They are young and intelligent, they are restless, they have conviction and they refuse to go with the
flow. The young entrepreneurs in Shillong are moving out of the line to create their niche not just in the region but also outside it. Talk about startups? These young business protégés can show the mainlanders how to create opportunities from minimum resources.
The Sunday Shillong team talks to a few dreamers and go-getters based in and out of the city to find out how they use their management nous to dodge adversities with aplomb.
KAREN ODELLA WAR bakes it with love at ‘Whisk Me Away Your Personalized Bakery’. The 26-year-old alumnus of IHM Kolkata says, “I focus on personalising the products as I believe that making something that has personal meaning or message brings people closer.”
Karen, who grew up among four generations of independent and hard-working women in a matrilineal society, always dreamt of having her own venture than working long hours in hotels. Her passion for baking and designing cakes grew during her internship in Bengaluru after her Specialisation in Bakery from the Institute of Baking and Cake Art.
“I decided to take up baking seriously and share my passion with others. So I came back home and gave it a try. It took a lot of hard work and quite a number of sleepless nights. And it was in the Christmas of 2015 that my business kick-started,” says Karen whose home-based bakery at Mawroh makes personalised cakes, cupcakes, cookies, cake pops, chocolates and desserts.
“As the saying goes do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life, so I had to make that big jump and leapt into the business world,” she adds.
Karen runs the business alone and at times family and friends chip in during peak seasons like Christmas.
The young businesswoman says the going gets tougher with the competition in the market. Negotiating with companies and dealers is the toughest part. Also, her stature sometimes betrays her. “Conversations on the phone are different but once we meet my face and size (being a typical small petite Khasi woman) change the situation because they think I’m there to play and not work,” she rues.
But that is only part of her job hazards and once she proves herself through her work, the acknowledgement comes automatically.
“When it comes to personalisation, I also help and guide some of the customers who sometimes are confused or can’t figure out exactly what they want by taking inspiration from pictures and sketches, we work on it till finally we come up with something they like and love,” she says with a subtle pride.
Karen’s cakes are unique and look straight out of Master Chef kitchen, perfect and elegant. Talking about ideas, the young dessert chef says inspiration comes from all around, “from the flowers in my mother’s garden to an advertisement on TV”.
“Social media is also where most of my ideas come from, but the best ideas come from my customers. Social media is also a platform to advertise. Sometimes they come to me with crazy and amazing ideas, which always inspire me. My customers play a big part when it comes to designs and ideas.”
For Karen, age is not a barrier. In fact, she says being young gives her an edge as it means more years to learn. She also looks up to her father, a businessman, for courage and inspiration.
When asked what she feels about youngsters plunging into ventures to make an identity, Karen says, “Entrepreneurship is hard, especially when you don’t have the heart for it. But I think it’s good for young people to start their own business, especially when they do the things that they love. Entrepreneurs bring out innovation and new ideas. They should never get discouraged, but should work hard. Problems may arise, but it’s sometimes a good thing because I feel they just make you stronger.”
Karen, who believes that the five elements to success are faith, hard work, positivity, perseverance and self-inspiration, sees her business booming not just in Shillong but all over the country 20 years down the lane.
“I’m opening an outlet for my bakery at Mawlai Mawroh main road, so I’m hoping for the best,” says Karen who took her leap of faith without waiting for anyone.
What would one expect a 23-year-old to do? Ride a superbike? Or take a break after college to see the world around (Bollywood style)? Or list out career options with indecisiveness? SHAWN DKHAR, alias Anindya, is multi-tasking. The young founder of Fly High Consultancy says his story is more thrilling than a Bollywood script. Indeed it is and quite mind-boggling too.
Shawn ran away from home after completing matriculation from Assam Rifles Public School and took admission in a school in Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. This was the beginning of the twisted journey of Shawn, who later lived in several cities in south India including Bengaluru and strengthened his contacts with various professionals and at different levels.
When he came back to Shillong in 2015, he already knew what he would do. “I have been planning this consultancy for six years. It is a fool-proof plan,” says a confident Shawn.
