Started over an impromptu conversation on a visit to their father’s factory, The University Store, which aims to be an umbrella brand for all the needs of students, has now reached colleges across North India. Co-founder siblings Samaksh and Saloni Malhotra have grown the business leaps and bounds to fulfilling requirements of college students across India. In a candid conversation with Sruthi Bhat, the duo, share their story for the #Volocals Campaign.
Hailing from a family which is primarily into manufacturing of warm winter wear, their father offered Samaksh an opportunity to expand the business that is when the business innovation student in him took over. He decided to venture into a summer cotton clothing line as well.
“When I was pursuing my graduation in the Delhi University, I was a part of clubs which required T-Shirts for events, but, usually, they were expensive, and the quality was not up to the mark; so, I wanted to venture into that line,” recalls Samaksh about the initial idea for the University Store.
Business was not new to them as Saloni had already given it a go while in college with making and selling homemade chocolates to her peers on campus and Samaksh had been part of entrepreneurship communities like Enactus. With their collective business knowledge, they brainstormed all their ideas, materialising them into the brand.
The Siblings consider they are lucky and that they have been fortunate to have grown the brand to what it is today. “When we decided to start with our pilot order for customised printed T-shirts, I was at my father’s factory, a person walked in stating that he prints on clothes and wanted to enquire if our unit would have any business for him,” says Saloni, recalling the encounter with their first vendor.
What is interesting about the pair is that the business is not the only thing they do, Saloni is a full-time Economics Professor with the Punjab Technical University, and Samaksh is currently pursuing his Masters in Business Innovation from the Punjab University. Their primary commitments to work and studies made it difficult for them to manage during the incubation stage of the brand.
“One day, we had scheduled a meeting in Jalandhar, which is about an hour’s drive from our home, and we had our respective colleges to attend. We finished college, drove there and back closing the business deal within 4 hours without our parents even realising that we had gone off for work,” recalls Saloni.
Despite having the best of luck, they did face their challenges and hurdles along the way. During the planning and development phase, they had technical issues with their developer who bailed in the last stages, and they had to get one of their friends to fill in. They faced problems in fulfilment of their pilot orders with regards to timely deliveries, and quality which led them to test the website multiple times with friends and family before finally launching it.
If that was not enough, right after the brand was finally launched in February 2020, the pandemic hit in March, what was looking hopeful a month ago had left them little sad and pessimistic. Stuck with a lot of inventory and delivery partners being non-operative, somehow, with their closely-knit team of 10, they have braved the pandemic and come out stronger.
“Our dad, who bootstrapped the initial finance, had complete faith in us and encouraged us to go ahead as long as we were confident,” they say. So, what began with an idea of providing affordable customised printed apparel has now moved to include stationery and accessories, designed and keeping the smallest detail in mind.
“My students test checked the website, products and constantly gave suggestions to improve,” says Saloni. Working on constructive criticism from family, friends and students, they were able to come up with creative solutions for every detail.
For example, aiming to be a Gender-neutral brand, all the wash instructions on their apparel say ‘Both men and women can wash this’, and they also have separate ‘Pride Collection’ of all the products.
They always put themselves in the shoes of their customers to develop the products. The Happy Diary is a brainchild of Samaksh; a happy go lucky person by nature while Saloni, who loves jotting thoughts fostered the One line a day diary. Their product designs are inspired by the kind of people they are and the nature of customers they wish to reach out to, as for the taglines and descriptions, all are creatively drafted to make their brand a relatable one with the student community.
They also are ambassadors of sustainable living and have featured paper pens by Project Syahi, a brainchild of Enactus KMC, Delhi. In addition to that, their product tags are made out of seed paper, they use eco-friendly packaging, and hence they give back to the society and the environment in every little way they can.
Started solely to fulfil all the needs of a college student, the brand aims to keep their prices low and quality high. “Since I had first-hand experience with bad quality event T-shirts and their expensive tags, once we commenced business and came to know about the actual costing, we decided to keep the prices low and our margins the bare minimum without compromising on the quality,” says Samaksh.
“Colleges came back to us time and again, and we are also partnering with them for a few online events in the lockdown,” he adds.
When asked if they did have a healthy sibling rivalry in place, they affirm, but, they know and acknowledge that they have each other’s backs. “I couldn’t have been able to do this all by myself, I am glad we did this together supporting each other,” says Saloni. They extend this support to various colleges’ entrepreneurial ventures, especially the ENACTUS and published their stories on the blog on their website. “I want to connect with Enactus Projects in colleges across the country,” says Samaksh.
