Bringing the sport of Cycling to India – Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bicycle Studio
INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 01:00:24)
PODCAST AUDIO[sc name=”sponsors”]
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bicycle Studio shares how he cycled across the world and learned the fundamentals of cycling which helped him in building a business out of the sport.
People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode
Book: Shoe Dog; and The Biology of a Failed Venture
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bicycle Studio
|01:04||The startup journey|
|30:25||Investment and funding|
|33:49||Branding and marketing|
|45:16||Mistakes made, lessons learned|
|54:15||Rapid fire round|
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bicycle Studio
- Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Shoe Dog; and The biology of a failed venture)
- An innovative product or idea and the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Garmin)
- A business or productivity tip that you would recommend (Response: Google workspace)
- A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspired you (Response: My father)
- Best business advice you ever received (Response: The world will align with your thought, but don’t align your thought with the world around you)
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey there, entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I introduce successful e-commerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and thought leaders, and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the studies and that they have used to start and grow their businesses.
And today, I’m really excited to, welcome to the show is the founder of Mastermind Bicycle Studio, which is a chain of retail stores selling the sport of cycling to the most high end and premium brands in the world of cycling and triathlon. And this business is based outta India. And today I’m gonna ask a few questions about his preneur journey and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start business.
So thank you so much for joining me today.
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: Thanks. Thanks, Sushant. It’s a pleasure and I’m, I’m very happy to know that this is the first Indian business. I think you’re, you’re interviewing on your trip talk. Yes. First.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, but hopefully not the last . Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So, so, yeah. Um, I’m very interested to learn about your, um, story.
How did you come to start this business and what were you doing before? Can you share a little bit about. Your entrepreneurial startup story?
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: To be honest, Han my bicycling journey, it, it just started, I mean, uh, it was destiny. I would say. Uh, not many people would, uh, uh, you know, would accept the fact that if, if I say that, I, I, I never, I don’t remember ever riding a bicycle in my school days.
I mean, in, maybe in my childhood, uh, just going around the, the, you know, society, campus. And, uh, that’s all, that’s, that’s all, uh, my association with the bicycle was in my childhood. Uh, I never, uh, cycled around in my school days or my college days in my graduation, never. I mean, there was no time. Because I was quite a studious boy, I would say, in school and college.
So I did my chemical engineering from Mumbai University. Then I went on to do my MBA from Institute of Management Studies again in Mumbai. I passed out in 2012 after doing my mba, and, uh, I joined my family business. We are, we have a family business into chemicals. So precisely why, uh, I had, uh, you know, ventured into chemical engineering for my graduation.
So I joined my family business. In 2012, I, and just as a fitness, I started going to the gym, uh, you know, just to keep myself fit. And, uh, then one day, a friend of mine who, who just came to know that I go to the gym and, you know, I, I, I tried to keep myself fit and he threw me a challenge that, okay, , the real fitness is outdoors, not indoors.
That’s what his words were. And he told me that, uh, let’s, let’s go and, uh, run a marathon, a half marathon, so to, to call it. So, so let’s do 1 21 kilometer run that is real fitness, if you can do that. And I took. I took up that challenge quite, uh, you know, seriously, and I was like, uh, uh, I was a bit, I was a lot over confident at that time that, you know, 21 kilometer.
I think that should be easy because I go to the gym, I lift weights, I run on the treadmill in the gym, so I can do that. And I went in for that half marathon. I remember it was in Mumbai, I think, uh, I couldn’t run beyond eight or nine kilometers, if I remember correctly after that. Even walking was difficult.
It was a torture. So I went back home, both my knees, you know, inflamed. I went to the orthopedic doctors and everybody told me that, you know, outdoor fitness is a lot more different than indoor fitness. You know, no matter how strong you are at lifting weights in the gym, but if you want to go out running, cycling, you need a different level of cardiovascular endurance.
You need a different set of muscular endurance. It’s a different ballgame. So I told my doctor that, okay, fair enough. I just don’t want to go back to gym again. I mean, I will, but, uh, apart from that, I, I have to build real fitness. So my doctor said, okay, then why don’t you start cycling? Uh, because you need to give your.
Some rest for a couple of months because they are inflamed, uh, because of your running stunt. So why don’t you do cycling? It’ll help you in your recovery. And it’s also an outdoor sport. And I said, okay. So that’s how I started cycling. I borrowed a bike from one of my friend UHS Supermanium. I, I borrowed this bike, uh, started cycling 10 kilometers, 15 kilometers, and as time grew, I found a very good cycling group in my locality.
It’s called Mulloon Riders. I give a lot of credit to that group for where I am today because, uh, I got my cycling foundations in that group. So, so we started cycling 30 kilometers, then 40, then 50, and within I think two or three months we started it. I, I ended up doing my first century ride, we call it a hundred kilometers.
Mm-hmm. . So that’s how the journey began. So, Then the cycling fever caught up. Uh, and I think after three or four months of just getting into cycling, I was supposed to travel to Europe for just a leisure trip. But I don’t know what came to my mind. I, uh, and by that time I had ended up buying a new bike, uh, my own.
So I don’t know what came to my mind. I thought of just taking my bicycle along with me to, to London and Europe. So I went on Facebook. This was 2014. So I went on Facebook. Uh, I started searching for cycling groups in London. So I found one called Mo More Adventure, and I got to know that during my dates of travel, they are cycling from London to Paris.