Fly High, which started this April, is first of its kind in the northeastern region that does placements in colleges. When asked why this venture, Shawn explains that school students appearing for final board hurdle are often confused with their future and tend to choose the wrong option in the rat race. “This is where we come in. We counsel them and guide them through the maze,” says the young CEO of the consultancy, which has a team of six and all youngsters.
Another reason why Shawn took up the project was his bitter experience while staying alone.
The consultancy not only ensures a seat in college but also takes care of the security of the student who probably would travel outside the northeastern region for the first time.
“Parents are always sceptical, especially at a time when there are so many cases of violence against youth from the North East. We have taken care of that. Our mobile application comes handy. We instruct students not to remove the app till their semesters are over. That way, we are always in touch with them, even at the time of crisis,” says Shawn and adds that his “connections” in different states help him arrange things faster for the children. The consultancy has already tied up with 30 universities across the country and is in the process of cutting deals with many others.
About the risk that is involved in choosing a new university, Shawn, a smooth talker, says he personally visits the universities and interacts with the faculty to gauge the viability of the institute in today’s job market. “We had tie-up offers from around 100 institutes but we followed strict guidelines while shortlisting,” he says as he extends the list of names of students who have been placed so far by the consultancy. The number goes over 200.
On why he chose to set up base in Shillong, Shawn says the city gives him exposure and there are not many reliable consultancies here.
Fly High has a unique way of working. Shawn says his company does not take money from candidates “because we are paid by the institutes”. But is the money enough to break even?
The question brings a smile on Shawn’s face. He sits up to reveal another of his passion, besides taking risks in life. “I have a business too. Since I am a passionate biker, I modify motorbikes and that too at a cheaper rate than in the city market. I procure locally made parts but no one can fool me on quality as I am experienced in this,” he says.
Shawn sounds confident when he talks about juggling his work at the consultancy and running the business and when asked about his long-term plans, he says, “I am sure that in the next three to four years, my consultancy will fly high.”
MELVIN WATTSON MANNERS is media shy unlike his peers. The 28-year-old entrepreneur is a man of little words but his work shows the spunk in him.
Melvin is the proprietor of Pine Hills Creamery that produces different kinds of cheese like cream cheese, Gouda cheese, Shillong Marble Cheese, Mozzarella and cheddar, among others. The company started last November but it has already made a name in the local market. “The venture was started keeping in mind the needs of bakeries and individuals in and around Shillong. We cater to customers’ orders directly as well as supply to the retail market in the city. As of now, we currently supply our products to most departmental stores in Shillong,” says Melvin, who holds a master degree in Commerce.
The zeal to be independent and the realisation that “you can do and achieve anything once you put your mind and efforts into it” propelled Melvin to take control of the leash at a young age. He is never tired of working and runs the business alone. Melvin says at times the obstacles and disappointments dampen his day but he takes heart from the fact that for a young entrepreneur, there is time to perfect things and learn from experience.
“You are always at an advantageous position if you start early. Young people should always strive for more. I believe we all have the potential to do great things only if we try.”
Like other young business men and women, Melvin too banks on social media for promotion. But does the cut-throat competition in the market make him apprehensive about the venture? “Fear is good. So we should move ahead. Despite all odds, I see myself and my business, working and learning, and growing at the same time. I love being hands on,” says Melvin.
Shillong girl Tamanna Mordani’s (in picture below) love for music and dance prompted her to set up Envision along with cousin Karan Badkar. The urge to achieve something on their own accord brought the business partners, both 25, together.
“We used to work in the same company but to absolutely take charge, to put the knowledge, resources to a test and to start off independently and I guess that’s where it all started,” says Tamanna as she explains the beginning of Envision, a platform that provides creative solution to brands.
The company brings international concepts and events to India and also curates some of India’s leading music festivals and book talents for the same.
