Meet the real-life Rocket Singhs!
Sensing the urgent need in his hometown, Maharaja Institute of Technology student Ajay Kiran decided to set up an events management company in Mysore. In less than a year, the company has organised more than 85 events and is hungry for more.
Sitting back in a movie hall in Mysore one day, Ajay Kiran watched excitedly as Ranbir Kapoor put together a team of amateurs and took on a mighty corporation with his rather innovatively named start-up -- Rocket Sales.
A little over eight months later, in August 2010 Kiran decided to bring together a bunch of his classmates and start something no one had thought of in his hometown -- an event management company!
Within a matter of ten months, the young start-up -- named Rocket Events after its inspiration -- has already organised 85 events at the last count, has won a handful of student start-ups awards and has been making heads turn.
It would've been a surprise actually if it didn't. By Kiran's own account, the idea of starting up an events management company was to cater to a need that existed in Mysore.
There were no event management companies in the city before Rocket Events stepped in. Even today, by Ajay Kiran's account there are just two other firms operating in this space, of which one is temporarily shut because 'its owner passed away'.
Image: The men behind Rocket Events: Jeevan R, Somanna TP, Avinash MJ and Ajay Kiran
'Businesses are slowly moving to Mysore'
Having lived most of my life in Mysore, I noticed that though the city had a lot of freelance event managers, it lacked a professional event management company.
Mysore is a Class A city. With (the capital city of) Bangalore getting saturated, Mysore is seeing a lot of growth. Businesses are slowly moving here and we sensed that it would require quality event management services.
Unlike a traditional event management firm that restricts its operations to perhaps a wedding ceremony or a social gathering, Rocket Events is happy to host practically any event you want.
Pointing out to the tremendous scope there is in the city for a company like theirs, Ajay Kiran says, "So far we've hosted, corporate seminars, workshops, soft skills training programmes, fun fairs, annul day celebration, awards night, New Year celebrations, product launches even birthdays, reunions, farewells, college festivals and fund raisers!"
Kiran who has completed his management education and is pursuing a post graduation diploma in marketing management from Mysore University is also the CEO of the company. He hails from a family of entrepreneurs. Back in the '30s his family had started one of the first private travel businesses in Karnataka with a fleet of over a 100 buses. Later as the family grew and was divided, the business split.
Today his father is in the real estate business while his mother having started Karnataka's first all-women's two-wheeler driving school has now chosen to be a stay-at-home mom.
And yet when their son chose to be an entrepreneur, the parents were a little sceptical. They wanted him to take up a 'proper job' rather than invest his time and money in a start-up.
Ajay Kiran however stood his ground. A little less than a year later, they are a happy lot.
Image: Infosys campus at Mysore. With Bangalore getting saturated businesses are moving to Mysore
'VCs felt we had enough resources so they turned us away'
The young entrepreneur has with him three other boys, as driven as him, who manage the show.
Avinash MJ, whose father is an academic, Jeevan R, who continues to keep his full-time job at Hindustan Unilever (HUL) but rolls up his sleeves for Rocket Events whenever required and Somanna TP, who was also at HUL but decided to quit and join Rocket Events full time.
Back in July 2010 when they were still working out the nitty-gritty of setting up shop, they decided they had enough to get going.
"All of us invested Rs 10,000 each initially and started by working on commission basis for the services to be provided. We used this initial amount to get basic requirements such as a printer, business cards, brochures, deed and registration etc.
We even got a website up and running. Later with help of some friends and family we invested some more money towards sound and lighting equipment. Since then whatever investments have gone into the company have been through the profits we earned," Kiran says.
He adds that even though they'd approached angel investors and venture capitalists, they did not get a very exciting feed back because 'they felt we have enough sources and vendors proving a decent credit period'.
"But we are happy that we have managed things till now by our own," he says.
Kiran and his colleagues were lucky in a way to have their college support their endeavour.
"When they learnt of our company, they first invited us to organise an orientation programme for freshers followed by which a programme to celebrate the birth anniversary of Sir M Visvesvaraya.
The cost of the event was Rs 90,000, which was big at the time for us. We managed to put up a great show and got a lot of good feedback from the various heads of our college," Kiran says.
Image: Ajay Kiran pitching his idea
'I've become more responsible'
In retrospect though the entrepreneur feels that the event that really got them nervous was not the first but one that came their way a few months later.
"We were hired to organise the annual day celebrations for a company called Marlabs Software Technologies in Mysore. We had to meet them more than 40 times before we got the contract. During this one we faced some real problems -- vendor management, costing, gifting etc.
After some research we figured that the vendors were giving us the same rates that they would (give their) clients. That was when we started negotiating and bringing the costs down."
So after burning their fingers, losing some money and having learnt their lessons, Ajay Kiran and co were back in business.
They largely operate out of their homes and have since organised over 85 events in a matter of 10 months.
These months have also been ones of personal learning and change for Kiran himself. "I've become more responsible," he says. "I've learnt how to deal and negotiate with people, handle finances and more importantly learnt to invest."
Needless to say the initial months came with their set of challenges.
Getting an organised setup in an essentially disorganised industry posed a huge problem. "Competition from freelance event managers was huge," he says.
Then of course there were issues like setting up the supply chain management. For these they had to start from the scratch and look for various places/vendors that could supply them things they needed such as sounds, light, furniture's, decorations, etc.
Like most start-ups, lack of funds proved to be a huge hurdle, as did managing their finances that threatened to pull them down at one point.
However it was their initial lack of experience and the resultant lack of confidence that took them the longest to overcome. "Event management requires getting a lot of things right all the time. We really had to work hard to plug the holes and make sure we got better with each event."
Image: Ajay Kiran says starting up Rocket Events has made him a more responsible human being
Learn to execute your ideas
Over the months, Rocket Events has been consistently putting away its profits to invest in infrastructure they require regularly.
"We have a complete sound and DJ unit because we need it very regularly. It made sense to buy rather than keep renting it out," Kiran says.
Even as the company turns one this August, Ajay Kiran is already looking forward, planning to expand it further.
He plans to start workshops in soft skills training, something popular among corporate houses. Later, he also hopes to get his father involved, use a part of the property he's leased out and construct a hotel there so they have at least one permanent venue.
"Once we have that, costs will come down drastically and we will be able to increase our margins," he says.
Tips for young entrepreneurs:
Coming up with ideas is fine but it doesn't make you any more unique than the other guy. Learn to execute the idea. That is what will make the difference.
If you aren't sure about your ideas, discuss it with someone and get a second opinion on how you can go about executing it better.
Be clear about your plan, so clear that if someone wants you to write it down you should be able to write it on a piece of paper napkin!
Never loose hope.
If you're a student be part of the entrepreneurship cell there.
Learn to accept failure with a smile because there is something in there for you to learn. Overcome this hurdle and success will be yours.
Image: Having ideas is all fine, executing them is what makes the difference