AAKASH SHAH: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
JAIME TARDY: Great! So first of all, can you tell me a little bit about where the business is right now? Like the business model, the employees and sort of what it looks like.
AS: Sure. The business today is that we are both a manufacturer as well as distributor of, to summarize, we manufacture colors that are used in the inks, paints and plastics industries. So essentially, everything you see out in the market whether it be a taillight on a car or your soda can that you drink every day that has color, we’re somehow involved in part of that business.
The way we’re structured currently is we’re headquartered out of Chicago with manufacturing sites in India and China and distribution facilities in Brazil and Mexico as well. Currently we have 26 employees that work out of Chicago and, of course, the headcount would be much larger if we include the employees that are in our joint venture manufacturing facilities.
JT: That’s amazing. You never understand that the colors of a taillight had to be made by someone. How did you guys sort of get started in this business?
AS: I definitely had a running start. My father started this business 32 years ago but what he was focused on at the time was dyes, which are colors that were used to manufacture blue jeans in the United States and that’s how he got started. So that was the textile market and as many of us know, about 15 years ago the textile market started moving to the east, to China, to other parts of Asia, to Mexico so the manufacturing was leaving the United States and, of course, if anyone looks at the back label of their shirt, where it was made, chances are it was not the United States these days.
So, as that business really started, I saw my father struggling and really kind of stressed about what the future was going to hold. As I came in, I thought that we need to kind of look at where we’ve been successful and just expand into maybe other industries and so that’s when I started really studying where other colors could be used and I noticed that the trends were really consumption was increasing. We saw that packaging, a small package of potato chips and cans, you know, that was always going to stay in this country. People are always going to consume foods.
Paints, we were, of course, seeing the housing market taking off at that time and so people were going to do need to paint their houses and cars. The auto industry was growing quite a bit so things like taillights and other things that are made of plastic parts, the bumpers, this was a great market for color. So that’s where I started studying and really tweaking our product line and getting into essentially brand new products and brand new markets while having the financial strength and distribution facility that my father already had.
JT: That’s a great story. So before we get into that because I really want to get into how you dealt with brand new markets, but how did your dad even get into making colors for blue jeans?
AS: I think that’s where people always talk about luck. A lot of entrepreneurs will say that they’re not always necessarily the smartest people they know, it’s a question of seeing an opportunity and taking it to the next level. My father who is of Indian origin was a chemical engineer and he happened to go home to India to visit his parents just for vacation and during that time he met someone just randomly at a family kind of social gathering who said, “Hey, I manufacture these colors here in India and I heard that the U.S. was a great market for blue jeans. When you go back home can you check it out for me?” And all he literally did was started sending out letters to some jean manufacturers and he was in business within three months.
JT: Really? Now was he an entrepreneur beforehand and saw this as an opportunity or was this sort of his first real business?
AS: He was a chemical engineer who had his MBA and was just very frustrated with a 9 to 5 job that he was working in a chemical plant so he was just kind of waiting to get out and do something on his own.
JT: That’s amazing. Okay. So let’s talk about, you started you said eight years ago, right, into this business. So you’ve seen your dad grow this business from where it was 32 years ago from a couple letters going out to blue jeans all the way to where it is now. Tell me about what the growth was like just sort of you watching him as a kid and then your transition to actually be a part of the company.
AS: So the growth was great. I mean of course he was working very hard so as a kid definitely I remember him traveling every single week, going to meet customers, coming home certain days where things were tough. Maybe someone was not making a payment or there’s a quality problem on a product. So seen a lot of the ups and downs. Really saw his peak in 1986 and 1987 where he really had kind of peaked out on his business and I learned a few things from there which I can touch on later.
Essentially, slowly the business started declining then to the point where, you know, I have a younger brother as well. None of us wanted to join the business because we really didn’t feel there was anything exciting about it. So when I actually joined the business in 2003 our revenues had actually fallen from I think a peak of $18 million in sales all the way down to $5.3 million in sales. That’s really what I came into was a company that had $5.3 million in sales in 2003 and a pretty bleak outlook as to kind of really what the future was going to be.
I would say what was attractive though was that I had seen kind of the up and seen what was possible with some hard work and I was basically committed both emotionally because I had seen how hard he worked as well as just from an entrepreneur standpoint I thought it was a great opportunity to get a running start as opposed to starting from scratch.