Based in Mumbai, Envision is being nurtured in a highly competitive industry. But the duo says challenges can be overcome with the right mindset. “An individual’s stimulus to a situation depends on the mindset and a similar opportunity given to two individuals, could yield completely different results – purely because of their mindset,” says Tamanna who studied Mass Communications at St Xavier’s Mumbai.
She goes on to explain that the Envision team has to position itself against senior people in the industry but at the same time, says Tamanna, the struggle is helping them understand themselves better.
“To be a young entrepreneur means spending the next 10 years of your life working twice as hard as others do, so that the years beyond that are lived with ease. It also means you have to do more than you dream, more than you wish; that you don’t hope for a good future, but you carve it out, from start to finish — it is entirely yourself,” the young entrepreneur adds.
Envision has a team of workers and will soon follow the corporate module. But the brother and sister are dreaming bigger and want their company to travel to the global arena. Digital advertising has been a big push for the venture that targets young audience.
“What we will work towards is for the brand to stand out on its own for its uniqueness, its professionalism and its ability to convert challenges into working opportunities,” they say.
Responsible leadership, key resource management and allotment, strategic finance planning, pro-activeness at work and a burning desire and ambition are the key elements that help the duo face any adversity.
“Entrepreneurs have an important role in the economy of today, someone with an idea could possibly be the next big start-up that itself creates so many job opportunities for people,” Karan says and adds that for him, his mother has been a great strength and support for him and her smile keeps him going despite the slumps and troughs of the new venture.
Asked whether they are planning any event in Shillong, Tamanna says, “We have been discussing Shillong the last whole month of our business planning and without a doubt, we will curate and create a music property for the city of Shillong very soon. It is a city that lives and breathes music passionately and the idea is to bring something interesting to the city that is for the people.”
Imlirenba Lemtur never wanted a conventional job because all he wanted was to chase his dreams. Soon, he would realise that while achieving one’s dream is not impossible, it involved a lot of hard work and perseverance. But the young founder of CreoNative never gave up.
The story of his adventure goes back to 1995 when a “voice inside my head” would tell the child that he would be a millionaire one day. “I was in Class VI and I started collecting WWF cards and flipping cards… to compile them in albums and sell them for a good amount. Unfortunately, I was caught by the principal while selling them. In 1998, I started a venture with a close friend to supply water to different households in my locality. But it all comes back as I have learned it’s all about connecting the dots,” reminisces Imlirenba.
“The idea of the startup was conceived in 2014 in my room. But the actual startup came into existence in 2015,” he adds.
CreoNative is all about web and graphic designing, photography, videography and event management under one umbrella. “In 2016, we took a big step to include digital marketing as an improvised modern technique to help local ventures advertise their products through digital channels and social media platforms pan India and the rest of the world,” says the 31-year-old Shillong-based entrepreneur.
Imlirenba is a new-age businessman who does things differently, like generating ideas while under the shower and not treating colleagues as subordinates but friends.
“We are a team of seven people working on their own domains. Besides me, there is Bansiewdor Lamare, Amy Wahlang, David Khyriem, Massum Hussain Laskar and two interns and I am sure that this team will grow to build a bigger venture,” smiles the young achiever who says more than profit, he focuses on sustainability of his business and building a team that is ready to walk the extra mile with him.
When asked about hurdles on the way, Imlirenba sounds nonchalant. He says nothing is tough as long as one works hard and travels in the right direction with the right intention.
“It’s up to you to decide on your path and take guidance to achieve your dreams, because in entrepreneurship no one is right or wrong. Entrepreneurship and this venture mean the world to me and nothing can take me away from achieving my dreams,” says a super-confident Imlirenba who considers his father, Steve Jobs, Gary Vayenerchuk and David Ogilvy among his inspirations.
He does not mince his words while advising youngsters about entrepreneurship. “No one gives you food unless you work for it. Don’t worry about failing because if you don’t fall or fail you can never grow up and find out where you went wrong.”
Talking about CreoNative’s long-term plans, Imlirenba says he is looking “for positive results for CreoNative in the coming 10 years’ time to make a change and grow”.
(As told to Heather Phanwar,
Jasmine Laldinpuii KC and