In this episode of The Balls Of Steel Show, our host Sarthak Varshney gets in conversation with a distinguished individual, Baljeet Gujral of Enfield Riders. This is a story of a boy who put his blood, sweat and tears into turning his dreams into a reality. With an idea of making travelling experiences worthwhile and less worrisome, he set out to venture into the unexplored arena of travelling. In this conversation with Baljeet, he gave The BOSS an enticing perspective of how a living in a chawl made him realise his dream.
WHAT BUSINESS ARE YOU RUNNING BECAUSE OF WHICH WE CAN SAY THAT YOU HAVE GOT THE BALLS OF STEEL?
I am into adventure, travel, and lifestyle experience space. I began my first company in 2012, and it’s called ‘Enfield Riders.’ It’s a motorcycle and four-wheel drive adventure travel company. It primarily organizes adventure travel tours. The second company that I run is called ‘Bucket-List Experiences.’ I started it in 2017. Here, we help people create their bucket list and make them tick their list.
LET’S DIVE DEEPER INTO OUR CONVERSATION BALJEET, WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN LIKE TILL NOW FROM THE POINT YOU STARTED?
I am from Bombay, and I come from a humble family. Up to the higher secondary board, I stayed in Bombay, but I continued my further studies in Bidar. I moved to Jalandhar for my civil engineering. In the final year of college, I realized that I could not run my family’s transportation business, so I thought of going ahead with an MBA degree and then getting a job. Straight after my engineering, I went to Oxford Brookes University for my Masters in marketing. Post this, I worked in London as an investment banker.
I moved back to India in 2007 and worked for ICICI and Axis bank. By 2012 I came to a point where I decided that I wanted to do something more than just the usual. My wife and I used to go on many road trips, and luckily I had friends all over India. So, I asked them for their bikes to explore places that you wouldn’t find on Google Maps. During that time, I wish there was a mechanism where I could just rent a bike, and someone would help me plan my vacation, giving logistic support and technical support. This was when I got the idea for Enfield Riders.
In 2018 we figured that we also wanted to build another platform that went beyond adventure. This is when Bucket-List Experiences was created which came together as a company that would curate holidays for people.
MOVING AHEAD IN THIS CONVERSATION BALJEET WHAT DID BOMBAY TEACH YOU?
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Bombay is that it has taught me to dream and turn those dreams into reality. I was around 13 when I first visited Bandstand and Carter Road, and I stood on a rock and said that someday I’d buy a house here. This thought has stayed with me since that day. Today I’m 37, and I live there. Now I know that dreams become a reality if you give your heart, sweat, and soul into them.
IN YOUR JOURNEY THAT YOU HAD SHARED IN THIS CONVERSATION BALJEET, WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET AT THE TIME WHEN YOU USED TO LIVE IN CHAWLS?
I had this understanding from a very early age that everyone would eventually move on their paths, and I will have to choose mine. I realized that I would need to make my foundations strong, and for that, I’ll have to be well educated. This was my first goal, although and I have always been an average student. Since childhood, my focus was that I needed to carve my path by being accountable and responsible for laying the foundation. For me, the foundation was getting my education right.
IS IT RIGHT TO SAY THAT YOUR BUSINESS MINDSET COMES FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES?
When you have the flexibility of being on your own, natural nurturing happens to you. I learned hustling in life from my hostel experiences. To stay afloat, you need to do things that will help you survive. During my time in a hostel, the college decided to print shirts that had the college’s name on them for the annual fest. So, I decided to take this chance to explore the textile market in Ludhiana and found out that it would cost 50 rupees for one shirt. I had this idea in mind that I could mint money by selling these to 1,200 students. Then I came back with this idea and marketed it through students, I showed them samples and gave free shirts to the student committee. This hustle made me realize that I could do something of my own.
This jibe, however, did not encourage me for entrepreneurship. I still wanted to get a secure job with a stable income. But, this hustle came to me as a source of thinking big.
WHAT HELPED YOU SHAPE YOUR MINDSET TOWARDS TAKING A SECURE JOB DURING THIS TIME?
As a part of our society, we are conditioned to look for safe routes. Even though there was no interference from my family’s side about my career, there were still expectations. This conditioning put me on a back foot that made me choose this path. Almost all my friends had taken up a job and for me, it was like either I could take spend 12 lakhs on my masters or get a good package of 3-4 lakhs a year. To cover up for the money I spent on my masters, it automatically came to me that now I needed to look for a safe and secured route. It’s also that your risk-taking ability changes with time.
MOVING AHEAD WITH THIS CONVERSATION BALJEET HOW DID YOU MANAGE YOUR EXPENSES DURING YOUR MASTERS?
I took up a student loan for my Masters. When I moved to London, my sister who is 3 years elder than me helped me a lot. She became the primary applicant for the loan and used her savings for my education. When I landed in London, all I had was 10,000 rupees. My fee was already paid and the bank gave me an extension to the loan for the hostel payment.
The world changed for me after this experience, and survival instincts kicked in. I found a part-time job to keep things functional there. This made me efficient in handling money. I started working in a newspaper store in the mornings because they paid me weekly, and I worked at a general store in the evenings. At 25 years of age, I finally got financially independent.
WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU BOARDED THE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT?
Before I boarded the plane I was anticipating that now my life is going to change for the better. I had a very different perception in terms of enjoying my university life before leaving Bombay. This got balanced out with the hard work that I had to do. When I was on the plane I was in wonderland but when I reached there, it was an actual La La Land.
WHAT TRIGGERED YOU TO LEAVE YOUR COMFORTABLE LIFE AND START A BUSINESS OF YOUR OWN?
