“I am by heart and by personality an entrepreneur”lia
With a degree in Economics from Delhi University and an MBA from IMT, Ishita began her career with Cadburys. Consequently, it was a natural progression for her to create and manage Orion Dialog, a pioneer in the ITES sector in India. She exited by selling the company to Aegis BPO part of the Essar Group, where she continued as COO- India.
Thereafter she helped set up a social venture -Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd. Sakha is a unique social enterprise, launched to provide safe transport solutions for women, by women in urban India
Her role as a CEO at 99labels continues her love for challenges and young setups, and here Ishita has taken her imagination further, and has been instrumental in carving out a space which epitomizes all the fun of shopping for great brands in a secure, responsive and completely reliable way.
TA: How would you describe your journey so far?
Ishita: People change a lot of jobs and make a lot of leaps. I am by heart and by personality an entrepreneur. That’s what I have been doing pretty much all of my professional life. Starting from my days in Cadbury’s, where I worked for three and a half years, every day I would sit with some business idea and think how I can make this happen. There I remember discussing with colleagues that I am going to put in 12 hrs. People would say that I would become a CEO at the age of 40 but I told them that I wanted to become a CEO today. I think I am an entrepreneur by heart. I stayed with Cadburys for three and half years after which I quit to start Orion Dialog. It evolved into one of India’s leading domestic BPO’s. My education background helped me learn about business - from people management, finance, and legal. I think I really cut my teeth. I come from a non business family and I didn’t have too many mentors and people around me guiding me, so ended up making lots of mistakes.
Thankfully none of them were so huge that I could not recover from it and that’s where the learning has been result as an entrepreneur. So build fact, over a longish period we did that for over 11 years before we sold it to the Essar Group under Ages BPO. As part of the contract when I sold it, for two years I had to continue as a part of the key management team as head operations of India. But I quit at the end of the two year contract. I realized that I make a better entrepreneur, not the best employee. So I decided to step out or not continue. I took up a year of Sabbatical and during that period I ended up helping and advising somebody to set up a social enterprise which is today alive and kicking and I continue to advise the company. At the end of Sabbatical, the idea of 99 labels came up. It sounded exciting, it sounded fun and it looked as an area which I didn’t had much idea.
TA: Who came up with the idea?
Ishita: It was one of the co-founders, a gentleman called Anshul Jain. I have to say that the idea itself is not original. It’s a format that exists in the west. The entire idea is about flash sales and it’s a format that exists in Europe, America and pretty much in every country. So we just took an idea which looked interesting.
It was in March 2009, that the idea was discussed with me which sounded very exciting. From March to December we researched the idea, set up the website, put together a team and all of that. In December, we launched the site and that’s it. It is now two and half years and that’s about the shortest journey.
TA: What particular need did you see of this kind of business?
Ishita: To me the fact is that this business model evolved to service a business need and not so much the consumer’s demand. The business need is that in our sector of fashion lifestyle, brands will sit on excess stocks at the end of peak season. At an average of about 20 percent is going to exist in the system at the end of each season right?
And there are extremely limited avenues to liquidate that excess stock in India. Now as a consequence to that, the consumer gets to see great brands at deep discounts. But it didn’t start as if I wanted to do this for the consumer. The consumer almost became a chorology. If you look at the West, there are outlet malls; there are warehouses. In India they don’t exist because real estate is so expensive. So in business, to advert the excess stock there is extremely limited ways to liquidate it. So to me, India actually has more of a problem than anywhere else and I don’t see the business need ever going away. So, there will always be a supply of excess products and we want to be able to take that and give it to the consumer.
TA: How did you finance the business? Was it difficult to gain investors confidence being a woman entrepreneur?
Ishita: You know I have been asked this question many a times and I always say that it’s in our mind because if I go in to a place saying that you are judging me as a woman, I expect to be judged as a woman. But I personally never experienced it and in fact if you ask me if at all I have experienced any such prejudice, I have experienced this bias in the corporate world. So I actually advice other women entrepreneurs that here there is no glass ceiling. Whatever ceiling you create would be for yourself but I have personally never experience any such bias against woman.
TA: Does managing time become an issue?
Ishita: It is an issue. But again in that, who am I to tell. It could be in certain cases that the spouses are supportive or you have a support structure or you have in-laws. You could have your own circumstances. Clearly, it is a little bit of a challenge for women to that extent because we have a family and we have to take care of it and we want to take care of the family.
TA: Coming back to 99labels, how do you market your business? What are your marketing strategies?
Ishita: It is an evolving sort of a strategy; I don’t think there is anything static. When we first started, we were one of the earlier ones to begin in the product selling spaces, so there were few things that we could do. If u ask me today, it seems there are lot many people. So what we could do even before six months back we cannot do any longer because there are more and more competition coming in everyday. So it’s an evolving process. In the past we have used lots of referral programmes, we have used word of mouth, referrals. PR has been very effective for us. Also, Facebook from a digital media perspective. Facebook have been extremely effective. One of the lessons I have learned is that there is very little that is static in the online world, everything is evolving.
TA: In a way it is both good and bad
Ishita: It is absolutely. In fact it is miserable. Nothing is to be taken for granted at any point of time. I have team members who come and say we did these three months back and it worked and it’s not working today. There is no guarantee. So, it keeps us much on our toe both mentally physically and every which way.
TA: It also means that you have to constantly think ahead of the curve.
Ishita: All the time, considering the fact that the online world changes all the time. Consumers are evolving all the time. When we started out we used to cater to the 20-30 years old. If I look at our own consumer base, it is evolving and we suddenly see a lot older women who