Flying Machine captured the imagination of thousands of Indians and made most of my generation brand-conscious.
The man behind Flying Machine, Rajiv K. Badlani, believes it was the biggest mistake of his life to sell the brand.
The 59-year-old Badlani is far from retiring though – he has just moved to greener pastures. In 2000, the entrepreneur who started the branding buzz in India, established Norquest Brands Private Limited and launched his own brand of environmentally-friendly designer bags.
In an exclusive tete-a-tete with YourStory, Badlani tells the story of his entrepreneurial journey.
Like many other entrepreneurs, I shelved my dream of owning my own company for the safety net of a 9-to-5 job. I ventured into advertising, which was so much fun, I wonder why I did not pursue it further. I did really well at the first sleepy ad agency I joined (I almost bought it 10 years later), and finally decided I was too bright to carry on in the business.
Thank heavens I left. I would have become totally dull.
The most fun I had was at MCM (Mass Communication and Marketing), a company started by a maverick called Kersey Katrak. When the rats started scampering away and it seemed like this wild ship was about to sink, I ran too. I was a rat then, a rat with low self-esteem. I should have stuck with that genius. I would have learned to respect myself a little more.
In retrospect I should have stayed in advertising. I have all the right instincts for it except the ability to network with nincompoops. For people like me, entrepreneurship is the way to go. You can call a spade a spade.
Finally, I found some courage to go into business on my own. I launched what became India's No.1 brand of jeans – Flying Machine, a name I'm proud of choosing. Even then, I knew I was going to build a tongue-in-cheek lifestyle brand, a brand that would grow bigger than itself. Of course I had to pay a big price.
It's taxing when you are so emotionally involved. The company was growing at an annual rate of 400 percent. In those days, the Indian banking system called that 'overtrading' under the idiotic Tandon Committee Norms. I wonder whether this bloke Tandon knows how many souls he must have destroyed.
I was desperately short of working capital, but I continued to operate within my limitations and Flying Machine became a shortage product. For every 17 orders I had, I could produce and ship just 1 pair of jeans. While this was great for my ego, it also created a piquant situation. For every Flying Machine being sold, 17 competing jeans would enter the market. If I had had the sense at that time, I would have involved outside finance and licensing to grow the business.
One day, I broke. I sold the brand and the company, and "retired". I thought I made a good deal but it took me close to 15 years to get that pittance in my hands. Even the interest I earned on that pittance made me so lazy I forgot the vigor there is in work.
I was still a star and my constraints were known only to me. The world thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread It is always fun when the media write about you, when you are recognized and discussed in whispers wherever you go.
I was 35 at the time and I wasted the next fifteen years of my life. The uniquely Indian term time-pass best describes that period.
Then, in 2008, I started Norquest Brands Private Limited with a good friend, Sanjiv Sood. We export reusable cloth bags (See http://www.badlani.com/bags). We now have customers across the world and have, at customer request, added a variety of products to our repertoire.
It is an enormously satisfying business. Particularly gratifying is the fact that Sanjiv and I have been able to discuss and agree on a series of values and principles that guide our business.
In the India, there is a cynicism about honesty in business – people presume businessmen must cut corners and be cunning. I think we've succeeded in blowing that myth for everyone who comes in contact with our business. After Flying Machine, I have been able to prove once again that customer satisfaction and transparency are the mantra to success.
In retrospect, I am grateful for all the kicks I've taken. Having to strive at this age teaches you humility and keeps you young.