So I asked them if I can join them, and they were more than happy to accommodate me. So, uh, I, I ended up doing the London to Paris cycling ride in 2014 for, it was a four day ride. Every day we had to ride around 1 30, 1 40 or kilometers. So what happened in that ride? Sushan, those four days? The kind of culture which I saw in cycling, the, the, the kind of products, the kind of accessories, uh, the kinds, the whole style of riding, I would say the, uh, good practices of riding a bike, good habits of riding a bicycle.
I saw all that firsthand in those four days. And, uh, all through those four days, I was wondering, in my mind that. I wish I can take all this back to India, you know, the kind of brands which I saw, the kind of products, which I saw the whole lot of knowledge, which I gathered in those four days. So it was very liberating, very eye opening.
So, you know, I, I, I never could imagine that cycling is at this stage globally compared to what we were doing in India back then. Today we are at a much better stage, of course, but back then it was, it was not so good. So I went back home after that trip. I just remember sharing it with my father that, you know, uh, I, I want to do something in India for cycling.
Uh, I don’t know what, and I don’t know how, but, uh, maybe I’ll open up a bike shop. So it was not a very comfortable decision with my father because we are a small family. I’m the only son, uh, and I have a sister, so just two of us. Two siblings. So, uh, and she’s 10 years younger to me. So at that time she was a student, she was studying physiotherapy, so there was no one to look after my, uh, father’s business also.
And so it was not a very comfortable decision with my dad. But then I’m very grateful. I’m very, very grateful to my parents. So he said that, okay, mu, if you have the passion, if you are really interested in doing something, okay, let us start. I mean, if you want to do it, do it. I will support whatever I can and then we’ll see where it goes.
And I said, fine. So that’s how the first, uh, store of mastermind bicycle studio started in Mumbai. It is, it was, of course, even today, I would not say we are in a very prime location in Mumbai, but, uh, it was a good place, a good secluded, uh, cozy place, which, uh, we had as a family. So we built it up and. I remember I started business with around six to seven brands back then in 2014.
I, I wrote them emails and I told them I want to start selling because, and those were the brands which I had seen in that London to Paris Ride One, there was one helmet brand, there was one bike back brand. It was crazy. I mean, I was the, in fact, on that trip, I remember I was the only one who carried my bicycle in a cardboard box.
Every rest one of them were carrying, was carrying their bicycle in a bike bag. So I, I wrote to that company. So there were around six to seven brands with which Mastermind started in 2014. And then as time went by, There was absolutely no looking back Sushan, there was absolutely no looking back. Every year I ended up adding six to seven brands more, eight to 10 brands more.
And eventually today in 2022, I would say we have 38 international brands in Mastermind Bicycles Studio. We started with six and today we have 38. So God has been very kind. I would say Destiny play its role. Tremendous support from my parents and family, but I never, never imagined when I opened the first Mastermind bicycle studio store in Mumbai, I never imagined that, you know, mastermind would attend this scale.
To be honest. Never had this in mind. Sohan.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That is really awesome. Um, I know like in India there is a. Bicycle culture to begin with. Right. You know, a lot of, and, and it’s prob probably cause you know, most people probably don’t have, uh, the income to support like a vehicle, you know, four wheeler or something like that.
So a lot of people use bicycle as a mode of transportation. So people are already into that culture. But what you brought with this business, you know, more of the high end, this is not for the regular Joe. This is more, you know, I’m assuming more for the young people who are looking for ways to, um, to improve their fitness, to, to, you know, keep, uh, themselves healthy.
And, and maybe they also have a little bit of a disposable income to spend on high end bicycle products. Can you share a little bit about, you know, how. Um, you know, you know the market that you have tap into, uh, in, in India, and what are you finding about the people who are buying your products?
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: It’s a very interesting thing, Sushan, if I say that, uh, you know, you, you said that the market, the target market is young people who are, who are looking at, uh, who are looking seriously at fitness.
And that’s what I thought when I started Mastermind. I, I, I thought the same way that, you know, my target is youth of India who wants to get into fitness, who is, uh, you know, who is, uh, who’s very passionate about sport in general, not just cycling any sport because, uh, it’s, it’s every sport. Talk about it, speaking up in India, you know, F1 football, everything, everything is apart.
Of course, cricket is already at a very good level, I would say, but apart from cricket, if you talk about any other sport, every sport is growing gradually in India. So I thought that yes, the youth of, uh, the country would get into cycling, but if today you ask me what, what is the average age of, uh, of the customer base of Mastermind, I think it would easily be about 45.
So it’s a very, very interesting, yeah, it’s a very, very interesting and unique, uh, thing, which, which again, I, I never imagined that, you know, that would be the target market of India because what is happening is, uh, of course, uh, in the last few years I would. There are a lot of young customers of Mastermind also who have invested in, uh, some, uh, very good expensive high end bikes, but those are the young people who have very good support from their parents.
But apart from that, apart from those few privileged ones, there are a lot of people, the middle aged group, between 40 to 50, who have worked hard in their life, who have achieved a reasonably good level in their career. Maybe compromising their health and fitness along the journey. And when the time comes, when the, uh, supposedly midlife crisis starts hitting you, that’s when people realize that, okay, now enough is enough.
This is where we draw the line. This is where we start focusing on our fitness. And, um, this is where priorities change in life. And at that stage of life, you already have a good disposable income. Of course, most of our customers are from a very good educational background, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, businessmen, you know, the all highly educated, uh, IT professionals.
