Navdeep Kaur is a hands-on mother of two daughters and an entrepreneur who runs two businesses. After a stint with a corporate career and dissatisfaction with post-maternity support, Navdeep found the courage to follow her calling and start her own business because she realised she was the best person to translate her vision to reality.
Here is what she told Kool Kanya about starting and setting up her two businesses.
Q. What is your business about?
The core studio, The Colour Workshop was started 6 years ago in 2013. The Colour Workshop’s (TCW) primary aim was to work in the field of colour research and experimental design in industry. I envisaged it as a space for hands-on research and to explore the various dimensions of colour by collaborating with individuals, companies and design studios. The work from our studio is highly experimental and varied from Colour trend research, CMF study for Consumer durable industry, Consumer Research & Retail study, Colour Workshops, Natural Colour explorations & Public Art Installations.
In Feb 2019, we launched a baby brand Aagghhoo. Aagghhoo was established to support parents through its well thought through products exclusively meant for the early stages of babyhood and parenthood. The launch was preceded by research work for 3 years to make sure that we build an emotionally durable brand.
In a world of mass produced and standardised offering, we wanted to create a range of offerings that were empathetic and based on real needs of parents and babies.
Our research interactions with real parents helped us capture unsaid ergonomic needs & emotional yearnings and key concerns highlighted by them were around Baby’s wellness, healthy growth, functional and free thinking products. The brand today offers a wide range of options in apparel, space products, essential products and furnishings for parents
As a design centric brand, we want to highlight that we are socially responsible and humane and as a result are mindful about our material choices – purity, authenticity and sustainability. We choose healthy, natural materials to make our products and work with rural weaving communities, local indigenous yarns and natural colour experts to make sure our products are made in the most sustainable manner.
Q. How/when did you discover this opportunity?
TCW – Colour is a very niche subject, there are just a handful of Colour research companies that exist in India. Even fewer people/ firms are currently exploring the zone of natural and sustainable colours. I wanted to contribute to colour education, research and industry requirements, given the fact that there was little organised effort in India to work in this field.
Aagghhoo – When I had my first born, I realised that there was no brand exclusively designing around a new-born baby’s ergonomic and emotive needs. Everything was designed in excess and no one spoke about a simplified conscious parenting experience. Aagghhoo was conceived out of this need to raise children with less but well- designed products.
Q. Why did you want to start your own business?
I discovered my true calling in colour research and exploration and sustainable design, a few years into my professional career. I realised to do justice to what I had in mind, I had to control the vision end to end at least in the initial years.
The only way to bring to life what I had in mind was to start something of my own.
Dilution of my core philosophy was not an option. I guess starting out on my own was the only way forward.
Q. What is the support you have received? Personal? Financial? Emotional? Any other?
I have received a lot of emotional support from my family. There definitely have been collaborations and conversations with like-minded people that has furthered and sharpened our efforts.
Q. How much funding did you need to start this business? How and where did you use it?
We started the TCW with 2 lakhs of initial investment 6 years ago in a home converted to a studio. All subsequent earnings by the studio were ploughed back into the business – hiring a team, research explorations, utilities and technical equipment
Aagghhoo has been completely seed- funded by the parent studio TCW. I have invested over 30 lakhs in design, experiments, machinery, raw material and inventory.
Q.Where did you get this funding from?
The funding for the entire project has been from my own savings.
Q. What are your future funding sources. How do you plan to get it?
Aagghhoo as a brand definitely requires more financial support to expand the distribution channels, reach new consumers, marketing efforts and investing in a larger team that can drive all of this. We want to reach a critical mass in sales and distribution presence. We intend to raise debt financing at the right time,
Q. Do you have a team working for you? If yes, then how did you hire your team?
Yes, I have a small team. One textile designer who is primarily taking care of Aagghhoo and supports in TCW projects. And a master tailor who makes most of the product prototypes. We collaborate with freelancers wherever necessary.
Hiring the team is mostly through word of mouth. We are a small team and I need someone who is bought into the vision as much as I have. We also take on interns some of whom have gone on to work for us.
Q. Do you collaborate with anyone else for your business? Who? How did you get them on board?
I collaborate with design researchers, content writers, textile designers, fashion designers, depending on what the project work is for both TCW & Aagghhoo. I normally ask within my own network of people and get recommendations before hiring or collaborating.
