Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Mukund Umesh Thakkar, I run the company with the brand name Mastermind Bicycle Studio. We are a chain of Retail Stores, selling the sport of Cycling through the most high-end and premium brands in the world of cycling and triathlon. We sell a wide range of products from Bicycles, Helmets, Shoes, Wheels, Components, Apparel, etc.
I am a Chemical Engineer and an MBA in Finance, selling and spreading this wonderful sport of cycling in India. I started Mastermind when I was 26 years old. Our Sales Revenue has consistently grown at a rate of around 55% to 65% Year On Year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started Cycling as a hobby, after completing my MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.
In 2014, I cycled from London to Paris with a group of 20 UK citizens. On that ride, I matured as a cyclist, and I got a first-hand experience of how much cycling has evolved in the European continent, and across the world. I got to know the accessories and components to choose for competitive and enthusiastic cycling, and I got to understand the nuances of cycling.
On the 4th Day, when we reached Paris and standing below the Eiffel Tower, I thought to myself, “I am going back home, and starting a bicycle shop!”
I had no expertise in either the sport or the business of sport. All I knew was that there was a huge gap in the Indian market for the availability of the premium products of the cycling world and the correct practices of cycling.
At the time, I was working with my father in our family business of manufacturing zinc oxide (me being a chemical engineer). I am eternally grateful to my parents for allowing me to pursue something which was completely offbeat from the family business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Once I thought about starting the business in Cycling, I was very determined to learn about the intricate practices is not just the riding part of cycling, but also in the maintenance and repair part of cycling. So I enrolled myself in BikeSchool Asia in Singapore, for a comprehensive course in Bicycle Maintenance and Repair.
I still owe a good part of my success to my professor in BikeSchool, Mr. Kenneth Wee.
My learnings in that course define my values and ethics to date in the business of cycling.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched the business on 1st March 2015. The launch strategy was very simple, to invite the local cycling community to our flagship store, and we organized a celebratory cycling ride. We have always believed that word-of-mouth is the strongest and the most cost-effective way to promote your business.
I financed my business by taking startup capital from my father. I did not have any high budget to spend on marketing and promotion. So I stuck to the basics. I let the customers become my brand ambassadors.
Of course, the end consumer will never actively promote your brand for no reason. But without any big marketing budget, our only choice was to remain patient. We allowed the consumers to speak good, bad, high, and low about us. A consumer’s mind is sometimes unstable, so it is important not to judge yourself by every consumer’s review or reaction. I was confident that over a period of time, everything evens out, only good work and strong worth ethic speak.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In today’s world, it is all about consumer engagement, and the challenge is how to keep the consumer involved throughout the year. In the retail business, the key is to constantly evolve yourself, keep reinventing yourself every few weeks, not even months!
It has been six years for us in business, but I do not remember a single stretch of a 2-month period when we haven't launched a new product package or a new service package. The quickest thing to get bored in this world is the consumer’s mind!
Also, to increase traffic and sales, having a digital and also a physical presence helps a lot. No doubt, the world is moving towards more digital transformation. But in India, the touch and feel concept in certain premium products is always going to remain. So if you want to build trust, you should always try to have a small physical presence in some corner of the city to give an option to the consumer to know the product. For us, our website and our physical stores have worked a beautiful combination to grow the business further.
Our biggest decision and I think the most important one if I can say so, was to NOT sell our products on Amazon and Flipkart, and other e-commerce websites in India. With all due respect to those global giants, we felt that our products are so niche and premium, that we need to be patient to pull the customer to our website always.
You need to analyze if your product is something that a person would randomly search on Google, or he/she will do proper research on the product before buying. In the latter’s case, then the global e-commerce websites make no sense. You need to take up the challenge of setting up your own e-commerce, and try to create a habit for the consumers to come back again and again on your website, not just for shopping, but also for the experience and knowledge sharing.
Employees are your extension, not your subordinates.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I would say that we are in a very strong position today as far as market capitalization is concerned. Our slow and steady growth has allowed us to keep in line with the market changes. We are always on the lookout for how consumer behavior is changing, and try to change ourselves according to that.
When we open a new store now, it moves towards the break-even faster than what we saw in our initial stages of the business. The consumer is now much more aware of the brands and products we sell.
Our social media presence and following have consistently grown, more so in recent months. As the brand gets rolling, you see a sudden spike in your following. It is important to be patient initially, and not to lose hope. It is not so easy to convince the consumer to ‘follow’ us on social media. But once you hammer the consumer’s mind constantly, then it becomes easier to create a habit.
Our future looks like we will invest more money in the digital space. We are investing in our social media activities, we have recently started our YouTube channel. We are investing a lot of our time in SEO, cleanliness of the website, and maintaining digital hygiene.
On the brick and mortar front, we will continue to expand our presence in more cities. We have stuck to the rule of ‘One City, One Store’. In the super-premium category of products, it does not usually make sense to cannibalize your own network in the same city.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Customer is not the king
I have read many management books that elevate the customer to a princely status of the King. And that is exactly how I had started. I still remember the early days of my Bicycle Studio. I used to be scared of the customers. The fear that my customer will go elsewhere was immense. It made me so weak that my inner voice was often drowned in front of my customers.
Love your job, love your business, love your money, love your kingdom. Don’t expect the same love from your customers towards your business, because it’s not their job.
I do not know exactly when the Eureka moment came, but I am glad it did. I realized that a customer cannot be a king, because customers are not one, they are many. In one kingdom, there can’t be multiple kings. I will say this till my grave that you are the only king there can be, and it's your kingdom!
You are the only one in charge to make your kingdom beautiful, to make it secure, and to make it long living. Customers still get a princely status, but not as kings, rather as guests. Treat them to your royalty when they enter your palace, but don’t let them define your kingdom. Your kingdom is yours, live with it, die with it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I will forever be grateful to the Digital World out there, for making the lives of startup entrepreneurs like me so much easier and better.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Though not connected to a business in any way, the one author who has had a profound impact on my life is Ayn Rand. When I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, it was actually like looking into the mirror. Creating value and constantly turning the world into a better place is the biggest motivation that has worked for me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Employees are your extension, not your subordinates
I often hear people saying that good employees are hard to find. That’s only because you search for employees, and not yourself. There is nothing good or bad about employees. The only scale is the extent to which they are like your own self. You cannot gift them your brain, but you can teach them your way of thinking. You cannot tell your employees what to do, they are not puppets. But you can very well tell them what NOT to do. Invariably they start doing just what you want them to. Just teach them your language, let them choose the words.
Love and Acceptance – Two sides of the same coin
The thing which you love will not necessarily be universally loved. It just doesn’t happen. But don’t let that stop you from loving. Love your job, love your business, love your money, love your kingdom. Don’t expect the same love from your customers towards your business, because it’s not their job.
For you, your business will be your passion; but for your customers, it is just a place of barter exchange. They exchange their money for the product or service, and they expect a fair exchange. Do not be demoralized if they do not reciprocate your love, but take solace in the fact of their acceptance.
As long as your customers accept you, you are good. Some will accept you because they want to, some might accept you because they don’t have a choice. Some will try every other option before accepting you. So learn to take acceptance in whichever form it comes. And in all this chaos, if you find customers who give you love, keep them close and don’t flip the coin.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always on the lookout for sport and cycling enthusiasts who are interested in a career in the field of fitness and lifestyle. We always welcome athletes with managerial skills, technical skills or knowledge, and people having a keen interest in the sport.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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