So they have a reasonably good amount of disposable income between the age of 40 to 50. That’s when they start focusing on their fitness. So the easiest thing to start at that age is cycling. Compared to running because, uh, the, the most beautiful part about cycling is it is a non impactful sport. Yeah.
It has zero impact with the ground because your bicycle is what is rolling on the ground, not your body. In running. Your body takes a little bit of night, quite a bit of hit your knees, take hit. So running beyond. So to start running, if you have crossed a certain age, it, it becomes challenging. I would not say it becomes impossible.
I know people who have started running at the age of 50, so I’m not saying anything in black and white, but it becomes challenging. But to start cycling at any age, it’s, it’s not as challenging as to maybe compared to any other sport. So that is one beautiful thing which was there about cycling. So that is how Mastermind, uh, picked up its clientele.
So I would say our clientele is now. A reasonably good mixture of youth who are, uh, wanting to get into fitness and who are privileged to have a, a set of, uh, who are privileged to have, uh, supportive parents willing to invest in their bicycle. And then there is another age group from 35, 1 words or 41 words.
So I would say in India, I have not found many people in the age group. 25 to 30, let’s say, uh, getting into cycling, getting into sport, because that’s the age where you have just graduated from your, uh, college, graduated from your getting educational degree, and that’s the age where you have just started working in life, trying to figure out your career, trying to figure out what is right for your career, what is wrong for your career.
So at that stage, fitness takes a backseat. Yeah. So 25 to 30 is the age, which is, uh, the age group, which I would say is lacking, but yeah, beyond 30 and less than 25. That’s, that’s what I would say the target market and Mastermind is catering to them. That makes a
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: lot of sense. So you, you have basically created a bunch of retail stores across India, right?
So are you primarily a retail business or are you, I saw that you have a eCommerce presence also. Um, can you share how are people actually browsing and buying a new product? So
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: its a very unique model, again, Sohan, which mastermind bicycle studio has ventured into. Typically, if you see in India, uh, most of the businesses which, uh, run, uh, in, in the retail setup, they run on the distributor dealer model.
So the distributor is the one who imports the products from, uh, across the globe and brings it to India. And dealer is typically a retailer who, who is consumer facing. So what happened in Mastermind’s cases, uh, when we started. We also went in the distributor dealer model. So we are the importers. We, we, so all the, as I mentioned, we have 38 brands in our portfolio today.
So we import those 38 brands from across the globe to India. So we thought that, okay, let us find other retailers as well, because we were, we were also one of the retailers in Mumbai, but uh, at that time we did not have any stores anywhere outside Mumbai. So we thought that, okay, we will cater to the Mumbai market, uh, ourselves with our own store and the rest of India.
Maybe we’ll cater through the retailers. But, uh, what happened when we started is when you are in a very niche segment. I would say in 2015, we were ahead of time. We were much before time. I would say, uh, this whole, the, to start this business, um, to start this premium bicycle business. I would say we were much before time in 2015, there was, the culture was just starting to, uh, you know, Taken upward go.
So, uh, it was very difficult to find retailers across India who can do justice to our brands, who are, who are willing to invest in our portfolio of brands, who are, who are willing to take that little bit of risk whether these brands will sell or not. So it was not a very confirmed, uh, business model. It was, it was not written in stone anywhere that, okay, if you invest in our brands, you will make money.
These brands will sell. It was not like that. It was. A calculated risk. It was, it was a leap of faith, which, uh, which had to be taken by everybody. By everybody. Not just the sellers, but even from, even by the buyers that, okay, I’m investing in a, even today in India, a Tula group in Indian Rupe is Tula group, or a three Lai bicycle considered very premium.
So it was a leap of faith, which even the customers had to take that, okay, I have to, uh, invest in a three bicycle. So, uh, so it was not a very scalable model at that time. And then we realized that, okay, instead of finding retailers across India, why not we ourselves open stores across India, because, uh, uh, in that model, we will not be dependent on anyone for selling our products.
So we went into a very unique model where we ourselves are the distributors, and we ourselves are the dealers. We had a few set of dealers who were buying from us, that’s fine, but we chose not to be dependent on them too much. And that’s how Mastermind started spreading. And that’s how we went outside Mumbai for the first time.
That was in 2018 E-commerce. I would say how it happened in the cities where we were just not there, you know, and where we didn’t even intend to open a store. Customers started calling our head office back into, even before we started expanding our retail network, even much before that, uh, the customers from different, uh, cities of India, when they came to know, uh, that, you know, all these brands are available in India.
So they started calling our head office and they were like, uh, can you please share your portfolio of products? What products do you have? What is your brand portfolio? And suddenly then I realized that, uh, I cannot be, uh, doing business on WhatsApp and, you know, telephonic calls. I mean, what do, what do I explain to them?
I mean, I have 10 different type of helmets, 10 different types, ofs, 50 different types of colors. I have bike bags, I have 20 different types of bicycles in stock. What do I explain to them? How do I convey to them what do we have in stock? So that’s where I thought that, okay, now we, it’s, I think we need a website.
So I invested, I think, very little money back then in a, in an, it was an Indian startup who were, who were into eCommerce. So I used their platform. Uh, the name of the startup is, was zeppo. So I used their backend platform to just make a very functional website. Nothing fancy. I didn’t know anything about creating websites.
I’m a chemical engineer. I, I, I don’t come from an IT background, but I’m very bad at delegation. You know, I. I always, I’m getting better at it off late. I’m getting better at it. I have to, there is no other choice, but predominantly I’m a very, uh, control free guy, so it’s very difficult for me to delegate.
