Your spouse’s birthday is just round the corner, or is it your parents’ anniversary; the occasions are endless, the list of our dear ones is endless but what is not endless is the number of ideas that we have in order to make them feel special and surprise them. Well, no longer you have to grumble and crumble for you have now ASAP (forget the conventional full form), it is Any Surprise Any Place. This web based start-up founded by Ruchi Sharma is based on the unique concept wherein her start-up helps one to deliver any kind of surprise, for anybody and to any place. There is a wide list of options to choose from and one can suggest their own surprise also and she can get it done. The days of pigeon messengers are long lost into oblivion, welcome to the era of web messengers!
VP: The concept of ASAP is very interesting. What inspired you to start a web-based company with so unique a theme?
RS: It is unique but it’s what we all need. What inspired me was the need of the hour. I was working with an MNC and I needed to surprise a friend and I found one to help me plan it, so I started working on it. It was like a hole I saw in the market – there was a demand and no supply. It was as straightforward as that. So, I became the person to supply and realized the demand only goes up!
VP: Was there any particular area of competence which made you feel you could run this business successfully?
RS: Yes, the fact that there was no competence to start with. There was no one who was planning a gift for you or a surprise for you JUST THE WAY you wanted to do it. It’s so important to be able to be flexible depending on the need of your customer. It’s about doing what makes the person happy receiving the surprise, which could mean sending a personalized gift along with their favourite movie ticket. No set packages, no set rules!
VP: How does ASAP work?
RS: It works in two ways. People see the website and write in, or people call in telling us what the occasion is and we accordingly suggest ideas based on the occasion and relation. Whatever they decide to go by, we then organize the same. Often we go through getting a little more conversation with the client to know what the person they are looking to surprise is fond of, so we can get closer to their liking.
VP: What were the initial hiccups, what problems did you face or was it a smooth ride for you?
RS: It wasn’t a smooth ride at all. I learned how to do everything , from graphics, to banking, finances, legal aspects for the company , everything, as one does that to save costs of a CA, a lawyer etc. It seemed like a challenge then but not I feel that it is my biggest strength now since I now know what happens at every level and how. But at the same time I would also like to add in that I had the first moved advantage. Our concept was different so it got people attracted to us. We did face many problems also due to the same. For example, we had to explain everything in more detail since no one was doing the same before us.
We did and we continue to face the challenge of sampling. Since we always create just one piece customized for a person, we often lose out of getting some good vendors to make products for us.
VP: How did you organise the funding for this project? Do you have any partners also?
RS: I do not have any partners. I did not have any funding at all. I started this with my personal savings, most of which went into making the website and the initial starting up.
VP: Since, ASAP is based in Delhi, how do you organise surprises in other cities or even out of India?
RS: ASAP started out in Delhi, but now we are in 7 other cities. We do personalised moments like clown at midnight, music band outside the house, personalised dinners etc in just these 7 cities. However, our personalised gifts go all over the world from Kurukshetra to Alabama.
VP: Throw some light on your workforce; their work, the vendors and how you coordinate vendors in various cities?
RS: My core team consists of Mansukh Mann, who does creative idea generation, Akram Saifi, who has been with the company since its birth. He is our sourcing manager. Then there is Subhash Sorout who administers the delivery. We work with many other people as well who work with us in different cities.
VP: Do you have some expansion plans also or do you plan to open branches in other cities in the near future?
RS: We like to expand slowly. We have been asked for a franchise in almost 30 cities across the world but we are not keen to take that plunge so soon, we are keen that our brand name is maintained and we make every gift/ surprise moment a moment to remember!!
VP: What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
RS: The creative aspect. I have been a creative person all through. I was in NIFT for graduation and continue to love to create something new. I don’t get bored of my job ever because am always creating something new.
VP: Could you tell us about some of the most interesting or unusual requests you have received?
RS: We have often had people call us to arrange for belly dancers for bachelor parties, which is something we don’t organize. We have also had requests for doing surprises for the person giving the surprise to be wrapped up professionally and to be delivered as gift.
VP: What advice would you like to give to the budding entrepreneurs?
RS: Every saving counts so start small. Don’t waste money on big office spaces and other such big, high maintenance costs.
VP: How important is to just keep doing the conventional jobs or follow one’s heart and try to fulfil our dream project?
RS: It is not a question of being important. It’s about what you are passionate about. If I have no idea or no passion for something, I rather do a corporate job and be happy. Starting up your own venture isn’t a piece of cake- it takes away a lot from you. So, you have to really have either a dream or passion to start your own project.
“You can visit the website of ASAP at www.asap.co.in
Joyeeta Biwas and Shikha Tandon