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For an entrepreneur, there’s no better publicity than word of mouth

Shifting from merchant navy to become an entrepreneur, Apeejay School of Management alumnus Vivek Goel says the life lessons he learnt from his teachers are still helping him 17 years after graduating from business school



Vivek Goel, co-founder of the textile venture, with his fellow co-founder and wife Avanti Goel

He was serving in the merchant navy when the entrepreneurial bug bit him. Shortly after completing his MBA from the Apeejay School of Management in 2004, Vivek Goel, co-founder of the textile retail website and his wife Avanti embarked on their business journey by importing linen from Thailand. Soon, they realised it wasn’t a step in the right direction and shifted focus to the domestic market. Over the last 17 years, putting the life lessons and business principles he learnt at management school to good use, Vivek has made his brand of linen popular with high-end retail buyers. It has built a decent online presence and its clientele includes leading industrialists and business houses of the country.  In an interview, Vivek explains why he shifted from the merchant navy, the secrets of being a successful entrepreneur, how he withstood the Covid shock and the secrets of staying relevant in a volatile market. Edited excerpts:

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur when you were young? How did you choose this career?

Not at all, it wasn’t like that. I was serving in the merchant navy and I took a break from my services and pursued a Master’s in Business Administration from the Apeejay School of Management, Dwarka. They used to run an international programme in which I enrolled. While pursuing the course, an MBA in Strategic Management, my interest in entrepreneurship was first kindled. It was at ASM that I first thought of becoming an entrepreneur.

What made you make the switch from merchant navy to entrepreneurship?

When we were growing up in the 1990s in Delhi, I was not very clear about which career avenue to pursue. I was a class 12 Science student and many of my friends and I gravitated towards merchant navy right out of school. What made me switch being an entrepreneur? Well, it was a certain restlessness, which I now realise is an essential trait for being an entrepreneur. I was bursting with ideas and in a service such as merchant navy, a certain monotony sets in. Entrepreneurs want to create something new every day. In school, too, I was a day-dreamer. Till date new ideas keep coming into my mind every day. The monotony of merchant navy couldn’t have suited my temperament in the long run.

How was your experience at ASM?

It was a refreshing experience. I had come from merchant navy where I had acquired a lot of skills that had nothing to do with management. So it was an exciting time. Reading management books by leading thought leaders opened my mind and broadened my horizons. I remember that the Apeejay library at the ASM campus in Dwarka is really well-stocked. I made some good friends and the overall experience was superb. The international curriculum of the Strategic Management I was pursuing was a refreshing break for me after merchant navy. I loved discussing new strategies on an everyday basis.

What role did your teachers in schools and colleges play in your life?  

I remember our HoD Mr Shrikant Gupta very fondly. He was like a fatherly figure, a mentor to me. I was really close to him. He acted like a guiding factor because I was going through a lot of turmoil at that point in my life. Although merchant navy was a more lucrative career, he understood my motivations and encouraged me. He convinced me not to join another monotonous job and pursue a business venture of my own.  

What are the life lessons that you picked up in college?

Doing everything logically from a strategic point of view is something that I picked up in management school. I approach my work as an entrepreneur in a logical sequence, going from smaller tasks to bigger ones. I don’t take huge risks and don’t bite off more than I can chew. Since I didn’t have a big seed capital when I began, it made me risk-averse. At the operations level, the one big thing I learnt has been outsourcing. The concept of outsourcing has helped me since I bootstrapped my organisation, without taking money from anybody else. Beginning with an investment of just Rs 70,000, I created the organisation bit by bit. Since, I never got into manufacturing, we identified people willing to work with us. Today these guys have been working with us for 15 years. Dr Gupta was the one who introduced the concept of outsourcing to me. It is a beautiful concept which can help any small entrepreneur without any capital who wants to grow. Clearly, it is a sustainable idea, as I am using this till date despite having completed by MBA in 2004.   

Did the Covid-19 pandemic your business in any manner?

Fortunately, the pandemic didn’t dent our business venture in a big way, because we had an existing cache of online customers. Many of our customers were confined indoors during the lockdown and they were looking for comfort and this benefited our business of premium linen. Also, I ensured that our arrangement of operating warehouses was not derailed. So, we continued to deliver orders during the pandemic. Our regular vendors and courier companies, who had been working with us for the past 15 years, ensured that our operations were not suspended. Of course, we kept all the safety protocols in mind.

What are the challenges in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship?

Apart from government regulations and red tape, meeting the demands of our consumers and ensuring that their expectations are met satisfactorily is a big challenge for any entrepreneur. We are always susceptible to any degree of impatience by the customer, which can hurt the business.

So, how do you keep track of consumer preferences in the online era?

I keep in touch with my customers at the personal level. There is a WhatsApp number for our online store. So, whenever they send a message it reaches me and I know what they are seeking and whether there is a gap that we need to urgently address. If the quality is good and you’ve put in place a value system that is truthful and isn’t just based on chasing profits, a business can prosper. There is no better publicity than word of mouth for any entrepreneur.

What is the secret of being a successful entrepreneur?

First, broaden your horizons. Be an avid reader and inveterate traveller. This will help you generate news ideas. Secondly, whatever idea you decide to pursue, be persistence with it. It takes years of hard work to get to a point where the company becomes profitable and you are perceived as successful. Thirdly, try and improve on some aspect of your product or service every day. When you get up every morning, tell yourself: I will improve this facet of my product or company. So, improvement becomes a day-to-day habit as a person and as a business venture. Finally, entrepreneurs may be known for their appetite to take risks, but I would say take only calculated risks and don’t be too adventurous. You never know how the market will behave because it has become really volatile since 2010.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74