Monday Mentor: Zeba Zaidi Adeeb, Volano Entertainment
Zeba Zaidi Adeeb, Managing Partner – Volano Entertainment Pvt Ltd.
If you’ve heard of or participated in Devil’s Circuit, you know that it is by far the toughest course in India. The brains behind the endurance testing circuit is the brilliant mind of Zeba Zaidi. A serial entrepreneur, Zeba is one of the toughest person I have met in a most diminutive frame. Don’t go by her size and disarming smile as behind that lurks a fantastic business mind.
The interaction may help you to learn about some of the best business practices to adopt.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – about your life before you became an entrepreneur.
I’m a bit of a nomad who loves travelling and enjoying different experiences. Having lived and worked across UK, US and the UAE, I have spent the better part of my working life in sales. My forte has been building sales teams and developing sales skills. This perhaps equipped me well because as an entrepreneur you are constantly selling. To your customers of course but also to the family (who usually think you are insane for packing in a blooming prospective career ), to your first hires (because you need to sell the idea of more work and less pay to them), to your vendors (because they will not give you credit without a track record) and really to just about everyone you interact with!
Life before being an entrepreneur was predictable and comfortable 🙂
What prompted you to become an entrepreneur? Take us through some of your thoughts as you contemplated the jump into the exciting world of entrepreneurship.
I became an entrepreneur completely by accident. When I moved back to India in 2011, it was with an aim to revive my corporate career which had centred around the Sales vertical spanning multiple geographies and industries. I had taken a 3 year sabbatical to spend time with my young children and was ready to leap back into work.
Having spent years overseas though had inculcated a deep love of participative sports in my family and it was a lack of playing opportunities in India that pushed me into thinking about this niche. The more I spent time talking to like-minded people about wanting to play weekend sport, the more I realised the great opportunity that lay in this space. Eventually, I took the plunge and with a vision of building India’s biggest amateur sports organisation, I started Volano.
Tell us something about your company. And why did you decide to start the company with this particular idea.
Volano Entertainment Pvt Ltd is situated in the space of Sportainment. By combining active sports and entertainment, we aim at creating properties which provide unique opportunities to engage in participative sports. I believe we are in the business of creating memorable experiences for our customers.
Our flagship brand, The Devils Circuit, is India’s first and biggest Obstacle running series with a community of 500,000 plus. Our current season began in October and has seen the Devils Circuit hosted across Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Mohali and Mumbai. We will culminate the season in Gurgaon in March by giving away 2 Maruti Suzuki Swift cars as grand prizes to the winners. This is not only the biggest prize in amateur sports in the country today but has also allowed us to engage with the Corporate Athletes – folks in regular jobs who are looking at platforms to prove their mettle.
With brand partners like Maruti Suzuki and Reebok on board for multiple years, we are set to exponentially grow this property over the next 12 months into 8 more cities.
Our second brand, The Devils Circuit Swift Challenge, is a TV show that aims to identify the Fittest Corporate Team in the country. The first season of this was broadcast on NDTV in July 2015 and saw Sony emerge as the winners from a pool of 80 blue chip companies that fought it out for the title.
We are currently in the process of launching Season 2.
The decision to get into Sports as a business was a very risky one given that we moved opposite to the trend of Professional Sporting leagues, by getting into the amateur space. At the time we started way back in 2011, there was absolutely no players in this category and that is what was most exciting. I think very few businesses have the opportunity of creating a market for themselves and we were fortunate enough to be in that situation. The idea was to maximise the first mover advantage with constant innovation and growth and that’s what we have been focussed on ever since.
As the head of the organisation, your people look towards you for direction, guidance and values. What are some of the key organisation values that you want your people to imbibe and form the cultural base of your company. What are the key things you believe in?
At Volano we are building a culture of respect and camaraderie that allows all of us to maximise our potential irrespective of our role or seniority. The key values for us are:
- Respect : For each other, our customer, our work and our workplace.
