Sunday, March 27, 2011

Interview With Aparna and Rema, Hera Planners

Featuring Women Entrepreneurs
Aparna Viswanathan and Rema Sivaram, Hera Planners
[Category: Home-Sprung Business Models
Capture The Household Sector]

Aparna Viswanathan

Rema Sivaram
Hera Planners are the wedding planners who give personalized attention and arrange signature weddings for their clients. They take care of every detail and come up with holistic preparations. The client's family gets to enjoy the special occasion of wedding without the burden of co-ordination and arrangements. It is a novel idea which has its merit in the western world and is catching up fast in Indian urban market too. Aparna and Rema found Hera Planners with a vision to capitalize on their passion and to capture this market by forming Hera Planers. Read their story in an interview with these women entrepreneurs.

Q. Let me start by asking more about your background. Do you have entrepreneurial roots?
Rema - I was born and brought up in Thrissur, Kerala. I did my B.Com from Vimala College, Thrissur and moved to Bangalore after graduation. Before starting Hera I worked in the BPO industry for 7 years. I was with Hewlett Packard for 5 years and did my PGDBA from Symbiosis while I was working here. Later I moved on to a Project Management role in Deutsche bank where I worked for 2 years. I do not have any entrepreneurial roots; I am a first generation entrepreneur.
Aparna – I was born in Ottappalam, a picturesque village in Kerala, known for its rich heritage and culture. I grew up along with my twin brother in Cherpalchery about 15 kilometers away from Ottappalam. In the early eighties, I joined CEMCS, a small school with one room and a teacher, which later developed into a well known secondary school. My mother who worked in a nationalized bank taught me how hard work and perseverance pays in the long run. My dad who used to constantly travel on work inculcated the belief in me to stand up for my rights. He used to always remind me that being a girl is just a matter of genetics and never a handicap; instead it is your strength. I realized the power of his words when I became the college chairperson and later the ‘star of Vimala’ during my graduation in Functional English at Vimala College, Thrissur. 

I started my career as a part-time anchor, emcee and voice-over artist before completing my studies. After my post graduation in Communication and Journalism, I joined Asianet as prime time news reader and producer. My stint in the media lasted for about three years, before the entrepreneur in me emerged and I ventured to carve out an independent business outfit for me. Thus RACE was born in 2004. RACE does soft skills and behavioral training programs for professionals and students. In 2006, when I wanted to venture into something novel and unique, I joined hands with a friend to start a unique matrimonial boutique service called ‘Marrygold’. In 2008, due to personal reasons, I had to move away from the operations of Marrygold thus remaining as founder of the company. With the launch of Hera, one of my biggest passions and dreams was fulfilled.

Q. Is Hera Planners your first entrepreneurial venture?
Rema: Yes, this is my first venture.
Aparna: Hera is my third venture. First was RACE, a corporate training firm and second Marrygold, a boutique matchmaking firm.

Q. What made you decide to start your own business?
 Aparna: I have always dreamt of being an entrepreneur and take roads less traveled. So, it was only natural that I decided to start a venture that has a strong mooring in my educational background, natural strengths and passion and vision.
Rema: Event Management has been my passion since college days and I have always loved organizing things. Though I was happy with the fat salary which my desk job used to fetch me, the craving to do something creative and innovative was always there. So it was natural for me to start something of this sort and didn't have to think twice when Aparna and I discussed about Hera.

Q.  Tell us more about Hera Planners.
Hera Planners is a new age wedding planning firm which caters to all wedding related services. We do everything from booking the venue to planning a honeymoon trip. We focus more on theme based and signature weddings. Currently we cater only to Bangalore, but we soon intend to expand to other major cities in South India.

Q. How did you arrive at this idea? What made you sure that this idea made a good business? Was it out of interest or passion that you started the business of wedding planners? Did you validate this business idea?
Rema: This idea was born when Aparna was running ‘Marrygold’, but later got shelved due to personal reasons. When I was thinking of quitting my corporate job, she mentioned about this and since I have been passionate about event management, it clicked instantly. We did lot of ground work and market research before we launched Hera.

Q.When did it start?
We started this in June 2009.

Q. What has been your turnover? Are you profitable now?
Aparna - Yes, as the investment was kept low, we have been profitable since the second quarter of our inception.

Q.  What in your views is the current potential for this industry?
Rema - The size of the wedding planning industry in India is estimated at more than Rs 1, 90,000 Crores. Weddings are extremely big affair for any Indian family and for the same reason nobody is ready to compromise on the quality or flamboyance of the same. Though in South India, the idea of wedding planning is still fresh; the opportunities and market are huge.

Q. How do you handle competition?
Rema - This is a very creative industry and most of the people who opt for a wedding planner are looking for something which is never seen or heard before. An increasing number of people these days go for a specific theme or color or signature to add exclusivity and event recall among their folks. Hence our services are also very specific to the client and their needs. People who approach us already know the work we do and hence it makes for an easy take off with them. Though competition is unavoidable, there is always the space for carving a niche for yourself in every creative industry.

Q. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder?
Aparna We have known each other since our college days and we started Hera Planners as co-founders. This is a partnership firm.

Q. How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own? When did you hire your first employee?
Rema - We have so far managed all the work on our own. We do not have any employees; we work with vendors who are engaged as and when the events are booked.

Q. How have you funded your business [starting from when it was incorporated]?
Aparna - We started with our own funds - equal investment from both of us. Once revenue generation started, operations have been handled from the profits.

Q. Is there any plan for any outside funding?
Rema - No, as of today, we are not looking for any outside funding.

Q. What have been the challenges – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling etc.? Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
Rema - Business Partner, financing and recruiting have not been a problem at all. Marketing and selling have been our challenge since beginning. It took us more than 6 months to build the brand and establish a presence in the market. The lack of any forum of professionals from wedding planning industry to showcase the work or even for a customer to approach has been a huge bottleneck.

Q. What message would you like to convey to the aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Aparna - Just believe in your idea and yourself and put in all your hard work, it is a sure win.

Q. Last, but not least, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and the new venture?
Rema - An immensely supportive family is the foundation for any woman to start something on her own. I have been married for 4 years to the most wonderful person I met in my life and I could not have left my permanent job and started Hera without family support.  At the same time, weddings are very seasonal and that gives me the leverage to plan our vacations and holidays to spend quality time together.
Aparna - I have learnt that life is not an easy ride in the fast lane. But for the un-stinted support, help and encouragement that I enjoy and receive from my family, I would not have reached this far. I live with my husband and six year old son. My parents and my twin brother have always been there for me from day one through thick and thin.  My first venture happened before my son was born and so it was easy to manage. By the time my son Indivar was born, I had learnt to strike a balance and so it was a smooth transition and progression without having to struggle much to divide time between home and businesses. When Hera was launched, my son had started school and so I had more time to dedicate to my ventures. He has always been a very supportive and understanding kid right from his toddler days as I used to travel extensively on work.

Thank you so much Aparna and Rema, for your time. Wish you good luck.