JT: So at first you didn’t want to get into it but then, of course, after you could see that there could be more potential. When you went in at that time, when you first went in, did you see all those other potential markets like oh we could do this, we could do this or was that something that you sort of learned as you learned more about the business on the inside?
AS: Not immediately. Immediately I had really tried to go after the traditional textile market that he was already in and I think within a six-month time frame I realized that it was going to be very challenging and that if we didn’t get into something else quick we were going to be in trouble and so that’s where I really got into it. I had seen the other side of it. I had spent two years, I went to Silicon valley and tried to get rich quick like everyone else, you know, the dotcom days. Of course, for me, it didn’t happen that way so I came back home disappointed and really looking for a new opportunity.
JT: Can you tell us a little bit about that because a lot of the people now know that back way in the dotcom days it was so easy to get rich and oh my goodness they’re throwing money around but you apparently came and had an issue with it too because not everybody, of course, got rich during that time or after. Tell us about that time and any obstacles and challenges and failures that you went through during that time.
AS: Sure. I think just during that time my biggest mistake was that I took the first job offer I got because it was a start up, because everyone was getting rich quick and I thought that really there was no downside. So the rich really was, you know, I think what I would advise is that if you have an opportunity chances are it’s because you possess something good. You have a skill set, you have, you know, background.
You have a desire to work and what I probably should have done was interviewed with more companies. I probably could have, if not became a millionaire, at least could have learned something from maybe a company that had better technology or that was going places or that may have gone public eventually. But instead, I just jumped at the first opportunity I got. Probably undersold myself and went out there and worked for a company that really didn’t have that great of a product and within six months it was over. The company had no money to continue operations.
JT: Did you have any lessons from that, from seeing on the inside of a start up that failed?
AS: I think the simple thing was the business fundamentals was this company just kept spending money on hiring people and marketing and never ever had a validated customer. So no one to say that yes this is a product we want, this is a product we value. So they just kept building things that they thought was cool, they thought people would want it, but frankly they were ahead of their time. There weren’t customers willing to buy the product. There weren’t customers that understood the product and they kept putting money behind it. Really what they should have done is before growing out the organization they should have found some real customers.
JT: Great. Now what is your background by the way? Do you have a business background?
AS: I’m a chemical engineer from Northwestern University and they I am an MBA from Kellogg.
JT: Oh nice. Okay.
AS: All my money went to Northwestern families.
JT: Well your dad was a chemical engineer and you had a big textile or that sort of business. So, of course, that’s the right way to go. Good thing you went into that huh?
AS: I guess so, right. That’s how it worked out.
JT: Great. So when you started back in 2003, what were some of the first steps that you really had to do in order to get the ground? I mean, like I said before, you grew up in this so you sort of knew the business model. You knew the people. What did you do when you first said, “Okay, I’m ready to go. Let’s get this going.”
AS: So I think that probably the best thing my father ever taught me in the first day of training was, he said, “Here’s kind of a list of customers, a list of people who might be buying these things. Just start calling.” So I literally never had any formal training in this business even though some might say that I grew up with it but really I had no formal training on what we actually did and what value we added.
My father told me that he learned every single thing he ever learned from a customer and, for me, it was the same story. I just started picking up the phone and just calling customers, asking them what they liked about us, what they didn’t like about us, what we could do for them and literally, I mean cold call after cold call and rejection after rejection, I learned what customers valued, what the market needed and eventually it’s what drove me to the product line that I have developed.
JT: That is brilliant. I mean it’s funny how underrated actually calling up your customers and asking them what they want and how you could do it better is nowadays. That’s great.
AS: I mean it has been amazing for us because we, as we grow this company, have continued to kind of try to provide training, provide pitfalls, provide insights that we’ve learned over the years but it’s amazing how I think let’s say corporate America or larger companies have this formal training and I’m sure there’s value in that but it’s really, it’s amazing how much value customers can bring and really, if you’re listening and learning from them, I think your learning curve can be accelerated much faster.
JT: Now before we move on to other things, I really want to ask, how is it dealing with your family? I mean having your dad to be the one to teach you. How has that family dynamic worked and how, do you have any tips or advice for people in working with their family?
AS: It’s a great question. I think it’s a very tough question to answer because there’s so many different dynamics. I mean there’s emotions, there’s expectations, there’s obviously disagreements that you have to be able to leave at the workplace and when you go home you’re still family. It’s been very challenging. I don’t want to make it oversimplified. I think for the first two years of our relationship, business relationship, I think my father and I probably fought every single day. I think my mom had to come in and intervene at some point.
