Rosheen Dhar, Class of 2020 The latest Ashokan venture on the block is Otto Eats-a meal
Pooja K. Kumar and Varsha Vadlamani, Class of 2019
In our little pocket of land in Sonepat, we do a lot to make our homes away from home “ours”. Posters, art and fairy lights have become staples and picking up zines and DIYs equally have become a part of every event on campus. Presenting, Shivani Bajaj and Kamala Rao, both from the Undergraduate Batch of 2019, and the co-founders of Jugnu: an entrepreneurship duo who were pivotal in starting this culture of art on campus.
Jugnu began with a simple idea of positivity. From that thought, Jugnu is now a full-fledged brand which has expanded its product range, is in talks with manufacturers outside and is planning on increasing its scale of operations. Shivani and Kamala have successfully turned a seemingly innocuous hobby into a legitimate business. What started out as one product, the famous ‘Letter-Lights’, has quickly turned into a popular business to the point where people are scrambling to get their hands on Jugnu’s beautiful DIY room decorations.
At the brink of expanding outside the red-brick walls of Ashoka, Team Jugnu, had a sit-down with us to give us a glimpse into their double-act as student and entrepreneur.
Both Shivani and Kamala contributed to each answer together.
How has Jugnu evolved over the past year? What are the highs-and-lows of this journey?
The message of Jugnu, which means ‘light in darkness’ or ‘firefly’, has evolved over our journey. Here, we’re all home away from home, and what we, as Jugnu, wish to do is make our customers’ rooms their ‘happy place’. What the world needs is ‘IN YOUR FACE POSITIVITY’, and that’s what Jugnu stands for. Over the last year, our product range has increased. This makes up one of the most fun parts of the process — the ideation. Running Jugnu is all about the excitement of creation for us. We scroll through Facebook or Instagram looking at existing DIYs for inspiration, but we add our own touch to it. Ideation is as fun as just going to each other’s rooms and saying, “Hey, let’s make this!” and then it gets made! On the one hand, we have truly put in some backbreaking work into Jugnu, but on the other, it’s been a labor of love.
The stressful parts, unsurprisingly, are the days before we have to set up a stall or meet deadlines. During the production of the Letter-Lights, the number of orders we got was physically exhaustive to manage along with the rigor of college. From that experience, we started talking to manufacturers, because we don’t want to skimp on the quality. Each product has to have a standard of quality that is worth the money. We want to put a product out there because it’s ready, not just because there’s some demand that we can hastily fill. But what is also amazing is that we always pull through.
When Jugnu had just started, we never thought we would go in the direction of expansion or manufacturers, but watch out, the Letter-Lights may have a comeback very soon!
One question everyone on campus regarding you entrepreneurs is ‘How do they do it?’ What keeps you motivated?
The motivation for all of this is the feeling we get on completing the orders. When we were making the Letter Lights, sometimes we had to do the mundne task of cutting and painting repeatedly, but every time we would switch the lights on at the end of the process, our mouths would drop in awe (laughs, wow, we are so humble). It’s motivating, because with such a product, you have to be incredibly precise and careful, so that final, luminous moment makes this work ultimately effortless. It happens with every single piece we make.
Our customer’s reactions are another enormous source of motivation. From the simple “whoa” to a heartfelt note, we are happy that we spread some happiness. Being a start-up means we can have many interactions with our customers too. One time, we simply assisted someone in filling out a google form and the customer left us a note saying, “Thank you, this made my day!”. This made us realize that even though it was just a logistical task for us then, the product already meant so much to a person who didn’t even have it in-hand yet; just the idea of it excited him so much.
And finally, we haven’t ever seen Jugnu as “work”. At its base, you could say this is simply a chance to chill with a friend while simultaneously pursuing our passion. I mean, there is some compromise on sleep, but — and we know, this is cheesy, but when you love what you do, it’s never work a day in your life.
What is the operative process of Jugnu like? Has it always been smooth sailing? How does daily-life of Jugnu differ to the events time?
So there aren’t any designated, strict roles between us. There are aspects of the business that one of us may be specifically good at, but essentially, there isn’t anything either us can’t do for Jugnu. [Shivani] is the “hilarious brains” behind the marketing of Jugnu; from speaking to vendors in and around Delhi to planning business strategy, she’s the girl. [Kamala] is the “creative genius”. We get inspired, skimp on sleep, produce our items, sell them and then re-invest all that money back into making ten thousand more things!
Event-specifically, we start work weeks in advance and our strategy tweaks at the end of every event too. The amount of work we have does escalate towards the end, but there’s usually never any last-minute race against the clock. Finishing on time acts as the motivator to keep this going in the long-run and really expand!