So everything I want to do on my own. So I thought that, okay, this website also, I’ll build on my own. I started, uh, doing some research on Google. Luckily these days, you know, Google, Google can teach you anything and everything if you want to learn. So I, I started researching how to build a website. So I came across zippo.
I built a very functional website where you just go onto our website, you will see the products, just the pictures, a short description and a price. That was the e-commerce for me. Okay. Nothing else. And there was a functional payment gateway. Uh, where you can go and pay by your credit card, because that was, again, a challenge when people used to call us.
And, uh, when we used to send them the product pictures and description and details on WhatsApp or on, uh, on telephone call. And then they would ask us, okay, how do we make the payment? And even back then, if we give them the bank details, they will add the beneficiary, they will transfer the money. It was very tedious.
So a lot of, uh, a lot of customers, uh, started, uh, asking us that, okay, can we pay by credit card? So we thought that, okay, a payment gateway is also very essential for us. So that’s how, uh, our e-commerce built up. So we had a very, very functional website. Nothing, uh, fancy. I didn’t, I I, with zero knowledge of digital marketing that was going on later.
What happened Sohan, I think in 2019. Just before the covid struck the world mm-hmm. , I realized that e-commerce has a lot of potential and that’s when I came across a different, uh, e-commerce platform from Canada, Shopify. I, you know, then I immediately shifted my website and by then I was very clear that, you know, it’s high time that I learned the digital marketing myself.
Although, no, it doesn’t matter how good I am at my cycling knowledge or, you know, at at sales and marketing, but I need to project Mastermind in a better light. Uh, on the digital platforms. So then I did my digital marketing course again, uh, very bad at delegation. I could have hired digital marketers, but I didn’t.
So I did the digital marketing course myself, and that’s how I now today, the website, which you see, mastermind bikes.com, is completely revamped, uh, from the older version, again, entirely made from scratch by myself. And then now I have a backend team who helps me to, you know, maintain the website, to upload the products for basic maintenance with basic hygiene.
But today we understand the importance of digital marketing. Today we take Google, Instagram, and, you know, all the social media. Digital platforms. Seriously. We never did that, you know, maybe three years, three years before we never did that. So now we know that to grow our brand, it is very e very, very essential that apart from our retail network mm-hmm.
we have to be very good at, on, on the digital platforms. That’s where the world is today. Definitely.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Uh, are you finding that, you know, in terms of your e-commerce versus retail split, are you finding one is growing faster than the other? Given that E-commerce is, I mean, India’s a huge market and, uh, I’m sure there’s a lot of appetite in places where you’re not, are you finding that eCommerce is growing much quicker than your retail stores or is it not?
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: not the case? Uh, no, no, no. Uh, the, even today, uh, India, India as a country will, will never move away completely from the touch and feel concept. Sushan, uh, may in, I would say in lot of products, uh, our country has moved away from the touch and feel concept because there are a lot of startups like Flip card, uh, Mitra.
Amazon is doing very, very well in India, of course. So for a lot of products, uh, people have moved away from the touch and field. They buy, uh, I see people buying apparels online shoes online, you know, to a lot of things online. But when the product is very niche, I, I, I see people buying mobile phones online.
But now what has happened is if there are standardized products, like if I today, if I have to buy an Apple iPhone, doesn’t matter how often Apple launches a new iPhone, I know it’s a standardized product. Tomorrow, if Apple launches iPhone 14, I might not go to the Apple store to buy, I might just buy online because I know it’s Apple.
It’s iPhone 14. Okay, fair enough. So in, again, that’s a premium product, but if there is a premium product where the product is very new to the market, where, where it’s, where the, the whole concept, the whole industry is very niche. A very, a very fine example is a cycling helmet. Now it’s a very simple accessory.
There is nothing fancy in it. It’s, it’s just functional. There are, there are no moving parts. It’s not an electronic item also, but a simple, uh, accessory like a cycling helmet. People, even today, still, most of them, or many of them, would prefer to go to the store, put the helmet on their head, see how it feels, look into the mirror, how it looks on their head, how it suits their face.
Uh, same thing with the shoes, same thing with the cycling jerseys, cycling shorts, because those products are very new to, you know, still, still the premium products, I would say not the entry level helmets. Of course, every cyclist in India will wear a helmet if they’re going riding outdoors. But when it comes to investing in a premium helmet, So people will say that, okay, I’ll go to the store and I’ll check it out.
So that touch in field concept will take a lot of time, uh, to, you know, settle down and maybe people moving to the e-commerce, especially in the cycling field. But, uh, if you ask about the growth, the percentage wise growth, of course we are seeing, uh, a much more percentage wise growth in the e-commerce, our e-commerce, uh, business, uh, than our retail that is, uh, there.
But I would say the scale, the scale is still pretty much lower out of the total sales turnover, which we do. I think today, e-commerce is just contributing about 5% on the total sales turnover. Okay? My target is that someday it should contribute around 25 to 30%, maybe in the next. Four years we reach there.
We are trying our best to reach there, but today it’s just at 5%. We are not very worried. We are not panicking at all. It is growing at its space because to push e-commerce, we don’t want to compromise on our retail experience because we are a very small team today. We don’t have a separate e-commerce team and a separate retail team.
