Alum Ventures: Flatheads – Ganesh Balakrishnan, PGP 2008
Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. Ganesh Balakrishnan is a serial entrepreneur and is currently co-founder at Flatheads – a men’s casual footwear brand. Flatheads aim to fill the void and target millennials and people who want amalgamate style and comfort into their daily lives. Flatheads shoes can be worn both to work and to post-work hangouts.
Ganesh took to the entrepreneurial path after his stint in the corporate industry. He has over fourteen years of experience in e-commerce and in constantly looking to innovate and create something new. Ganesh exhibits an aura of energy only an entrepreneur is capable of. We got an exclusive sneak peek into his journey.
What has been the inspiration behind starting Flatheads?
For me, the primary motivation is the opportunity to create $100 million brand from scratch in India. We realised that there is a gap in the casual footwear market in the premium segment price range from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000.
In the Indian context, we are starved of brands that have a personality, is aspirational, and still won’t cost you an arm and leg. Mass market Indian shoes are affordable but very functional. And premium international brands are aspirational but too expensive. With Flatheads, we are aiming build a brand with a personality to bridge that gap.
Why shoes? My co-Founder, Utkarsh, is a shoe addict – he owns more than a 100 pairs of shoes! He likes to try out shoes and predict the next trend in this space. So, when we were brainstorming categories to build a brand in, shoes were on top of the list.
What makes shoes by Flatheads different than ones available in the market?
Flatheads are all-day sneakers designed for casual work dressing. They can be styled with everything from denim to khakis and even shorts! They offer unmatched comfort for 14 hour days.
We’re focusing on the urban millennial and post-millennial working professionals who wear jeans and T-shirts to work, and spend a long time in their shoes at work and post-work hanging out. This is an underserved segment we intend to address with differentiated designs and product innovation.
Flatheads sneakers are extremely lightweight – weighing lesser than a glass of water! They are made of knit fibre uppers that are airy and breathable, ensuring that your feet sweat less. The insoles and soles are cushiony to give you a feeling of walking on pillows.
What are the products offered by Flatheads? Where can one buy/ get a pair?
Flatheads makes all-day sneakers that are styled for casual work dressing and optimised for over 14 hours of comfort. They come in 3 styles, the casual Vronks, the subtle and cool Ooofs, and the mid-top super-stylish Kapows. The entire collection is available on www.flatheads.in and also on marketplaces such as Amazon and Flipkart.
You are a serial entrepreneur, what makes you coming back for more?
I enjoy the experience of creation – of building something out of nothing. Understanding customer needs, building something of value and getting them to adopt it – this is the high that I live for every day. People have a choice to spend their hard earned money on lots of things – it gives me immense satisfaction when they pick our creations over everything else.
Key learnings from all your business ventures.
There are too many to mention! One of the big learnings at Momoe, the mobile payments startup we built, was that throwing money doesn’t guarantee loyalty. We made the mistake of starting with the discounting game everyone was playing. There has to be a prime value beyond cashbacks that keeps customers coming back.
We also learnt the importance of partnerships. At Momoe, we focused on building everything from scratch, but we could have gone to market quicker if we had found partners. We are identifying and working with multiple partners for Flatheads.
At Shopclues, we also learnt about growing at scale and working with data to create virality and reduce customer acquisition costs.
What is it about entrepreneurship no one tells you?
Entrepreneurship is not about risk-taking, it is all about risk mitigation! Startup founders have to find multiple ways to mitigate risks every day.
For example, they have to plan for their personal finances to ensure they have a sustenance when starting up without a salary. They have to reduce customer risk by understanding the customer pain point deeply before they rush into building a solution. They have to reduce business risk by figuring out how to make money, and how to raise funds to grow the business.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have a lot of spare time to begin with! I try to spend quality time with my wife and seven year old daughter. Every weekend, we do some activity together or attend some event. I also try and meet other entrepreneurs to learn from them as much as possible.
A book currently you are reading.
I usually read a lot of fiction – reading for me is a way to escape into a different world. I’m trying to complete the Philip K. Dick science fiction novels presently – I’m reading Ubik, one of his best works.
What memories does ‘IIMB’ bring back to you?
IIMB instantly evokes memories of Vista, which I was in-charge of as FII President. The placements experience is also an unforgettable memory, where I saw some dreams being fulfilled and others being broken. It was intense enough to experience it as a participant, and even more nerve-racking to see it as the Central Tracker organising it.
Your advice to entrepreneurs just starting out.
One, be really passionate about what you want to do. When you are getting on the entrepreneurial journey, you have to be super self-motivated.
Second, it is a lonely journey. Every day you are trying to solve problems that could make or break your venture and so it is very high stress. Therefore, I feel, it is best to go with a co-founder or a business partner who understands you and can pick you up on your off days.
Third, and most important, spend time on your “Idea.” I would strongly stress on understanding what your customer wants. When you share your idea, the customer should go, “Oh my god! This is so cool, where were you for so long. Give me your product now and I will give you my money!” Customer validation is crucial. Some people think their idea is the best in the world but do not validate it. Instead, they go ahead and vet it with their friends, who may or may not give the right input because they don’t want to discourage you.