The failures from an event act as teachable moments, and we try to look at them as an opportunity to correct those mistakes. Focusing more on the business strategy- such as a cost-benefit analysis, pricing, etc. are to-dos for the next event. But the thing about Ashoka is, there is something happening here every day –which means we can just KEEP trying!
How does Jugnu manage financially? What were the financial hurdles you had to come across to get to where you are today?
When Jugnu started out, we had put in a little of our own money (from our fail maggi cooking days, OGs will remember). However, with respect to our line of products, it was more of an investment of time and effort rather than money. We spent days and nights working on our first product, the Letter Lights. With such a huge, rather unexpected demand, it took us by shock. However, as time passed, we learnt to manage time and finances fairly well. Once we got back the money we invested, it gave us the confidence to invest it and more of own money into Jugnu, without much hesitation. At the end of the day, it was a learning experience for both of us.
Initially, as the Letter Lights orders poured in, we were not exactly ‘professional’ about it. We maintained records but hardly updated the excel sheets, which really kicked us at a later stage. We got so carried away with orders and physically making the letter lights, that the management part of the business got a little messy. “EXCEL SHEETS FOR THE WIN GUYS!”. We also learnt the importance of payment. With products that involve such a high level of skill and manual labor, we realized some sort of advance payment system was necessary. The absence of such a system at the beginning of the business made the process a little more challenging.
Competition is always growing. How does Jugnu manage to stay #1 on campus? Do you guys take your competition into consideration while marketing for Jugnu?
We believe that our first product, the Letter Lights, is quite unique. Since we customize it according to our customers’ needs, it feels more personal and it works! But with the other products we make, yes, definitely! We see competition every day, which motivates us to add our own touch to it.
In terms of marketing within Ashoka, we just try to be what we want to be. We try to keep it simple, and we think that works best for us. We stand for happiness and positivity, and we just try to put it out there in the best way we can. Since we are looking to expand and make Jugnu exist outside Ashoka — we are taking a more serious look at marketing outside the campus. Hopefully, everything will go as planned!
What does the Entrepreneurship Network in Ashoka mean to you? We learnt that both of you had business ventures prior to Jugnu. How did Jugnu start, in itself?
Shivani: Center for Entrepreneurship (CfE) is where my tryst with Entrepreneurship started. I find them very motivational; they inspire you every day. It is easily one of my favorite places on campus, without a doubt. It is very conducive to good vibes! I would recommend the CfE to every aspiring entrepreneur!
Even though our prior stalls barely made any profits, we found each other’s ideas very inspiring. We learnt from our failures and created something new. See, that’s the thing with Ashoka — there is always hope for success. Even though we failed multiple times, we never really looked at these stalls as failures. To be very honest, it never dragged us down. It only pushed us to strive for success at something we both believed in. It does not make sense to lose hope and stop after a failure. Yes, something did not work out, but that is exactly the reason why we wanted to get back at it again. Ultimately, what is there to lose?
What are the future plans for Jugnu? Do you think Ashoka is the best place for the inception of Jugnu?
We want Jugnu to mean something as a message, and we are trying to do this through our products, which, unlike us, won’t graduate (laughs). We have a strong message that we want to deliver, and Jugnu is just the face of that. With respect to future plans, we are thinking of holding workshops. We had one during the O-week and it brought smiles to our faces!
Honestly, we do not think any other place would have given us the kind of opportunities, mentorship, and such a warm audience. Ashoka has been a real package-deal for us! If Jugnu had started elsewhere, we do not know if we would have had the environment to get back up after having failed. Ashoka is such a lively campus, with something happening every day. It gives us a reason to go back into the game!
With respect to expansion, Dabbawalas is now two years old, and they have recruited and added new members to their team. Does Jugnu have similar plans? Apart from that, does Jugnu wish to go for outside Ashoka fests as well?
In the past year, as Jugnu, we have not had the need to recruit external members. However, we have thought about it. Our product is very different from the Dabbawalas. We deal in hand-made products and they deal in food. Hence, the recruiting process in itself would be very time-consuming.
We do wish to explore other colleges as well. A lot of discussion goes into a decision like this: product establishment, quality control, and marketing, among many others. Hopefully, we run as per plan and execute this soon.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Shivani Bajaj and Kamala Rao, both from the Undergraduate Batch of 2019, are the co-founders of Jugnu
Ashokan Entrepreneurs is an initiative to put under the spotlight budding entrepreneurs among the existing students and alumni of Ashoka University.