ENTREPRENE U 28
INC.INDIA | AUGUST 2010
Welcome to the new, new India—the land of opportunities. The business of business is tough here. With its array of cultures, habits, tongues, and small matters of sense and sensibilities, boy, it gets tougher, if you don’t talk the talk, or walk the walk. But, the ‘buzz’ around this booming economy has lured men and women of all shades and races to start up on its shores. Here are a few tales of brave foreigners, who have responded to the magic that’s India— shrugging off the ‘small’ matter of language, and making a place in their hearts for this country.
THE EXPAT CLUB OF COMMERCE
made friends with Aman Nath. When we asked him for site recommendations, he just said, ‘do it in Neemrana’.” Together, the duo has poured Rs 1.5 crore in the company so far. “We wanted to lay about 10 courses in five years. But we have done just three in three years,” McCallum confesses. “Money will only start coming in once there are more sites. How quickly we can ramp up is key. It’s all about scale in this business,” he adds.
And then again, he reminds you, when you are a foreigner, the growth of your company is intimately linked to how fast you can get through India’s indecipherable and often “agonising” bureaucracy. “So much time here is spent on things other than growing the business,” rues Walter. “Since there is no adventure sports culture in India, we have to bring in a lot of trained guides from Europe. Getting visas for them has been absolutely maddening,” he complains, shaking his head. “And, it’s getting worse. Agencies don’t seem to understand start-ups. For them, an expatriate worker is only somebody who earns Rs 3 lakh each month at a multinational.” He, however, quickly adds that the “breathtakingly” good feedback from his clients makes it worthwhile to put up with “all the traffic, the weather and the pollution”. Also in the pipeline are plans to take Flying Fox to its fourth destination, a summer hill resort, probably. Rishikesh is high on the wish list too. “It’s the hub of adventure sports in India. Just picture zipping over the Ganges,” Jonathan urges. He even has a marketing mantra in place, a holy zip with your holy dip! As an entrepreneurial adventure, that should finally put to rest McCallum’s momentarily restless queries about his life in the subcontinent. —Shreyasi Singh
Masala Tee A hip product for the high-end users
Few founders personify their brand as effortlessly as Sheikha Mattar-Jacob and Noelline Besson of Masala Tee, a Delhibased luxury fashion brand. Besson, born in India, was adopted and brought up by a family in France. Mattar-Jacob, born in Singapore and married to a French architect, has lived in Delhi, Shanghai and Paris in the past five years. And it is this delightful concoction of cross-cultural flavours, experiences and influences that the two AUGUST 2010
THE EXPAT CLUB OF COMMERCE
women are brewing to perfection with their year-old company, Masala Tee. Cannily crafted and packaged, Masala Tee works on a simple model. Using 100 per cent organic cotton, Besson and Mattar-Jacob design T-shirts that display images symbolic of India and play off the country’s culture with a smart combo of homophones like “tea” and “tee” (for T-shirt). Take, for instance, their launch collection for women. It featured form-fitted T-shirts displaying screen-printed faces of Indian women decked up with maang tikkas, neckpieces, nose rings and jhumkas in
Swarovski crystals. The Indian connection has clicked instantly with a growing band of high-end foreign tourists. To add to the uniqueness factor, the founders have even added a little story to the silk. So each T-shirt captures an Indian woman with a real name. “That’s Sapna,” says Besson, pointing to a mustard T-shirt. There’s also Divya, Piya, Sitaara and Maya. “They are part of our family now. So many people tell us, ‘oh! she looks like someone we know’,” adds Besson, who has been in India for more than five years now, doing graphic design and interior projects.
FOUNDERS: Sheikha Mattar-Jacob and Noelline Besson LOCATION: Delhi YEAR OF FOUNDING: June 2009 LATEST TURNOVER: NA START-UP COSTS: Rs 6-7 lakh approximately BREAK EVEN PERIOD: 10 months BIGGEST EXPENSE: Production of T-shirts; two heavy-duty Macbook Pros RED TAPE FACED: Registering the company as a partnership was difficult. Paperwork took long BEST PART OF DOING BUSINESS IN INDIA: India is raw and beautiful.
As creative people, we find it so easy to get inspired here. So many things you can pick up and refine WORST PART OF DOING BUSINESS IN INDIA: Deadlines are not respected. That’s been hard to get used to
It was a chance meeting at the Delhi Zoo in September 2008 that brought the “TEE Wallahs” together. The fit was instant, and perfect, thanks to complementary personalities and skill sets. Besson, a design graduate from one of France’s leading schools of art, and Mattar-Jacob, an advertising and branding professional with over 15 years of experience with agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi, knew, almost instantly, that they could craft a successful story together. Things rolled very quickly, they say. “Even as we were getting the paperwork done, we were working on the styling,” says Besson. The founders make it clear that it was never about “two giggly girls” wanting to have some fun. “We started with a business plan and a marketing strategy. We know how we want to evolve,” adds Mattar-Jacob confidently. Since June 2009, when they
launched Masala Tee, they have made more than 8,000 pieces. Priced at a hefty Rs 2,500, these T-shirts are retailed through 18 upmarket outlets across India like Ogaan, Bombay Electric, and several five star hotels. “It’s aimed at the uppity fashionista—somebody with a high disposable income. We are focused on the niche market. And, the response has been incredible,” Besson says. Little flourishes add to the buying experience, like the clever play on “tee” and “tea”, which has been blended smartly into the packaging of the product. Each T-shirt is packed in its individual tea bag, which is either a modern silver foil packet or a soft muslin tea package of yore. Earlier this year, the duo also launched exclusive lines for men and children. The children’s collection shows stylised images of quintessentially Indian animals—cows, camels and elephants—wearing headbands and sunglasses. The “Tee Wallahs” find such inventiveness easy to come by in India. “This is such an inter-
A Cup of ‘Tee’
Sheikha Mattar-Jacob and Noelline Besson are spicing up the casual design segment.
PHOTOGRAPH BY VIJAY KUTTY