If you’re one of those that fixate near a television screen and watch the marathon then you’ve probably already spotted this multi-faceted man. “Being a sportsman in India is like being an entrepreneur. You got to coach and train yourself. You got to acquire permissions and do the bookings yourself too”, he tells us. Retired Naval Officer, Amit Arvind is not only a celebrated sportsman but also an entrepreneur and a good one at that too!
His experience and years of participation in various sporting events as also his time in the Navy has today culminated into creating a solid value system for his company iLogo. Back in the day when customisation wasn’t as popular as it is today, the retired officer recollects the issues he had with the availability, cost and quality of t-shirts that they required for various Naval and sport events. Having experienced issues first-hand, Amit decided to retire from the Navy and start his own business, one that he today is the proud owner of. He conceptualised iLogo during his last year in the Navy and today iLogo is a leading brand with many accomplishments below its belt.
Towering way above while speaking to us, the six foot officer exuded warmth and sincerity. In his deep tone and in modest conversation, Amit told us of his inspirations behind iLogo and its journey from scratch. From being on the first ship to be deployed right out of Pakistan during the Kargil to creating merchandise for the Sunburn Festival, Amit had many interesting stories to tell us. Read all about them below:
WM:We bet you have several amazing stories from your time in the Navy, tell us one you’ll never forget
AA: I was quite lucky to have quite a varied experience in the Navy. I had a conventional naval life where I was on a warship. I had the opportunity to serve on different warships right as a junior officer and we had some really fantastic experiences. As a matter of fact during the Kargil, my ship was the first ship to be deployed right out of Pakistan and the toughest part was that monsoon was going on and there was a huge cyclone that came in and killed several. We sailed off Mumbai in just twenty-four hours and the seas were really rough and bad. We found numerous floating bodies of fishermen… I’ve never seen so many floating bodies at sea ever. It’s definitely something I am never going to be able to forget.
WM: You’re a sailor and marathon runner too. How did that happen?
AA: As a child I took up sailing as a hobby but I loved it so much that then it became a sport and I started representing India. I represented India at the Asian Games where I came fifth; I was a bronze medalist at the world championship, a medalist at the Asian championship and also won at the world military games. I’ve sailed for India in about thirty-four countries. I loved sailing and it’s good to do things your good at right? Also, I came from a very active life to suddenly working in a business (iLogo) and spending so much time on a desk. I just couldn’t. I wanted to get back into something physical. I actually ran my first marathon with only two weeks of training. I am an amateur runner. I am in the top five in the forty-plus age group. As a matter of fact I just came second in a race at the Kisna marathon and came fifth there too.
WM: From being in the Navy to being a sportsman and now iLogo! How does that add up?
AA: In my experience as a sportsman in the Navy, we wanted t-shirts for every event and it would be a group of not more than ten people. It was very challenging to get customised t-shirts for such a small number of people. Of course we’re talking of a different time but it wasn’t easily available. There was a gap in the market which was one part of it. The second part of it was when I traveled abroad to buy these event t-shirts, they were priced at ridiculous prices close to around fifty Euros. Also, surprisingly, I found out that a lot of them were made in India. So, right from the manufacturer in India to the end user, there were lots of middlemen in between. If you could cut that out there was a business to be made.
Being a sportsman in India is like being an entrepreneur. You got to coach, train yourself, permissions, booking, etc. There is no better training than being a sportsman and it helped me better my business too. The only difference is that as a sportsman you go for an event, it’s done and over with but, being an entrepreneur, everyday is a challenge. There are so many different variables but yes being a sportsman has definitely helped me.
WM: Where have we seen your t-shirts?
AA: India Bike Week, Facebook, merchandise for Singham, at the Sunburn Festival and that’s just to name a few events.
WM: But, why customisation?
AA: Now we have an opportunity to become a brand ourselves. If I did a white-labeling thing then there would be no differentiation. How do you differentiate? We are today recognized as a brand because of our work and reach.
WM: You’re on your way to start a brand of your own, tell our readers about it.