So looking back, it’s kind of funny but at the time it was tough. I mean it was very tough because he had been very successful in what he had done over the years and clearly there was a change in the business climate and I was very strong minded that there had to be some change in the company as well. So I think he definitely had a lot of valid points and I think I had some as well and eventually we compromised and in the end, ended up where we were so I guess we have to say at least to some extent it worked.
JT: It worked. Now is he part of the company right now?
As: He is. He is still part of the company. He still gives very good advice. He still kind of manages his, what I would call more traditional business which is the textile industry, where we still have some longstanding customers that still do buy from us. He’s still involved in that part of the business.
JT: So how did you start learning and branching out into brand new markets?
AS: Mostly just research. Really looking into the simple things of industry magazines, industry trade shows and conferences that would talk more technically about some of these products and where they’ve been used. One of the things we kind of got lucky is that some of the products we found out that we were selling to the textile industry were also used in the plastics industry so as I started exploring the plastics industry, I was able to branch out and find out what additional products were used.
So it was really kind of, there was little rhyme or reason. It wasn’t like a formal, we didn’t buy technology from anybody. We didn’t license technology. We just really were able to discover it by means of the customer base and finding out what else they buy and what else they do. It’s a pretty, I mean it’s not a great story when it comes to how, there’s nothing cool about it. It was just hard work I guess and just talking to a lot of people. That’s really all it was.
JT: That’s really sold advice though. That’s what we have to do in order to figure it out, right?
AS: And that’s the thing. A lot of people make things more complicated than it needs to be. I mean it’s not always as difficult as it seems would be kind of my, some of the companies that are out there, some of the technologies that are out there, companies that sell for 20 times their valuation or whatever it is. I mean a lot of times behind the scenes there’s really not that much to it.
JT: It’s hard but there’s not much to it. Definitely. Definitely, simple. Not easy, simple. So how, when you went into this, how did you sort of separate yourself from the competition? I mean there must have already been people that were in it selling this stuff. How did you come in as sort of the new guys and say hey we want to sell this too?
AS: I think what I brought to the industry specifically was some youth and energy and a creative way of doing things. So this industry, you said nature, by nature, is run by older and mostly male dominated. So it’s basically people that have done things a certain way for so many years and really haven’t wanted to change. I did some unique things. I started, you know, again, simple things. I started using Power Point presentations, more electronic ways of doing things. I think people started talking about younger topics.
Started taking guys out to play golf and just doing things that frankly the industry had never done before. It was just bringing the younger approach to it. I designed a cool looking brochure that made our products look attractive and again, in a slow moving bring industry, I think just what people needed was just a kind of new way, new approach of looking at these products.
JT: Now how did you know that that wasn’t going to be rejected? I mean sometimes when people have it that way the same way all the time, they don’t want Power Point. They don’t want all that new stuff. How did you know that it would be accepted or was it every time?
AS: Great question. I actually didn’t know it would be accepted. I think it was just my approach that I wanted to try and it was rejected many times. Many times customers weren’t open to it and customers didn’t want to change and frankly, customers still don’t want to change. I mean we have plenty of big name accounts out there that still refuse to take our calls I mean it’s still a battle to get into many of these accounts but I think at the end of the day, as an entrepreneur, what encourages you is when it works once.
When someone is willing to listen to you, that opens up a realm of possibilities because now you know that because there’s one person there’s probably somebody else and so you just want to keep trying and that’s what drove me. For every one who said no, it just motivated me to find more people that would say yes.
JT: That’s great advice. Dealing with rejection is so difficult and if you’re not used to it, especially like you said, just calling customers on your first couple days there, how did you start to learn to deal with rejection and have such a great attitude with it?
AS: Again, I don’t want to make it sound too simple. There were certain days, I’d go home to my wife and I was definitely wanted to quit the business. There’s all kinds of those days and everyone has them. Again, the analogy I give people is I’m a golf player, golf is such a tough game and no matter how long you play, you’re always going to hit a bad shot no matter how good you are. But it’s when you hit even one good shot in 18 holes that it makes you want to come back and play. It’s like an addiction.
