10 lessons The Asian Games Campaign Taught Me About Entrepreneurship
iLogo, an eCommerce venture about customized t-shirts and printing is founded by am army man turned entrepreneur. A graduate from the prestigious National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, Amit Arvind is a former international athlete having won several international medals in the sport of sailing. After 12 years as an officer in the Indian Navy, he retired prematurely to follow his dream of being an entrepreneur and started iLogo. He is an avid marathoner and finished 32nd overall in the 2012 Mumbai Marathon. Here are the 10 things he learnt from his Asian games campaign:
1. Vision: I started my 2006 Asian games campaign as far back as 2002. The vision of a medal in 2006 is what drove me to train from 2002 till 2006. When I started, it was not clear which event I would be participating or the path to get that medal. This vision is very important while startng up a venture.
2. Perseverance & determination: During the 5 years of my campaign, I have lost many more races than won. The campaign had been filled with uncertainty right till the first race of the Asian Games. Challenges varied from getting approval to participate in events, equipment, coaching, funds etc. During the first round of selection trials for the Asian Games, I had been comprehensively beaten to second. To everyone else the final selection for the Games was a foregone conclusion and it definitely was not me. However, I was able to identify my shortcomings –lack of equipment, not the correct weight & inadequate downwind sailing skills. I focussed and worked on each of them in the next 6 months. I borrowed a boat from TNSA for the Asian Games trials, added 7 kilos of muscle mass in 6 months and trained the entire monsoon fine tuning my sailing skills. Winning the Asian Games trial with a race to spare was the result of all that effort coming together.
3. Work ethics & discipline: Adding 7 kilos of muscle mass while at the same time spending 4 hours on the water 5 days a week required discipline & work ethics. As I was sailing from the Naval Sailing Club, I lacked a training partner in the laser. Yet, coming back after a long day on the water in rough seas & heavy winds of the monsoons, I was never more satisfied. I had moved yet one step closer to my goal.
4.Planning: Plan your work and work your plan; one of the first things I learnt about a major event campaign was to divide it into 3 parts: Train to train, Train to race and race to race. The first part was to get your basic skills sets & fitness in place to be able to train efficiently. The second was to develop skills required for racing and the third was 'to race' to learn from the experience of racing.
Every campaign had a macro and micro plan. A macro plan for the entire campaign and a weekly/monthly micro plan. The plan kept being modified depending on performance metrics like event performance, goals achieved and outside factors like health, events etc.
As an entrepreneur there are several times you get bogged down with day to day challenges. It is the ability to keep planning my work and working my plan helped me grow my business through these challenges.
5. Flexibility: No matter how much you plan, things never quite go the way you want. In 2004, the enterprise was part of the Asian Games. My team won the Nationals, a medal at the Worlds and we seemed all set to medal at the Asian Games. We then got the news that the Enterprise Class had been dropped from the Games. I was required to quickly regroup and get my campaign started in the laser.
When I started iLogo, I had anticipated being able to create a market in Europe for my offering due to the huge cost advantage of manufacturing in India. However, due to the huge cost of marketing in Europe, this never really took off. The Indian ecommerce market at theat time was too small to focus on. The first year we had to depend on offline sales to support the development of the ecommerce platform. The conviction in the vision is what kept us going.
6. Innovation: Getting better in sailing is all about being innovative while training and racing. Luckily, I was trained by one of the foremost Olympians from India to always think and train out of the box. It was most important to do things the smartest way, so you could achieve the most with the very least.
In iLogo, without a large ad budget, we struggled getting our initial customers. In 2011, we came up with this idea to run a theme based Online T-Shirt design contest using the easy to use design studio of iLogo. This would help users know about our site & how it functions.
I was fortunate that the team of MTV Roadies liked this idea wholeheartedly. The contest for the 'Official MTV Roadies T-Shirt' in 2011 got in more than 11,000 entries with the winning design getting over 15,000 facebook likes. We went on to run similar contests for Oktoberfest, IIT Guwahati, Ezeego1, Sophia College etc.