AA: That’s actually quite interesting. iLogo is basically a service. People ask for customisation and we cater even though the t-shirts are from our brand, we are providing you a service. You wouldn’t come to me for casual wear, off the rack. But, with the expertise and knowledge we have gained by being in the industry for this long, I believe we are in the position to create our own brand. Being a sportsman, I wanted to create something I am passionate about; I understand the requirements of an athlete. It’s just natural. Also, I realised that the basic players in this space are multi-nationals.
The cost structure they have in the United States is put on here which is why you pay what you do for them which is a lot for just a t-shirt which probably doesn’t cost close to how much you end up paying. Plus, they are paying for Michael Jordan and all (laughs). So, there is definitely a gap in the market for good quality products priced between five hundred to six hundred bucks. I don’t think there is anyone better than an athlete to fill that gap. I, being a sportsman and a player in the apparel business makes for just the perfect fit for Blakto, the reason being that endurance athletes get ‘black toes’ due to low circulation.
WM: You told us about the issues you faced as an athlete when it came to apparel. Tell us how you do things differently.
AA: Okay, so we are always looking to improve things. Fit is always a priority. We’ve got a much superior quality of product. The systems you put in place help in making sure that the quality is sustained over a period of time. Every day we want to get better, that’s the strategy. We are giving you a better product for a reasonable price and we want to keep doing that. Also, there is no one in India that gives you this broad range in colours. We’ve got eighteen colours in round necks; we also have V- necks and many more types like racer and tank tops.
WM: With no background in business how did you put a strategy in place to build this company from ground and up? What about social media, did you make use of its ever-growing reach?
AA:There are two aspects to any business—strategy and tactics. Strategy is a long term plan and ours was to get customers online. To organically use social media was tactics. In 2011, MTV Roadies ran a contest for an official MTV Roadies t-shirt and we did that contest on our website. That’s how we managed to get in traffic. We got in, twenty to thirty thousand designs and reached out to some twenty million people. Based on that we went on to do the ‘coolest college t-shirt contest’ in which we awarded the winner cash prize of one lakh. We got in, eleven thousand designs and over three-fifty thousand ‘likes’ on Facebook with a footfall of close to twenty million. We also ran the official Sunburn t-shirt contest which was very similar too! All our traffic was completely organic.
WM: We’re sure you had plans as to your clientele and business strategies when you started off. Did it pan out differently?
AA: To be honest I thought wrong. I thought it would be an export business, selling to Europe the United States, etc. That wasn’t the case however because customer acquisition abroad is very expensive. Now, we are getting to a position where we can acquire that. We are actually getting close to that every day. Even our customers in India order fifty to hundred t-shirts which is our sweet spot and I was doing festivals where I was doing close to ten thousand t-shirts but the margins here are lower. The negotiating part when someone is giving you a big order is more than someone with a lesser number. There is an under-served market. Nobody wants to do twenty t-shirts. We are focusing on the under-served market and that is what we are heading toward too.
WM: Feedback is important for any business to prosper. Do you believe in it?
AA: Oh yes. On a daily basis we do feedback calls to our customers. They say that the quality is really good. We call twenty customers everyday and get verbal feedback and ask how we can better ourselves. The two questions we always ask are:
How was the quality of the t-shirts you received? And
Is there any improvement that can be made?
WM: What makes iLogo different from other giants in the business.
AA: It’s our culture and it’s our customer acquisition strategy and the fact that we keep on improving.
WM: Today when you look at your product, do you think it matches up to what you had in mind.
AA: We still have a long way to go!
WM: What’s in the pipeline for you’ll?
AA: One is Blakto, we are very excited about that, right from t-shirts to jackets, it will have everything. We don’t really have any in-house designers but we asked people to wear it and comment about it and then that way we kept perfecting its design. We’ve got them in cotton, and then cotton mixed with Lycra and dry-fit. Also, International expansion is the second thing we’re looking forward to.
WM: Would you call yourself a start up?
AA: I would. We are always learning and accomplishing different things. That’s the idea. You’re just never done.