Restaurateur Couple Prashant and Anupama are the ideal embodiment for the adage Opposites attract. How else can we explain the relationship between Prashant, a South Mumbai boy from a well-to-do, liberal family who gave up his studies to open a restaurant and Anupama, from a traditional South Indian family in Bangalore who is academically accomplished and carrier oriented.
And yet, sparks flew when they met. Together this couple went on to build an immensely successful direct selling business that transformed their lives.
An excerpt from an interview with the couple…
Tell us a little about your background and the kind of upbringing you had?
Prashant: I belong to a well-off, upper-middle-class family from Mumbai. My father was an automobile engineer who also owned multiple businesses in Mumbai of engine re-servicing, crankshaft grinding, etc. I wasn’t very good at academics so I chose not to pursue higher education. Instead of that, I went ahead to become an entrepreneur at the age of 19 by starting a restaurant in Bangalore. Over the next 13 years, I also ventured into other areas. I even tried my hands on car accessories and catering businesses.
Anupama: I belong to a typical south Indian family from Bangalore with a job-centric mindset. My father was a former central government officer. They made sure that I get a good education and wanted me to find a good job. So I went ahead and completed till CFA-Level II and worked for about a year or two before meeting Prashant and getting married to him. When I saw Prashant’s businesses, my entire outlook towards entrepreneurship changed. As a result, I joined him in his business and learned the ropes of being an entrepreneur.
So, what made you shift from those businesses to QNet?
Prashant: In India, the majority of us are involved in traditional business sectors and live in the so-called “everything-is-ok bubble”. They might be driving fancy cars and residing in fancy houses, but no one makes real money. Their balance sheets are hollow. The same thing was happening to me. Even when I showed the world that I was a businessman who had a nice life, that wasn’t the reality.
Anupama: I became friends with a lady who owned a fashion boutique next to our restaurant. At the time, she was also building a direct sales business with a company called QNET. She had been talking to me about it for some time. Over time I saw how well she was doing and witnessed how her life was changing. Inspired by this, in December 2011, I spoke to Prashant about getting involved. Initially, he was sceptical. But I was very keen and decided to take a chance. Prashant only joined me afterwards.
How did you end up taking the decision to focus on direct selling full-time?
Prashant: Initially I didn’t know much about direct selling. I didn’t understand the compensation plan. I didn’t know anything about the industry. But when I was introduced to QNET, I realized that they had some really good products.
An unanticipated holiday kicked in the real seriousness of this. On one particular holiday, I had made plans with my friends for Beer and Biryani. But at the last minute, I was invited to attend a training session by QNET. My wife insisted that we go for it. So, I had to skip the get-together. The next day, one of those friends called me to find out why I didn’t attend our meet-up. I explained that I had attended this direct selling training session where I got to meet many people who were very excited about this business. I told him about the great products the company offered, and that it looked quite promising. He was intrigued and wanted to know more about it. The same evening I met another close friend for dinner. When I told him about my experience he got excited. In fact, he and his wife immediately looked up the products and bought some using my referral. I was fortunate to make two sales within 24 hours of that training session, thereby making a commission. That got me motivated and I began to seriously consider building this as a proper business.
So was it only the financial aspect that you found attractive?
Prashant: No, not really. Financially we were pretty much sorted. My late father has left me with a considerable amount of assets. This alone can take care of my family comfortably even if I chose not to work. My wife was the one who really pushed me into this. She found the industry very exciting. She felt that I will not only do well in it but also enjoy it. She even offered to take care of the restaurant so that I could set up a full-time direct sales business.
I am happy that I took the plunge because it’s been an amazing journey. In the beginning, everything was new and fun. It was exciting to meet so many new people and learn so many new things. In the next stage, I had to focus on leadership and team building. It was a lot more serious. It was not only about personal development but also about mentoring others.
Today, I have established a large team comprising thousands of smart, educated people who want to transform their lives. Now, I am responsible for them. They are the people who joined this industry to make a living and they look up to me. It’s immensely gratifying to see my team grow at a personal and professional level.
You have always been a traditional entrepreneur, but now you are a different type of entrepreneur. How different is the customer acquisition process?
Prashant: Obviously, in direct sales, I have to do a lot more hard selling. I have to work harder on convincing people about the potential of the business. But this is not due to the lack of quality products or services. It is due to the scepticism people tend to have about direct selling. They have certain fixed ideas and preconceived notions about this industry. The serious lack of awareness about direct selling in our country is forcing me to put a lot more effort into building trust with my customers.
What do you think are the reasons for the troubles that some of the industry players are facing in our country today?
The direct selling business is and will always be a legal business. As long as people choose to do things legally, there is no problem at all. All the troubles that the industry and the people in it are facing are because of some unscrupulous people who gave the industry a bad name by promoting get-rich-quick schemes under the guise of direct selling. Many people lost money because they didn’t do a proper background check or bother to understand what they were getting into.
QNET has been in the direct selling industry for two decades and is one of the fastest-growing companies in Asia. Despite the challenges they have faced, they have remained steadfast in their customers and continued to fight the good fight. This is only possible if you are a genuine and legitimate company.
What is the advice that you would like to give to new entrepreneurs?
Prashant: My only advice to everyone is to work hard. If you want to achieve anything in life, hard work cannot be compromised. You also have to keep an open mind and take chances when needed. Nothing comes easy in life and entrepreneurship is no different.
Anupama, how do you manage to balance your personal life and business?
Anupama: I think it’s all about talking to your family, making them understand your dreams and goals in life. You need to plan well and set out a roadmap to achieve these goals. Of course, it becomes much easier if your parents are living with you. My in-laws helped me a lot in taking care of our two daughters. Today, our kids are proud about the fact that their parents are entrepreneurs and are doing so well. They also want to become entrepreneurs like us.