Interviewed By: Sandeep Kshatriya, Facilitator, The CEO Insights
The CEO Insights: What triggered you to become a young entrepreneur and start Sapna Infoway? Tell us how you got to where you are today?
Nijesh Shah: My first stint into the Business world was back in 2010 during my 2nd year in College when my friend and I found Manzil Events, an Event Management company. Our first event was a big budget (20 Lakh) event when we created Bangalore’s First Car Treasure Hunt in association with ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign. It was a huge project for Manzil as the investment(s) &stakes were high. With a rush of adrenaline and the desire to do something big, we went ahead despite the known challenges we were bound to face. We successfully conducted the event just 2 months after the inception of the company.
From then on, the so-called entrepreneurial bug stuck me and got me motivated to start newer business verticals. As I completed my education, I realized that the entire ‘book, content and education’ space was something I could associate with really well. I was passionate about technology and thought of embedding technology into the book, content and education space.
Thus in the year June 2012, SapnaInfoway was born with the Vision of creating a one stop technology enabled solution providing platform that gives access to books, digital content, academic content, e-learning, readership platforms and school & institutional supplies under one umbrella.
The CEO Insights: How your education from esteemed education institutions of Bangalore helped you in your career?
Nijesh Shah: I did my BBM from St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Bangalore. The College is known for the extra-curricular activities apart from its curriculum. To be honest, the study was always last minute and never taken seriously. SJCC offered a lot more than just classroom academics. It had many fests, top-level management programs and good sporting standards. I was a professional cricketer and used to play for Cricket Clubs and also for Bangalore University. Quite an irony to think of a person like me finding a lot of passion in the education Industry. Well that’s the reality though. A lot came in from my father who successfully runs the largest Book House in the country– Sapna Book House.
Apart from the fest that I used to take part in, I was also playing cricket for the college team. It gave me a lot of mental stability and mental temperament that I now put to use in the work life that I have today. I was also given the baton to hold the Treasurer’s post in my final year of college, which I believe gave me good exposure in managing finances namely inflow of funds, budget allocation and maintaining the college’s books of accounts.
Moving ahead, I completed my PG Honors in Finance from St Joseph Business Administration. The exposure that I got from meeting Industrialists and Corporate professionals from various walks of life helped me network with them
Nijesh Shah: Manzil Events started out from a small room in an apartment at Wilson garden in Bangalore. It was the brainchild of my friend Anand, which he shared with me and another friend.
Together we envisioned Manzil to be an Event Management company that will make it to India’s top 5 in the industry with the core of excellence, trust & values. Our first event was Bangalore’s First ever Car Treasure Hunt in association with WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) for the save the tiger campaign initiative. It was an over 20 Lakh budget event. I was responsible for getting the sponsors while Anand was responsible for getting the operations in place. We raised about 10 Lakh from our main Sponsor –Maruti and another 6 from our associate sponsor BMTC. The rest of the money came in through ticket sales and the remnant capital was raised by the 2 of us.
Our first major setback was at our inaugural event when a sudden bandh was announced for the date when our car treasure hunt event was scheduled. For some time we were shocked, confused and frustrated as we had sold the tickets, hoardings across the city were put up, the press release had been done and the venue was booked, and more importantly we had only 2 days before the event. This is when we had our first learning as Entrepreneurs – Always have Plan B in place and adapt to the Damage Control mode when needed.
We first re-booked the event venue and then started to call up all participants, informing them of the new date. We then released a press note for the same and got all the creative on the hoardings changed. It was a massive effort to re-structure the entire event to the later day. Finally we had a successful event which was attended by over a 1000 participants, covered by all major newspapers and we also got recognised by the WWF. There was no looking back then.
It has been 4 years since that day and today Manzil stands proudly at having done more than 200 events including 100 corporate events and 50+ weddings through its new vertical – Sutra Weddings. I am currently a promoter and board member at Manzil Events and Entertainment.
The CEO Insights: How do you feel having Sapna Retail awarded as “India’s Largest Book Mall” by Limca Book Of Records 2014 & India Book of Records 2014?
