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Interviews

Brands, Passion, Marketing and Starting Up! – An Interview with Arpita Khadria

Barefoot. I read about this company last year and was highly impressed by their website. So when I got a chance to interview Arpita Khadria, the founder of Barefoot, I was elated. It was my chance to know the insights of a good marketer and an entrepreneur with grit. Her story amazed me, her ways inspired me and her answers motivated me! I am sure all Rodinhooders would find this interview enriching and insightful.

 

1) Tell us your story, Arpita?

 It all started with a bad boss and the Marwari blood in my veins.  I had a very nice job as a Brand Manager with one of the leading brands in the country. But the lack of freedom and decision making got to me after a point and so did the corporate politics. I was just not cut out for it and found myself in a real bad place. So, I decided to play to my strengths and start a brand consultancy firm for new and budding companies. That is how Barefoot came about. We would be completing our 1000 days in a week and I can proudly say that we are doing quite alright. I have recently launched another company called Bezzerk Inc. which will cater to only flat design game and App development and marketing. 

2) That’s interesting. But why name it Barefoot?

I wanted a name that was very down to earth and stood for going “back to basics”. Plus I love being Barefoot (laughs) 

3) An idea is the start of every start up. How did you develop this concept for your business?

Brand consultancy is still a very elitist concept in India.  Mostly the big brands and firms in the country opt for brand consultants who charge hefty sums for their advice. The brand’s in-house marketing team hires them to get an outsider’s perspective or point out things that have perhaps become a blind spot for them.Then you have the ad and design agencies. They come in all shapes and sizes. However, most of them focus on the creative side of things. They do not always sift ideas based on the business objectives and it is perhaps not their job either. Plus they have a set of designers who have their set of strengths. So, sometimes freshness can become an issue with them.

This is where I noticed a huge gap in the market. India is the hub of start-ups and Bangalore is in the center of it all. There was a need for these budding firms to get access to good advice for a reasonable cost. Barefoot provides that access! New and small firms have very different needs with regards to brand building, and we understand exactly where they are coming from. Their main concern is “how do we go about things?” be it a brand launch, market research activity or generating leads. The vision is there, but they need someone to help them get to it, step by step. Someone, who is okay with the fact that they do not have a full fledged in-house marketing team nor a dedicated budget for marketing which is kept aside every year. 

4) What is the business model for Barefoot, Arpita?

 Our business model is very simple. We are sharply focused on catering to firms that do not have a full-fledged marketing division and yet wish to build a brand. It is somewhat of an outsourced marketing service but with consultation and advisory services and not just execution. We advise clients at every step of the brand cycle. Our team has brand professionals who rather make a big difference to a small company than a small difference to a big MNC. Our monthly retainer is lesser than what it would cost our clients to hire a marketing professional with a PG degree. This business model is based purely on trust and competence and designed for bootstrapped start-ups.

Speaking of trust, there are cases where we have coordinated with ad agencies for our clients, and ensured that the campaign aligns with the overall strategy. We even recommend certain ad agencies to clients based on what the brief demands. Barefoot represents the client in all these dealings. We are always batting for the client in every meeting with any partner. Barefoot has an open negotiation with them to get the best deal. It is Barefoot that pushes the agency to deliver on time and follows up on the progress. We believe that it is a greater compliment to be trusted than to be loved.

Designing the campaign creative (copy and artwork) ourselves is one of our secondary services. But even there, we have a very unique pricing model. Taking a cue from the hair salon business, we decided to have differential pricing for design work based on the seniority of the designer. For eg: A junior designer would cost lesser and would be someone with 1-5yrs of work experience. A mid-level designer or a senior designer would cost more but they will come with more experience. This gives immense flexibility to our clients with tighter budgets. Also we do not have any designers on our payrolls (I say this with pride). We work with freelancers who have varied strengths. This gives us the flexibility to take up variety of work and assign briefs to designers based on their strengths. 

5) Lets’s venture into something both of us like. Brands! Tell us some of your favorite brands and why?

As a brand developer, I love brands that use key consumer insights in their advertising and are not afraid to be themselves; Brands that stand for something and not fall for anything. It is the only way to stay timeless I think. And we both know how difficult it is becoming to stay relevant for years these days. So I would say- Indigo Airlines, The Hindu, Raymond, Dove, Virgin, Mastercard, Ikea are some of my favourite brands. 

6) Wonderful analysis. So what are the four pillars, according to you, which constitute Brand Management?

 I could give you a very technical answer where I would use words like positioning, personality etc  However, while all that is important, the bottom line is:

Are you relatable?

Are you memorable?

Are you relevant?

And are you easily accessible?

7) You have relied on Innovation for effective Brand Management. Can you give an instance where you have applied this was applied successfully?

 We use our innovations on a daily basis. Today we have done design work across industries despite being such a small company. This has happened only because of our model of working with freelancers instead of hiring in-house designers. And the fact that we get on an average two enquiries a day for new business is also a testimony to the way we have written content on our website. It is very unique and down to earth in its tonality, which is a departure from what other consultancy firms do. Thirdly, we are the top search result on Google when you type “brand consultancy”, even though we have not spent a single rupee on SEO. This has happened because of innovative engagement activities that we do.

