In the times we live in, it is argued that diversity should be taken for granted. That includes gender. we profile a few women on the eve of International women’s day who show how. Compiled by Kunal Doley
If you’re a wealthy jetsetter, chances are that you have often been repelled by the outdated nature of the private jet industry in the country—its brick-and-mortar process involving picking up the phone and speaking to numerous operators and brokers before you can finally charter a jet.
Now, consider if there was a service like Uber or Ola for chartering a private jet: you pick up the phone and make a few taps—the online aggregator shows you options of charter planes from multiple aircraft operators and then helps you book the one you choose. Nifty, isn’t it? That’s exactly what JetSetGo, a New Delhi-based start-up that aggregates private jets, is doing—much like what Uber or Ola do with cabs. And the brain behind it is Kanika Tekriwal.
The 26-year-old MBA from Coventry University in England has been associated with the aviation industry for many years now. She worked for companies such as Airmid Aviation Services, the passenger aviation unit of Indiabulls Group, and UK-based aviation firm Aerospace Resources before starting a consultancy in 2012 to assist in strategy and marketing for private jet owners and those looking to sell aircraft. Tekriwal wanted to make sure that she fully understood the industry before launching the self-funded JetSetGo. “Over the past few years, I noticed the frustration of customers while dealing with charter brokers and operators. Anyone wanting to use a private jet would ideally contact a broker or an aircraft operator based either on recommendations or on a Google search result. These brokers recommend jets or helicopters, which give them maximum commission irrespective of the client’s requirements. Due to sheer lack of transparency and non-availability of charter planes, customers would pay astronomical amounts. Similarly, if the customer contacts an operator, he would be pitched an aircraft solely operated by that operator,” says New Delhi-based Tekriwal, who pursued a course in visual communication and design at the BD Somani Institute of Art & Fashion Technology in Mumbai in 2006.
But unlike a cab, a private jet isn’t an often-used means of transport. So what has been the feedback so far? “Beyond imagination,” says Tekriwal, adding, “People with large amounts of disposable income often have low amounts of disposable time—and nothing saves time better than a private jet. The popularity of private jets, the travel choice of the rich and the famous, is only increasing.”
Launched in March 2014, JetSetGo, which has an inventory of 77 listed aircraft so far, became profitable from September last year and is reportedly growing at 50% month-on-month. This is somewhat substantiated by a report published by management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group in June last year that said the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals in India more than trebled to 928 in 2014 from 284 in 2013. Also, despite market gaps and shortcomings, the non-scheduled aviation market in India has steadily grown to a market size of over R1,800 crore, with over 1.3 million passengers having flown during FY 2013-14 , as per some reports. “A combination of factors like improving macro-economic fundamentals and fall in aviation fuel prices are now providing strong tailwinds to this sector, with several aircraft and helicopter manufacturers registering an increase in bookings,” says Tekriwal.
JetSetGo’s customers range from the likes of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to billionaires across the spectrum. But primarily, the start-up sees two types of customers—those who travel for business and for leisure. Those using private jets for business generally do so to travel to airports not serviced by commercial airlines and/or to save time. The leisure traveller, on the other hand, likes to be pampered and spoiled with fine dining options, superior service, etc. “The leisure traveller loves unique experiences. For example, we recently hosted an all-out bachelor party on a private jet for a customer. Another time, we hosted a birthday party for children at a helipad along with joyrides on a helicopter,” says Tekriwal, whose company raised an undisclosed amount of funding from cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s start-up fund YouWeCan Ventures in July last year.
REAL ESTATE marketing is an idea that not too many women would buy to embark on an entrepreneurial journey. But Rashmi Kohli, 44, did. She started Sparrow Interactive, which provides technology-driven experiential marketing solutions to leading realtors across the country, in 1996 with just two other people on board. Today, it’s a robust company, commanding over 120 employees.
Sparrow Interactive was born out of a passion for innovating and creating things. “We were initially providing Web presence and multimedia solutions. At that time, Internet was still in its infancy in India, but we got a good response. After a couple of years, we were pretty good at what we offered. That’s how our tryst with real estate companies started,” says the Hansraj College (Delhi University) and IMT Ghaziabad alumna.
Since it had just three people, the company didn’t require much in terms of cash inputs, which Kohli generated from her own savings, family and friends. “We used my family’s old residence in Jangpura in Delhi as our office as it was lying vacant. More than funds, what was required was a lot of hardwork, belief and determination, which we had in plenty,” Kohli recalls.
What the company does is to redefine the real estate space through new-age technology by merging the projections of real estate developers with the aspirations of a home buyer. A home buyer no longer needs to go through endless brochures of a new project. He or she can virtually ‘walk through’ them. Sparrow Interactive uses multiple platforms and technologies such as architectural 3D, interactive scale models, touch environments and immersive audio-visual theatres, besides holographic imagery and augmented reality to market the projects, detailing their USPs for the buyer.