It’s a very small team. We are doing everything currently, you know, as a very cohesive unit. So we don’t want to spend too much energies on e-commerce and spoil the experience in retail because we have built our brand name in retail. So we, we would rather want to project ourselves. I would rather want mastermind a brand name to be projected as that we are a retail company with a very good online presence.
We are, we don’t want to be an e-commerce company with a little bit of a retail presence. No, we are, we will always be consumer centric on the retail front because that’s where. Our industry is gravitating towards and will always gravitate towards because when you buy a bicycle, you will need service, you will need accessories, you will get components.
So that human touch between the consumer and the seller in the bicycle industry will always remain you, you will never be able to bypass that.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, definitely. Um, that’s, that’s very interesting to know. Um, I know you mentioned a little bit about risk. You know, businesses always comes to risk, especially when you’re starting out.
And you mentioned that, you know, when you started out, this was not a, in India, so was definitely a little bit of a, for you, and also, you know, when you were trying to like, you know, to sell to retail and things like this. Uh, when you spoke about this idea with your dad, um, and there was some risk involved, like in terms of investment, was, was your dad the primary investor in this or like, did you invest some of your own money
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: in the business?
No, no, no. My father, my father was the primary investor. I would be very honest and very seamless to accept that fact. So, uh, it was, uh, uh, I, I would say the money, money, which, uh, he invested in stock we have done well over the last seven years. So the money which he invested. Said in stock. I remember the stock, which we used to have in 2015.
Today. Today our stock levels are, have grown organically 12 or 13 times than what we had in back in 2015. So, uh, we have always been very focused on plug back our profits in Mastermind. My, I have been very, very fortunate, absolute destinies child. I would say I’ve been very, very fortunate with my family.
I’ve never, uh, you know, had to bother much about, uh, the sustenance of sustenance in my life, the basic sustenance of life. So I’ve never bothered to. Take, take back profits from Mastermind back home. So, because I know that this is still very early, it’s all those seven years of doing business, but uh, it’s still very early because I started early I, uh, 2015 when we started.
As I said, we started before time. So I would say today is the time in India today, the, the level at which Mastermind is there. If, if I, if I start, if I would’ve started Mastermind today. I don’t think in the next, uh, few years we would’ve been able to reach the level where we are even today. So I think I am, I am just reaping the benefits of all the hard work, which my team has put in over the years.
My entire team. There are of course, a few members who are not there in the organization today. Some people are of course still there. Everyone, each and every person who has ever worked for Mastermind. It is all, it’s, it’s been a very big cumulative effort to bring Mastermind to where it is today. I don’t, so that is why I always keep the m of very separate from the M of Mastermind.
Uh, you know, I never consider, uh, I never. Mix both of them. I never consider myself the face of Mastermind because, um, I tell all my stuff. Even I am an employee of Mastermind, you know, just like all of you, uh, I don’t, uh, deserve anything special from Mastermind. So if Mastermind does well, we all do. Well.
If Mastermind goes down, we all go down with it. So it’s as simple as that.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Definitely. Now, you did talk about a little bit, um, about branding and marketing. I’m very curious to know, so I’m, I’m familiar, the knowing s and branding s and culture that in North America and, and in best in general would be interested to hear how you see marketing in India and branding and building that brand in India.
And what are some of the things that you do to really get the word out and address customers?
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: See, I, I, I feel that in India, the marketing, so every year, uh, I go outside India. I predominantly travel to Europe for, because of my cycling work. I, I also race myself. Uh, I, I, I participate in the cycling races.
I participate in the triathlon races. So I have seen, uh, the European, uh, culture of cycling. I have not, uh, seen the American culture of cycling too much because I haven’t participated in any race in the us. But, uh, the culture in Europe is of course, very deeply ingrained, I would say, and I have seen it very closely.
So the marketing, the kind of branding which happens in Europe, uh, is, is, uh, abroad. It’s very different compared to what happens in India. India is yet to reach the Indian consumer, I would say, uh, is yet to reach a stage where, They can themselves be a good judge of the product. Uh, so, so marketing and branding becomes all the more important in a country like India, and we have to be honest with it.
That’s what I tell my team because today Mastermind has attained a level a culture, uh, you know, a peal where whatever we suggest to our consumers, more often than not, they buy it. So with that privilege, a very big responsibility has come to Mastermind. Now, whatever new brand which we bring in Mastermind, it, it, it becomes our responsibility to research about the brand and bring it to the, bring it to India and present it to the Indian consumers over a period of time over the last seven years.
Mastermind has brought, uh, some of the, some of the very niche brands in the world of cycling. I mean, I’m sure many of the Indian consumers wouldn’t have even heard about the brand before it came to India through Mastermind. So in those cases, it becomes all the more important that what ethics we are bringing on the table, what values we are bringing on the table.
So marketing and branding in India, it has a lot to do with your character and not about, uh, not about the substance which you put outside on Google and Instagram or social media. It has a lot to do about your integrity, your character, if that is shown in your, uh, behavior within the store or even on social media.
The way you talk to the consumer, that itself is your branding and marketing. Till date, I don’t remember. Sponsoring any event in India, we have not sponsored any athlete of India. Uh, you know, uh, I, I haven’t gone out, I haven’t put out, uh, any holding in the public place of Mastermind. I have never given out some paper templates or even, we, we don’t even do email marketing.
