Business Strategy · Entrepreneurship

Go big or go home?

Mayur Ahuja Founder and Proprietor

March 17th, 2020

I am Mayur Ahuja, founder of Kit Genie (registered as a Sole Proprietorship), an apparel manufacturing and printing company along with corporate gifting and I am from Pune, India.

Since the age of 18, I have been an entrepreneur. My first startup was in the education space. I ran my first startup for 4 years while I was studying engineering. The idea for my second startup came while I was running my first startup.

I have been running Kit Genie full time since May 2016 (I was 21 years old back then). Being a one-man army, I have always done things myself - built my website on my own, made graphics on my own, supervised operations, went for sales meeting, business development, etc. The top-line growth of the Company since Oct 2016 has been 100% year on year until Oct 2019. Things have started to stagnate given the economic recession and Corona outbreak. I have matured as a business owner over the years and understand the importance of hiring and retaining my staff.

Over the course of the last 3 years, my main challenges have been:

1. Digital presence - Lack of good graphic designers has always pushed me to take a step back in while entering the Digital domain. My company has a very good reach within the city but the market is saturated locally and its time to go digital where people can get in touch with my company instead of the other way round. Digital marketing agencies only talk gibberish in terms of engagement and likes but don't deliver results/sales. Trusting digital marketing agencies in India is not easy. In addition, to yield results, one has to work with an agency for 6 months without which one cant gauge the quality of work. Trusting digital marketing firms for 6 months without knowing the output has always pushed me back from outsourcing the work.

2. Employees - With no experience in the corporate world, hiring can be a difficult task. I hired a business development executive in the past. Over 2-3 months, he learnt the business and decided to start his own firm in the same space. Yes, you may say I could sue him for the same but the judicial system in India is not the best and suing someone is purely a waste of your time, energy and money. Because of this experience, it has become difficult to hire and trust people.

3. Finances - Although the top line has grown 100% YoY for the first 3 years, I have always invested the profits in Mutual funds or stocks thereby not allowing the company to have assets that could be used to grow the business by hiring etc. This could be partially because I am a first-generation entrepreneur in my family.

4. Lack of challenges - During my first startup, I had co-founders running the business together which encouraged a lot of discussions, brainstorming, challenges, goal setting. Since I run Kit Genie as a lone founder, there are no discussions, brainstorming sessions, goal setting etc.

I am currently in a dilemma whether I should just forget the mistakes I have made in the past and go all out with hiring and growing the company or else continue taking baby steps and figure things out as they progress. Running the company for 3 years has made me mature about the way I need to grow the business but I am unable on the next best step to take.

Any guidance/suggestions would be highly appreciated

Raghu Ranjolkar Strategy & Marketing Consultant

March 18th, 2020

Regardless of your industry or business size, an online presence is a must in today’s marketplace. However, it’s not enough to simply put up a website or have a social media page. To compete digitally, you must have a digital strategy that promotes your business, builds brand awareness and encourages users to engage with your content to become customers. If you want to keep up with your competition, you have to keep up with the trends.

In response to your dilemma,

The word strategy has so many meanings for itself and all these meanings are useful, important and relevant to the people who are setting strategy for their organizations and corporations.
The function of coordinating the efforts of people to achieve goals and objectives through efficient and effective use of resources is known as management. Management involves planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling to accomplish desired aims. Resourcing includes manipulation of human resources, financial resources, technological resources and natural resources. All the resources are limited in nature. Strategy is very important for an organization due to the limitation of resources.

Strategic planning is a tool for organizing the present on the basis of the projections of the desired future. That is, a strategic plan is a road map to lead an organization from where it is now to where it would like to be in five or ten years.
A strategic plan must reflect the thoughts, feelings, ideas, and wants of the developers and mold them along with the Association's purpose, mission, and regulations into an integrated document. The development of a plan requires much probing, discussion, and examination of the views of the leaders who are responsible for the plan's preparation. However, more often than not, the development of the plan is less complicated than is the implementation.

