“A successful man is one who can lay a foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him”
Saurabh Bhandari is Chairman of Aruba Group, a principal holding company with interests in technology, e-com, and Advertisement. The group has successfully launched companies like FABELLUS Home Salon, tech-based Home Services, and GAADIWAALE tech-based Taxi Company.
Along with this, Saurabh is also principal partner to Saurabh Bhandari & Associates, a modern age Business Consulting Firm servicing Start-ups and Small & Medium Businesses. He is one of the most sought after Sales trainer among large corporates and is a highly respected Business Coach and Consultant to many entrepreneurs of small and medium businesses in India.
He has recently started BRANDex, which is into “Personal Brand Building” and helps professionals, consultants, and entrepreneurs build their personal brands to accelerate their professional growth.
He is a principal editor and host of famous business conferences called “Start Now” for aspiring entrepreneurs and “Business Accelerator” for SME and Start-Up Business Owners. These conferences happen 2 times a year in multiple cities across the country.
He has been running a community of aspiring and existing Entrepreneurs. He is also an active stock investor and invests with long term bets in companies listed in the secondary market.
In addition to these companies, Saurabh also runs his Youtube Channel, BizTalks with Saurabh Bhandari where he analyses business case studies for his followers and viewers. This is a business channel that focuses on the analysis of the news or the moves made by the companies, the deep case study base analysis that no news channels can or will ever cover.
Saurabh was born in Ambala, a small town in Haryana, 200 Kms from New Delhi, capital of India in a family of defense forces. His father served as an Army officer in the Indian Army and it is this Army background that imbibed the feeling of ‘NATION first’ in his heart at a very young age. As he grew up, this Nation First feeling only got stronger and that also became one of his reasons to pick up this journey of Entrepreneurship, to do something for the Nation. He strongly believes a nation becomes stronger only when more people leave jobs and pick up entrepreneurship to become job creators and not job seekers. As a young child, he was very passionate to follow his father’s footsteps and join the Indian Army but unfortunately because of personal circumstances he couldn’t.
Life as a Child:
In his younger days because of his father’s transferable job, he traveled from city to city, state to state, every 2-3 years. Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir, Gujrat, and many more, he saw it all in a short span of first 20years in life. Every new city he landed, led to the restarting of the entire lifestyle from education to activities in daily routine. everything rebooted, every 2 to 3 years. New teachers, new friends, new culture, and everyone around him became new every 2 to 3 years. And at a very young age, it is this kind of rapidly changing life that gave him experiences which taught him the most important lesson in life “Learn to adapt fast to the changing ecosystem, or else be left behind. Crying about CHANGE is not an option. Change is the Only OPTION”.
Influence of the Mother as a teacher:
His mother was another strong influence in his life. After coming to Bangalore, she started teaching in one of the reputed public schools where she was highly respected by her students, their parents, and fellow teachers because of she is highly skilled and deeply committed to her job and in the growth of her students.
Observing his mother, Saurabh learned the importance of teachers in the life of a student and began to believe that a committed teacher has an ability to change anyone’s life irrespective of what state of life the students come from. He learnt that though everyone might not be born with the same privilege at birth everyone has an equal chance to excel and grow if they just make an effort to search and be taught by rightfully committed and most importantly skillful teachers and mentors.
Saurabh very early in his age had entrepreneurial spirits in him. He tasted success in money and entrepreneurship for the first time at a very young age of 13 years when he did a Comic Books Business while still at school in Bangalore. He spotted that there was no supplier of a certain North Indian based Comic Books in Bangalore and these comics had very high demand among his north Indian classmates. We are talking about 1993 when there was no e-commerce, no internet. So now every time he went to Delhi, he bought tonnes of those comics and then sold them to classmates in Bangalore at prices and margins unimaginable. He learned the magic of Demand & Supply and entrepreneurship from this business at this early age and that laid the foundation of him trying different self-employment business ideas throughout his education till MBA.
He worked as a Network Marketer at Amway MLM Networking marketing company, as an Insurance Agent in Birla Sunlife and even as a door to door sales agent for an FMCG Agency. All these odd jobs or businesses built a hustler out of him at a very young age. A hustler who was ready to try things that not the majority of others at his age were not ready to.