My biggest support was my spouse. I have been the kind of person who always believed that if you’re doing something, then give it your best otherwise don’t do it. My wife and I quit our jobs at 30. We didn’t start our business for money, but we were ready to risk our savings for our passion. I have a belief system that we shouldn’t look back and regret anything. It was important for us to give 100% and then see how it shapes. We were blessed that it worked for us. The adventure hadn’t picked up pace in India at that time, that’s why we were able to build the brand name very quickly. In the second year, we hired people.
TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION BALJEET, DO YOU BELIEVE IN TAKING CALCULATED RISKS?
Calculative risks are the need of the hour for every entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs work mostly with their gut feeling. By risks, I’m talking about both- operational and financial risks. It’s imperative for every entrepreneur to know that risks come with rewards that are a by-product of the calculations you make. Being calculative in risk-taking is very important for every entrepreneur.
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE SEEDS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP WERE SOWN SINCE CHILDHOOD?
When I first took the plunge at starting my own business, the people who were close to me thought that this had to happen sooner or later. This validation came to me at a much later stage. During my summer break at Oxford, I got into trading on eBay wherein I used to take risks and buy items and then sell them at 20-30% extra cost. This was my second jibe at entrepreneurship. While doing this, I made thrice the money I was making at my job.
MOVING AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION BALJEET, WHERE DID YOU SET UP THE BUSINESS?
The business was set in Bombay. For the first 6 months, we worked from home. We got into the bike rental business and bought 2-3 bikes that we kept in our parking lot. We started marketing and building the brand online. For starting the business we had a basic rule, to keep the expenses minimal.
WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE WHEN YOU HAD YOUR FIRST TRANSACTION?
It was amazing. My first client was from Australia and he wanted to rent a bike for local site seeing. Since I was a local, I offered to show him around places. He was so impressed that he gave me a tip that was the exact amount as that for the bike rental, not knowing that I was the boss. I did it because I wanted to give my client the experience I had always expected. I’ll never forget this transaction.
WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE WHEN YOU BOUGHT YOUR HOUSE?
When I moved back to Bombay, it was clear to me that I wanted to make a name for myself here. This is where the dream began and the house was the by-product. My house is on loan. My ambition was to live here and be known. I wanted to create something for myself here.
TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT LOAN TRAP AND HOW IT SHAPED YOUR MINDSET?
It is different to be born with a silver spoon and to come from a modest family like mine. To create things we need to have external sources like a bank loan or friends and family. In an expensive city like Bombay, to buy a house or a luxury car, eventually, you begin with loans. One piece of advice that I have followed through the years is, keeping the loan to a bare minimum and trying to repay it as soon as possible. I’ve realized that, if you need to keep your efficiency at the optimum level, you need to stay away from debt as much as possible. I take very calculated risks when it comes to debts because it affects my productivity.
BALJEET TELL ME THAT ONE INCIDENT WHICH HAD A DEEP IMPACT ON YOU.
I have been into stages where we thought that the business was collapsing and we eventually would have to shut down. In the span of 8 years, this has happened thrice. The first time when this happened, I was shook the most. We managed to tackle it. The second time this happened, we were being overconfident. The third time it was due to demonetization but we sailed through. These experiences taught me that no failure, no success is forever. The most important thing to learn and adapt is that you should be ready to fail.
MOVING AHEAD IN THE CONVERSATION BALJEET, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE TO THE 20- YEAR OLD BALJEET?
My advice would be that whatever you do in the future, always remember to never regret it. The right time is always now. Your decisions are never right or wrong, they are just apt for that particular situation. The sooner that you begin, the better it is.
WHAT IS THAT ONE FAILURE THAT TAUGHT YOU A HUGE LESSON?
Every entrepreneur’s life is made up of failures. Losing people on your team is the biggest failure for entrepreneurs in the service industry. We initially struggled with the expectations of people and in knowing what would keep them happy. Actually, we have a very different business and we never wanted to go ahead with a typical corporate culture. We did not want a carrot culture in our business. So, we failed at this initially because it’s very difficult to understand people. We realized that training and development was an area where we needed to focus and invest more.
IN BUSINESS, WHAT ARE YOU STRUGGLING AT RIGHT NOW?
We take struggle as an ongoing thing for progress. We struggle a lot in making our benchmarks better. Growth stops when you stop thinking about ways to make your business better. We pay a lot of attention to client reviews and feedbacks.
PLEASE TELL US THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION BALJEET ARE YOU MONEY-MINDED?
Yes, I am. My definition for this is that irrespective of what you are doing in life, if money is not in place, it will keep minding you in every other aspect. But on a personal level, I’m not money-minded.
HOW DOES YOUR FAME AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS?
What I am today what my brand has bought me. It makes me proud that whatever media coverage we have is purely based on a word mouth. The media attention that we get helps the brand to reach out to more people. The only money we spend on marketing is on digital platforms. The result of this has always been pro-business. I take fame as perks that come with having your business.
WHAT BUSINESS MANTRA WOULD YOU LIKE TO GIVE TO THE LISTENERS?
The Dhandho Ni Soch that I’d like to give to every budding entrepreneur is making sure that you keep your expenses at a bare minimum. Spend less than you earn.
A genuinely enlightening journey, Baljeet has taught us that one’s circumstances are one’s most prominent teacher. This conversation with Baljeet has also highlighted that people strengthen and turn the crisis into an opportunity when exposed to vulnerabilities. For more such insightful stories, listen to The Balls Of Steel Show and expand your Dhandho Ni Soch.