Ash Sood is an entrepreneur, importing technical mountaineering equipment for Indian military patrols that operate in the mountainous northern borders the country shares with neighbors such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ash travels the world sourcing the best gear he can find, and one such trip took him to Taiwan where his business partner showed him an unexpected innovation. A device that could rapidly print graphics onto individual fingernails. The machine was not expensive, so Ash brought two back to his home in Delhi.
But what does a person whose clients defend against incursion above 6,000 meters in elevation, for months at a time, do with a high-technology manicure product? The answer depends a lot on the person. Someone with covert operations experience might load the device with camouflage colors to prepare troops for complete secrecy. Someone with cartography experience might print map information onto soldiers’ fingernails in for a remote mission in unknown territory. Ash had access to a different kind of expertise. His wife Monika had previously been an entrepreneur in the fashion industry, and she suggested a unique consumer manicure kiosk.
Monika explains “We went to the only mall in Delhi and asked for space. When we described what we wanted to do, they looked at us as though we were crazy. But they offered us a small unwanted location between the cinema and the food court. The terms were clear. No rent up front. If we did well for a month, we would discuss a fee. And if we didn’t make money, we were to take our table and never be seen again.” Almost immediately, mall-goers were fascinated by the possibility of instantly having photos, graphics and custom colors printed on their nails. Ash and Monika were happy to have to negotiate rent.
Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial life is not all glamour. So good at attracting customers, the high-tech machine wasn’t as good at retaining them. It sometimes failed to finish a nail, or printed misaligned graphics. And the printing ink and materials it used were expensive and ran out fast. So Ash and Monika hopped aboard a plane to China, anxious to meet with the manufacturer about improving the machine, and to see whether they could source wholesale ink and printing materials. Their travels took them to the interiors of China, where in the open market, amidst vendors of ink and printing supplies, they found sellers of fashion accessories and faux jewelry. Monika envisioned an alternative offering for her customers when the manicure machines weren’t working. She filled her bag with sparkles and returned to Delhi.
After only four months in the custom manicure graphics business, Ash and Monika were selling so many fashion accessories that they moved the machines out. The new business was named ‘youshine’, and was so successful that the owner of the mall suggested they consider a second outlet in his newest mall. By the time they opened their third location in a competing mall that had just opened across the street from their first location, Monika was traveling to China every three months. And when and the manager who gave them their first space complained about their working with his competition, Monika and Ash closed the third location. But have gone on to open eight more kiosks across India plus an internet retail site (www.youshine.in) in less than 2 years.
A Look in the Mirror
Aside from highlighting the importance of transforming the things and knowledge you have, working with the people who choose to work with you, taking affordable risks and using surprise as an input to new possibilities, the Soods offer us one more entrepreneurial lesson. “If you’re going to go into business with your husband, make sure responsibilities are clear. As head of procurement, if I make a bad decision, it is my problem, not something Ash is going to second-guess. Respect and tolerance are critical for board meetings at the breakfast table. But the result is that I get to do what I want to do, when I want to, and with the person I choose.” Beautiful indeed.
Publication: British Airways Business Life
Crazy Quilt (Partnerships)
Lemonade (Leverage Contingencies)
Pilot-in-the-Plane (Control vs. Predict)