After completing Engineering, due to society and peer pressure, Saurabh changed his mindset from being an entrepreneur to becoming an employee, and like his other college mates, he also joined the rat race in search of a stable job. Every time he spoke about his entrepreneurship aspirations to people around him, everybody said that he should focus on his job rather than business to get some experience.
Since everyone around was elderly and much experienced, he thought maybe they were right, which turned out to be one of his big mistakes of Saurabh till date that made him learn 2 important lessons in life…The first lesson “Never ask Entrepreneurship suggestions from to people who have themselves not built any business.”
And second lesson “There is no lower age limit to start a business…earlier the better…but like no lower limit, so is no upper limit to starting up either“
Nevertheless, he started his career with TCS, worked there for a couple of years and then went on to do his MBA. Post-MBA, he went on to work for 2 large corporates Hewlett Packard and Samsung in his 2 post-MBA corporate stints.
At Hewlett Packard (HP), he achieved an extraordinary Sales career, cracking multi-million dollar deals that made him the best performing Sales manager World Wide. He was known as someone who could spot opportunities from nowhere. The job at HP taught him 2 very important lessons in sales.
The first lesson, staying very close to customers and actively listening to customers all the time.
In the second lesson, for a salesperson, the recession is just a state of mind. He learned there is never really a recession for a salesperson. The recession only makes the customers change their buying behaviour, the choice of products they buy, and delays their decision-making process. Every time, a recession happens, a new set of customers and businesses emerge.
Even In 2009 and 2010 when the world was struggling with recession, Saurabh managed to crack multi-million dollar sales deals that went on to become historical deals in HP and gave him the recognition of Best Sales Manager World Wide for back to back 2 out of 3 years he worked in HP. He has a deep respect for HP for the kind of Kickstart it gave to his career.
Post HP, he worked at Samsung in multiple Sales profiles. During his stint at Samsung, he went on to become the youngest regional manager who was responsible to manage a big team and a business segment called Small Medium Emerging Business (SMB). When he joined Samsung in 2012, he was part of the B2B mobility division which also was operating as a start-up within Samsung. Samsung till 2012 was mostly a consumer brand, known for Fast Moving Consumer Durables (FMCD) like TV, AC, and Fridge and had not much experience in B2B business that too around Software and Mobility. The Business and Consumer world at that time was still getting adopted to Mobiles and Android was slowly picking up. Samsung just had 2 hit smartphone models called Note1 and S3 released till then. All his colleagues working with him at HP told him he was taking a risky move by leaving a cushy well-settled job at HP to a company which firstly was not known for any B2B Business and secondly was not an IT company at that time.
It was just Samsung’s business plan shared in the interview that alone excited Saurabh and he was ready to take the risk. The result, this new job brought out the entrepreneur in him once again. His role had no restrictions and he had to build everything around B2B mobility SALES from scratch.
Despite the fact that Saurabh always earned very high incentives & was one of the highest-paid sales professionals in the country at his time, but in reality, he was a sales professional who unlike others never ran behind only earning incentives. He was always more interested in creating new business opportunities for Samsung that can become new growth channels that give regular revenues rather than just a single stand-alone deal that gives revenue only once. Like when everybody else in the team was looking at getting mobile deals from large traditional corporations like TATA’s, Infosys, or TVS of the world, he went behind small start-ups that could potentially disrupt the businesses tomorrow. He was the first one to spot a business opportunity in mobile-based business Consumer start-ups like TAXIFORSURE, a relatively unknown taxi company in 2013 that later got sold to OLA. He did not stop there, he went on to spot an opportunity in FOOD Panda, a food app like Zomato and Swiggy, to sell Tablets for restaurants and mobiles for delivery boys, which became the largest Smartphones and tablet deal of its time. We are talking about these cases in 2013 when these start-ups were still relatively unknown or very small.
Initially, many senior management team members of Samsung used to think Saurabh is crazy for not chasing big fishes and going behind small ones. But after back to back deals of thousands of mobiles and tablets orders worth millions closing from these companies, everyone got aligned to his strategies. He did not stop there. He went on to create the biggest deals of Samsung when he sold mobiles to ESAF Microfinance, a microfinance company based in Kerala where he went on to structure a deal to sell smartphones to the poorest of the poor in a refinancing model. He created a totally new channel that got replicated across multiple Microfinance institutions in India and became the largest multi-million deal of all time for Samsung.
