The Souled Store was started by 4 friends who wanted to create something that they could be proud of and more importantly, something that would bring happiness to everyone. With that objective in mind, The Souled Store started off as an online marketplace that provides independent artists a platform to showcase and monetize their creativity. The Souled Store is not just a website or an organisation but a community of like-minded people getting together and expressing themselves through their work.
IndiaSpark caught up with the team to gather further information on their venture.
Tell us about your background before The Souled Store. Share with us briefly about your entrepreneurial journey and inception of The Souled Store.
Here’s what Vedang Patel, Co-Founder, had to say.
I’ve completed my B.E. in mechanical engineering from Sardar Patel College on Engineering. During my time at college, my passion for cars drove me to be part of a team that built and raced 3 cars that won national awards in technology and innovation. Post college I took up a job as an Analyst at TresVista Financial Services. Here is where I met the other two Co-Founders, Aditya and Rohin. Both engineers, from DJ Sanghvi and Thadumal Shahani respectively. At TresVista I worked with many international houses and was fast track promoted in the first year itself.
The idea for The Souled Store was conceived in the canteen of TresVista. None of us liked the corporate job and the obvious conclusion was that suits & ties and nine to five (sometimes 5 am) were not our thing. We wanted to focus our work and effort into something we could call our own. We figured that if we had to take any risk in life, now was the time.
For me, the month before The Souled Store started was a testing time. I had been offered a double promotion to a position that is otherwise handed over to MBA holders. Alongside that, I secured admission in a number of IIMs (not ABC) and was about to enroll when I decided to ditch the conventional way (much to my parents’ dismay) and follow my soul.
The start-up sentiment in India was strong then, especially in e-commerce. More than setting up just another business, we wanted to contribute to something involving a community. It had to be something that we, like our target audience could relate to and at the same time it had to be scalable and something that we, in the inception of our careers could afford. All of us had savings from our then current jobs. Each of us put in INR 1.75 lacs and got started.
What is The Souled Store all about? Tell us in detail about the services offered.
TheSouledStore.com is an online store that provides independent artists a platform to showcase and monetize their creativity. We are more than just a website or an organization. We are a community of like-minded people getting together and expressing ourselves through our work. We aim to support independent artists- every time you buy from us, we give a royalty to the artist who created the design.
In a short span of 3 years, we have managed to provide a wide range of products which include t-shirts, boxer shorts, tote bags, backpacks, wall art, notebooks, mugs, coasters, badges, and stickers. We are continuously experimenting and have many more products in the pipeline. Our target audience is the Indian youth of ages 18-28.
Today, we have the licenses to sell Official Merchandise of Avengers, WWE, Star Wars, DC Comics, Harry Potter, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, The Lord of the Rings, Pokemon, Simpsons, Futurama and many more in the pipeline
We also have a Bulk & Corporate division where we aim to get associated with events/ agencies that a brand like ours can represent. In the past, we have been associated with music festivals such as the Bacardi NH7 Weekender which is managed by OML (Only Much Louder), Enchanted Valley Carnival (EVC), artist management agencies such as Krunk and Mixtape, comedy acts such as AIB (All India Bakchod), Kenneth Sebastian, music bands which include the likes of Pentagram, Scribe, Indus Creed, Providence, Gutslit, Madboy/ Mink and many more.
We have also tied up with schools/ colleges where we help them make and sell their merchandise for their students, alums, committees, festivals etc. and strengthen the bond that most of us have for our alma maters.
What is your competition in the market? What is it that sets you apart from your competition?
We operate in a pretty crowded market. We aren’t just competing with online brands like Bewakoof, but when it comes to buying t-shirts and boxers online, we also have Myntra, Jabong, Flipkart etc. To succeed, we have to be different. We are aware that we have to give people what they aren’t getting anywhere else.
We do this by giving a lot of thought to our brand image. We are very picky about the designs we do and a lot of thought/ discussions/ arguments go in to their selection. We prefer to keep away from the general crass humor and do not do designs just because we think they’d sell. We also collaborate with people/events that our target audience can relate to. There is a certain brand image we want to project and we stick to it.
We also innovate through our marketing. We constantly do unique online ads that gives us above industry click through rates. We also send personalized messages and goodies along with our orders to give a better order experience. This works really well for us, when customers share and post these surprises online as it not only helps in retention but also strong organic word of mouth.
What were the challenges you had to face while setting up and scaling your enterprise?
The major challenges we faced when setting up were just the immense amount of things you have to do in a business. The various registrations, licenses, accounting and compliances etc. and you yet haven’t started thinking about the business yet. When you’re a 23-year-old who has never done any of that before, it’s very intimidating. Recently I read an article once where India was ranked 134 of 160 in the world for ease of doing business. I could relate. However, once things are done and rolling, things get far easier in this aspect of things.
Other challenges we had to face was the stark unprofessional business ethics we encountered all along the way. In the beginning we had to continuously fight with manufacturers and suppliers for not delivering what was promised in terms of time or quality. Very often we did not get what was showed. We realized later that delays were just something that we had to assume when doing business with the unorganized sector.
For scaling, our biggest challenge was that since we were bootstrapped, we couldn’t invest in anything too long term. We just didn’t have the money. Hence, we have to keep moving to bigger offices or adding more offices every 6 months. This is simply because we could not afford the office today that we would need 6 months down the line. Similar with our systems, and other infrastructure. Otherwise, E-Com is easy to scale.