I, I would love to do it because it’s digital and my focus is on the digital in going forward. But till today, uh, we haven’t done any of that. No email marketing, no WhatsApp marketing. So of course I’m not proud about it. I have to do it. I want to do it. Uh, but having said that, still Mastermind has been able to generate this brand value because of the character, because of, uh, the integrity, which the entire team of Mastermind shows towards the consumer.
That has been the biggest marketing and branding in India because, No matter how, how loud you shout on the rooftops, you know that we are good. It doesn’t make you good. But the same time, what I see in Europe is a little bit different. Their their, no matter how good the product is. But if it is not shown in a very premium spotlight, people don’t accept it.
But India is very different if the product is good, if the seller is good. I don’t think Indian consumers care whether that product is seen on TV or who is using it, which, which popular cyclist is using it. Even today, cycling is not even at the stage where, you know, we have, uh, where we can have brand influencers from Bollywood or some cricket stars or you know, we are not at that stage at all.
I think, I don’t think we will even be at that stage five to 10 years down the line. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to the Indian consumer because they buy from a person. That is why, again, I come back to the same point, that is why retail is so important for us because eCommerce, even, even when I study the data of our eCommerce, I see many consumers who have already bought from our retail shops and then their second or the third or the fourth purchase is from our.
Very rarely it happens when, where the first purchase of a particular consumer is from our website. So the trust, the trust which we have built in our retail store, that trust is being transferred to our website, to our eCommerce business. So the whole marketing and branding, I always say, you know, we haven’t spent, to be honest, big amount of money on marketing or branding.
We haven’t spent not big, I don’t think we have hardly, I think we have hardly spent anything I would say in the last seven years. But it’s our work ethics, our culture, which we bring, and the kind of honesty which we exude when explaining, uh, the products to the consumer. We, I, I mean, we come from a background where we don’t need to do sales for the heck of it because we, we very much understand the fact in Mastermind that, uh, Today you can sell a wrong product to a consumer because the consumer doesn’t have the knowledge today.
But the moment the consumer walks out of your store and he goes out riding his or her bicycle out with his friends, out of his 10 friends, one friend will definitely be knowledgeable. And if we have cheated the customer, it’s game over. That customer is not coming back ever. And if we, if we do not do that, if we are loyal to, if we are honest with the customer, if we show our, uh, you know, ethics while selling the product, that’s the best branding you can ever do.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I, I agree. I mean, uh, being an Indian myself and knowing my parents and, you know, how, how they shop and things like that, I think cause India is such a relationship based culture and, you know, I think, I think the, it’s so important to build that trust. And once you have that trust, it’s kind of like you have.
You know, you have created, um, a long time customer and you know, as long as you have you, you have that trust, uh, you know, the customer on coming back and, and buying again and again. Now you did, did have team right now, very cohesive. Said, can share a little about, you know, what your team looks like right now.
Um, and who does, uh, you know, where you spend a lot of, uh,
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: effort? We are a2 two member team. I think today I would love to be a little more than that. Across India, I would say, uh, sales team, the head office team. We have content. We have content development team at the, at the head office. We have accounts team, the one who handles, uh, I call them the three musket years.
We have three ladies there who handle. All our accounts, our finances, everything. They are the backbone, uh, of Mastermind, the three ladies who are sitting in the accounts department. Then there’s the content development team. As I said, there is, uh, there are two, two super. There’s a supervisor, manager who, who overlooks all the retail stores.
Then there is a logistics manager. He has one assistant manager and all the stores predominantly run on. Two member team. There is one store manager and one technician. So, uh, I, I spend a lot of time, of course, in the head office in Mumbai, but, uh, uh, as I said, right now I’m in Pune. So I’m visiting Mastermind in Pune, uh, for five days, and next month I go to Bangalore, then Chen, and then I go to
So now I’ve consciously decided that every quarter, once, you know, I, I have to visit, uh, the stores which are outside Mumbai, because what’s happening is the, I I I, I spoke about, I spoke a lot about the culture of Mastermind. So when I say the culture of Mastermind, I very strongly feel that the culture should remain, uh, constant.
It should remain the same throughout Mastermind. I mean, uh, the experience for a customer cannot be very different in Mastermind Mumbai compared to Mastermind generally. Or compared to mash, there will be of course, little differences. That’s fine. We cannot, we cannot run on the McDonald’s model that, you know, wherever you eat the burger, in any McDonald’s, the taste is the same, the experience is the same.
Of course we cannot, we cannot run on that model. But having said that, the experience cannot be. Uh, you know, uh, hugely, uh, different, uh, between the two stores. Like if you, if you’re buying a particular, uh, bicycle from Mastermind, uh, Bangalore, and if you’re buying a particular bicycle from Mastermind Pune, the buying experience cannot be too different.
So that’s where our focus is now, to, uh, to streamline all the mastermind stores. Every store in individual capacity is doing fantastic. It’s doing very well, but that does not mean that we just take satisfaction from the financial numbers, which are coming from the store. I’m a person who wants to take satisfaction in knowing that every mastermind is running with the same discipline, the same culture, giving the same experience to the customer.
I’m, as I said, I’m a control freak. I’m very fine here. I would, if, if I have my way, I would even keep the same water bottle for the customer in every mastermind store. So that is the level where, which eventually I would want to reach, uh, how possibilities it is, how efficient it is, time will tell, but that’s where my focus is for the next one year to streamline all the stores.