 Our clients will tell you that we approach every little task creatively, but without losing sight of the business objective. However, I am not at the liberty to discuss specific initiatives since they are part of business strategy and we are under an NDA for the same. 

8) Tell us about your new idea, Signtist.

I came up with a word puzzle idea last year which I thought was pretty unique. So I did some research and found that the idea currently does not exist anywhere in the world. I filed for copyrights in 135 countries and to my surprise, the applicant came through!

 The game is called Signtist. I have already launched the puzzle books on Flipkart and Amazon. And I am now preparing for the mobile app to go live. Today most of the word games are about jumbles letters. Signtist is different! In a nut-shell – “you know how we unknowingly make a pattern while typing an SMS? Signtist does the opposite. It gives you the pattern and asks you to guess the word.

After having worked on the app for a year, I realized that there is a huge gap in the market for good flat design games and apps. We in India do not make world class games in the numbers that we should. I wish to change that with Signtist and my new company Bezzerk Inc. which will be publishing the game. Bezzerk will focus on flat design (which is the future) and also help clients market their products worldwide.

For Signtist in particular- the vision I have is for Coldplay to dedicate their song “Scientist” to my game  No harm in dreaming right? 

9) Highly impressive Arpita, Life’s problems wouldn’t be called ‘hurdles’ if there wasn’t a way to get over them. Tell us about major hurdles you faced during your journey and how did you overcome them.

There were and continue to be hurdles. The first big obstacle I faced at the start was to change the psychology of small and mid-sized business owners who believe sales=marketing. Many people still equate lead generation with Marketing. So, with my corporate background, I found it very difficult to get people to change their mind-set. But eventually they did.

The other big hurdle was to hire the right people- those who use both left and right side of their brains. We did not have an office initially so the work from home format was not okay with the young talents. And once you build an office, you have to have a big enough team keep it buzzing otherwise retention becomes an issue. So balancing that was and is a huge problem because work can be seasonal at times.

 Finally, the fact that sometimes clients do not honor the agreements or change their mind without prior notice. That is a huge hurdle when you are catering to start-ups. But you just have to shake it off or hire a damn good lawyer! I prefer to move on. 

10) You will be completing three years of your startup journey. Congratulations! Any tips for our start up community on how to increase the credibility of your business?

 Consultancy is all about trust and comfort level. And that can only be built if you are genuine and honest. From the start, I have tried to keep all communication very genuine. Even our website is very clear, concise and confident. Of course my resume was pretty relevant as well, because of my past experiences in advertising and marketing with leading brands in the business.

One other way of building credibility quickly was to take guest lectures in good MBA institutes. It gave the company and me a lot of exposure and certainly got more people interested in what we do. The lectures were very well received and we also started getting a lot of resumes from students for internships and jobs. 

11) Finally, If you could time travel back to day one of your startup, what would you tell communicate to yourself?

Think big. Start small. Act now.

 

Let’s have a quick-fire round. 

Favorite Brand:                                              
Indigo 

Brand you hate:                                              
Fair & Lovely 

Three qualities you look for as an employer:      
Honesty, Dedication and Passion 

Three habits absolutely necessary to succeed:     
Patience, belief, optimism 

Three reasons startups fail:                          
Lack of the above 

Select any one. Food/ Travel/ Movies/Books  
Travel 

Favorite Book:                                            
Black swan 

Favorite Movie:                                          
Too many movies- Sin nombre,
The secret in their eyes                    

Favorite Tourist Destination:                        
Till now, I like Greece the best 

Favorite Cuisine:                                          
Asian 

Describe Entrepreneurship:                            
Think big, start small, act now! 

Which animal would you describe as an Entrepreneur:                            
Ant-Hard-working,persistent,focused

If not an Entrepreneur, you would be:               
A wildlife conservationist

 

Thank you Arpita for your wonderful answers. Congratulations again for your 3 years as an entrepreneur and wish you all the best for your future projects!

Crowdfunding Link:

Twitter handle of Barefoot – Barefoot_mktg

Twitter handle of Signtist- signtistgame

 

P.S – I would like to thank Mr Siddhesh Rane from Barefoot for connecting me to Arpita

About me:

I am doing MBA in Marketing from TAPMI, Manipal. Love Reading, Writing and Travelling. Lost but not given up as an Entrepreneur!

Twitter: nimbo_baba

Blog Link: www.tejasnimbargi.blogspot.in

 

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17 Comments

  1. very nice interview tejas!

    i distinctly remember telling you a couple of years ago that you should try doing some interviews on trhs!! 

    loved arpita’s story. more power to her.

    her 4 pillars are spot on. and yes, most of us hate the concept of fair & lovely 🙂

    tejas – can you pls link barefoot and add arpita’s twitter handle at the end as well? barefoot is also a designer boutique. plus it would be nice if we could check out arpita’s company as well.