As for the brand, they do plan and hope to expand into stores in the future pan India, and leave an impression on every college student’s life.
Share your business stories with us by sending an e-mail to [email protected] and stand a chance to be featured on our campaign.
Curly Charmy: Mantra To Happy Curls
Charmi Vichhivora, a young entrepreneur, and a photographer by passion started “Curly Charmy” in 2020. Curly Charmy is a small-scale business that deals with hair care accessories especially with products that take care of curly hair. In an interview with News Aur Chai, Charmi shares her journey of starting a small business.
On asking about the idea of starting a small business, Charmi said, “It was the lockdown period and the photography business was shut. So I decided I should at least take care of my hair since I faced a lot of challenges with maintaining my hair, like excessive hair fall, frizzy and dry hair, and was unable to maintain my curls. As I didn’t know how to take care of it, I looked it up on the internet to find products that would help me. Eventually, I came across the curly girl method but the hair care accessories were expensive and I couldn’t afford them. So I decided to make it on my own. I purchased the fabric and made the product at home. I was so proud of what I had made. I was determined to help every person who struggled with maintaining curly hair. I put up a story on my private account asking my followers if they would be interested in buying the hair care product and the response was crazy. I was not serious about it initially. As I started receiving orders even on my private account, I decided to make use of this opportunity and open a business. My main goal was that it should be affordable, as I was not able to afford it. Now I’m always working on Curly Charmy. That is all I can think of. It has helped my hair.” said she.
“The curly community is super great, they have always been very supportive,” she added.
When asked if the pandemic affected the business, she said,” The pandemic did affect my business especially during the lockdown period as the courier services were shut. The sales were not great, and I was demotivated as I had invested money into it.”
Charmi’s family helps her with the packaging of products and buying fabrics. She has appointed a tailor whom she could help by giving her work. She is the one who makes the products as there are many orders every day.
The available products are Scrunchies, Bonnet, Headband, Pineapple Protector, Scarf, Pillowcase, and Detangler all customized, available in different sizes, and most importantly cost-effective! All the products are made of satin, as it helps to keep your hair intact.
“In India, curly hair care is underrated and I would like to reach as many people as I can to promote that curly hair is beautiful too. Curly hair is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle!” she added.
Fully Baked: Taste the Professionalism of Baking!
“I started my business during the pandemic. What better time to start a baking venture than during a time when all shops are closed down and people need to alleviate their COVID-19 anxiety?”, says Ananya Ganesh Shandilya, a passionate chef who is also a finance professional. ‘Fully Baked’ was started in February 2020 as a ‘two birds, one material’ way to transform her creative thoughts and build a business that she was passionate about. In an interview with News Aur Chai’s Feba M. Abraham, Ananya shares about her personal venture that reflects her simple, fun and an absolute foodie personality!
Ananya grew up eating decadent desserts and pastries and found immense joy in watching cakes being baked on television. She recollects her hilarious ‘maiden baking experiment turned disaster’ after receiving a baking oven as a gift 5 years ago. However, that did not hold her back. She was determined to learn the chemistry behind baking and improving her skill set.
“A dissatisfied customer is an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare! I know the rage a person can feel when they order a cake and bite into a stale, dense mess that is neither delectable nor alleviates your dessert guilt”, said Ananya. When it comes to planning, she creates her baking workflow the day prior to delivery in order to avoid any mishaps and to account for logistical delays. Being an early bird, all desserts are freshly baked to be delivered on the same day as the order date. She usually puts up the various bake sales along with the dessert choices of the day, on the official Instagram page. The desserts are normally ready to go out by 9 A.M., but on busy days, the desserts will be out latest by noon. Once her baking hustles for the day are over, she then sits down for studying with her CA books. She never fails to take breaks wherein she plays chess.
When asked about the creation of the recipes, Ananya describes her journey as a learning curve of tweaking internet recipes and experimenting with several flavors till she found the ones that met her expectations. She gives importance to her customers’ preferences and be aware of health related issues. She records customer feedback and then improves upon the taste by adding possible new elements. She goes on to add, “This has been the most indispensable tool for improvement and I find myself putting two contrasting ingredients only to hear that they created an exotic burst of flavors in my customers’ mouths!”
