Thanks for taking the time to chat with SIW. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your blog.
Smita : After having worked in corporate world (investment banking mainly) for a long almost 10-12 years (and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it), I moved back to India in 2010 and decided to choose that (psychological) freedom in career (read ‘be my own boss’, entrepreneurship) and try something that has been close to my heart – hospitality. I must say that this was the best decision I had made in a very long time!! I run a set of boutique style B&Bs or Bed & Breakfast , more popularly understood as (although different than) Home stay, Serviced Apartment or Guest house) in Koramangala & off MG Road. Our USP is in offering very home like yet very professionally managed short or long stay options for corporate or leisure traveler. We incidentally have an 80% non-Indian and 20% Indian split of guests and most of our guests become regular and repeat clients once they stay with us. I came from a business class family so I guess the zeal of doing it ran in my blood somewhere. While at times (or rather most times), it is much tougher than a ‘job’, I enjoy the freedom to make decisions, get creative and do what I feel like doing!
What inspired you to start this business?
Smita : I used to travel frequently when I was working in the corporate world. My travel involved short stays and sometimes very long stays like a few months in a certain place. I realized that while all other countries had multiple and umpteen options to choose from (like formal, non-formal, home stay style, hotel style etc.) and even if you did not pay through your nose you would be guaranteed a nice clean bed and bathroom, India, and especially Bangalore, lacked that tremendously. Every time I would travel on work to Bangalore, I hated the hotels or serviced apartments I stayed at. I heard similar stories from friends/colleagues who would criticize Indian hospitality (mainly the stay options) for being expensive and yet unclean and unhygienic. When I decided to give self employment ago, I decided to address this issue. When our guests, for some of who it may be their first tryst with India, like our places and become our regular clients, I feel great (much greater than a hefty bonus from a company that I may have received in a job) and I feel I have managed to make a little mark in improving options for them!
What is your USP?
Smita : Our USP is in offering very non-boring & non white bed-sheets (I define white bed-sheet rooms as just plain boring and making you miss home and warmth) home like yet very professionally managed short or long stay options for corporate or leisure traveler. We provide guests with access to facilities like fully equipped and stocked up kitchen, laundry facility, and home cooked meals and basically take care of everything that they would have set up living at home so that they feel that this is just an extension of their home. Most of our rooms come with private balconies and that gives our guests a feeling of being close to nature and greens and they can breathe some fresh air (well, as fresh as it can get in Bangalore!). We also offer other facilities like taxi booking, tour planning’s, restaurant reservations, local city guidance etc. so that they do not feel lost in the city.
How someone can start the same business as yours in terms of investment, material procurement, production, and marketing etc?
Smita : One can start small with an investment of 2-3 lakhs. With a lot of travel friendly websites and portals (e.g. homeaway.com) to promote home stays and B&Bs, marketing has become easy.
Any challenge you face in your profession and how you overcome that?
Smita : The biggest challenge is in dealing with the staff and training them to our ‘zero error’ policy. It is very hard to make people understand the importance of little things while are extremely significant in this business and needs attention. It is also important for me to create a natural passion for their work in my staff because I believe that only when it is close to your heart will you treat a guest as your family member. As we say ‘Atithi devobhava’.
What are your plans for the future?
Smita : We operate in a scattered model (small cozy setups in different areas but close by) as of now and we wish to continue that way. I wish to acquire some trendy places with some character, like old colonial houses or something uniquely contemporary and create some extra-ordinary stay options for people traveling to the city. A lot of our guests and patrons have encouraged us to expand to other cities but I am not sure of that right now. I like to give a personal touch to all my places and have a friendly connect with my guests and that becomes tough with a cross city set up. But I will be looking at partnering with equally passionate women (or men!) to possibly expand in other cities.
How you manage your personal and professional life?
Smita : Actually moving to work for myself has helped me quite a bit to balance the two. With my corporate life, I had to do long hours and my house would get ignored often as much as my health. Now I flex my hours and I can work for home for almost 30-40% of the work duration in a day
What are your favorite books that you would recommend SIW family?
Smita : If you are asking about books related to my work, honestly, I have read none :). In general , my latest reads which I recommend ( especially women would enjoy them) are ‘The Red Saree’ and ‘Eat Pray Love’ ( I read it again and again and it is very inspiring . Actually both of them are.
What advice would you give to young women readers of SIW who want to follow a similar career path as you?
Smita : I would say that if you want to do it, DO IT! People would tell you a thousand things and give you solicited and unsolicited advices but remember that you are different in your heart beats a certain way. So just follow it! Don’t fear the failure but just fantasize the success and at the end of you, you will be thankful that you gave it a shot!
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