And I think once that streamline, uh, the, that streamlining process happens, the financial numbers will also get much, much better than what they’re today. Because when we equip our managers, our team with the knowledge, with the processes, I think they can do even much better. They are very, very capable of doing much better than what, what they’re doing today.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Definitely, um, in every entrepreneur journey. There’s always mistakes made, lessons learned, failures. Um, over the last, you know, nine, 10 years, whatever you’ve been learning, uh, building this business, can you share like, you know, what comes to your mind as like a big mistake or a failure, and what have you learned from it?
What can other entrepreneurs learn?
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: I would not say, uh, of course there are, there have been very big lessons, uh, Sushan, uh, if you ask me. And, uh, most of the entrepreneurs I, I meet, or, uh, you know, I hear them, uh, often tend to shy away from such a question because, uh, the world has become such, the world has become such that, you know, your, your success is.
Glorified and your mistakes and your learnings are often looked down upon. But, uh, I don’t come from that school of thought. I would rather, I would rather openly share my learnings and mistakes rather than, you know, what I did. Right? Because I feel if the, if, if that, if there is more of that in the world, the world will become more beautiful because I don’t want to know what others did.
Right? I would rather want to know what they did wrong. So I think, uh, more than, uh, so I don’t regret it. Of course, the learnings, which I had, they were very good learnings. I would share that, you know, in businesses, whenever you take any step to all the young entrepreneurs, I’ll say this, there, there will be a time in your, in your journey as an entrepreneur where, where you will have to take a step back.
You know, it’s like, it’s like a game of chess. You’re on a chess board. It’s not that you can only always move ahead if there is a need. Please step back. In my case, it happened, uh, in 2021 last year. So we had seven retail stores, uh, across India, uh, out of which two, two stores were in Gujarat sooner than Ebba.
So I, I consciously decided to shut down those two stores. So we had seven stores and I cut it down to five. Okay? It didn’t impact my top line. It did not impact my business top line at all. It did not impact my business, bottom line at all. In fact, it, it was better, uh, in a way. So the reason to shut down those two stores is eventually what I realized that those two stores are taking a lot of bandwidth of our team because, uh, Both of those stores were profit making.
They were not lost, making both of them s and Amba. Amba was doing quite good, even better than s uh, good cities, both of them. Good buying, potential good, uh, disposable income as well. There was absolutely no problems. But what happened is, uh, those were the first two stores outside Mumbai when we, when we started, uh, expanding Mastermind, uh, outside Mumbai, those were the first two stores.
So what happened is I, as the founder of Mastermind, connected on a personal level a lot with the consumers there. Which was, I think, a big mistake on my part at that time, because at that time I was, uh, very, very, uh, uh, you know, uh, very as, uh, I was very worried about my, my baby mastermind. It was like a baby I was nurturing, you know?
Uh, so I thought that, okay, I should be the face of the Mastermind today. Today, I don’t want to be today. I consciously don’t intend to be. Uh, and I have moved away from that quite nicely in the last few years, but back then I always thought that if I am not there, you know, mastermind will suffer. So in, in those two stores, when we launched it on the opening, uh, you know, even while running those two stores, I personally took a lot of interest.
I started interacting with the customers over the call. So then what happened? The, the culture which was set in the precedent, which was set in, was very wrong. So I tell all the, I tell all the entrepreneurs, it is very, it is very important to connect with the consumers. But when the time comes, it is also very important to disconnect with the consumers.
You cannot always stay connected and you cannot always stay disconnected to, but there has to be a very, very fine balance. That is the beauty which I enjoy in e-commerce, because it is faceless, you know, it is faceless. The support chats. The support chats, which you see on the website. You don’t know who’s talking so many times.
Uh uh, I handle the support. Chat off my website and, uh, so, but people don’t know who is behind the support chat. So what happens is, uh, in those two stores, it was taking a lot of my bandwidth. So if I have to work eight to 10 hours a day out of 10 hours, I realize that six to seven hours of my bandwidths, those two stores are occupying.
Okay. You know, uh, because if business was happening, business was happening at a, at a lot of emotional and mental cost, which I was not willing to pay. So then we consciously decided that, okay, we have to shut down those two stores. Uh, we don’t want to serve the community there because, uh, at Mastermind we very strongly believe that we are genuinely the best bicycle service providers in, in our country.
Uh, you know, uh, people can accept that, not accept that they can agree with us, disagree with us. Of course, there will always be the, uh, you know, both the sides of the coin. But our belief internally, not, not boasting of ourselves, but we genuinely have to believe that we do not have any competition in India.
If we are competing against anyone, that’s ourselves. So then if our belief is so strong that we are the best, then we didn’t want to serve the consumers who are not the best. So to get service from the best, I very strongly believe that you have to be at your best. Uh, I learned in my MBA days that customer is the king, but.
I don’t teach that to that, to that my, I don’t teach that to my staff. I always tell my team members that, please, please never treat the customer as a king. Customer is your guest. Customer is your guest who has come to your home. So the customer cannot mistreat you. Customer cannot take advantage of you.
Customer cannot insult you because when you get guests at home, they cannot come and insult you inside your home. But they are guests. You have to treat them well. So at Mastermind, we have to treat our customers very well. You have to take care, you have to give them the best hospitality and offer, but if they do not respect you, do not bow down.
So I tell all, all my team members, all my store managers that do not be afraid to show the door to the customer. If you do not get the. Because if a guest enters your house and the guest starts disrespecting you, would you entertain that guest any longer in your house? Would you entertain that guest again in your house?
