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'My father thought I was crazy to start a business during the recession'

April 10, 2009 16:31 IST

Only two months ago, Mumbai youngsters Jay Desai, 26, and Sandeep Fernandes, 27, floated their own PR company, Foresight Communication. Their first project was a book launch at the Kala Ghoda Festival and its success has already roped them in a few clients, some as unusual as international sperm bank Cryos.

In an interview with rediff.com's Insiyah Vahanvaty, Jay and Sandeep discuss how they came up with the idea of opening their own firm and their future plans.

What's the story behind the launch of Foresight Communication?

Jay: Well after school I pursued a degree in computer engineering, but soon realised that coding and programming was not something I wanted to do all my life. Moreover, I enjoyed the subject of communication skills immensely, training to give interviews, participating in debates etc. So after graduation three years ago, I joined PR firm Hanmer MS&L, which is where I met Sandeep.

Sandeep: I completed my BMM course from a Mumbai college and was passionate about football, but I couldn't see myself making a career out of it, of course. So after graduation I joined a call centre to make some money. It didn't appeal to me much, though, so soon after I took up a job with Hammer MS&L. We became close friends and even moved jobs together to another agency; that's when we realised our potential and decided to start up on our own.

Any interesting story behind the agency's name?

Sandeep: Well, since we're still a small company, we can't charge very much right now. Also, in this time of recession, we don't expect to make a success of our venture overnight. So it's all about looking forward. Therefore the name, Foresight Communication.

What were your family's reactions when you decided to start your own business?

Jay
: See, I'm a Gujarati; business runs in my blood. So my family was very happy when I told them I wanted to quit my job and run my own business. And they could see that I was limited by my job -- doing things that I was not necessarily in agreement with and things like that.

Sandeep: I'm a Catholic and we don't really run businesses and stuff (smiles). We have our jobs, which give us a monthly income and that's it. My dad thought I was pretty crazy to talk about starting something new in this recession. He told me, "You have two kids, what are you doing?" My wife just delivered twins last month, so I was in two minds as well -- I couldn't decide whether I wanted to start this or continue with my job, which was a problem for Jay also. And my pregnant wife kept having mood swings, which meant that one day she was supporting me, and the next day she wasn't (laughs).

But now things have changed. Just yesterday, my dad actually gave me the thumbs up before setting out to go to church -- I think he sees the point of it now. And I think it's exciting for him to see his son running a business. My wife is really happy too, because I'm earning as much as I used to earlier and am working from home. Even when she was in the hospital, I could spend the whole day there with my laptop. A lot of people were also concerned about the fact that Jay and I are working together, because partnerships often lead to clashes. Hopefully that won't happen too much -- I think we're quite in sync with each other.

Was it a struggle to start off? Did people take your idea seriously?

Jay: Whatever clients we got, we got based on our work. And we had results to show -- our earlier work spoke for us. But yes, we did have to work hard at convincing them to take us on. Fortunately, most of the people we've worked with so far liked our pitch plans and our work. So they had faith that we'd do a good job.

It's still early days, but tell us a little about when you just started off.

Sandeep: One day, we were sitting at (Bandra) Bandstand, wondering whether we should really go ahead with this. And we decided, this is it -- we're doing it. So we thought up a business model, and figured out our game plan. We started with one project -- a book launch for my professor, David D'Souza -- and from there on, we got recommended to other clients. Right now we're working from our homes, but we're looking at setting up an office in the next 3 to 6 months.

Jay: But we're really glad we did it; we have the right to pick and choose our work now, we do what we believe in, and can choose our working hours as well.

What kind of challenges have you faced so far?

Jay: There haven't been too many challenges because we haven't been too ambitious to begin with. We've started small, taken on only what we can handle. Overall, its been good, because people have backed us up, and shown faith in us.

The only challenge I can remember is the fact that both of us have worked for clients only in particular fields -- I used to work with dotcoms and Sandeep in the automobile industry. When you're on your own, your clients are varied, so you have to reach out to the right people, media contacts are different. You have to be really focused and smart about it.

Sandeep: For me, the challenges were mostly personal. They were about my family and newborn twins. I wasn't sure it was the best time for me to start something new. I ended up putting a lot of pressure on Jay also.

Also, a lot of journalists look down upon PR people. But that's because so many PR people will call up the wrong person and waste their time. The trick is to contact the right individual and make it sound interesting for them. You've got to treat it as a science and use logic to approach people.

But so far, there haven't been too many road blocks -- our clients have stayed with us, so that's good. If someday they decide to leave, then that will be a major challenge.

What tips do you have for today's youngsters looking for a break as young entrepreneurs?

Sandeep: Believe in yourself. In the beginning, I kept questioning myself and looking for reaffirmation from outside. And if you're in a partnership, brace yourself for fights -- that's inevitable. Try and keep things black and white -- get things in writing as much as possible. And plan your finances -- that's very important.

Also, have a long term plan for yourself, so you know where you're going. Be well-connected, network as much as you can and lose all your inhibitions!

Jay: There is no replacement for hard work. You've got to be at it all the time. And you have to believe in yourself -- don't get demoralised if things don't go right from the start.

What are your future plans?

Jay: We want to work for a while before hiring more people. Once we have our basics in place and a client base, we'll hire people in different cities and have an all-India team. Ideally, we'd like to have dedicated people to handle day-to-day affairs and let us concentrate on business development. We would like to offer a 360 degree service -- all marketing and PR tools and services.

Sandeep: We want to expand not only all over India, but abroad as well. And it's not just a crazy dream; it's very do-able.