What is the business model of The Souled Store? Can you briefly summarize the growth achieved in both volume and value from the Day 1 till now?
Our business model is fairly simple. We get good designs that would reflect with the brand. We put these on our various products and sell them. The hard part here is to curate/create those designs. This is what our edge is over the competition. We also make sure that we give the best quality of products so that we get higher customer retention and good word of mouth. We run an inventory based model as print on demand isn’t as good and takes longer lead times.
The primary reason for our strong growth though, is our financial background. This has been our greatest strength. Apart from the initial investment, till date we have not raised any further debt, equity or any other form of capital. Using these limited funds we have organically grown through efficient cash cycles and strong metrics. From a 4 guy team and a small cupboard of t-shirts, today we have grown to keep an inventory of over 100,000 units, 40+ full time employees, and over 12,000 daily hits.
Can you tell us about your other founders/core team, their background and rich experience?
Rohin: Co-Founder & Director
He handles all the artists that collaborate with us and is also the head of Customer Relations. He is also responsible for the cool stuff we post on social media and other various online channels.
Rohin holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. Early during his engineering days he realized that this is not what he wanted to do in life. He’s always been fascinated with films and has also successfully completed a film-making course. As films and pop-culture came naturally to him, The Souled Store seemed right up his alley.
Aditya: Co-Founder & Director
Aditya is in charge of collaborations, supply chain management, and oversees administration.
He was the first amongst us to quit his job and work towards starting something of his own. It was in a sense his vision, determination and focus that sowed the seeds for what The Souled Store is today. A brilliant yet closet drummer, he’s a big fan of the indie music scene and sees The Souled Store collaborating with and helping promote artists all across the country.
Harsh: Business Development
Harsh’s journey has been a bit of a rollercoaster so far! From a childhood dream many of us have of becoming a fighter pilot, he’s come a long way. He quite literally embodies our sentiment of following one’s heart, even if it meant a couple of unexpected career switches and some serious parental concern. Having done his education in science and then law, he’s also tried his hand at journalism, advertising and tattooing and lived to tell the tale. Finally settled, he feels The Souled Store is somewhere he’s going to grow old at. Our feelings precisely! Harsh handles all custom and corporate orders. He also conceptualized and manages our internship program.
Khyati: Head of Design
For Khyati, designing is a habit. A habit she must indulge in every single day. A habit she’s had since as long as she can remember. From doodling on walls at home to conjuring unbelievably detailed designs with her stylus and touch pad, she’s done it all. And excelled at every time. The heart of this organization, she’s wholly and solely responsible for our brand image, awesome product designs and cake requirements!
Since last September we have been hiring aggressively. Last June, we had one employee. Currently, the team consists of 15 people and we plan to double that by August end.
We came across your rich partnership segments varying from events to YouTube platforms etc. Can you please tell us about that experience?
The Souled Store sells official merchandise for many YouTube comedians and other youth icons such as music bands, DJs etc. Having these guys on board solves a very mutual problem. We provide a solution to merchandising needs. We handle everything from Designing, Manufacturing, Selling, Couriering, Customer Care etc. We invest in the merchandise as well. The artist in return markets his products on our website. This gives us a very direct audience coming to our website at practically no cost.
How are you funded? Any early stage money/seed stage experience that you would like to share with us?
We have not raised any capital till date. We have recently started thinking about raising capital to grow faster than we organically can, and are in the process of approaching some VCs. However, we are being cautious as to choosing the right partnership to help us go to the next level.
Any other areas or initiatives you plan to venture in future?
We are brimming with plans. In the near future, we do plan to continue adding more official merch licenses. We also plan to add women centric apparels to our website as we see this to be a big gap in our range of products.
The long term play however is definitely to get into offline distribution and maybe start our own retail chains. This will help solidify the brand and will add an entirely new segment of customers who do not prefer shopping online.
Any school/ campus-connect initiatives that you are pursuing or plan to pursue?
Today, we have a work-from-campus-internship. As of today we have over 600 interns who not only help in spreading the brand propaganda, but we also do a lot of market research through them. We guide interns with relevant projects and make sure they get some real industry experience. One task we urge interns to do is to ask them to make school or college merchandise in association with The Souled Store.
Any experience or advice you would like to share with soon to be start-up founders out there?
My three years with The Souled Store has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. It’ll be very tough to fit even a fair portion of that advise here. But the two most important things are: (they may sound a bit cliché).
Never give up: There have been many moments in our journey that one just feels that this is not going to work out. Especially initially, when what is an easy task today was an extremely complicated uphill task back then. There will be many times you will make mistakes and feel that this is something you won’t come out of. Sometimes, when you think you have done everything right but it’s not working, one just feels like maybe the idea has no potential and you best drop it. During all these times, and trust me, there will be plenty, it’s important to keep to your guns, and focus at the task at hand.
Partner Up: Get someone you can work with (this is key, cause its long term). A partner helps a lot. It’s always good to have someone who can question your decisions, because when you’re in the middle of doing a billion things you may not make the best calls. Also, when you’re very busy, your partner may have the breathing space to step back and strategize on the bigger picture. Also, always collaborate. Collaborations help you grow, be known, get sales, solve problems, without spending any precious rupees.
We wish TheSouledStore the very best in their future endeavours and we are sure you will explore their fascinating and vast collection!