Nijesh Shah: Sapna Book House started with a small vision of educating the neighborhood when my grandfather was denied formal education due to financial difficulties. He started Sapna in a 10X10 small ‘paan shop’ and the first book that he started to sell was the’ Liliput Dictionaries’ on the pavement for 25 paise back in 1967.
From then to now, when I look back I realise that I was fortunate to have come from my grandfather’s race which taught me how to believe, how to empower people and how to never stop dreaming!
Today Sapna Retail (Sapna Book House) is spread across 350,000 sq feet of retail space and welcomes more than 60,000 customer walk-in’s every single day. Sapna Retail today is not only a book store but is now termed as a Family Retail Multi Brand Book Store with more than 50+ verticals apart from books. Sapna has also published more than 5000 books under its publication banners and supplies directly to more than 10,000 institutions through its enterprise banner.
It’s an overwhelming feeling when you know that all your efforts to educate the world get recognised. Limca Book of Records & India Book of Records have been recognising us as India’s largest Book Mall 7 years in a row and it’s a feeling of utmost gratitude and humility that as a group owe to our 10 Million plus happy customers. It’s also a promise to enable education and continue to serve more and more people with educational aides in the years to come.
The CEO Insights: We would like to know more about the recent acquisition and its impact on increase in number, warehouse & other resources along with Operation and technological aspects?
Nijesh Shah: In December 2014, Sapna Infoway and its flagship brand- SapnaOnline.com acquired Ishita Technologies, which was valued at $13 Million from Investors – Zodius Advisors, Aarin Capital and Serial Entrepreneur K. Ganesh.
Ishita Technologies comes in with 3 big brands in the Internet Space – Bookadda.com, Acadzone.com and Koolskool.com. This acquisition facilitates Sapna Infoway to venture into newer verticals like online education (as a service provider), direct school supplies and digital and e-learning education space.
Sapna Infoway has acquired the company, its brand, its IP and its customer base of more than 5 Million. We have not acquired any physical assets of Ishita Technology. Our current warehouse strength lies at 11 warehouses thus we have 11 distribution centres across India to reach the end user in the shortest time possible. From the technology side, apart from the entire Tech Stack, we have brought in only top 4 technology engineers in Sapna Infoway.
From the numbers point of view – Bookadd.com is popular in the North and Northern Eastern belt touching order volumes of more than 2500 per day. Koolskool has done an Invoicing of a Million USD into direct schools across India. Acadzone has a tie-up with Manipal University- with more than 4000 students.
Sapna Infoway’s Flagship brand – SapnaOnline.com is known in the Southern part of India and is touching order volumes of around 2000 a day. It also has direct corporate connect to more than 50 fortune 500 companies like L&T, Intuit, Mercedes Benz, Mahindra , Infosys, HP , et al.
After this acquisition, together SapnaOnline.com, Bookadda, Acadzone and Koolskool shall look at scaling up in their respective sectors at a much faster rate under one management and one common vision and objective
The CEO Insights: How has the recent acquisition helped you venture into newer verticals for existing clientele of 10,800 schools / institutions?
Nijesh Shah: Through SapnaOnline.com’sB2B Model, we were able to penetrate into corporates like L&T, Intuit, Mercedes Benz, Mahindra, Infosys, HP, et al for direct supplies. With the backing up of Sapna-Group’s large penetration of direct supplies to more than 10,800 schools, we plan to introduce the newly acquired KoolSkool concept of supplying school needs like notebooks, textbooks, stationery, uniform, bags, water bottles etc. directly to the parents in the form of an online shopping store by the school only for the parents.
We plan to penetrate to at least 10% of these 10,800 schools by the end of 2016.
The CEO Insights: We would love to hear more about SapnaInk.com & Sapna Rise
Nijesh Shah: SapnaInk- Lately, there has been a lot of talk around Self-Publishing. The good side, it’s a convenient way to turn one into an Author. The tough side, not everybody can be convenient for you – the author in the making!
Hence we present, Sapna Ink – your convenient Self-Publishers.
SapnaInk is a new ventures started to promote the concept of self-publishing, Print on demand and eBooks. SapnaInk also undertakes self-publishing services and since its launch in the last quarter, it has made more than 15 writers, authors.
