise? T-shirts. Why? They are easy to start with and I have some prior experience thanks to Shaastra and Saarang – the technical and cultural festivals of IIT Madras, the college I graduated from.
I began reading about Hyderabad on various papers, sites, blogs etc. and did brainstorming with friends. Being a designer myself, I didn’t take much time to do the digital versions of the t-shirts. I came up with about 10 designs and took help of another person – Manish who came up with 2-3 awesome designs. I finally picked up 5 best ones among the lot after taking feedback from about 20 people. We made Biryanibad, Be-it-Andhra-or-Telangana-I-love-Hyderabad, Proud-Cyberabadi, Irani-Chai-Osmania-Biscuits, Seedha-Jao-Biryani-Khao-Kiraaak-Raho tees which you can find on www.folktales.in/shop
So, tees are good. Is that all? Everybody sells tees. I should sell something else at my stall. Mugs? Key chains? Badges? May be. May be not. It then struck me – My seniors from Engineering Design department at IIT came up with an awesome product called “Tangle”. It’s a simple solution to prevent earphones from getting tangled. Watch this video to know more about it:
This is it. I am selling this. – I decided and immediately put up a mail to Alex, co-creator of Tangle. As we shared the IIT almamatter connection, things were pretty smooth and easy between us. IIT does really help sometimes!
For the tangles, I came up with 6 designs, most of them on Comics made specially for the event. I saw an art of batman in one of the most active and useful design groups I follow on Facebook – The Chennai Photoshop User Group and was very impressed with it. I contacted the artist and he was happy to sell it to me for a nominal price of $15. With dollar rate soaring at that time, I had to pay close to Rs.1000 but I knew that this art work is worth much more.
I didn’t have any problem with Tangles. Alex is a professional. He took care of everything from printing to delivering them to my address once I sent him the final designs and advance payment.
Who is gonna print the tees? I tried searching on sulekha, olx, justdial, quickr and posting on all fb groups for referrals to reliable printers. Got a ton of phone numbers and I started contacting one by one. Most of the printers are pretty bad to deal with. Finalizing a printer was unsurprisingly a herculean task. I finally zeroed in one guy, a tamilian working in Hyderabad who spoke to me well, liked the t-shirt designs and the concept and gave a reasonable quote. And he can take care of importing cloth or blank tees from Tirupur as well. So, I signed off the deal and paid a big amount to this guy. It was the biggest amount I have personally invested from my own hard earnings till date.
After a week or so, he called me to come and check out a sample t-shirt of each design. 4 out of the 5 – he did a pretty good job. But the other one, he got a slightly different shade of the base color. So, I again had to sit with him and change the color of the design since changing the whole bunch of tees was not possible or would eat away more money and more time. Overall, he did a good job. I loved the first set of tees.
Owing to the rules of ComicCon which asked the stall owners to use only eco-friendly stuff for packing, I asked the printer not to give me the polythene covers. He took this to his advantage and gave me bundles of the 400 t-shirts that I ordered tied up in 2 huge bags 10 days after placing the order.
It was a huge pain to bring them to our home – my warehouse for the tees. My mom did an invaluable job of folding all these tees and packing them neatly in boxes. All this efforts just because of me not ordering the polythene sheets.
Another rule ComicCon had was to use a cash memo or bill book. So, I had to order those as well. And business cards, of course. And I also ordered cute newspaper bags from Hyderabadgoesgreen.com Making an exhaustive list of all these expenses in a Google spreadsheet, I was shocked to see a number close to the first 6 digit number in the cell next to “Total”.
Prior to the event, I asked close friends and relatives to place an order on the ecommerce website which I built in a week using the tools I know. That helped me make some sales and kept the momentum going. My parents made the first bony by buying 4 t-shirts.
September 20th night – I was pretty excited and hardly slept. “I am gonna get rich this weekend”
Sailesh came to our home on 21st morning in his car, we packed the stuff and went to Hitex Exhibition Center, Madhapur. It took about an hour to decorate the stall and all was set. I could see that there were about 50+ stalls, most of them selling t-shirts. Lot of them took bigger stalls and stalls with better visibility. Some of them are well established already. Many of them were selling cartoons-based products as it was ComicCon. Tough competition. Fingers crossed.
Slowly, people started flowing in. I received a decent response on the first day and generated about Rs.14,000 and went home a happy and satisfied man.
I slept at Sailesh’s place that night with a hope to rock the second day as well. And the sales on Sunday exceeded expectations. They sky rocketed especially because there was some other event happening in another hall at Hitex and the crowds got exchanged. ComicCon lived up to its expectations and it would have witnessed about 20k crowd in 2 days. Just around 2 PM, I was sure I would have made more than twice the previous day’s collection. (Calculations later told me that I made around 35k on the second day!)
Sometime around 4:30 PM, there was so much crowd that people actually suffocated. Folktales stall at B14 position witnessed a giant wave of people during this time. I felt like a McDonalds’ stall owner in a rock show. Someone from the side asked me to give my chair for a minute as his mother was feeling drowsy. I did as I anyway had no time to sit. He gave back the chair after 5 minutes. And it was then I could see the biggest shock of my life.
Somebody stole my wallet. The wallet that contained a major part of my earnings. The wallet that contained my original Pan card, Driving License, 2 ATM cards and lot of valuable business cards and some jerk stole it.
In this 5 minutes gap, someone must have snatched my wallet from the back as there was room while we were speaking to the crowd. I hope he gets eaten by Louis some day. If you don’t know who Louis is and if you have a brave heart, follow the youtube channel “foodforlouis”.
Never in the wildest of my dreams had I imagined that all of this would end up in a police station. I entered a police station for the first time in my life. After running around Madhapur police station and mee-seva for 3 days, they issued a report saying that my wallet containing pan card and DL went missing. That marked the end of the pilot run for my Folktales idea.
- I suck at numbers. I should have ordered less t-shirts and more business cards.
- Money is not permanent. It can be stolen.
- Nobody follows the rules in an event. Apparently 90% of the stalls didn’t follow the eco-friendly rule put forward by ComicCon. Or the cash memos.
- While at a stall, invest in a cash box and roll out the money to friends/family every few hours. Don’t stuff it in a wallet.
- You should know everything in detail before you spend money. I ordered 150 newspaper bags to let people carry the t-shirts but it turned out to be a bad idea as ComicCon gave away free carry bags to all the people who came in.
- If you are in panic, you will make mistakes no matter what. The stupidest mistake I made: not making the same design in different colored t-shirts.
- You will learn a few things only when you get your hands dirty. I thought not accepting cards (since I don’t have a swipe machine) will not affect me much. It did. I couldn’t pull off at least 15 sales for this reason and 15 is really huge!
- The average size of people has increased. I should have ordered more XXL and less S and M.
- Don’t put your original cards in your wallet. Or at least use a service like myeasydocs.com
- I am a much better sales person than I thought.
- I really suck at numbers.
I once again take this opportunity to thank the following people in no particular order who selflessly offered their help and support throughout ComicCon – Sailesh Akella, Imran Parvez, Phani Raj, Yuvraj, Yasaswy M, Sumanth, Manoj Surya and Srujan. I would have cupped big time without you people.
Feeling sad for losing 20k? No, feeling happy that I and my startup got covered on 4 major newspapers. Check out: http://folktales.in/media/
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