That’s how I feel about business. You have one good conversation a week or someone kind of believes in what you’re saying. It resonates with them and that’s all you really need. That’s all it is. That’s all it has been for me is really I thrive and I’m driven by positive energy from anyone I talk to and I just extract that in every conversation.
JT: That is a great analogy and I think it’s so funny because I see it in so many people. It is like an addiction where you’re like what could happen? And we only think of the positives for some reason. We don’t tend to dwell too much on the negatives though like you said, the negatives do happen and everybody has days that they want to quit but those positive ones just keep you fueled and keep you going anyway.
JT: So how do you enjoy the journey then, you know, if you got days where you just want to give it up and quit. What are some things that you do to try and enjoy the journey too?
AS: Well one great thing and I think this is going to be unique to every entrepreneur, but one unique thing about our business, in my business, is I have the ability, the opportunity I should say, to travel the world. I mean all of our factories are in India and China. Our customer base is really spread out. Of course, primarily North America and South America but we started expanding into Europe. We’re now selling back into Asia. So I get to travel all over the world and that’s been a good kind of relief, a good way to get away and meet different kinds of people, different cultures, eat different foods.
That’s really excited me a lot, at least in the beginning. Now it’s a little bit different. Now I have two young kids and so not it has kind of changed where you want to spend more time at home with the family but initially as I was getting started, that was one of the motivating factors was that I would be able to have a business on a global level, travel all over the place and again meet all kinds of different interesting people.
JT: That’s a big upside. I mean you can have the lifestyle you want even if you’re working really hard and working a lot maybe, but you can still have that lifestyle where you get to travel and do things that you want too. So what are you doing now to try and balancing it because now that you have small kids, I mean I have two small kids too so I know what you’re going through. How do you balance that?
AS: That’s kind of the problem. It’s one of the challenges. I mean it is tough to have a balance. I think as your business gets bigger, you have more and more responsibilities to your people, to continue the growth of your business. There’s different challenges now for me. For me, I’m now wanting to do a lot more manufacturing. That’s what excites me and to create a product rather than just to sell a product.
To create it from scratch I think is really cool so as we have to do more of those things the balance is hard and I guess what I’ve done is really set my priorities so frankly I’ve been able to hire a decent team that’s able to go out and visit customers that normally I would have handled myself and so I really don’t travel as much within the United States and I really save my travels for the larger, I guess more strategic trips to Asia or to Europe and so therefore I’m not gone every week but when I am gone I am gone for 10 days at a time. So that’s a balance because at least when I’m here, I’m here.
JT: That’s a really good point because you saw what your dad went through. You said he was one all the time. So as a kid, you probably saw that growing up and didn’t necessarily want that to be for your kids too.
AS: Yeah, absolutely. He traveled a lot. He didn’t have the luxury that we have. The biggest luxury I guess that I have is I have a younger brother and so basically when my dad was one, we have at a minimum two. You see, so that already helps. I have a partner in crime every single day that if I’m not here, he covers for me and vice versa and him being younger, we enjoy to travel together as well. My dad never had that. He had to do it all himself which was respectable.
JT: I didn’t realize that both your brother was in it too. I thought you were the one that chose and your brother decided to do something else. So you both, I mean it’s a true family business. You’re both in it together.
AS: Yeah. he’s younger so he joined about three years after me.
JT: He saw you working it out and it was okay so therefore he joined in?
AS: Well I think, you know, in turn, of course, not to take anything away because he has really helped build the business. I mean he’s an equal part of it but yeah, he didn’t have it probably as difficult initially because he saw that I was already able to make some progress and get into these new product lines. But obviously again every step of business has its own challenges and believe me, I mean the challenges we have today are even more difficult than what I faced on day one. It’s all on a different level. It just depends on how you look at it.
JT: Definitely. So I’m going to highlight that a little bit because there’s challenges every single day no matter where you are, whether you’re just starting at the very, very beginning and you have challenges of how the heck do I do an LLC or incorporate but all the way up to when you are a larger business there’s always something you face. So what are some of those challenges that you’re facing right now?
AS: Well I think today the biggest thing is we’ve been growing about 40 percent every single year for the last eight years.
JT: Nice. Congratulations.
AS: Thank you. So I guess I didn’t finish the story when I started in 2003 our sales were $5.3 million and this year we’re projected to finish, we’ll cross $42 million. Obviously there’s been quite a change and for us, the challenge is how do you sustain that growth now. How do you keep growing at 40 percent a year when you’ve hired more employees, you made manufacturing investments. So now you have your own product that you’re manufacturing and you don’t want to keep your plant idle so you have to figure out ways to sell out your capacity every single day and as you continue to invest and you have more capacity, you have more to sell.
