He lost his father and braved society to realise his entrepreneurial dreams
Hailing from a small town of Adipur, Abhimanyu Chowhan’s story is one of strength, perseverance, and ambition. In school, he always fancied doing something of his own, holding dreams to set up his manufacturing factory. Pushing and encouraging him to pursue his motivations, Abhimanyu’s father gave his support.
Such was the fervour to make this reverie a reality that he opted for technical education over economics and art. Thus, Abhimanyu enrolled himself in Gujrat Technical University for a course in engineering. But according to him the course was quite outdated and archaic. Soon, frustration set in with workshops outside college being the only avenue to learning something new and relevant.
But then again life, as we know, doesn’t run according to our whims and fancies. In February 2008, Abhimanyu lost his biggest support and strength – his father.
“This changed my perspective drastically. Interests had self-defined responsibilities, now steering them. Final year of engineering saw preparations for CAT and IT companies which were visiting the campus for placements then. The whole responsibility of the family fell on me, since I was the eldest amongst the siblings.”
The catalyst to Abhimanyu’s dreams was no more. With pressures to be the bread earner in the family, he took a job at Tata Consultancy services, Mumbai, making peace with ‘Debit’ and ‘Credit’ while working in the Banking and Finance domain.
“The job wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I realised that I was going nowhere with my life. I wanted to do something creative. I left! Without a job offer, thinking that being alone and jobless would eventually help me discover what I really wanted to do with my life.”
Abhimanyu returned to the hinterlands of Kutch where he describes the sabbatical as daunting and the biggest risk he ever took. “I was depressed and lost sleep every night. The societal pressure and the feeling of doing nothing was too much to take,” he says but never forgot his father’s words “Do something challenging.”
Although society thought otherwise, his mother was supportive of him. During his time with TCS, he had worked on a big idea for his venture, out of which merchandising was a small part. Thus, he took the merchandising idea and created it to what he calls Socratees.
T-shirts with a philosophy
Socratees is an indie clothing brand making quality merchandise based on pop culture and ideas that the team believes and follows. According to the founder, every design or product that they create has a story concisely depicting the idea it is inspired from.
“We are set on a task of finding our customers the perfect t-shirt. A perfect t-shirt which comprises the right design, with a philosophy, doesn’t have the uneasy rubber print, uses the softest fabric and has a good stitch, so shoulders and neck don’t droop down after they’ve met the washing machine.”
The team is strict on the kind of prints put on the t-shirts which are inspired by a culture they live themselves. They also claim to provide easy returns and exchanges for size and design in case a customer has changed his or her mind.
Selling on leading marketplaces such as Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon, the firm comprises a team of seven members. Moreover, on the marketing front, the firm extensively relies on social media marketing while exploring offline channels of event partnerships. They’ve active partnerships with the Comi Con held in Bangalore and Hyderabad.
On asking the founder the meaning behind the name, he says
“I’ve always had a fascination for Greek names. Moreover, we believe that every t-shirt has a philosophy or a story to narrate. Therefore, we chose to play around with name Socrates.”
Functioning from Kutch, the venture is faring well, according to the founder. While having sold goods worth 30 lakhs until now, the firm claims to have crossed their target of 24 lakhs which they set for the current financial year. Considering their financial year from October, this is almost a 200 per cent growth from their last year’s revenue, which was around nine to 10 lakhs.
Even after starting up, things didn’t go all hunky-dory for Abhimanyu. Cash on Delivery (COD) payments made up a good share of the total orders that the firm receives. Moreover, courier companies tend to collect these payments from the end customer and reimburse it to the merchant within 15–30 days from the date of delivery.
During March of 2014, just six to seven months after starting up, the COD remittances were blocked for three long months due to the poor book keeping at the firm that managed the logistics for Socratees.
Putting the firm in a real fix, despite selling well the firm could neither grow their stock nor plan new designs due to high dependency on customer payments.
According to Abhimanyu, there were customers who would mail asking about the date when the out of stock T-shirts will be back for sale. Thus, the firm’s growth was hampered.
Moreover, they couldn’t be in partnership with the same firm to manage logistics and the entire attention of the business shifted from scaling up to re-establishing the very foundations of it.
“We had exhausted all the conventional savings initially set aside for Socratees. The social pressure and family responsibilities gave me jitters. By April of 2014, I withdrew almost all of the money I had planned in bonds for future security and went for a do or die. I knew I’ll have to shut shop and do something else if it didn’t work.”
But luck has a special spot for the ones who persevere. With the money infused the firm was able to restock some of the top designs with the risk of launching new ones. By July 2014, the firm swam across troubled waters to get back on track. The founder recovered 80% of the total funds expected, still debating on mails to get the remaining 20%. However, from a growth perspective three to four months of traction was lost.
But sailing strong, Socratees broke even by November 2014.
In the near future, this bootstrapped firm is planning to venture out into new categories, like posters. Giving it their all starting 2016, they’re also working on new range of designs, which is their small step towards developing themselves as one of the go-to streetwear brands in India.
While talking about his aspirations for the brand, a rather vibrant Abhimanyu concludes by telling us
“We keep touring and connecting with our audience in colleges to understand more. Being an online webstore has allowed us to grow our presence amongst online communities, and we’re still growing one T-shirt a time. However, we intend to reach out by increasing our offline presence as well and are also looking to start international shipping for our products.”
With settled brands like Alma Mater functioning in this space, firms like Jack of all Threads and Voxpop looking at scalability and others like No Nasties and Brown Boy aiming at organic cotton, differentiation is going to be a key factor towards building brand presence. To add on to the heat, sites like Freecutlr are already promoting entrepreneurship by encouraging individuals to come out and sell designs on their website through partnerships.
Thus moving forward, it is essential for smaller brands like Socratees to innovate and disrupt in order to rocket their brand success.