Q. What were the first steps you took to start this business?
The first step was to clearly and unambiguously articulate what I wanted TCW and Aagghhoo to be. This was the toughest part. Having an idea and giving it a structured form are very different things.
The second step was to chart out a 3-year plan for both the brands and raise enough funds to sustain the plan.
To build confidence in the TCW studio, I had to publish independent work and collaborate with institutes and clients to make the brand be known.
Q. How did you arrive at the first step? Was there a business plan? Did you break it down in smaller steps and went backwards? What was the strategy?
TCW strategy – Through TCW, I want to build a one of its kind colour knowledge treasury through research, industry collaborations and education in the art and design schools. For this, skill and experience was necessary that came from my work background. Utilisation of the current skills helped stabilise financials and the bonus was portfolio building, networking, skill enhancement.
For Aagghhoo, I had done a lot of internal research to understand where is the gap and later followed the decided route.
Q. What were the challenges then? How did you tackle them?
I could manage to take up 2-3 projects and manage Aagghhoo work every year to balance my work and home life. For the longest time I have managed my child, work, home with a very unreliable support system.
Q. What are the challenges now? How are you going about solving them?
For TCW – Getting projects, project pitches, reaching out to corporates, design studios to figure out collaborations is very tough. Colour and Design research in business decision making is not yet mainstream. We proactively create pitches for companies around the work that would benefit the business and the design teams.
For Aagghhoo – I have taken baby steps in carving a niche in a category that is dominated by mass produced, machine-made products. Reaching out and connecting with like-minded parents has been our biggest challenge. Educating and converting a customer to focus on buying less but better and showing them systems that are easy to follow is going to be our next step.
I want to make sure that design-led, sustainable baby products are available to as many parents as possible.
Q. How do you promote your business?
Primarily through social media. Planning marketing content to have better online visibility.
Q. What are the mistakes you could have avoided at the start?
I shouldn’t have shied away from networking.
A whole lot of us don’t like it but we have to take responsibility and openly speak about our work.
Q. What is your sales strategy?
For the next one year, high visibility and easy accessibility through other e-commerce channels along with strong physical presence through mother-child shows and sustainable stores and markets.
Q. What is your 1-year and 5-year business goal?
The larger vision of Aagghhoo is to execute sustainable systems where re-wearability, pre-loved products become the core, while we keep re-inventing the design, ergonomics to identify the ‘classics’ that are needed universally for every child. Have a wide range of development stage focussed products for parents to try.
In the next one year we want to acquire at least 1000 consumers a month. In the next five years, we hope to be one of the top baby essential brands in India.
We want to design for children of all classes and strata and make sustainable well designed baby products accessible to all parents.
Q. How long did it take for you to make your first sale?
3 years of research, design and work. The first sale happened within the first two hours of the launch. (I launched Aagghhoo at a design event in a small pop up market, as the audience could connect with the brand). No one told us that the subsequent transactions were going to be difficult.
Q. What kind of life changes have you made after you started your business? Work-life? Personal habits? Professional habits?
I decided to run the studio from home and being available for my children when they need me.
It’s easy as well as difficult at the same time. I think life has got more exciting yet chaotic. Being a mother of two daughters makes it even more challenging and there are days when I feel bad that I’m unable to give enough time and days when I feel good and see them engrossed in observing what I do and appreciate and tell me how they love what I am doing.
Personal care becomes very important but finding time for self is equally difficult.
Professionally, I think every new member brings a new learning on board hence I am open to learn from my own team and we have a very expressive studio environment where most of the important decisions are collective and growth led.
Q. Do you have a back-up plan if this business doesn’t work?
Someone told me that one should give 1000 days for any new idea to grow and flourish. Aagghhoo is not even 365 days old. But if it doesn’t work, I can always pause and reflect and re-work on skills, products and find out ways in which it would be future relevant.
At TCW, since every new project is a new learning, re-inventing ourselves through our work is the best way to evolve.
Q. Three tips for small entrepreneurs?
Stay hopeful, be humble and be diligent
Q. What’s your one-line business pitch for your business?
Aagghhoo supports new age parents and children to make thoughtful choices, free of consumerist mindset.