Anand Palkar CEO, Managerial Excellence Resource Centre

March 20th, 2020

Hi Mr Mayur Ahuja, I read your story and thought of talking to you for advice. Having worked in India's corporate sector as well as run my own start-up (and gone thru the entire cycle of inception to sale of it), I now work as advisor to corporates as well as mentor for start-ups. Let us connect and check out what can be done. My contact number is 9850509455.

Paul Garcia marketing exec & business advisor

March 18th, 2020

@Raghu makes some good points about your company as a business entity. It doesn't tell you a lot about how to practically apply those thoughts though.

The first thing I would recommend is sitting down with an accountant. You need a better understanding of how cash affects your business processes and where you should and should not be storing cash or spending cash. The implications of investing money outside the company are complex, can seriously affect your taxes, and also hamstring your business if done incorrectly.

Point by point, digital strategy isn't just this isolated thing. Yes, every company these days is expected to have a digital presence, but that presence means something different for each type of business, and who your customers are. You can have a digital presence without selling online, without using the internet as an advertising vehicle, and it can still be appropriate. Yes, most digital marketing agencies are a waste of money because they are not obligated to deliver. Activity is not the same as results. Most digital agencies get paid for activity, not results. Bad spending.

What this points to is that you don't have a marketing strategy. While you have some financial success, it's clear you haven't done the #1 thing a business needs to do to grown and thrive, and that is build your marketing strategy. Your strategy isn't just a set of wishes, it's a fully tested, validated, and refined method of defining your customer, understanding your customer, and approach to meeting your customer where they want to find you. Then proving your assumptions are correct before spending money on marketing. Out of marketing strategy your tactics are developed. Digital advertising may or may not be an appropriate tactic for your audience. Having a web site is essential. What you show on that web site is also a tactic. But what else you do online all depends on your validation of the overall marketing strategy.

Employees are a challenge, because if you have no training as a leader, it can be difficult to identify the right skills and personalities you want to attract, to manage those talents, to supervise the talent, and to motivate the talent in a way that leads to loyalty and growth. Don't let this discourage you. You can learn a lot about leadership skills from reading books, even if you don't master the skills. Improving your leadership skills is still essential in a growing company.

You're not behind the curve. There are six fundamental business skills that every business needs. No individual ever masters more than two. You will always need support for some of the skills either from employees, partners, consultants, or advisors, even when you're a one-man shop. Knowing where you need support leads to finding the right help. You will still need to improve your own skills enough to understand whether the people supporting you are doing the right jobs, but you don't have to master everything by yourself. These six are not the only skills, just the fundamental ones every business shares: marketing, sales, organization, efficiency, people, and leadership.

With regard to intellectual challenges, without other managers in your business, you need to seek a peer group where you can freely discuss your business without risks. There are a lot of CEO peer groups that meet together, either in-person or virtually, as a safe space to talk about specific issues, ask questions, get feedback, and to learn from each other. Nobody expects the head of the company to be perfect, but they do expect them to take initiative in solving problems and finding resources, if they expect their company to thrive.

CFL might not be the ideal place to discuss everything you need help with, but it may be a good place for some of them.

India or elsewhere, there are thousands of people in situations similar to you, each one bumping around to try and liberate themselves from various difficulties. Don't be shy about seeking advice from your peers, particularly when they can't compete with you. The business issue cross industries. As for issue specific to your industry, look to any trade association representing your industry, even if it's not domestic. They tend to be a wealth of resources when you need industry-specific support.

Good luck!

Sunil Punjabi Founder @ ONI - Looking for a tech cofounder for #childdevelopment platform

March 19th, 2020

You are a hard businessman. Thats your strength. The environment will always ask questions.

The answer to all questions, especially in challenging times is 'risk' and 'cash'. We are today in a risk-off mode. Preserve cash, keep your head down, cut all costs, and slowly keep building your business.

Wait for the tide to turn and then see through the upside.