If you are a writer, finding the right publisher is like going through a needle in a haystack. The entire process can be draining—not to mention a huge chunk of your time, effort, and money is invested.
Self-Publishing is the right answer for you to comfortably publish your work, and Sapna Ink is the best answer for making this comfort a convenience!
Sapna Ink earns the reputation of having a mighty 3 decade experience in the Publishing Industry. Our objective is to make sure your work is published to the world from the comfort of your arm chair in the most beneficial way possible.
Sapna Ink self publishes in all languages across all genres and also helps in illustrative publishing for the cartoonist inside you.
Sapna Ink offers prime publishing packages, editorial and marketing services, eBook conversion, book launch and retail facilities apart from the global distribution of your work across various platforms.
At Sapna Ink, we ask you to focus on your writing, while we plan on making you the next best-seller!
SapnaRise – SapnaRise is a unique Author – Reader –Author –Audience application on the mobile that will support direct connect with a favoured Author in a few seconds.
The CEO Insights: What are your views on online e-commerce platform in India compared to the global scenario?
Nijesh Shah: Opportunities in the Internet Retail world are immense. India’s e-Retail market grew at a staggering 88% in 2013 to $16 billion, riding on booming online retail trends and defying slower economic growth and spiraling inflation, according to a survey by industry body ASSOCHAM. It is a rapidly expanding sector, throwing up thousands of new job opportunities every year.
As per a CRISIL research report, Internet Retail in India is estimated to grow at 50-55% annually for the next three years and is touted to become a Rs 50,000-crore industry by 2016.
The e-commerce industry is growing significantly in India and expected to add tons of jobs in the years to come, owing to the rapidly changing consumer behaviour and shopping patterns, one can expect a continued growth in the coming years.
We at SapnaInfoway are heavily focusing on Books, Content and Education and Book and Education in India is growing at 300% YOY and estimated to touch a whopping $30 Billion USD by 2020. The Global scenario is rapidly eyeing India as the next big Internet sensation in the world. Though globally the security that online shopping offers you is much higher outside than in India, India’s Internet companies are gearing up technologically to offer safe and secure shopping.
The CEO Insights: You mentioned, “The regional book market is untapped as retail trade is yet to be decentralized”, what opportunities do you foresee?
Nijesh Shah: There are immense opportunities for the Regional Book Market. It is witnessing footage like never before. In a country like India which is rich with many vernacular languages spoken along the length and breadth of the country, it means serious business opportunity. Most of the competitor’s focus heavily on English books and education content. We at SapnaOnline focus heavily on regional content. For example, one of SL Byrappa’s books- Yaana which is a Kannada book was launched last year and we could sell more than 4000 copies of it in just a single day! Whereas, many etailers did not even have the book listed on their website. Another instance of a Tamil book – Sai Baba is still alive, SapnaOnline.com sold more than 10,000copies where as it was not available anywhere. Now there is no debate on why it was not, it’s more strategic, but we see a huge climbing graph for regional content. In India where technology is seeping into the tier 2 and tier 3 cities, where the Internet penetration is getting stronger and the availability of cheaper smart phone’s is a reality, the rural audience will want something more personalised to their roots- starting with products and materials that describe their language. At SapnaOnline.com we do heavy Inventory of regional books and also have started digitalising regional content for our Acadzone platform wherein we want to start delivering regional supportive education content wirelessly to one and all.
The CEO Insights: How do you manage scalability & infrastructure to support over Half a Million (500,000) daily active & happy users and over a Million (1,000,000) registered users with inventory of 12.5 million titles
Nijesh Shah: Technology that can hold capacity of 500, 00 active users across 12.5 million titles has to be robust in nature. We are currently hosted on AWS (Amazon Web Server) and run on redundancy architecture. Our servers are located in Singapore. We use Content Delivery Network (CDN) pings from local server points located in various places in India. We have around 6 dedicated large instance servers and load balancers in place to help sustain the traffic. At season times or when we are running heavy sales we expect more traffic and we immediately scale our servers to help capture higher audience.
