Entrepreneur: Disha Singh
Business Name: Zouk
Welcome to #eoindia #startupstories Episode 34.
Each week we will ask an Indian entrepreneur 11 questions so that we can all be inspired by their stories.
Artisan products is a growing sector in India. Brands that solve the problem of maintaining quality standards and producing great design have an excellent opportunity in today’s market.
Today we’ll meet with the founder of one such brand. Zouk. You may have seen their products for sale online, if not you probably will soon. They are already selling on over 10 different websites.
Zouk is known for great design. Any glance at their Laptop bags range, or Backpacks and you will see that they combine great design with really practical products. Combine that with quality control and you have a winning combination.
Found by Disha Singh, Disha hails from a small town of MP. she has an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and an Engineering from GEC, Jabalpur. Disha is the driving fource behind this creative company.
So let’s hear about their startup story.
Welcome to EOIndia#startupstories, episode 34.
How did you get your idea for this business?
In 2015, as part of a course at IIM Ahmedabad, I visited a village in Kutch where I saw some very pretty products made locally by the women folk. However, it was surprising to see that most people loved to see the product but did not purchase even one to take back home. The question each one asked was what would they use these products for?
That got me thinking and gave birth to the idea of Zouk. Along with my team, we have built a large line of stylish yet functional products, which marry the millennial sensibilities. The core concept however has always been to ensure that anyone carrying a Zouk should feel “Proudly Indian”.
anyone carrying a Zouk should feel “Proudly Indian”.
2) Why is “now” a good time for this idea to exist?
The market is right to enter due to 2 reasons.
One is that Indians are becoming more fashionable. That is the reason for entry of multiple foreign brands into India plus the expansion of Indian brands.
Secondly, India’s presence globally has increased, thanks to the strong campaigns by our PM Mr. Modi for Make in India, Startup India etc. All this means that there is space for a few Indian born global brands in the fashion space, which is Zouk’s aspiration. This has played out well at the early stage for us, where I have seen Zouk’s products sell beyond just the large Indian cities and I am also selling abroad in countries like Germany, USA and the Middle East.
3) What was the reaction from your family when you first decided to become an entrepreneur?
My family was at first very open to the idea that a girl should take up an entrepreneurial journey in a sector which is male-dominated and where I have to visit places which are not considered so safe for females.
I come from a service class family and for them business is not something that their kids should get into, leaving behind the comforts of their plush jobs and cosy offices. The uncertainty of business and the day to day struggles associated with it was not something that my family wanted me to go through.
But once I was convinced that I have to do this and after a lot of convincing, my family understood that this is what I want to do and this is what will make me happy. Since then my family has been very supportive towards my venture and encourages me to fulfill my dreams.
4) What was your biggest mistake in business and what did you learn from it?
My biggest mistake was that in the start, I was very afraid to make mistakes. I have learnt from each step I take, right or wrong and that has immensely helped grow the business to the current state, where I have over 100 SKUs and selling in over 10 websites and 6 stores pan India.
5) What is your biggest obstacle in the next 12 months and how will you overcome it?
I have a playbook now to scale Zouk up and my biggest challenge will be to find the right talent to scale it up. I know it is probably the biggest challenge for any founder
6) What habits contribute to your success
Success is still far away to be honest. A few habits that I have picked up over the period of time is to focus on executing one task at a time rather than fooling myself that I am multi-tasking. Secondly, I have ensured that there is a process for everything that we do at Zouk. Thirdly, I always take time out to spend time with family and friends, that keeps me refreshed.
7) If you had the opportunity to start this business again what would you do differently?
There are tons of things I have learned as I have grown Zouk. We over-hired in the middle and had to let go of people, which was the tough but the right move for Zouk and for the employees. That is something I would not repeat. We have iterated several times on our product and I think we have now arrived at our best product.
8) What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“To be, or not to be, that is the question”, which is the first line of the soliloquy by Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” is something that runs in my head a lot.
9) Where do you find inspiration?
I am a massive Apple product fan and a lot of that comes from Steve Jobs’ thoughts and his ideas. He is a big inspiration for me. I also remember having a chat with one of my favorite professors at IIM Ahmedabad about leaving a legacy in this world. When I merge Steve Jobs’ vision and the thought of legacy, I feel very inspired to drive Zouk further. It especially helps when things aren’t going according to plan.
10) What is your favourite book?
My favorite books are Home Deus, Steve Jobs, The Fountainhead and Animal Farm. I read for at least 30 minutes every day and would highly recommend the same to everyone. It need not be just books and can even be blogs and news articles online. This really helps expand my horizon of thoughts.
11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
India is today the land of opportunities and the chances of success for every individual has never been more brighter. However, success is not easy and it requires one to have belief in oneself. If you have a gut feel, dig deep and find out more about it. Once you are 70% convinced, take the leap of faith. Separately, would like to specially nudge all fellow Indian entrepreneurs in the fashion space to work hard towards building a large global brand that is Indian in it’s essence.
As Disha says in her advice to new entrepreneurs above, there is great opportunity for entrepreneurs in India today. You do not need to re-invent the wheel, you just need to solve a problem for the consumer and build on something that already exists. Disha took the skills of the Artisan community and combined it with great design and practical products. She then made these accessible via the internet. That is how you create and winning business combination.
We like her advice and learning in question 7 to keep changing a product until you feel for have the right fit for the market. We also like her advice to focus on one area – rather than try to do everything.
Look out for their products in a store near you soon.
As usual, don’t forget to check out the recommended reading below. They come recommended for a reason!
Recommended Books of the Week