In some ways, Vivek Agarwal is your typical startup founder: business smarts, a passion for starting things, and a family history of entrepreneurship.
In other ways, he’s really not.
“Most people seem to be surprised when I tell them I did oil and gas M&A at a bulge bracket investment bank, and now I run an online fashion business,” he laughed.
Vivek is an IESE MBA and the founder of Strand of Silk, an online retail store for high-end designer fashions from India. After spending a few post-MBA years working in investment banking, “…like any honorable Indian MBA graduate,” he revisited an old business plan he wrote at school, and decided in 2011 that the opportunity was ripe to leave his job and try his hand at selling high-end Indian garb.
He spent some time with MBAsocial to talk about how he made the decision to leave his lucrative banking career, and his best advice for aspiring MBA entrepreneurs.
What is Strand of Silk?
Strand of Silk is an online retail store for high-end designers from India. The collections are contemporary in nature and are selected to appeal to a wide range of audiences, both Indians and non-Indians.
The affluent women we are targeting have a refined taste and want to be different, but in an elegant manner. She appreciates good quality when she sees it. We bring to the Western market high-quality designer wear from some of the best Indian designers that can be styled for Indian events, or for other evening events.
The site was started with “Western” collections from Indian designers, and we tried to target people of Indian origin, primarily affluent women in their late 20s-40s. These women have a more mature sense of style. Based on consumer purchases and behavior, we also launched a new collection that reflects more ethnic and traditional Indian clothes.
Does having an MBA make a difference as a startup entrepreneur?
I chatted with many classmates to discuss idea (Indians, non-Indians), literally showing them pictures of products, and collecting feedback. There were my Initial focus groups.
In later stages, I have also used classmates as a sounding board for new ideas and they’ve been great for a reality check, they will sometimes tell me, “What are you smoking? That’s not going to work.”An example: as part of our marketing efforts, we wanted to send a Christmas gift to stylish individuals who would wear the item and act as “brand ambassadors.” But one of my friends questioned what value is left once you’ve sent a product. What is the story and how will you get those people to wear the product? He was right – and sending free gifts without a background or story would have used up some of the much needed marketing budget.
What are some words of wisdom you have for other MBAs considering a change in their careers toward entrepreneurship?
When I was exploring the idea of leaving my company, my friend said to me, very bluntly,
“You are a chartered accountant. You have an MBA, you can always find a job. You won’t starve to death. If you don’t try now, when will you try? When you get older, you’ll have more responsibilities, and more to take care of. Don’t’ worry about a steady stream of income. If you do things with a passion, money will follow.”
I took this to heart. I thought, ‘If I could get a job in an industry like banking, I’ll always be able to get a job.’ I’ve also noticed that 2-3 years out of business school is an inflection point for me and my MBA graduate peers. I see people realizing that they took a job that might not have been right for them. You want to be able to look at the past two years and think that you’ve added value to your life, and to your company.
Follow your heart and do things with a passion, the professional satisfaction and money will come.
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