This year we launched our most ambitious contest yet. ‘The Enerzal Coolest College T-Shirt Contest’ where users will express their passion for their college by designing T-Shirts. The winners will be decided by voting on facebook. We already have over 1400 registered participants & are part of the St Xavier's College festival Malhar.
7. Don't be Myopic: Every race is a mix of strategy and tactics. You plan every race with a strategy. This would depend on which side of the course you wish to be, current position amongst the points, tide, weather anticipated etc . However, one minute from the start, it is probably more important to be narrow focused on the tactics of the start. More important at that point, is to make sure you are fast off the start line & tactically strong with respect to nearby boats. This shift from strategic to tactical, broad focused to narrow focus continues right through the race.
As a startup founder, you spend everyday shifting between a tactical view point to a strategic one. You look into day to day activities while at the same time keeping an eye on strategy and vision for your company. One can easily get bogged down with the day to day activites and it is very important to step back to check the strategic path of your company.
8. Equanimity, presence of mind & being in action: Every sportsman loses far more than he wins. It is the sportsman who learns ‘how’ to lose, who learns to win more often. When I started sailing, I got easily upset by losing & failure. Over the years I learnt how to deal with this. My best events have been the ones where I have participated without the fear of failure while at the same time being committed. The Asian Games trials were one such event. I went in confident of performing. Even a few bad races were unable to upset my rhythm and confidence. The ability to learn from failure, keeping calm, & continuing working hard has been one of the greatest gifts of sailing.
iLogo has been equally if not more tumultuous. In 2010, we signed a contract with Reliance where our products were going to be sold in over 100 stores across India. However, a change in their management saw the project being shelved. A lot of effort had been wasted, or so it seemed. This year, a person connected with the project who had moved to Hungama, invited us to be part a select group of ecommerce companies being promoted through their app installed in every intel based laptop. There have been several failures along the way. I have looked at every failure as an expensive lesson learnt. Sports gave me the confidence to achieve anything. After all in the space of 3 years, I had moved from sailing my first nationals to winning a medal at the Asian Championship.
9. Making the most of what you have: Sponsorhip for sailing has always been a challenge. One has always had to make the best of whatever resources on could get ones hands on. I had sailed with 8+ year old equipment my entire sailing career right upto the Asian Games trials. When I sailed the trials in a new boat, I seemed to have found an extra gear and my goal turned into reality. A competitive sailor in India has to don multiple hats of travel agent, coach, repairman, physical trainer, boatman in addition to doing his regular job. We also had to make the most of the limited international exposure, funds, equipment & knowledge. These skills of making the best of the very least have paid huge dividends while starting up.
I grew up wearing had me downs from my brother. We just always made the most of everything at home.
I started iLogo with an initial capital of Rs 1 Lakh. I didn’t have huge savings when I left the navy nor did I feel comfortable borrowing money from my parents. I had no option but to make iLogo work. For iLogo, I learnt photoshop to make the images on the site, wrote the content, did the SEO & designed all the pages. I even learnt web programming to have more control over the development of the site. The biggest lesson was that no job was too small and no challenge too big.
10. Passion & desire to excel: If you aren't passionate about sailing, it is unlikely you would be spending your saturdays & sundays burning on the water in the summers of mumbai. But it is the desire to excel which kept us on the water for over 10 hours training, whether it was hot mumbai, windy Australia or cold europe. Training is not always fun. Many a days are spent doing the most boring and tedious drills a million times in trying circumstances. This had to be done to make sure you didn't mess it up in a race.
iLogo was started with the same passion. The passion to make a mark. The passion to be a part of the 'Great India Story'. The passion to make a difference. This passion & desire to excel has kept us innovating to be the best Custom T-Shirt website in the world. I can proudly claim that there is no other cusotm t-shirt website in the world which offers the online features, usability & speed we do.
The journey with iLogo continues. Today, I am more than convinced that there is an entrepreneur living in every sportsman.