So, what exactly makes ‘Fully Baked’ unique and distinct from the others? Here, all the desserts are 100 per cent eggless. She also makes sugarless desserts as she strongly believes everyone should get to taste her delicious treats. Without compromising on the quality, she tries to cut costs and also maintain rigorous accounts for her business. She reinvests all her profits back into the business, like the small businesses.
Out of all the desserts introduced so far, the customers’ all-time favorites have been the chocolate ganache cupcakes and tarts. The coffee and mango cupcakes also started give a strong competition to the chocolate ganache delicacies recently.
Ananya’s parents have greatly supported her in this venture. Her mother has been involved in every step of the process and her father has instilled in her a strong work ethic and a special kinda love for spreadsheets for better organizing. “I certainly would not be where I am today, without their emotional support along the way.”, said Ananya. Right from childhood, Ananya has been huge fan of the reality TV shows, ‘Cupcake Wars’ and ‘Masterchef USA’. “Florian Bellanger and his unparalleled skills as a pastry chef awoke my inner Nigella Lawson. His fortitude to experiment with and create new twists on classic French pastries like macaroons and éclairs inspired me to venture outside my comfort zone as well—becoming a baker.”, said Ananya.
When it comes to the advertising segment, the following are the main means that contribute to the growth of the business:-
- Word of mouth and valuable customer feedbacks;
- The official Instagram page, @ananya_shandz, showcase all the colorful and eye-catching desserts;
- Once sales started taking shape, she listed the entire host of desserts along with the corresponding prices on the website, www.fullybaked.in .
- The customers are also free to contact the business’ number (+91 78670 04000) to place the orders.
She takes precautions, such as the personal protective equipments, to carefully bake the desserts. Both pick-up and home delivery are available, according to the convenience of the customers. Also, her couriers practice social distancing while delivering. Her utmost priority is to ease the customers of their doubts of having to order food during the pandemic. She says, “I try to proactively communicate with them and reassure them that all requisite precautions have been taken.”
In the course of pursuing Ananya’s passion for baking, her patience and ability to improvise have certainly improved. She has personally understood the importance of active listening and paying attention to detail.
When asked about the future of the business, she went on to say, “I want Fully Baked to be inclusive of people with a myriad of health ailments, dietary preferences and restrictions. I am planning to develop an entire host of vegan and gluten free desserts. I am also planning to branch out into savories, particularly the Italian food, especially the preparation of pizza and garlic bread from scratch. Also, I currently deliver only in Chennai. I hope to expand the delivery boundaries soon.”
As mentioned initially, Ananya is a dual professional handling finance on one hand and baking on the other. When questioned whether home baking is a better option than any corporate job, she replied that the answer to this questions depends on what you want from life and who you are as a person. She strongly believes that “if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life.” By doing so, she gets to be her own boss, set her own business hours and work hard till she drops doing something she loves. She then concluded saying, “However, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone has the liberty and privilege to pursue their passion. To each their own!”. Let us not forget the main tagline of this blooming business, “Have your cake, and eat it!”
I am pretty sure that after reading the above article, you must be really hungry. What are you waiting for then? Head over to Fully Baked’s official Instagram, @ananya_shandz, and order away!
Introducing Khojdeal : Bringing Visibility to Hyperlocal MSMEs With Affiliate Marketing
In tandem to the Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative, Khojdeal offers it’s platform to local vendors to showcase their products offering to the Indian audience. Being Vocal for Local has been a part of the organization’s ethos since it’s conception in 2016. A spectrum of players from the Indian startup ecosystem are offered visibility and a platform to share their story with our audience in addition to cash-deals. A growing brand in the performance/affiliate marketing space, Khojdeal offers cashback to our users for every purchase by customers. They provide product reviews and comparisons which enables them to take informed decisions. Khojdeal focuses on delivering more value to customers through technology innovation in the online shopping space and wanted to offer Indian customers a go-to portal for the best deals and coupons online.
Q1. What inspired you to start this venture? What gap in the existing ecosystem are you trying to bridge?
After shutting down my first startup in 2012 and working in the corporate sector for 3 years, I never imagined I would be back on the startup bandwagon so soon. However, at that point in time, the digital revolution in India had already started. With the internet penetration increasing, people were turning to the online ecosystem for various things including shopping.
People in metros were already comfortable shopping online for almost all major categories and those in tier 2 and 3 cities had also started buying fashion apparels and accessories and home accessories online.