It was these deals where he got to interact with founders of a lot of startups directly and that kind of influenced his mind to pick up entrepreneurship in the coming days. Now was Saurabh’s decision right to enter entrepreneurship and was the timing right? Keep reading to know more.
Saurabh to date has a lot of respect for Samsung and his business leaders for providing him the platform to try, fail and grow, but the only thing that till date bothers him is that even large organizations like Samsung are not able to build more hunters like Saurabh. Hunting Sales managers are as equally important as Farming Sales managers in an organization as it is only hunters that take the organization to different scales altogether. But unfortunately to his observations, he saw that large organizations do not know how to spot and hire hunters. In fact, they do not even know how to train farmers to become hunters. They have outdated training modules and trainers that train their sales teams because of which they end up with sales guys who are outdated in the market.
Secondly, observation in large organizations was that there is always a big visibility gap between seniors management and field sales managers and this leads to a lot of large organizations even collapsing as the Sr management does not timely come to know of what is changing in the market and end up pushing old solutions that do not work anymore.
Then many times, field sales professionals do not really understand the changing ecosystem and end up more like a messenger boy giving unnecessary updates to senior management than be able to spot business opportunities.
Saurabh says that this has a lot to do with the learning and development arm of large organizations that are still using old sales methodologies and the regular corporate trainers to train the sales folks. These old corporate sales trainers are just “training module” oriented trainers and not really business-oriented material.
The need of the hour is to get Sales trainers who have strong entrepreneurial backgrounds and not just training backgrounds because, in these ever-changing times, Sales professionals have to work like more intrapreneurs in their roles and have to relate to the changing business ecosystem. This kind of training only an entrepreneur can deliver to sales professionals.
During his last few months at Samsung, Saurabh began to ask himself very often if he was good enough to start…and his HEART always said…”YES…Why not??? You have worked for the best of the companies and in the best of the roles like Sales and Marketing, closed deals that nobody else could even imagine. Over and above, you have even done your MBA from a reputed B School, so what can ever Stop you from building another FLIPKART or an AMAZON??” Note that it was his HEART and not MIND.
Saurabh, also a Bollywood fan, followed his heart and decided to quit Samsung to work full time on his first venture called GAADIWAALE, a technology-based Taxi Company in Dehradun, a small tourist city in Uttrakhand in North India.
GAADIWAALE because of its ultra-creative promotion strategies immediately caught the attention of locals and the business grew from 0 to 300 cabs in less than 6 months. Saurabh began to believe that he had cracked the code of entrepreneurship but the reality was far fetched that what he thought. His fast growth experienced a sudden break with the uninformed entry of OLA and Uber in the market that brutally killed his business overnight. Saurabh literally faced closure of his first venture in the next 2 months and that experience totally broke him from inside..
His friends, near ones and even he himself blamed it to a stroke of luck and bad timing. But in reality somewhere he also knew it was nothing to do with luck. Everybody around Saurabh suggested to him that the reasons for failure in GAADIWAALE had to do with his late entrance in a crowded market and that too without raising any capital on time. Worst was people suggesting him themselves had not even built a single business but Saurabh was hearing them as in bad times everyone does.
Today his Biggest learning in Hindsight is: “Never Listen to Your friends and dear ones when it comes to building a business unless they are business owners themselves.”
But till now, did he learn anything from failure of last venture…the answer was no….as he went on to repeat the same mistake again and the only difference this time was that it was a different venture. This time it was FABELLUS Home Salon. NOW do you want to know what was the MISTAKE? Keep reading…
This time as others had suggested, Saurabh decided to enter as an early entrant in a non crowded market, Tech based Home Service space. He started FABELLUS HOME SALON, from a small apartment with 3 chairs and 2 tables in Koramangala. FABELLUS was one of the pioneers and leading HOME Salon and Spa services start up in Bangalore and operated on a beautician aggregation model, something similar to what OLA/UBER do for TAXI services.
