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From a failed pizza delivery to a Rs 20 lakh venture
Insiyah Vahanvaty

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March 02, 2009

With Women's Day coming up on March 8, we'll be bringing you stories of several enterprising young ladies who have seen much success in their respective fields. 

We kick off the series today with a young Delhi [Images] entrepreneur who has started up her own successful business -- and wait till you hear what it's all about!

Ruchi Chopra is a graduate in fashion design, but two years ago, a small incident and the resulting brainstorm got her to drop these stylish aspirations in order to pursue a truly unique venture. She now runs ASAP, short for Any Surprise Any Place -- a one-stop shop for any surprise you want to pop for a loved one. From customised soap bars to coffee table books, travel packages to hot air balloons, this enterprising young lady will organise it for you.

In an interview with, Ruchi discusses where she got the idea to start up, her career success and how a small business, started with just Rs 50,000 now has a turnover of Rs 20 lakh -- in less than two years.

What made you think of ASAP?

The idea came to me in October of 2006, when I was at work -- I was assistant merchandiser with clothing company GAP -- and a hostel friend messaged me saying "I want pizza". I really felt like surprising her by getting it delivered. However, I was at the office and couldn't leave, so I tried calling a number of pizza services, asking them to send one out to her and charge me for it. However, all my efforts failed -- not one was willing to do so. Apparently, you can only place a pizza order for yourself! So I got thinking -- all I wanted to do was suprise a friend with something as simple as a pizza and there was nobody to organise if for me. There should be some service that can help a zillion people who want to do something nice for someone, right?

People either don't have an idea of what to do to make someone feel special, or they do and they don't have the means or the time to organise it. This is what made me start a company that helps people organise surprises for others. It was an idea born out of a need of the hour. I started working on the concept and ASAP -- short for 'as soon as possible' and 'any surprise any place' -- was born.

What was your family's reaction when you decided to start your own business?

There was initial hesitation on my mom's part. We all have mothers who think with the heart and she was worried that I had decided to venture out and do something crazy. Dad was supportive, though -- I had given him the confidence that I'd seriously thought this out and seen a future.

You studied fashion designing. It's a big jump -- fashion to business. What inspired you?

If I hadn't started this company, I would be a baby clothing designer. This idea was the need of the hour -- it was something I saw had demand and no supply. Starting a business venture of your own is the combined result of having way too much energy, way too many thoughts and a lot of passion to make people happy. I have started something good as a result of all my ideas and passion. I love what I do. I started this the day I wanted to surprise someone and no one could help me with it.

How do you work out the logistics of arranging surprises that are so varied and elaborate?

It's a lot of creative work to start with, trying to understand from each client what works for their brother, sister, grandmother etc. Then comes the implementation, which is actually the easier part, because it's more difficult to put a finger on what will surprise a person, rather than arrange it.

I have a great time doing what I do and I have a great team helping me out. Mansukh Mann handles the creative end -- she's young and has some great ideas. Akram Saifi, who has been with the company almost since inception, helps me implement our plans and Subhash Sorout works to ensure the timing of the suprises is perfect.

I mainly generate ideas, too -- I read a lot and keep tabs on what people do for each other in various other parts of the world, but Mansukh and Akram help me out equally.

Was it a struggle to start off? Did people take your idea seriously at first?

It was clearly a struggle. It's easier to create just another brand of high heels, for instance, than a product that doesn't exist and then make people love it and get used to using it. After hearing about ASAP, people would say to me, "That's interesting -- so what exactly do you do?

Tell us a bit about the early days of the company.

It was a lot of work, there were many days with no surprises. We could just look at sourcing new products, creating new things. These were times when a lack of orders did dishearten us. I was sure, though, that it just needed more people to know about it and they would come to love the idea. I completely believed in my plan, never did I doubt it!

What kind of challenges have you faced in the course of your career, and how have you learned to deal with them?