So it’s not like, you know, you can just be satisfied at a certain level that you can say oh, well, I’ve reached $50 million and that’s all I have. Every single day we’re investing right back into the business which means that every quarter let’s say or every six months, we have more manufacturing capacity, we have more projects that we have to support and it just means that we have to just do that much more and so the challenges actually increase because there’s more at risk now.
JT: It’s constant.
AS: Exactly. It’s never ending. But frankly for me, it’s what is exciting because I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t want to come to work every day if everything was guaranteed. I mean that’s part of the challenges of entrepreneurs. If you know every single thing that’s going to happen, if there is no unknown, then you might as well just take a 9 to 5 job.
JT: Very valid point.
AS: Not to criticize anybody that has a full time job. I think that’s definitely an important way to build to this but there’s a lot more at stake, a lot more risk obviously when you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
JT: How did you sustain or how did you even do 40 percent every year? That’s really impressive. Give us some tips and advice on what you’ve learned going through all that.
AS: I mean the truth of the matter is that it definitely wasn’t planned. I mean I never had a business plan to take us to the 40 percent growth every year. I think it was just absolute hard work, never stopping, never being satisfied, just going at it every single day. So I didn’t have a formalized business plan which I now have to create or have been creating. So really I think what we were fortunate enough to be in was an industry that has huge potential.
I mean anyone can Google the chemical industry and know that it’s a multibillion dollar industry and so really even today, what we’re talking about is still peanuts as to what the potential is. So that helps. You hear other companies have made, they’re doing something and maybe the total market for everything they’re doing is $10 million and so even if they’re able to capture 10 percent, the maximum they could do would be a million.
We don’t have that restriction. We don’t have that glass ceiling and so a lot of our growth has come just by nature of the industry as a whole and what has been happening really in our environment. A lot of big companies in 2008 started divesting, started closing plants because of all the financial turmoil. That’s where we started reinvesting even harder and putting more back in and we’re seeing the fruits of that now because we have manufacturing capacities that others closed down.
JT: What separates you from them? I mean goodness, they do the same thing but they had to close and you’re growing 40 percent.
AS: Two things. One of course is cash. That’s one of the topics that I kind of stay very close to is the cliché of cash is king is so true. We just never borrowed. To this day, we still don’t borrow. I mean we have a line of credit, we just don’t borrow money. We put everything back in. We live modestly and we put everything back into the business because we believe that in these times of turmoil when banks can pull your line of credit or backs can control how much liquidity you have to have, we don’t have to answer anybody because we have our own cash.
So a lot of these larger companies who closed down had to answer to stockholders. They had to answer to their banks and their lines of credit. We saw them sell inventories at ridiculous prices just to get rid of them whereas we can sit on our inventory for ten years if we have to and it’s not going to hurt us. When you have cash, you have lest restrictions, you have less people telling you what to do. That’s been a big advantage for us.
JT: That’s invaluable advice because usually you hear, you know, well with smaller businesses stay away from credit if you can and that sort of thing. You’re a $42 million business and you guys don’t borrow. That is extremely impressive. I’m sure you’ve already patted yourself on the back for it because you’re here still but in general, that’s huge. You don’t have to borrow even when you have huge amounts of sales like that and that’s, like you said, what separated you from the people that closed. So that’s great, great advice.
AS: Yeah and just to add to that and I will tell you, because I don’t want to oversimplify the story, even today there are those days we’re like look, if we borrow, what additional business can we get or can we expand our growth even further. Those are definitely challenges that we have. So I don’t want to discourage it but I think in the end if I look back and I see what has kept us strong, it’s been our very, very strong cash position. I’ve had friends even who have been entrepreneurs or even other people in the industry who have been not even overleveraged but even, let’s just say significantly leveraged, and they’ve definitely struggled in these tough times.
JT: It’s funny, I do a lot of millionaire interviews and a lot of them talk about really investing and spending but some of them will over leverage themselves and just pray, you know, work as hard as they possibly can and cross their fingers and that seems so scary and even to them they’re like wow, I can’t even fathom that I did that. But if they can be in a cash position where you can really hold everything close, you’re just in such a better position than you would be if you had to go the other way.
