Kashyap Dalal and Navneet Rai have been friends since their undergraduate days at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay. The co-founders of Inkfruit (www.inkfruit.com), a design platform that invites design contributions from users and picks the best which then gets printed on a range of merchandise including t-shirts, mugs and other accessories, came up with the idea based on co-creation at one of their numerous ‘catch up’ sessions while sipping cutting chai or beer. “Navneet and I started Inkfruit in 2007 out of a dingy one-bedroom flat in Malad, Mumbai. The memory that clings to me from that place is how it got flooded in the downpour in 2007. Most of our stuff was floating around and we were sitting up on the tables with little to do,” shares Dalal. Since beginning with a team of three, Inkfruit has come some distance and is now a 100-people strong. And Dalal says that the website has received close to 5,000 design contributions over the last four years. “There is an ever growing demand from our community of artists and customers to make available not just T-shirts (the products we started with), but a whole host of products thought of and designed by them,” says Dalal while adding that flip-flops, bags, laptop skins, wallets and other apparel options such as shorts, hoodies and scarves are a few of the additions. Dalal is very excited by Inkfruit’s growth so far and is working towards increasing the available merchandise options. Simultaneously, he and his team want to increase awareness on the participative model of Inkfruit to solicit the best Indian design has to offer.
“The decision to leave HUL did not happen on the back of a ready plan to start executing Inkfruit. I left my job at HUL with a dream, to start off something with little idea about what that something was. But I was sure that unless I left my job, I would just keep thinking about it and not get down to doing anything.”
Recalling his days post IIT, Dalal states rather candidly that he did the “usual” – a masters in business administration from Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow followed by a stint at Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL). “The decision to leave HUL did not happen on the back of a ready plan to start executing Inkfruit. I left my job at HUL with a dream to start off something with little idea about what that something was. But I was sure that unless I left my job, I would just keep thinking about it and not get down to doing anything,” he says. It was in this phase that Dalal and Rai conceived Inkfruit. “Navneet and I have re-discovered each other as co-founders. The only flip side has been that since starting out on building Inkfruit, both of us struggle to talk for 15 minutes without something work related coming up,” says Dalal. Each founder had his initial responsibilities clearly defined – Dalal took charge of finance, technology and marketing while Rai managed product design, sales and operations. The duo has made a concentrated effort to recruit for each function and is currently focused on growing the business.
While starting Inkfruit brought about one of the major changes in Dalal’s life, he identifies marriage as the next “life changer”. “Till November 2009, I had a very ad-hoc routine. At times, work would go on late in the night, till 2 p.m. or so. Consequently, I would wake up at 9 a.m. and get into action only a couple of hours later. Breakfasts didn’t even exist for me. I would land up at work and have a constant line up of teas and coffees, till a late lunch usually around 3 p.m. And then I got married,” he quips. “I met my wife, Meera at HUL and she still works there. Given her work schedule and the fact that she was an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ type, I was in deep trouble!” Ever since, Dalal’s life is a lot more structured with a timely breakfast and lunch and work hours that do not extend beyond 9 p.m. Not an avid gym-goer, Dalal prefers a five-kilometre run over weekends to stay fit. “I have been disciplined about doing this every Sunday, but during the week I end up ditching it usually,” he says. And the perfect end to his day would be curling up with a good comic or watching Star Trek reruns.
Another change to Dalal’s life has been the entry of his Blackberry. He isn’t someone who is always hooked to the newest gadget or gizmo but his addiction to the Blackberry does irk the missus. “I’m actually trying to not touch my Blackberry post 9 p.m. but I haven’t been winning on this one yet,” he confesses.
Dalal believes in setting goals for team members, but allows them to come up with their own plan for execution. “The work environment at Inkfruit is driven by the approach that once a capable person knows what needs to be done and is given the resources, he/she will get it done,” he elaborates. However, he does step in when things veer off track. “If something is not going to plan, Navneet and I normally micromanage to the extent of figuring out the problem. This could be the result of an unclear brief or that there is a lack of resources and we correct the needful. Sometimes, if the task is greater in complexity than we’d believed and it is beyond the qualifications of the assigned person, we step in,” shares Dalal. But he clarifies that an open approach is what works best to ensure a smooth ride. “From our side, we try to keep it easy for anyone (junior or senior) to approach us. If it is easy in the company to approach the directors, most other team members will automatically imbibe this and learn the importance of maintaining a flat structure and not creating too many hierarchies,” he says. Of course, the fun part of this flat culture is that everybody at Inkfruit looks forward to the last Saturday of the month for that’s when the beer flows. As Dalal says, “On ‘Beer Saturdays’, we get together for an open house and end up poking fun at each other.” And it is this balance between what’s fun and what’s serious that has worked for Inkfruit to become a recognised brand in a short span of four years.
Favourite comic book character: Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes
Favourite colour: Black
Favourite food: Pizza
Favourite holiday spot: Bali, Indonesia