Most 26 year olds are busy scouring for an entry-level job. But that’s not the case with Rosh Govindaraj, founder and CEO of Issara- a start-up and soon to be pioneer in the leather and fashion industry. Starting her career in a six-figure role with PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, Rosh has been ambitious enough to venture into property investment at a young age, start her own business and travel the world. Rosh speaks exclusively with ANR regarding her journey to financial freedom and plans for the future.
What triggered you to give up a six figure salary at a reputed company and start your own business?
I started working full time straight out of high school as I started a cadetship at KPMG. I went from there to PwC, and before I realised, 8 years had passed. While I’ve enjoyed my various roles (consulting, tech risk, tax) for the most part and the money was good, it wasn’t the fulfilling career I’d imagined. I desired more freedom and flexibility (I love to travel, certainly far more than the average 4 weeks of annual leave will allow) and really wanted to feel like the work I did was meaningful. I wanted to be proud of what I did for a living, run life on my terms and help some people in the process. The longer you stay the harder it becomes to leave, so I took the plunge last year. Knowing that putting it off would only make it harder helped to make the decision.
What are the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome it?
Cultural miscommunication and sexism: It’s always going to be difficult doing business in a foreign country, but as a relatively young woman (I’m 26) in a male-dominated, traditional industry I faced some unique challenges:
– Older male artisans would either flat out refuse to deal with me, or deride my decision to travel alone in a language they thought I did not understand (I could).
– One individual I had worked with for almost 8 months decided to abscond after receiving full payment for an order. He had asked to be paid more than the customary 50% as he was getting married and needed the funds. Trusting him as we had worked closely together for so long and as it was someone I wanted a long-term business relationship with, I paid in full. 4 months later, there was no delivery and no response to my calls or messages. I flew out to Indonesia, went to his store (he actually had retail operations in Jakarta) and called him from his staff member’s phone. He answered with several excuses and I informed him that I would be taking some stock as collateral until I received my shipment. Not behaviour I had ever expected to resort to, but extreme times call for extreme measures! My order was never fulfilled. These experiences make the small wins particularly exhilarating though!
Home industry vs. factories: When working with smaller workshops, the processes you might expect from a large factory just don’t exist. Even little things like getting them to check emails and whatsapp messages were initially an issue. They’re artists, not business people and that shows. All that effort is starting to pay off now, and we’re at a stage where I’m really happy with the progress. To get here, I’ve spent months on the ground implementing processes and training the team on working in a more structured and “professional” manner.
Sourcing quality materials: One initial challenge lay in sourcing premium leather and hardware. There are lots of brands which retail handcrafted leather goods (try etsy), but I wanted my products to rival the high fashion brands in quality. Overcoming this challenge involved a lot of grunt work – meeting artisans, evaluating workshops, following lots of dead end leads to eventually get to the right ones. I got in touch with professors specialising in leather production that provided some great contacts and also industry organisations that were very helpful.
What advice do you have for teenagers and university students with an entrepreneurial spirit?
You’re in the best position to start something. You have very little to lose and lots of time on your hands – this is a luxury that won’t last. The worst case scenario if you do try is that you’ll end up with a failed start-up and lots of skills, experience and connections. That’s still a pretty great place to be. Traditional jobs and business are slow-moving beasts; they will be there if and when you decide to take the safe path.
Melbourne has a nascent but fast growing start-up scene, Sydney is a bit bigger for tech. Join http://startup-australia.com.au/ and http://startupaus.org/, and attend meet-ups at co working spaces. Reach out to people you admire and take them for a coffee. I’ve learnt more from 30min coffees with smart people than I have in several university subjects!
According to you, what is the key to attaining financial freedom?
Start early and set goals. Compound effect is a real thing! I invested in property a few years ago and it’s now helping to pay the bills as I work on Issara full time. Regardless of your job, aim to be financially savvy and if you know that you’re not, seek advice from those who are. Everyone has advice and much of it may be terrible for your particular circumstance. So you need to be in a position where you can distinguish what is right for you and make clear decisions for your future rather than letting things fall where they may. So yes, start early, set goals, educate yourself, save and invest. And also spend it on things that make you happy! That’s the point of financial freedom right – what’s the point of money in the bank when you die?
Who are your role models in the fashion industry?
Zady and Cuyana – these companies are doing much to overturn the unsustainable “fast fashion” fad that has lasted since the industrial age. Someone has to pay for cheap clothes, and if you aren’t, chances are that the people creating your latest IT item are. I love the #whomademyclothes movement and encourage people to be more discerning and critical as consumers.
Where do you see Issara in 5 years?
To be the leading purveyor of leather goods online, and to have made a significant social impact in the communities we work with.
What are some of the key marketing strategies you can suggest to other entrepreneurs such as yourself?
It depends on the industry you’re in, but generally speaking:
- Perfect your story. People love stories – both to hear and to share. The biggest marketing wins are just great stories being conveyed in a captivating manner.
- Speak to people about your business- often and passionately.
- Social media is important. Pick a few that your target audience use and update regularly. The 80-20 rule should really apply, as there abundant social media platforms to choose from.
- What do your customers want? Listen and respond.
- Go where your customers are! Are they on Pinterest? You Tube? Video games? Markets? Connect and engage using the right platforms.