No. Right? So have that same attitude in front of the customers. It’s your home. You are the king customer is your guest. Treat them very fairly, very nicely. Give them the absolute best hospitality, which you can, but please maintain your respect. So in those two stores, which we closed, we were not getting that respect.
The consumers were not able to understand in those markets that what is the level of Mastermind, uh, you know, in India, what is the culture of Mastermind, which we are wanting to set. They were not able to accept that. And when that was not happening, We, we took a step back. So as I said, uh, I don’t regret it.
It was a very good time. Uh, in fact, uh, uh, the region that is very good to visit in winters. I miss that. But having said that, uh, I would say it was the best decision which we took in the history of Mastermind, stepping back. So I tell all the entrepreneurs sometimes stepping back will be the best, best decision which you can ever take.
And it’ll, in the future, it’ll only help you to grow After shutting down those two stores, we got so much bandwidth to work on the remaining five stores that our remaining five stores started doing so much better than what they were doing before. So it was a very, very, our e-commerce business, it started doing so much better than what it was doing before because we had time on our hands, our mental energies were so free.
Our bandwidth was so free that we were able to concentrate on things which matter rather than, you know, wasting our time in things which do not matter. I think that’s, that’s
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: a really, really great lesson for any, any business to learn. Uh, now we’re gonna to move on to our rapid fire segment and segment.
I’m gonna to ask you a few quick questions and you have to them, uh, briefly one, two words sentence. So first one is one book recommendation that you would recommend to entrepreneurs or business professionals. Hmm.
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: I would Saydo by Phil Knight. You
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: know, the interesting thing is that book has been recommended by, so I think that probably the most recommended book on my podcast.
Um, yeah. Probably for a great reason. Yeah. Um, and
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: if you, I would just add, sorry if I, if I can add just one more book. So, uh, there is a book by pr. He’s a very close friend of mine, like my mentor. Uh, so he has written a book called The Biology of a Failed Venture. It’s a beautiful, beautiful book because as I said, uh, in, in, in our world, uh, the success is always glorified and failures are looked upon, looked down upon, but that, that, that man has not shied away from, uh, you know, sharing is failure.
It’s a beautiful book. I, I would, uh, urge all the Indians who might watch this podcast to read that book, the Biography of a Failed Venture by Desai. Awesome.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: An innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce or landscape that you excited product or idea
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: In, in India, I would say gar. Because, uh, I think that brand has so much potential in India, so much potential in India.
I, I haven’t seen a more technologically sound company, a better technologically sound company than what Garin is. Uh, the, and it is doing already quite well in India. The distributor is a very close friend of mine, but I’m very excited in the near future what Garmin can achieve in the world of smart watches by computers.
Excellent GPS devices. Just next level,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: a business or productivity tool or software, um, that you would recommend or a productivity
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: tool? Oh, Google. Google Workspace. I swear by it. I’ve always used it. Uh, so I mean, I don’t think, uh, we would survive without Google Workspace. Uh, our email, our back backend Google Sheets.
I think for anything and everything, we use Google on our backend for maintaining our notes. You know, life is so easy and that is the reason I use an Android phone. Even today, most of my, many of my friends, you know, sometimes tease me that, oh, you’re still not on Apple with no offense to Apple, great product.
But because of Google, uh, ecosystem in our business, um, I always keep on upgrading the Android, my Android phones. So yeah, without Google Workspace, I think you would be nowhere, uh,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: a peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: you. Ah, Business person. I would say my father, uh, I haven’t met a more shrew, more disciplined, more hardworking business person than him.
We have, of course, not had the very best of relationships, I would say. Uh, we love each other’s company. We love to have long conversations, but, uh, uh, not, uh, it’s not been a very easy relationship, uh, because of a lot of factors. But having said that, if I have to judge him as a businessman, I would not rate anyone higher than him.
Maybe I’m partial because he is my father. But yeah. Uh, the exposure, the learnings, all free learnings, uh, you know, free advice, free education, which I have received from him. I think many, many of the things which I’ve learned from him will stay till, till I’m alive. Awesome.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And last question. Um, best business advice you ever received or you would give to other entrepreneurs?
Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: Huh. So, uh, I, I received it a few days back. Uh, there was this gentleman named, uh, Mo Nayer, uh, if I’m not wrong, uh, he’s, uh, he’s one of my sisters, uh, friend’s father, yeah, Mo Nayer. He, I, it’s in Hindi. He, he said that, you know, so,
so we were, we were talking about valuations of startups, uh, in that conversation, you know, we were talking about equity, we were talking about enrichments, we were talking about scale, and that’s when he said this, that mu So, so with this, with your thought, the world will align, uh, with you, but don’t align your thought with, with the world around you.
So very deep, very, uh, philosophical. But, uh, yeah, if I, if I, if I actually inculcated in my business, it has given me a lot of clarity over the last few weeks that I have, I have stopped worrying about the things which are not in my control. I would rather do the things which are in my control to the best of my ability.
And I think everything will just fall in place.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: That’s awesome. That’s awesome advice. Um, thank you so much, . Those were all the questions that I had for you today. Um, really, really appreciate you joining me, uh, on the podcast, sharing your story, sharing, you know, the, the business, uh, eCommerce in India. And, uh, and, and yeah.
Thank you again for your time today. Mukund Umesh Thakkar of Mastermind Bikes: Absolute pleasure, Sushant. Absolute pleasure. And I wish you all the best. I just hope I have done justice to your podcast. It was, it was really great. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Sushant. God bless you, byebye.
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