Various studies indicated that this boom in e-commerce was not a temporary thing. In fact, with time it was expected to increase at an even more accelerated pace. We felt that as more and more people start shopping online, they are also going to look for deals and offers to save on their online purchases.
With this sentiment in mind, we started working on Khojdeal in 2015 and took it live in March 2016.
Over the past 5 years, from a coupon and cashback website, we’ve evolved into an online deal discovery platform that’s not only helping customers in finding the best deals and offers but also assisting them in making informed buying decisions through well researched articles.
Q2. Tell us about your journey before starting your entrepreneurial venture?
I am an engineer and a business graduate by education. Before being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, I have worked with companies like Mindtree and Cognizant as a Digital Marketing Consultant. From consulting Fortune 500 companies on digital transformation to launching a startup, I have seen how digital strategies impact organizations at various stages.
Q3. How does your platform work?
Khojdeal works on an affiliate marketing model which is a performance-based marketing tactic. We have partnered various leading affiliate networks who provide us with the best deals and offers from a plethora of domestic and international stores. Our experts handpick the best ones and curate them on the website. When a user shops online through Khojdeal, we earn a commission from the store in question. A certain percentage of this commission is passed on to the user in the form of cashback.
Q4. How many vendors/partnerships do you have?
We currently have 1500+ domestic and international online stores on our platform. Deals across various categories like fashion, food, travel, electronics, movie and entertainment, hosting and domain, et al are handpicked everyday and curated on Khojdeal.
In tandem with the Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative, Khojdeal offers a platform for local vendors to showcase discounts on their products online. Being Vocal for Local has been a part of the organization’s ethos since it’s inception and a spectrum of players from the Indian startup ecosystem are offered a voice and visibility on our platform.
Q5. What are your future plans?
As a company, we focus on providing maximum value to our customers. We provide them with detailed information about products and bargaining the best cashback for them is our growth strategy.
We are also constantly striving to improve the user experience. According to Amazon Web Services study, 88% of online shoppers say they wouldn’t return to a website after having a bad user experience. People not only remember bad online experiences, but they talk about them with their friends. According to Neil Patel’s infographic, 44% of shoppers will tell their friends about a bad online experience. These statistics clearly indicate how important user experience is. A robust and agile customer service team is, therefore, the need of the hour.
We also aim to engage in inbound knowledge monetization and leverage the power of social to build new customer acquisition funnels.
Q6. How has the pandemic affected your business and how have you innovated to overcome the same?
Covid-19 has caused an inflection in e-commerce penetration globally driven by consumers’ need for safety and convenience and even in India, online is gaining prominence. Self-imposed social distancing to avoid contagion, together with the strict confinement measures implemented in India in March, April, May and June encouraged a majority of people to shop online. A Bain and Company-PRICE survey of 3000 households across income groups and geographies, conducted between April and June, revealed approx. 40% of respondents were buying more online.
Initially, as people were trying to process the uncertainty of the pandemic and lockdown, traffic on Khojdeal decreased. Logistics were affected and a majority of e-commerce stores had to pause deliveries. Many affiliate campaigns were paused and this had a direct impact on us.
Gradually, as the government stepped up to streamline e-com deliveries and formulated various SOPs for the safe and timely distributions of the same, things were back on track. We saw an increase in categories like groceries, home improvement products, books and entertainment, artistic supplies, home appliances, large appliances and DIY tools. However, we also saw a devastating crash in categories related to travel like flights and hotel bookings.
Now that things have settled a bit, we are witnessing a slow, yet steady growth.
About Vaibhav Lall
An engineer by education and an entrepreneur by choice, Vaibhav Lall is the founder of India’s largest online deal discovery platform – Khojdeal. Prior to jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, Vaibhav has experience working with corporate giants like Mindtree and Cognizant as a Digital Marketing Consultant. From consulting Fortune 500 companies on digital transformation to launching a startup, he has deployed astute digital strategies that can impact an organization’s growth curve in various stages.
Owing to his sharp business acumen, the majority of his time is invested in navigating creative solutions for problems in his niche. Being a keen follower of the works of Simon Sinek, Subroto Bagchi and Ben Horowitz, he imbibes the learnings both in his professional as well as personal life. Motivated with the zeal and deeply seated desire to change the world, he joined the startup universe as his first job. Soon to become a serial entrepreneur, Vaibhav launched his first startup which develops web apps and helps brands get on to social media.
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