Three-dimensional visualisation has come a long way in the past one decade, Kohli says. “Way back in 2005, these were just tools to educate the customer, whereas now these technologies are being used more for creating avenues for impulse purchase. Going forward, we see a lot of opportunity in 3D, owing to technological advancements in virtual and immersive reality.”
Being a marketing company, Sparrow creates memorable experiences for real estate brands. “Integrating multiple platforms, technologies and solutions, we create environments, project showcases and jaw-dropping imagery. We are domain specialists now and leverage global insights to offer winning solutions to our clients, who are spread across India and abroad,” Kohli explains.
But like any other industry, 3D architecture visualisation has its set of challenges too. “The industry in India is not very organised as a sector… We keep learning from our own mistakes and keep evolving. The good thing is that the real estate industry has matured a lot and people are open to new ideas,” says Kohli, adding, “Roadblocks and challenges come primarily in the form of tech limitations, lack of awareness, etc.”
But does being a woman come in the way of her work? “Since our solutions create an impact on the ‘marcom’ (marketing communications) side of real estate, being a woman, I would say, has not been really a challenge and neither did I ever look at it that way. The industry has been very supportive,” says Kohli, adding, “It has been a rewarding journey of nearly two decades now and, I feel, we have been able to make our mark. I never thought or felt that being a woman was a challenge. If you are well-planned, stay focused towards your goal and show perseverance, things start to fall into place, both at work and at home.”
Kohli is a first-generation entrepreneur and mother of two. “My husband and family have been very supportive, understanding and encouraging throughout this journey and that means that the work-life balance is well-maintained. My son is in college and my daughter in high school. My husband works with an EDA (electronic design automation) firm. We spend time together on weekends,” says Kohli, an avid reader of management books.
For Lisa Srao, spirits and liquor didn’t happen by chance—she had some exposure to the industry in the UK, where she was born and brought up, as her father was already in the business of liquor distribution. But the idea for I Brands Beverages came to her only when she moved to India following her marriage in 2003.
“Products in the price-sensitive bracket were of very low quality at that point of time and good-quality products were extremely expensive. Since my father was in the business of liquor distribution, I noticed a huge gap in the market. The premium liquor segment in the ‘mass market’ was completely under-utilised and there were few players in that segment,” says Srao.
That is when she envisioned building a liquor business that provided the market with international quality of products that would also be value for money.
“I envisioned bringing my father’s products to India, but with market research, understood that to be truly price-competitive, I needed to manufacture in India. Each state here is like a different country. With this thought in mind, I founded I Brands Beverages in 2008 and launched its India operations in 2010,” explains Srao, who has a bachelor’s degree in managerial and administrative studies from Aston University in Birmingham with specialisation in international marketing and consumer behaviour.
The Bengaluru-based company currently sells four liquor brands in India: Three Royals Whisky, Granton Whisky, Rum 99 and Granton XO Brandy.
After recently entering Cambodia, Srao now plans to take I Brands Beverages to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand in the next fiscal year as part of its market expansion strategy.
With Delhi, Telangana and Karnataka, the company is also gearing up to enter three new states in India to expand its domestic footprint to 16 states. Currently, the company has presence in states such as Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Puducherry and Andhra Pradesh.
However, things were not easy for this mother of two to launch a spirits company in
India from scratch and managing to stay afloat in a male-dominated industry that is known for new entrants shutting shop within six months of launching operations.
“The liquor industry in India is incredibly difficult to enter, as it is a capital-intensive industry and dominated by few big players. We faced a lot of issues while setting up the company, as I didn’t have the kind of funds to play with what is the norm of the industry. Also, being an unknown company, we had a hard time getting distributors to work with us,” she says, adding, “The industry is male-dominated and I felt like I was in unchartered waters for a long time. I had a hard time, as nobody would take me seriously. During meetings with distributors, they would address my manager and talk only to him because he was a guy.”
However, Srao and her team worked through these challenges. She strategically planned to take a slow and steady approach, and spent two years in R&D before launching the first product— Granton Whisky. Within less than four years of its presence in India, the company won several awards, such as the ‘best start-up company’ at the Spiritz 2014 Awards, the IndSpirit 2014 Excellence in Packaging Award for Granton Whisky, and the ‘innovative start-up of the year’ at the Entrepreneur Awards 2014.
Srao, in her capacity as the chairman and managing director of I Brands, was also honoured with the ‘woman entrepreneur of the year’ award at IndSpirit 2015, a prestigious liquor industry award ceremony by Ambrosia India, as well as the ‘most promising entrepreneur’ at the Asia-Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2015.
Lisa is fully involved in all stages of I Brands Beverages. Be it strategising and development of all business functions, manufacturing, sales, branding, marketing, product design or packaging, Srao is totally hands-on.
But when not juggling between a high-powered job and her children, Srao enjoys painting, listening to music and travelling. She strongly partakes in charity work supporting causes for women and education for the girl child.
“Do not be restricted by outdated traditions or stereotypes. Pay attention to details in your business and know your strengths. I take on challenges and look to learn from them constantly. I have great motivational spirit and drive. Live your life with passion,” says Srao in a message to women entrepreneurs.