- Innovation : We encourage everyone to constantly think of how we can do things better and how we can bring new ideas to life. Every year we host one offsite where we all just brainstorm and encourage wild and whacky ideas to be articulated. We then whittle them into workable propositions and then execute the ones that make business sense
- Personal Growth: We believe that personal growth is as important as the growth of the organisation and one is not possible without the other. We have well defined growth trajectories for each job profile and work towards enhancing the skills of everyone who comes on board
- Under Promise/Over Deliver: For us the experience we offer to our customers is the only measure of success. We aim to create a once in a lifetime experience with every edition of our property. This concept of working towards making someones day/month or year is a part of our DNA.
Entrepreneurial life is a series of ups and downs. Can you share with us some of your biggest UP and DOWN moments and what did you learn from them?
I started my first venture (currently im on my third) when I was 24 years old. This was in London and in a 12 month period I had scaled the company into generating a top line of multi million pounds. By the time I was 26, I was bankrupt. The key lesson I learnt was that success in business was dependent on creating the right team. This was something I hold true even today. I believe that continuous growth and success is possible only when you have a strong and passionate team working with you.
Being a start up that has bootstrapped our way for the first 3 years of our existence, we learnt to celebrate the small milestones. This is something we still do, for us this is important because not only does it give us constant motivation but also the energy to go on. The biggest high for us however was when the Apollo Hospitals group decided to come on board as investors. The fact that we had only one months’ salary in the bank added to the euphoria of getting funded!
Who do you consider a role model and why?
For me every successful person is a role model. I admire Nelson Mandela, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Roger Federer, Arsenal Wenger, Barak Obama and a whole host of people. What I get inspiration from is their stories because no matter who you look at they have one thing in common: They all started from the ground up! For me a role model is anyone who didn’t quit but continued persuing their passion.
They say that the life of an entrepreneur is 24/7. How do you strike a balance between the strenuous work and the personal life that is so essential to maintain sanity.
In my case this is a no brainer because for me my work is a relaxation. I passionately love what I do so don’t really feel the need to switch off. Being in the sports industry, as an organisation we try and play sport as much as we can. Be it table tennis at work or football over a weekend, we let ourselves go and let all the stress come out over a game.
What I do however make it a point to do is be home before my childrens’ bedtime, if I’m not travelling. This one hour of bliss makes up for all the stress in the world.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
I would urge them to first figure out why they want to be an entrepreneur. This heart to heart with yourself is extremely important! If your first answer is money then stop right there and go back to doing a job. Being an entrepreneur is essentially the equivalent of baptism by fire. There is no easy way, you have to tighten your belt and go through the grind.
If however you have the passion and the right attitude, go for it!
Marketing has been an ever evolving function across the years. In today’s world of digital marketing, do you see the traditional marketing route vanishing over a period of time? What are your thoughts on today’s marketing realities?
I think that the evolution of technology and social media that has transformed the way we communicate with each other has by default played a huge role in the evolution of Marketing. The aim of marketing has always been to enable communication, engagement and connect between a brand and its potential customers. Although in the last decade alone the pace of change has been more rapid than in the last century perhaps, I do believe that the traditional marketing route still has its place. Whilst mature brands are now leaning more towards engagement than awareness, the start ups for example are still making good use of print ads, hoardings and other traditional mass media.
Today’s marketing reality is that with an ever growing range of marketing tools at a brands disposal whilst on one hand targeting niche pockets has become really easy, on the other hand standing out from the clutter is becoming an ever growing challenge.
As an entrepreneur starting and establishing your own company and brand, how important is the marketing function for the success of your business? What are some of the marketing routes that you used?
As a bootstrapping start up our biggest conundrum has been the marketing function. The question of if we don’t spend on marketing our services then how do we achieve growth and scale versus do we spend the precious little amount of funds on the service suite itself. We too went through the same dilemma and struggle.
For us however, marketing was critical and as such we found the Social media route to be the best fitment. We used as very localised targeted approach to reach our customer base and relied a lot on the influencers within our community to amplify our message. As we grew, we moved towards a more all encompassing media mix of both traditional and non traditional media but our media mix has remained skewed in favour of social media channels.
Let’s do a quick rapid fire round.
- Your favourite holiday destination?
- Your favourite food?
- This changes periodically, right now its Quinoa Salad
- Your comfort movie and/or book?
- Pride and Prejudice
- Your most prized possession?
- My engagement ring
- The most adventurous thing you have done?
- Become an entrepreneur!
- A word or a phrase that defines your core life philosophy?
- No pain, no gain