FABELLUS just like GAADIWAALE started to pick up fast but only to see a shocking surprise entry of heavily funded startups like STAY GLAD, HOUSEJOY and URBAN CLAP in coming months. Now FABELLUS to combat competition began to face heavy losses and within no time Saurabh was already 15 lacs down in the business.
These were tough times and he started himself question like “WHAT THE F**K was GOING WRONG with him?” He was honest, hardworking & intelligent, never failed at any job, was a rockstar sales manager wherever he worked then why was he still failing? Was business not meant for him.
Again went back to his non entrepreneur friends and relatives and they suggested he raise capital and then everything will be sorted. Saurabh agreed and thought that may be raising capital was the answer… He went on to chase Angel investors and within no time, FABELLUS got 2 serious funding offers to the tune of 1-2 Mn USD by Angel Investors. These offers came within just 2 rounds of discussion with High Profile Angel investors and he began to feel that things very soon are going to get sorted.
But that is when something went through Saurabh’s mind and he just refused the investment offer. Now everyone around him were like “WHAT THE F**K IS WRONG WITH HIM?”
Who the hell even says NO to CAPITAL that too when all other companies in the similar space like Stay Glad, Urban Clap were busy in raising capital?
Now this became the most Important and defining Event in Saurabh’s Entrepreneurship Journey as everything around him changed after the event.
DO you want to know the reason why Saurabh said no to FUNDING?
The reason that was stopping him was something that he learnt very early in life…ETHICS, HONESTY and Deep RESPECT for MONEY…..
He believed funds raised from investors have to be returned back someday and that too ideally with a good Return on Investment. But the big question was does he even know how to do a business to return the funds invested.
The Good News this time was that he was listening to MIND and not Heart unlike all other times before. And the MIND strongly told him that it was not and will never be difficult for Saurabh to raise money whether its now or even in future too considering Saurabh had a very high profile sales career with high profile companies and highly convincing personality but what will be difficult would be to return that money which can happen only if he knows how to do a business successfully. Saurabh’s MIND told him, growth of business happens only if you know how to build a business and the only Solution was to LEARN How to DO BUSINESS first before asking others to invest in your business.
He began to accept the fact that his work experience from large corporates with high profile jobs and a glorified MBA had just made him a decorated employee and not an Entrepreneur and with this acceptance began his journey of LEARNING…
Now came the bigger problem, where to find a business mentor and consultant who can guide him. Unfortunately, despite investing money on courses and coaching programs Saurabh could not find someone who could hand hold him in his journey called entrepreneurship.
So now that he had decided to build FABELLUS using his own funds and that too also all by his own, he began solving each business problem one by one and built frameworks one by one each single day.
Now the problem with this approach was that one it was endlessly stretched with little or no predictability of coming closer to success by any defined duration as there was nobody to tell him what was right or what was wrong. It was all hit and trial.
As time was progressing, so was LOSS as TIME LOSS is also MONEY LOSS, the least being the salary loss along with an investment of 20 lacs that he ended up losing in the first year itself. Never mind, he turned this “Not raising Capital” into an opportunity as now he was forced to learn, forced to build frameworks of success. Today in hindsight, if you ask him what was his biggest loss in the journey. He would say TIME and he wishes he had a business mentor & consultant who could have sailed him through all this much faster.
In the next few months, as all his other heavily capital-funded competitors, big names like Quickr, Stay Glad closed one after another, FABELLUS despite being unfunded grew brick by brick from one location to another. Today, Saurabh says that “In this journey of Entrepreneurship, it’s not the FASTEST but the FITTEST who survives till the end.”
Entrepreneurs who are on this journey for “quick growth and quick money” will finally give way to the ones who are here to build solutions for sustainable growth.
FABELLUS today after building a predictable unit model has laid a clear path of growth in the coming year by expanding from a home salon brand to a Multi-Channel `Online Offline Home and Retail Salons and Spa brand operating on franchise and partnership models.
The learnings from Saurabh are practical, can be implemented and for sure I have grown in the current business.
Result of his mentorship is- WOW: Saved 15 lakhs Without spending single paisa on marketing, we have increased 100% Revenue 1.6 lakhs to 4 lakhs per month
I’m experiencing a lot of changes. After Saurabhs’ coaching and implementing what I have learned, I got a job offer with 80% hike.