Meet the founders who slept on floors, ate 1 meal a day, and built a Rs 20 Cr company
It had been a month since Hari Mishra and Ankit Rajput started living with their friends, sleeping on floors, and eating one meal a day.
Hari and Ankit’s business had run out of money. The entrepreneurs had started a bootstrapped custom clothing brand and design studio Poptailor in Mumbai in 2016.
But they exhausted their funds, amounting to Rs 25 lakh, in less than a year. They struggled to convert customers over to their clothing design studio due to lengthy purchase cycles.
Two out of four partners exited the business, leaving Hari and Ankit to deal with its remains. Hari and Ankit packed their bags and left the city of dreams. Making their way towards Delhi, they hoped for a fresh start.
Until they figured things out, they decided to stay with some friends and cut their expenses. But they knew they couldn’t depend on their friends for too long. They couldn’t let this phase last more than a month.
From B2C to B2B
During this difficult phase, Hari and Ankit noticed startups, hotels, and large corporations face challenges in sourcing uniforms and other items of clothing for their employees and runners.
“Besides local traders and manufacturers, there was no organised entity serving this need for businesses. This provided an opportunity for us to become an organised player,” Hari, 32, an IIM-Ahmedabad graduate, tells SMBStory in an exclusive interview.
If Hari and Ankit were to tap into the opportunity they found, it would mean pivoting from their old B2C model to a B2B business.
"To start something like this, we realised we needed to have strong cash flows, as B2B requires huge investments for purchasing raw materials. So, we borrowed funds in a personal capacity to buy raw materials,” says Ankit, 28, who is a computer science engineer from Amity University, Noida.
Hari and Ankit spent their days visiting textile markets, meeting suppliers for sourcing high-quality materials, and hunting for customers. To save money, they did all the work such as accounting, quality inspection, warehousing, loading and unloading, and transportation.
Their first breakthrough came when OYO placed an order for 70 t-shirts.
Hari and Ankit executed the OYO order under a new brand name: theStyleWorx. The brand, under their Gurugram-based parent company Nona Lifestyle, represented their pivot to B2C.
It started offering basic quality workwear (with t-shirts starting from Rs 150 per piece) and also gave free design support to customers so that they could maximise their brand reach through uniforms worn by employees.
Besides OYO, theStyleWorx landed clients such as Coca Cola, Zomato, TikTok, Delhivery, Bayer CropScience, Urban Company, Chaayos, and Denso, among others.
“Once our business started growing, we realised we needed a team to support our operations. Creating a good quality team was a challenge as we could pay only small salaries. Despite this, we put a team together and started working out of a co-working space at Janakpuri,” Ankit says.
With their hard work and perseverance paying off, Hari and Ankit’s company today has a team of 40 full-time employees and 50 factory workers.
A portfolio of brands
Besides theStyleWorx, Nona Lifestyle now has two brands under it: Limone Fresco, which deals with soft furnishing products such as bedsheets, towels, and comforters, and Harold Meagan, a luxury clothing range.
Limone Fresco caters to co-living spaces, hotels, hostels, hospitals, and restaurants, while Harold Meagan is a B2C brand that targets customers who like to follow the latest fashion trends.
“Once our customer base started growing, we were looking at various products which complement our natural business. Limone Fresco and Harold Meagan require similar expertise, so we looked at various customers looking for textile-related products. We hired teams to create Limone Fresco and Harold Meagan - brands which are registered under different organisations but part of our Nona Lifestyle group,” says Hari.
With three brands under it, Nona Lifestyle recorded a turnover of Rs 20 crore in 2019-20, and is growing at a rate of 160 percent, it claims.
“Now, we are one of the main workwear suppliers to the hospitality industry and food delivery companies. We have more than 100 customers in five countries: India, UAE, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the US,” Ankit adds.
The way forward
Nona Lifestyle has its manufacturing units in Gurugram and Ahmedabad. It follows an inventory-light model and sources raw materials based on orders.
Local traders and established brands such as Raymond and Mafatlal pose competition to Nona Lifestyle in different product categories. But Hari believes Nona is honestly-priced, more flexible, and adaptive to market dynamics. “We work on customer needs and we have a dynamic and skilled team to carry out operations,” he says.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the business intends to conduct more research on anti-bacterial, fire-resistant, and hygienic products. It aims to implement stronger sanitation processes in manufacturing to ensure its products are completely safe.
Going forward, it is planning to launch a rental business for small organisations under its Limone Fresco brand to provide sanitised beds and bath linen. It is also targeting customised t-shirts delivery in 24 hours in Delhi-NCR markets under theStyleWorx brand.
Edited by Javed Gaihlot