An IIM Grad’s Journey From Being An Employee To Million Dollar Employer
A person touches extraordinary heights when they have a combitnation of three ‘Is’ in— innovation, intelligence, and information. Anyone who has command over these three aspects can look forward to start their own distinct journey. When Disha Singh realized her potential she founded Zouk Vegan Bags.
Born in Pune into a defence family, Disha lived across Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh during her school life. She studied from Pune, which was followed by a few years in a small town Varangaon, then from Jabalpur, and Nagpur. It was not very different from an ordinary middle class household in India. After completing STD 12, she went to Government College of Engineering, Jabalpur for a bachelors degree in Electronics and Communication. Disha then worked with Reliance Power for three years, following which she did her MBA from IIM Ahmedabad. This was a game changer in her life.
Disha joined a plush job in a healthcare start up immediately after her MBA. Here she learnt a lot about building a team and how to design a solid roadmap for business. It also helped her pay her student loan. She also came to understand that media claims India is at the heart of a global entrepreneurial wave. However, convincing her parents that their daughter should start up, within the safety net of a great MBA degree, was the toughest sell she had to make till now.
Around a year into her job she took an informed decision to leave her employer and start Zouk, a contemporary Indian accessories brand for millennial. Like every young entrepreneur, laying out the plan on an excel sheet and PowerPoint side was the easy bit, the tough part was to execute it. While she had a natural flair for designing products and had worked with two NIFT interns to develop her range, manufacturing was a different ball game all together. Also, it was a male-dominated field that posed several problems for her.
Along with a batch mate, she diligently searched across India to find the best place to set up her production facility, and to her pleasant surprise, she found the most skilled workers in Dharavi, Mumbai. This was again a tough thing to convey to her parents because she knew that their concerns were valid. She, somehow, coaxed them to let her take this chance and even got her father to inaugurate the shop.
Meanwhile, concerns of her parents were not the only roadblock. She faced major setbacks when it came to running the business. Last year, they had a horrific time with an order that was completed two days before the delivery date. After the products were done they did a quality check and found out that for more than 50 percent of the stiching had been done in a wrong manner. They needed to change it entirely in merely two days bringing them major inconvenience.
This was the first big order for them and they had taken operating loan to meet the requirements. She perceived this as an impossible task to finish and shivered at the thought of disappointing her client. It was heart-wrenching for the entire team. Disha thought she was not capable enough to run the business. With the help of her staff, she worked all night and everyone in the office helped the team in opening the products, removing the stitching, re-stitching and finally repackaging the 1,000 pieces.
“We worked round the clock for two days and finished the job just one hour before the pickup arrived. Those two days were something I will never forget in my life.”
To the thought of quitting the business under pressure she says, “Any founder would be lying if they say never. The thought of quitting often clouded my mind in the first six months, but whenever I received a good customer review or sale, the fears would just vanish. It’s the fear of the unknown that creates an apprehension but the trick that has worked for me is to spend at least an hour each day on sales, product development, and customer feedback.”
During her short journey as an entrepreneur, she has seen many ups and downs. She says her courage has come from two experiences. First is the early stage upbringing in a humble defence family, where courage and discipline is the core element. The second is her two wonderful years at IIM Ahmedabad where she learnt a lot of core business management skills and tons of soft skills such as professionalism, honesty, and the importance of being a team player, which has been the backbone of how she runs Zouk on a daily basis.
In 2015, as part of a course at IIM Ahmedabad, she visited a village in Kutch where she saw some pretty products manufactured by the local women. However, it was surprising that most people loved the product but did not purchase any of them. The question they asked was what would they use these products for. This got her thinking and it gave birth to the idea of Zouk. Along with her team, she has built a large line of stylish yet functional products, which marry the millennial sensibilities.
“Zouk is completely bootstrapped for now. I am also supported by IdeaPad, CIIE, an IIM Ahmedabad incubator, which helped me set the business up. I have a team of four craftsmen on the production side and one head of product development. I take care of sales, marketing and business expansion. We should be hitting an annual revenue runrate of over Rs 50 lakhs by end of this year.”
Someone rightly said that execution is the only motive and it has been the core rule that Disha has followed. This execution capability comes from believing in her gut which has always guided Disha in the right direction. It has sometimes taken her to a safe place to protect her and sometimes to dangerous spots to expand her capabilities.
She further says, India is today the land of opportunities and the chances of success for every individual have never been brighter. However, success is not easy and it requires one to have belief in oneself. If you have a gut feel, then dig deep, and find out more about it. Once you are fairly convinced, take the leap of faith.