Basically I am a pioneer in my line. I had a dreamy idea, I selected a dreamy name for my company. I sell surprises which are very close to the fulfillment of dreams. I ventured into it with an open mind. Having creative fun more than making money was my raison' de entre. I built teams of creative people to support my ventures. Everything is based on 'just-in-time' actions and activities

A big problem we face in our kind of business is sampling. There are so many vendors supplying a  lot of quality products, but because we want only personalised ones, they find it difficult to work with us. We customise every surprise and only have one piece created per customer. And so, we have issues with some vendors who make great products but are not happy doing just the one product. We've convinced some of them to stay on board, after promising a great continued working relationship, others are yet to be convinced.

How does it feel to have succeeded in your venture?

It really feels great. It's a passion that has proved its belief. I love giving surprises personally and to do that for a living -- it's my favourite thing to do. Working is rarely like 'working', if you know what I mean. It feels good, there is a sense of confidence which has come in quite early for me; I don't think anything is impossible after bringing ASAP to where it is.

Has your success impacted your personal life at all?

Not at all. I have always been a person of balance and I maintain that. Yes, it has affected how often I can take holidays -- I could take a lot more leave working in a company other than my own -- but I have no complaints about that at all.

Do you have any success mantras?

Absolutely: Start small. Don't rush to get a big office, great-looking laptops, a personal secretary and then start work. Start from your room.

Also, have clear focus, strong willpower and the desire to succeed. The sky is the limit. I wake up every morning with a passion to make people happy and that's what makes mine a success story.

What do you think is the most common mistake newcomers make?

They want to start big. Most newcomers think the only way to start a business is to start with an office. Also, it's not good to try and re-invent the wheel. Taking advice is very important from people who are into any kind of business.

What tips do you have for today's youngsters looking for a break as young entreprenuers?

Like I said, start small and don't give up -- there will be some points when things wont be as rosy as you planned, but that's the testing time. Don't give up then and sunshine will soon be on its way!

Women have to balance family and a career -- how tough is that for you?

I am single and successful and I'm happy to say it's not a problem for me just yet. I have a hectic social life and balancing for me means not tripping on the dance floor and choosing the right pair of heels!

But I think balancing work and life is something everyone needs to start doing anyway, hectic worklife or not -- and it is a good thing as well. Just because I love my work doesn't mean I don't love my life outside of it. I hope I will strike a balance when I need to because we have only one life and you gotta do everything -- work hard, earn enough wealth, live it up, party hard and then get married and build a family.

What are the main issues you have to deal with as a working woman?

I'm happy that career women are seen as a normal part of the working world. Issues, therefore, are hardly any -- women-worrying issues only crop up when you think you are any different from any other working individual. In fact, when it comes to running your own business, women may actually be in an advantageous position.

What tips do you have for other young women balancing their work and personal lives?

Stay focused and do what you want, but stick to just one thing. There's life beyond business and every second counts, so it's not worth spending your life away only working, working...phew!

Remember it is impossible to please the whole world. Just try and please yourself and be at peace.

What challenges do women entrepreneurs/ career women face in India?

In some parts of the country, men have not prepared themselves sufficiently to deal with women as equals. Most metros and cosmopolitan cities are totally reconciled. Man or woman, you have to prove yourself to earn the respect of your colleagues. There are always some narrow-minded men, though, who are best ignored.

I worked in an MNC for a short while after I passed out of NIFT. The company was woman-dominated and even the men were extremely professional and understanding. Even in other fields, I find the mindset of men has come a long way and they treat women as teammates and assets. Indeed, we are outperforming them in many key areas.

Your inspiration...

Wanting to lead and not be led. Wanting to be my own master, desiring to explore my creative inner self, setting my own pace and taking a flight of fancy was my inspiration to get going.

Any advice on pink slips?

I love the colour pink but for very many other reasons and have always wondered how it got associated with this beastly idea of showing employees the door. I am basically a team builder and not a family breaker. I don't believe in pink slips.

What are your future plans?

To take ASAP much further that it is now -- really make it any suprise any place. I want this company to bring smiles to faces everywhere in the world. As long as you want to make someone feel special, we will do what it takes. Careerwise, I have only just set sail -- I will soon be hitting the ocean and the horizon, where the earth and sky meet. I already deliver surprises in Europe, North America and Australia [Images]. Africa and the Amazon are my next targets!

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