From being a successful Series Producer in Television to starting her own business, Sonal Srivastava’s life has been nothing short of a roller coaster.
Nine months ago, she gave birth to Sonaamrit, which deals in designing and manufacturing bedding and soft furnishing made-ups.
In December 2017, Sonal had to undergo a painful ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery of the knee that led to a big realisation of personal and professional choices in her life.
While she was bed-ridden for about 4 months, she was forced to take a hard look at her life. The intense physiotherapy sessions that followed came with a looming fear that she would have to learn to walk all over again, much like a toddler.
As a mother of a then four-year old, Sonal took this setback in her stride and looked at this forced break as a blessing to figure a way to mend and truly nurture herself and hopefully re-invent with a realistic view of the odds.
‘The initial self-doubt paved the way to literally finding my feet again and taking my first few steps, though with a mild handicap. In parallel I was sifting through many ideas one of which was to try and change how Indian Bedrooms look and feel through the day and how well-designed products are very far and few and come at a premium for the same reason. Therein I found a business opportunity that would define Sonaamrit.’
Here is what Kool Kanya asked her about Sonaamrit and what it took to start her own business.
Q. Why did you want to start your own business?
I am a resourceful and intrepid design professional who has tasted success and seen effective realisation of ideas in my first innings as a media professional, leading a large team. Innings 2.0 has meant a new life in a new city, the joys of motherhood and taking a long break from work, followed by spurts of activity to re-invent as professional with a new pace and a new set of priorities. Starting a business is my attempt to unlock the same value that I believe I am confident of and capable of creating, but this time at a scale I can manage and slowly growing from there.
Q. What is the kind of support you have received? Personal? Financial? Emotional? Any other?
It’s been an arduous 9 months and I experienced a series of happy and painful associations that have both taught me immensely big lessons.
My family is extremely supportive both financially and emotionally. I am a strong networking person but I am yet to tap my network as my focus so far has been on setting up the infrastructure and developing my product to make it market ready.
Having said that, entrepreneurship is both lonely and physically exhausting and also equally gratifying and exhilarating at the same time.
At the start, it’s only you who truly believes in your idea and its only your gut instinct about where to set up office, and a myriad decisions and actions based on instinct and experience. Like who to hire at what stage, choosing your partners/long-term vendors, and the toughest one - to create products that fill a gap and are pitched to the right people, how to put it out there for people to see, what’s the future of a small-scale business and how can it acquire a value that will make it a respected brand in the future and so on.
It’s only when people start to see your work and recognise its value that you add more believers and then it truly becomes a shared vision. That shared vision is the ultimate support (and validation) that any entrepreneur needs.
Indian bedrooms are the most neglected spaces in homes and Sonaamrit’s Bedding and Furnishing range is focused on turning around bedrooms and homes via its collaborators and its network of Design professionals and Design savvy clientele.
Q. Have you legally protected your business idea? Any other legal work involved?
I have registered my company and have started the process to trademark it.
Q. How much funding did you need to start this business? How did you get the funding?
I started with Rs.3 Lacs and used it first, to create prototypes of my products and then tested its production and cost viability by creating small quantities of the same. Then, I invested in small private showings and exhibitions to show my product for the first time, all through October.
Sonaamrit is a self-funded venture so far.
Q. What are your future funding sources? How do you plan to get it?
When Sonaamrit grows to a scale that necessitates a next round of funding by March 2020, I will involve my husband who has a very sharp business mind and can help me navigate the next steps and hopefully be by my Angel investor (fingers crossed).
Q. Do you have a team working for you? If yes, then how did you hire your team?
I believe in collaborations and sharing resources and networks and hence have an understanding with a partner who has a ready running set-up in an allied but different business. We support each other with our skill sets and networks but keep monetary transactions totally streamlined.
Q. Do you collaborate with anyone else for your business? Who? How did you get them on board?
There is a collaboration that is underway, with a retail partner who specialises in bespoke curtains and bed linen for hotels and homes. Tulips is known for customising products that convert imagination into reality to beautify spaces. Tulips has stores in Delhi, Pune and Bangalore and their team liked my design sensibilities and the premise of Sonaamrit which was to create a crafted & inspired high-quality product. The co-branded range of products will be on display shortly.
Q. What were the first steps you took to start this business?
I got down to doing an intensive research on my sourcing, production, market segmentation and user behaviour, and the logical sales channels to reach these users.
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?
I took a stock of the entry barriers for my foray into the Bedding and Furnishing space and set out to surmount those and from that collective knowledge emerged the logical area to set up my unit that would keep costs and production efficiency in check.
I feel that a realistic business plan only takes shape after one gauges the response and sales numbers through the initial sales channels. I will have mine by the end of the year.
Q. What were the challenges then? How did you tackle them?
All raw material vendors were speaking the export quantities to provide competitive rates and I found that challenging. I found that people quoted inflated rates and took advantage of my lack of insider knowledge.
I lost money and burnt my fingers but I just stuck to my vision and started with quantities that worked for me.
I did not let the challenges deter me as I also met good professionals across levels who supported me and provided valuable contacts selflessly.
Q. What are the challenges now? How are you going about solving them?
I need to keep my creative vision intact in the middle of a competitive business environment.
Q. How do you promote your business?
I have a social media presence that will get enhanced as my collaborators start to showcase my products.
Q. What are the mistakes you could have avoided at the start?
I could have been more watchful of companies and individuals who caused me losses in the initial period.
Q. What is your sales strategy?
Partner with like-minded retail partners and keep my focus on creating a new line every month that creates a periodic buzz.
Q. What are your 1-year and 5-year business goals?
To align myself with architects and Interior design professionals whose styling needs I can service through my retail partners pan India.
Q. How long did it take for you to make your first sale?
I made my first sale within a month of setting up my office.
Q. What kind of life changes have you made after you started your business? Work-life? Personal habits? Professional habits?
I have had to become fitter and work on my mental toughness. Work-life balance has been tough, to say the least. What has truly stood as my touchstone is my ability to communicate with people across levels and take a tough stand when I see bad work ethic.
Q. Do you have a back-up plan if this business doesn’t work?
It’s an ‘all in’ for me sans any safety nets.
Q. Could you share three tips for small entrepreneurs?
- Find a middle ground between passion and business and make that idea work
- Start small and seek collaborations that are mutually beneficial
- Go to the source /start from the basics – your product / idea will then truly have your stamp on it.