Shwetal Shah’s main goal was to make constructive use of her time during her summer break when she enrolled in a perfume making class. Soon her hobby of making perfumes turned into a small business that she used to make money to donate toys at a children’s hospital. Read how she did it below…
Shwetal Shah // UK // House of Fragrances // Personal Care // 20s
WHAT MOTIVATED & INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR BUSINESS?
It all started during the summer vacations when I finished my secondary school certificate exams in India (that is the equivalent of CGSE here) and I was about to enroll myself into the higher secondary certificate – A levels. I had a 3 month long break and a lot of time on hand and my mother did not want me to waste my time and asked me to go a nearby place that offered classes in candle making, graphic design, cooking and the works. So I got the brochure and as I was going through the list (already bored), I read “Perfume Making” and I thought that was pretty interesting as everyone has this notion of perfume being made in factories by people having degrees in chemistry making the world smell good! It was a two day course where they taught us the science behind perfume making, right from the formula to the essence to the ratio. I got all the necessary things from the list handed out to me (well I asked my father to get those things for me) from a market in Mumbai where they sell everything from imported chocolates to raw materials for my home-made perfume. So at first, I got “jasmine”, “polo sport”, “Lilly”, “strawberry”, “Chanel” formula and then I made two or three and gave it out as samples to my friends…back then turning this into a business was not even on my mind.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS…
What started as a hobby soon turned into a social enterprise making personalized and customized perfumes and part of the profits being used to donate toys at a children’s hospital made my business more special to me, because of the so many elements that differentiated it from other brands in the same line. I had the option of many USPs and not just one USP.
WHAT WERE THE FIRST FEW STEPS YOU TOOK TO GET YOUR BUSINESS UP AND RUNNING?
I kept two samples at home for myself not to be given to anyone – just to show off that I can make perfumes and slowly people started ordering those perfumes as they liked it and of course it was inexpensive compared to the ones sold in shops. This also became a good gift giving option for all my friend’s birthdays as that way I did not have to crack my head on ideas. At first it was friends and family that ordered, but then they spread the word around and others started requesting perfumes. One of my friends suggested being a partner in this venture; however, it was on a very small scale for me to consider partnerships. I started customizing orders suited to individual needs and taking suggestions that people would want such scents as floral or fruity notes and what I thought was a vacation time-killing hobby turned into a business opportunity
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY OF RAISING AWARENESS OF YOUR BUSINESS AND GETTING NEW CUSTOMERS?
It was all word of mouth publicity as I did not have the budget for marketing but looking back – and after going to business school and working at start-ups – I would not run the business the way I ran it at that time, I would invest in the digital channel and retail channel by contacting local retailers to stock my line. Getting new customers is all about being at the right place at the right time. This includes going to networking events, having strong SKUs and having a presence out there. I would position my business in the gift giving segment – not just everyday personal care product line – because I gave the option of customization and each perfume was carefully handmade thus increasing the personal touch element which increases the worth of any gift. Even attending fairs and giving away small samples with different packaging goes a long way in being present in the mind of the people you interact with and I would implement these elements and place strong emphasis on them
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES SO FAR WITH RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
I didn’t use social media or the usual distribution channels as I did not want to run a fully-fledged business. It was all done by word of mouth. Of course it was not all smooth, there were times when people did not want to buy it especially when I started a special campaign for my wish to donate toys and have all proceeds go towards that. Getting customers was not easy and I had to be aggressive, but that gave rise to the spirit of entrepreneurship in me. Now this year, I am trying to organise a 3 day entrepreneur venture event on my campus and signing up for various entrepreneurial competitions. I am trying to get 3DS to come into my university to deliver a 3 day event. The event would give training and advice to students on how to start your own business and how to access funding.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?
Learning from my mistakes everyday, practical experience combined with theoritcal background can help a great deal in surging ahead. It was due to this business that I knew what degree I wanted to study two years later at university.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
I learnt a great deal – in terms of budgeting, financing, procurements, customer servicing and distribution (marketing/sales). Doing everything single handedly honed my general managerial skills to a great extent at a young age. I learn about finances and managing budgets, marketing, communications and managing resources. I feel now that if I wanted to start a business, I have the experience and confidence to do so from my small project. It was also a very exciting experience being your own boss and making your own money! I never made this project into a full business as I wanted to concentrate on my studies. Now with my current studies and experiences, I feel more equipped and confident to run my own company.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER ENTREPRENEURS?
Really take the risk. It is a lot of hard work and there are challenges along the way but the rewards are really worth it. I always feel it is better to be the performer than the audience. Also nowadays, it is easier for young people to start up their own business as there are many funding opportunities such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Here you post your idea and users can raise funds for you. I also interned at a lot of start ups where you are often given a lot of responsibilities and I learnt a lot about how to grow a business.
HOW DO YOU KEEP MOTIVATED THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES?
The fact that I am working on a good cause was the best motivating factor and kept me going.
DO YOU HAVE A BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY?
My philosophy was to give the best to people. It wasn’t about simply making money. It was abut giving something that was never experienced by my customers before at costs lower than the premium experience they got out of it. It’s all about creating memorable and unique experiences for people.
When I face a big challenge I…
take it as a positive sign, knowing that I have the ability to overcome it.
My greatest fear is…
not being able to make this life worth while in terms of not making a difference.
The most courageous thing I’ve ever done is…
deciding to study abroad with the economy looking as bleak as bleak could be and the currency rate not being in my favour with mounting debt, but I know I will pay it off.
If I could go back in time to when I was 20 I would tell myself…
to continue doing what I am and even more, as I have miles to go before I sleep.
everyone should go out there, take risks, and do things that help others.
The biggest lesson I have ever learned is…
life is to short to waste time and with each passing day you are loosing out on all the time that could have been used to make a difference.
My favourite business tool or resource is…
My favourite quote is…
“You’re always haunted by the idea that you’re wasting your life and I have miles to go before I sleep.”