Weekly Startup Profiles > Sacred Moments
"The 21st century way to win favours with God" - how many companies can claim that for their products?
Leveraging Indian traditions and festivals for corporate and retail gifts
Prakash held up a tiny vial. "See this? Ganga jal." Observing a few raised eyebrows, he reassured us that he has worked hard to find reliable sources: it really was Ganges water.
The beautiful orange box labeled "Blessingz. The one stop Puja shoppe" is a marvel of neat packing: all the ingredients tucked into matching sachets, along with instructions. It's a box that holds the answer for those of us who want to follow the complicated religious rituals, but who are not quite sure of all the necessary ingredients, or perhaps without the time to chase down all the elements.
Prakash admits that the idea for these kits was originally purely academic, conceived by Prakash when he was a student at Symbiosis Centre for Management and Human Resource Development (SCMHRD), Pune, in response to an ITC challenge.
After winning five B-plan competitions, Prakash began to believe that this idea had some real business potential, but the truth was that "although the idea clicked at the Zee TV contest, I was not convinced that this was a business that could be sustained. Most temples already have their own cartels of puja item suppliers and would not stand for a branded product being sold on their turf."
After studying the market, Prakash developed the idea of puja kits that were delivered straight to the customer. "I refined and re-refined the idea to reach the final stage."
When Prakash says "straight to the customer" he means it: he once delivered a box to a customer at the airport, to ensure the gift would reach the destination.
Prakash sees a growing need in the market. "More and more people today are unaware of the items that are required in a particular puja, where to get good quality products and how to use them." These customized, well-packaged and well-labeled kits address just that gap.
The Blessingz puja kits were available last year at stores like Asiatic, Satyam and Akbar Ali in Mumbai. Prakash also saw the opportunity in the business sector: as a corporate gift, Blessingz has the right ethnic touch -- missing in the widely available Chinese-manufactured novelty gifts. Prakash sells the kits directly to the corporates that put in their orders.
Many start ups can be a major cash drain, but Prakash has broken the myth that large financial backing is required to get started. The biz plan competitions helped: the VC's told him that he shouldn't need much cash.
In the end, the total investment was 3-4 lakhs, provided by the tried-and-true source of seed capital: the 3 F's (also known as Family, Friends and Fools). Their funds were supplemented by the prize money won at the b-plan competitions. " I was also lucky to work with suppliers who let me have the material on credit," he says.
In this case, even the fools were proved right: first year sales were 34 lakhs.
Faced with a choice of a lucrative job offer or walking into the unknown, not many MBA's might show the courage of conviction that Prakash did. Now a year later, the drive and energy still essentially come from Prakash; his team has not grown very much. He explained, "I have 2 office assistants and my father helps me with the administration."
What challenges does he face? Reaching the consumer - Prakash says it's hard to find "cost effective ways to market and promote the products." Another challenge is cutting down the production time. "I am now using machine-made products and pouches to be able to meet the demand in good time."
But things are moving ahead: Sacred Moments is broadening its product line, expanding to additional holidays, and even, in true egalitarian form, to other religions. In order to build a less seasonal business, Prakash is launching a vehicle puja kit.
It should be easier to find the kits as well: Prakash plans to start retailing at malls under the brand name Bhakti. "I am planning to approach all the big malls - starting with Big Bazaar."
Competition from a big corporate is definitely something that worries me. So far there is no competition, but once I gain the market and other companies realize that the market is big, then I might have a problem."
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