JT: So how did you sustain that growth though? Again, I’m going to ask you because 40 percent without really borrowing, did you have any strategies or tactics that you use to do that?
AS: Well, I mean, of course, we were in new markets for us. So every time we picked up new customers, it was all additional business, right. So we hired sales people. We actually beefed up, we have a pretty good technical center here so I invested and spent a lot of money in new equipment so that we could basically analyze these colors and do color matching services and actually make the customers’ end products. We were actually making lab scale paint here to make sure that it has good properties and when the customer tests it they’re going to get good results.
So we basically beefed up our technical services, beefed up our sales force and really the results came because, of course, our inventory and good product quality and you have people out there selling it, you start getting results and that’s what happened to us and the 40 percent, I mean, it was just because we weren’t in this market at all. If you think about going from zero, let’s say going to a million dollars then going to two, we’re essentially just doubling some of these markets every month. So that’s why we’re able to get the 40 percent. But again, moving forward, it will definitely be a challenge. I mean to get 40 percent on $42 million is a big challenge and that’s my main responsibility right now.
JT: Like you said, you’re trying to deal with plans now. Do you think a plan would have helped before when you were going at it really hard or do you think it would have mattered?
AS: I mean I think it’s always good to have guidelines and to have a plan in place. The truth of the matter was is I didn’t know anything about the market. I mean any plan I would have put in place would have been totally speculation and just a guess because I didn’t know the size of the paints and plastics market back then. I didn’t know how the products were used. I didn’t know how many products were used. So to put a plan together would have been purely speculation. It was totally new for me.
JT: So how did you make the decision of what to pursue? Did you just see opportunities back then and just sort of go for it and go this is a new market, let’s go after this client and this client and this client?
AS: Yeah, basically it was a very simplistic view. We saw what customers were showing interest and then we found every single customer that looks just like that customer. So you think about, you know, Sherwin Williams, the house paint and then you go to another hardware store and you say, what do they carry and you find Benjamin Moore and you find Valspar and you find AkzoNobel and you just go and see what looks similar. Who else could be using this product?
Then obviously as we started getting some momentum, we went with a little bit more intelligent market approach. The first was yeah, just let’s see what, try with what sticks.
JT: So it’s about what you had and you only had so much to work with it so you worked with it and then as you learned and as you got more, you were able to work with even more. But that’s a great piece of information. Let’s talk a little bit because we talked a little bit before about resources, what sort of resources have you turned to? What helped in growing your business? I mean even books or whatever resources you’ve used that have really helped you would be greatly beneficial to us.
AS: Sure. Definitely for us and I am sure every business has this, we started attending a lot more industry conferences. These conferences were, you know, exchanging information about products that are available on the market, a technical uses of our products where we were actually learning how our products were being used by attending these conferences that we may have not otherwise known. Of course, trade journals, magazines that industry publish that talk about what our customers were doing were very valuable to us.
Again, I can’t harp on it enough. Just talking to customers. I mean getting in front of customers, sitting down with them and just understanding more about what they did, walking around their plants, watching them use our products. Getting feedback of how our packaging was and why that was good or bad. We are really just analyzing every single part of how our product was used. The whole experience of dealing with Aakash Chemicals from the customer service call to how the shipment showed up, I’m really spending time with our customers to fully understand what they valued and what they didn’t was really most helpful to us.
JT: Great. And, of course, I’m sure, as you started getting into the industry in general, I mean you started out with not knowing anybody in the industries but now, I mean eight years later, you probably got a massive amount of contacts that you can leverage now, right?
AS: Absolutely. I think as you get more and more out there and what essentially started happening is a curiosity started coming about. People were wondering, what’s this Aakash Chemicals company? They came out of nowhere. Who are these guys and what are they doing and frankly, how do they do this so fast? I mean really most of our competition have been around doing exactly what they do for the last 20 to 30 years and never seen these kind of growth rates.
So I think for them they were just kind of like wondering, what is it that you guys are doing and how do you do it? I honestly think to this day, it’s just that we just worked a lot harder than probably they were willing to work or that they needed to work and we just saw the opportunities the customers were giving us and we just never said no. We just went after every opportunity that was presented to us.
JT: Great advice. It’s funny how reputation really makes a difference too because once you start pulling out that reputation and people know who you are, creating those relationships and really cultivating them is a lot easier is what it sounds like.
