Alumni Speak

“You need windows to soar high, not cages”

Apeejay Saket alumni, Soham Rastogi on how the school gave him the space to soar high and simultaneously ace the worlds of software and the bespoke shoe business

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Soham Rastogi, is an Apeejay Saket alumni and a business development specialist at Harperwoods Bespoke shoes. He is also a successful software developer and has worked with giants such as HCL and Amazon. In an interview he recalls how his school and teachers shaped him as a person, the challenges of being a successful entrepreneur and shares life lessons for budding entrepreneurs. Edited Excerpts:

Please tell us about your journey, how did you choose this career?

Basically as they say, life happens while you keep planning. So my plans were different too. I am a software engineer by profession. I had done a Bachelors in Information Technology from Delhi University. Before I had even graduated, I had become an entrepreneur. So I along with my friends in college had started a software development company. In 2001 we started the company and were able to bag Air Sahara very soon as our client. Slowly the company grew and we grew along with it. When Air Sahara was bought by Jet airways, I temporarily divorced software development and joined my family business (the shoe-industry). I am the only person in India who is manufacturing purely bespoke shoes.

At present, I am managing both the fronts; software and shoes.  This is how my entrepreneurship journey has been.

Could you tell us about your current job profile?

I am heading two starkly different businesses (laughs) and this confuses a lot of people. Software and shoes, a unique combination. See what happens is that, in a family business, you are doing the things that you were brought up with. You know the things and have an efficient team with you. All you have to do is monitor everything. Everything is already a part of your life.

In the field of software development, however, things are a bit different. I have worked for big companies such as Amazon and HCL. I have many clients across the globe. There is a lot of work. We do business process automations. We do e-commerce work as well. I must confess that I am lucky to have a few good business partners. They take care of the back-end work.  

What role did the teachers from school play in your life? How did they help you in identifying your calling?

School is always the foundation. I found excellent mentors in Mr KK Dubey and Mrs Dubey, the husband and wife duo who were managing Apeejay Saket back then. Mr Dubey was the Principal and Mrs Dubey was the Vice-Principal and the Education Coordinator as well.  They were hugely respected as teachers, it was a Guru-Shishya equation with all.

I still remember that once a student from our class asked Dubey sir, “Sir, why haven’t we got any bars on the window”.  Dubey Sir’s answer still stays with me. He had said, “Why should you have bars if you want to soar high? You need openness. You need windows, not cages”. Apeejay Saket had a very distinctive feature then. There was a 3-feet ledge behind the windows, so that no one fell down. Thus, the windows had no bars. The moment you put bars, the windows feel like a cage. The sky was open for all to see. One look in the sky and we felt the entire world open to us.

Also, the library and computer room at the school were open all the time. I loved to read. I had a unique routine on school days. At 2 PM daily, our librarian would wait for me. She was aware that I would borrow a book before taking the school bus. Similarly, after the morning assembly, I would come to return the book. I loved reading Nancy Drew and 3 Investigators in class 6. Then in class 8, I began reading Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum and Isaac Asimov. By class 9, I had nearly finished all the books in the school library.

What are your best memories from school?

Two best memories come to my mind. The first is when Mr Dubey used to take our GK classes. He used to call it ‘Growing knowledge’. He would speak about current affairs and make us think out of the box.

The second is a bit personal. I came from a small town. I was born and brought up in Bhilai. I came to Delhi and joined Apeejay Saket in class 6. So as you can guess, I had a very different upbringing and Delhi was a huge cultural shock for me. I had an inferiority complex in school. It was then that Mrs Dubey gave me a very important lesson. She taught me a spirit of perseverance in life yet being aware on how to keep oneself pure. Handling the society well but keeping the inner child alive. This lesson has made me the man I am today. I attribute this to my school.  

Also there’s always an English teacher who inspires us as students. We had Mrs Ritu Kohli as our English teacher. She is one of the best teachers I have met in my life. She had a huge influence on me. We could discuss almost everything with her. We could always talk to her about the problems we faced in school and in life. At that age when you are discovering life, such support and guidance truly shapes you as a person. These three teachers are the reason behind students becoming good human beings.

Can one actually get bespoke shoes with the same ease with which one gets a bespoke suit?

Yes, of course. So, the process is, we measure your foot-length. After that we make a trial shoe. All shoes are made on a form. So in this case, that form is made specifically for you. We understand your foot shape and what you’re looking for in a shoe. Then we create a very basic shoe. We ask you to wear the shoe for a week and take down notes from your feedback. Then we build the final shoe. This process takes 30-45 days.

Did Covid-19 pandemic impact your business?

In a major way. I was about to properly launch the bespoke shoe category in India but overnight our market vanished.  I have now shelved that idea and we are doing very premium categories only in bespoke shoes. There are some categories which are still functioning though. But that’s life, something goes down and something comes up. It will take a couple of years more for a complete launch. I will study the market a lot then. The requirements of the market have changed due to the pandemic. The current requirements aren’t for formal handmade shoes anymore.

What is your take on entrepreneurship being taught to students in school?

I believe that everybody is an entrepreneur. It is very wrong to say that a person who is doing a job is not an entrepreneur. Everybody at every position sells themselves. The more a person gets identified with their job and enjoys the process of participation, the more that person is inclined to be an entrepreneur.

I remember, Dubey sir always told us that not everyone can come first in a race but we have to be sure that we run with our best efforts. Never try and rank yourself. You may be last in your college but first somewhere else. You have to continue with what you are doing. Situations change and you have to change as well. This is what one learns in school and in entrepreneurship.

Any advice for budding entrepreneurs? Perhaps you can share your life lessons with them?

I would say, to begin with, become an entrepreneur right after you get out of school if this is your passion. Just get into it. Don’t waste time. Life will teach you everything along the way, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid if things don’t work out. Don’t keep on banging your head after a failure. Change the technique but keep going on.

Secondly, invest in shares. The sooner you understand the share market, the better your life will be. It would make you financially secure by your 30s, if you start learning and understanding the share market from your teenage. 

Arijit Roy is a trainee correspondent at Apeejay newsroom. He has done his masters in English literature from Delhi University and has a book of poems published by Writers Workshop India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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