  2. Superb!! LOVE IT

  3. Yeah. Thank you so much.

  4. Thank you Sir. 🙂

  5. Amazing read. I just contributed to her crowdfunding initiative for her game Signtist. Let’s support her.
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/signtist-the-new-sign-language/x/10813387

  6. “Thanks a lot to both Rodinhood and Tejas for this interview. It was fun! I hope this  inspires many more entrepreneurs to speak their minds and share their crazy but unique experiences 🙂

  7.  thanks Apoorv for the contribution. It means the world to us

  8. tejas – pls include arpita’s crowdfunding link in the post – it might help her!!

  9. Sure. I will do it.

  10. Yeah.  I am sure your story would amaze and inspire many more entrepreneurs. 🙂 🙂 
    All the best again 🙂

  11. Isn’t services business a grind? Ever 1000 days = 3 years, do you still have to worry about getting new clients for the month?

    What is the repeat % of the business?

  12. Yes services is the trickiest industry because loyalties are based on intangibles, which can disappear with one bad meeting. However, we have been lucky to have clients who have stuck with us for 1 year or more on retainer. And when they decide to move on from Barefoot, we take it as a compliment because their brand is bigger and better than when we found them, to move to bigger agencies I guess.

    As for getting new clients every month, we prefer to not take more than 5 clients on retainer at a time. This is because I choose to lead a life which allows me to holiday and have time for more things 🙂 Also, we try to select clients who will give us the chance to explore a new industry. Something we have not done before. This is important, so that we are always thinking on our toes and learning new things. If you see our portfolio, we have worked across industries and advised clients at various stages of the product cycle.

    But there is a seasonality involved when it comes to the quantum of new work. Q4 is always slow in terms of new business. The biggest challenge is balancing this uncertainty with the fixed overheads. 

    Even though we are 1000 days old, our clients are new and small, so the word about our work doesn’t spread like that of agencies that do big ATL campaigns. So we have to keep trying for new business. Also, the ideas and strategies that we recommend cannot be disclosed, therefore, there is very little to showcase in terms of case studies as well.

  13. Lovely Interview Tejas! Arpita makes for such an interesting entrepreneur, too. Love the mojo. Thanks.

    Would be interesting to know how Arpita attacks the new business challenge without tools such as SEO… Does word of mouth play a big role? Also, wished you had included some more details about Arpita’s background prior to her Brand Manager stint. 

    And yes, hate F&L too…. all such brands. So glad Arpita calls a spade a spade!

  14. Thank you Kaachan for your kind words. Yes, you are correct I could have added Arpita’s background to make the interview more interesting! Well, next time, next interview! 

    Regarding SEO, I am sure Arpita would answer that. 🙂

    Thanks for reading. 

  15. Hi Kaanchan,

    Am glad you enjoyed Barefoot’s story 🙂 And we address the new business challenge, by being in the top google searches without SEO. We engage people on social media by having debates. I also take lectures in MBA colleges as a hobby which brings traction. We also believe in having good interns every year to bring fresh thinking and excitement to the brand. With all these initiatives we have managed to ensure that start-ups keep getting in touch with us.

    And during months when nothing works, I just tell myself am meant to stay poor ;P

    Do try our Signtist puzzle books- they are available on Flipkart and Amazon.

  16. Think big. Start small. Act now – the perfect ending to an awesome interview.. thanks a ton tejas and arpita for this.. it’s well written, detailed and very insightful.. as someone who has to meet brand managers as a part of my job, the 4 pillars is something I’m going to keep reminding myself henceforth

    All the very best to both of you…

     

     

  17. Wanted to share an incident that happened recently and check if I am the crazy one here….

    As I had mentioned in my interview, clients defaulting on payments is a big issue that we face at Barefoot. However, what is most difficult to accept is when the client decides to not pay you in the middle of the month. And that too for reason like the one I just faced:

    So, a client got offended when I refused to write a film script for them within the consultancy charges. I was then told that they want to discontinue the services and would like to start the notice period. This is despite our agreement clearly stating that content writing and design work will be charged on actuals. The retainer included a brand evolution exercise (with brand philosophy, story, personality, tone of voice, taglines), complete advisory services, strategic planning and idea sharing. 

    I said alright to the commencement of the notice period (1month) and confirmed that we would continue our services in full flow- be it coordinating with all agencies (media, ad and development), or guiding their team on the overall brand tone of voice, reviewing the website revamp work, making a report on how to improve user friendliness etc.

    Now the client is asking to shorten the notice period. And is not willing to pay for the month also. Why because the above deliverables are not in line with what they expected from a consultant. I am having to hear things like “we are a start-up Arpita, and we can’t have people who just want to sit atop ivory towers and ‘consult’.

    I ask you guys…how much flexibility is enough? And what is the definition of consultancy? Is it the same as creative writing? Or design work? Please help me understand…

    Would you be happy if we as consultants wrote a script instead of giving you a detail report on how to make your website more user friendly or how to maintain consistency in your brand tone of voice? I really really wanna know…

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