From the Inventory point of view, we run on our proprietary tech stack that has real time inventory feed and can manage 12.5 unique titles coming in from our database. This robust technology manages the premier Inventory feed and allows consistent and data driven purchase tracker. It maintains real timeinventory, full optimised search of SKU’s, highlighting content, dynamic clustering, database integration, and rich document handling.
The CEO Insights: Today, many companies are losing people to cut costs to stay competitive. What’s the alternative?
Nijesh Shah: I don’t believe that cutting cost will help more visitors and in turn more sales. It’s just a psychological notion. What matters in how good your service is and how well you are innovating in your product mix. This will make you stand out from your competitors.
Last minute delivery, shortest time delivery, up-selling not available products and great packaging and present ability are few instances of a company going that extra mile to serve the customer better. Innovating within your product range, adding more catalogs or categories if it’s a vertical business, and providing combo offers is innovating within your inventory- which again is good and will make you stay ahead of competition. The more convenience you offer to the customer, the more loyal the customer will be to you. Yes, pricing and discounting does play an important role but that’s more like pushing the business in the back foot and playing it out. Which I believe is not a long way to sustain ahead. Being Price competitive is everybody’s game plan, what is not common is innovation and extraordinary service.
The CEO Insights: What advice do you have for today’s entrepreneurs/ Leader’s
Nijesh Shah: I have learnt Entrepreneurs teach themselves anything they need to succeed. You may not know how to code, market, draw, develop, outsource or export but the one trait we all share is we can teach ourselves. I taught myself a lot, without shying away from anything. This helped a lot. I also learnt that life is about the choices you make. There’s no such thing as “getting lucky”. Hard work, tenacity, and learning from failure are what ultimately determine how successful you become. Another important thing that I learnt was to always ask the question ‘WHY’ every time you get frustrated. Not every day is going to be the best. In fact most of the days are going to be extremely hard, and at that time you must ask the question ‘WHY” to yourself, remind WHY you even ventured into this idea, WHY you are doing this. This helps to get motivated once again and lift up your inner spirit to again charge at obstacles.
Another key thing that I learnt is to build relationships. You can’t win without great partners, clients, and teammates. Success is all about creating, building, and nurturing relationships. I am not talking about quantity, but rather QUALITY of relationships. People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust. The old adage about “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know” is true.
Lastly, my biggest leaning – Never, ever give up. The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The Green Bay Packers never lost a football game. They just ran out of time.” Luckily in business, there is no time clock! Winning in business is about having staying power (capital, stamina, confidence, persistence). In my case, my company SapnaInfoway dint have the right team for more than 6 months and it was extremely difficult with your personal limited bandwidth. If we didn’t have confidence and persistence, we would have never gathered the right team. We never gave up, and would up with a great outcome.
The CEO Insights: What are your favorite book and movie?
Nijesh Shah: My Favourite Book by an Indian Author is the Shiva Trilogy Series by Amish. I am also a fan of Ashwin Sanghi ‘s writings – from the Rozabal Line to Chanakya Chants and the Krishna Key.
From literature point of view, I loved – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The First Book that I read in my life was the Malgudi Days by RK Narayan- What a genius of man he was! My favourite global author is Khaled Hosseine. I am deeply moved by his writing. His Kite Runner, Thousand Splendid suns and A mountain echoed are inspirational writings.
As a kid I loved the Harry Potter Series.
Movies – I liked the Godfather a lot, Titanic is an all-time favourite. I love epic movies – Gladiator, Troy, King Arthur are few of my favourites. From Indian Cinema, I loved 3 idiots and Zindagi Na Milegi Doobara a lot.
The CEO Insights: What are your hobbies and interests?
Nijesh Shah: I am a trained jockey and have trained professionally at the Princess Academy of Equation. So I love riding the horse. I played professional cricket hence I love playing cricket. I love reading and I believe that I still have a long way to go before I can term myself as a ‘well-read person’. I love travelling and would want to cover every inch of this world before I kick the bucket!
SapnaOnline.com and the digital arm of Sapna Book House is India’s largest multi brand retail book store. Visit SapnaOnline.com for more information: https://sapnaonline.com/