AS: Yeah, absolutely and people know we’re going to go the extra mile for them every single time. I think a lot of our competition, perfect example is sometimes customers will be asking for a product that’s not always let’s say in our immediate line and we will always say that we’ll look for it. We’ll always go and try to see if we can look for it, if we can make it and sometimes the answer is no. I mean sure we’re not able to find 100 percent of things that customers want but we definitely will make that effort.
What you’ll see in our competition mostly is if it’s not in their product catalog they’ll just say no. They won’t even make an effort. And maybe there’s some rhyme or reason to that. Maybe it’s too expensive for them to go and look for new products but for us, it’s what has worked.
JT: So how have you created such a culture in your company? I mean to have customer service and be so, you know, customer service as being your number one. Is it something that you sort of taught your employees and you have dates of this is how we treat our customers or do you just hire people that really treat your customers right or how do you guys do it?
AS: Again, one of the major challenges of any business is finding the right people. I mean there’s no doubt about it. I personally think actually that that’s still one of our major failures. We still don’t have enough good people. We still don’t have enough growth or we don’t have a methodology of what it takes to find the right people. So if I have to look at our failures today, I would still say that we need help in finding the right people. Now having said that, the people that we do have, we make sure that they’re absolutely the most pleasant people with customers.
We train them that way. We monitor that way. I mean we fire people that haven’t been good with customers. We incent them that way. I think we definitely, we’re proud to say that all of our administrative staff, all our customer service are definitely paid higher than any of our competition so we’re definitely paying higher than the industry average and our sales people are incented higher than anyone else in the industries. There is no glass ceiling in how much they can make. The more they sell, the more they can make.
JT: I love that.
AS: It has been kind of a win-win. We consider everyone who comes in here, it’s a family business, and everyone has a really equal opportunity to grow.
JT: So this is totally a side note but the company’s name is Aakash Chemicals and your name is Aakash, right. So did your dad name it after you? I’m curious.
AS: I answer this a multiple ways depending on the mood I’m in so I will give you both stories.
AS: The first is that my father, as of Indian origin, and so they’ve always kind of, if you go back to India you’ll see a lot of businesses are named after their firstborn son. It’s kind of like a tradition if you will. So that’s been something kind of really that he, I really believe that’s kind of where the timing was at. I was 2 years old when he started the company and I think that was kind of really it.
Now how he tells it, he tells everyone well, Aakash in the Indian language means sky and so he said when I was creating a business I wanted to really think of it as sky is the limit and that’s really why I created the business and why I named both the same. So I don’t know the real story. He jokes about it either way.
JT: Either way it’s both great. You had a business at 2 years old named after you. That’s amazing.
AS: I joke to people now that what choice did I have? When you have a company named after you, I really had no other career choice. This is pretty much what I was slated to do I guess.
JT: That’s excellent. For the last question, what’s one action that everyone can take this week to move them forward towards their goal of a million?
AS: Well I think that even though it would be difficult to do it within a week, the action they’d have to take is really look to find, to hire somebody that’s better than you, that’s better than everything that you do and maybe that means you hire someone who is better than you in marketing and that’s one rule. And you hire someone that’s better than you in customer relationships.
But what I found is that every time we’ve hired someone that brings something new to the table that I didn’t already have, our return has been exponentially better. They’ve been able to grow it that much. Because when you already have some momentum in your business and you’re already doing some of the right things, someone that can bring something new and take that out to the market, is able to just capitalize on that so much better than you could because they’re bringing in a new perspective on it.
A lot of times I still think of our company as being that small company that struggled to cold call and make sales to company XYZ and I don’t even think about us being, I guess, good enough, if you will, to be in front of that really big billion dollar company. But a guy who comes in with absolutely no hesitation and just things big, can take you to that guy and truly believe that that’s where you belong.
JT: That’s excellent. We all have things that we lack and if you can find that in someone else, they can just push you so much farther than you could have ever gone yourself. That is great advice. Thank you so much for coming on today. Where can we find more about you and your company?
AS: We do have a website under construction. It’s Aakashchemicals.com. We’ll have a new website up within about two weeks but that’s where we really have the most information about us and, of course, I’d be more than happy if you want to post my personal email address, not a problem.
JT: Perfect. What I’ll do is I will put it all in the show notes and on the website so people can take a look. Thank you so much for coming on today, Aakash, I really appreciate it.
AS: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it as well.
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