Manage customer expectations by providing full transparency. We had situations early on when our shipment and delivery dates were delayed. This was due to a number of reasons but we tried to ‘sugar coat’ the reasons as much as possible. Our customers were savvy enough to call us out on this and it did not bode well for our reputation long term. Now, we are 100% clear with our customers about any issues and they are very appreciative.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kishore Vasnani . Kishore along with his wife, Vanessa, is the Co-Founder of Nomad Lane, a brand of travel bags and accessories designed to take you from Boarding to Boardroom. Previously, Kishore served as an international technology sales executive with Fortune 500 and startup companies. During this tenure he completed multiple expat assignments in Europe and Asia leading global teams to grow and scale their respective markets. In December 2016 he cashed in his 401(k) balance to pursue his passion for travel and build Nomad Lane. Kishore graduated from Georgia State University with a double major in International Business and Spanish studies and is an avid squash player.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Kishore! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Thanks for having me! I was born in India and moved the U.S. when I was two years old. At the time we lived in Georgia and were one of the only Indian families in a town of 25,000 people My parents decided to move to the US in search of better opportunities and pooled their savings together to open up a retail clothing store selling mens’ formal wear and accessories such as suits, shirts, ties, shoes etc. Growing up my parents never relied on outside help because of our circumstances. Every day after school I spent my time at the store doing homework in the back and on the weekends I did odd jobs around the store such as throwing out boxes, counting inventory, cleaning and later on helping customers with their purchases and managing the cash register. At the time I assumed this was the norm for every child growing up. Watching my parents rise early and work hard 6 days a week to build their business instilled a strong work ethic in me. This was the best possible upbringing to prepare me for my entrepreneur journey of launching Nomad Lane.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Ha! I was basically pushed into it. During my corporate life I was let go from my last two roles at venture capital-funded companies; basically I was fired, ‘down-sized’ / ‘right-sized’ or whatever the fancy term for it is nowadays. These companies were experiencing turbulence in the market and were mandated to cut costs throughout the organization in any way possible. I was caught in this cross-fire, twice, in the span of 16 months. I had very low self-esteem at the time.
My “ah ha” moment came when I was looking for another job in the fall of 2016 and then had a realization: ‘Kish, if you apply for another job doing the same thing then there’s a strong chance this will happen again.’ My resume was already ‘blemished’ twice because I consciously chose not to hide the fact to prospective employers that I was let go from my previous jobs. After a couple of months of a depressing job search I felt that now was the time to take a bet on myself and create a business to support my passions and lifestyle. While I was still young enough and without to many obligations.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Good ideas are plentiful these days. The difference is actually believing enough in the idea to execute and make it a profitable business. My challenge in the early days was to build something that could intertwine my passions for travel with a sustainable long-term business model that could support my intended lifestyle. When I first started, I had a lot of free time so I listened to hundreds of business podcasts, read countless books and proactively introduce myself at networking events to seek out how others built strong defensible brands with loyal followings.
The way we overcame our challenge and ‘graduated’ into a business was when we took an idea for a travel bag and launched it on Indiegogo, a popular crowdfunding platform. From a cash flow perspective it was great because you receive the money upfront and make good on your promise to deliver the item 3–6 months later. Family, friends and strangers all over the world took their hard-earned money and invested it towards making the idea a reality. My reputation was on the line to deliver. In any situation, I tell myself: if it’s an outcome I can directly control then I won’t let you down. Period. At the end of the campaign, we raised over $2 mm and this gave us the working capital needed, upfront, to confidently place an order with our Supplier and with the exact quantity because it was already pre-sold. This experience was exhilarating, stressful and life-changing at the same time.
Up until this point, my wife and I have always had an idea for the ultimate personal item travel bag that we had been working on for 2–3 years prior. When I travel, it’s inevitable that I’m going to lose or forget something. Whether it’s a charger, toothbrush, sunglasses, passport etc. We ended up solving that a lot of people face every time they travel.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Bring that hobby or pastime to the forefront of your life or live with the regret deep in your conscious that you could have made an impact for others around you.
The best time to start was yesterday, the next best time is to start today and make it your reality.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
There are parts of the business that I dread and on some days I’m even afraid to check my email. I take a moment every day to remind myself how lucky I am to do what I’m doing.
To keep it fresh and enjoyable I like to do a few things:
- Celebrate every small win in a big way.
- At least once a week I look at our from different angles to figure out what could be done better.
- Outsource menial tasks to third parties so I don’t get burned out.
If you’re truly passionate about your idea then there will never be a shortage of ways to keep it fresh and enjoyable. My alternative to Nomad Lane is that I could go back to a small cubicle and be micro-managed. I would dread this the most!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
What I enjoy most about running my business is making a difference for our customers. I also have the ability to travel to foreign and exotic locations and enjoy experiences which only presented themselves after becoming a business owner.
The downside, especially in the early days is that your always fighting for survival. The start of an entrepreneur journey can be very lonely at times and it is always good to have a support network around you. You have to live with the fact that something could happen tomorrow which could wipe you out completely. Some nights I wake up sweating and breathing feverishly because of a bad dream in which I lost everything. Another downside is that your social circle dramatically changes especially in the early days when I spent every waking hour focused on launching the business. Sometimes when I’m out and have an idea, I can’t wait to get home to write down my thoughts and an actionable plan. On a few occasions I have longed to return to a ‘9–5’ job which I could tune out completely on the weekends and do leisurely activities. This is no longer a reality. My business consumes my life 24/7.
Some ways that I overcome these drawbacks is to manage my time wisely. I try to structure my day around completing important tasks and making time for my personal wellness. This includes waking up a little earlier to meditate and exercise or purposely turning off my computer and phone for a few hours to spend time with those closest to me. I’m an avid squash player so time on the court always leaves me refreshed.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Being 100% accountable! Every day there are a flurry of important decisions to be made and attention to detail required. If you make a mistake then there is nobody to blame but you. You have to pick yourself back up and keep moving forward. There are no managers, directors, VPs etc around you to bounce ideas off of before making a decision. When I dreamed of starting my own business I imagined things would be so easy that I could simply make a decision and kick back with my feet up under the sun. Maybe someday but not anytime soon!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A mentor (former colleague) who I used to look up to and ask for constant advice now comes to me asking for advice. Weird!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days, we made the decision to choose a web developer solely based on the lowest price and that was a horrible experience! This person was talented and had a skill set that was very foreign to me but they would literally ‘do’ everything asked and not think about how it would impact other parts of our business. Long story short: we had an immaculate website but as soon as you clicked ‘Buy’ or anywhere else on the website, an error message would pop up!
Lesson from this: You get what you pay for.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I’m a big believer and follower of Tony Robbins. He preaches that only you can hold yourself back from living your best life possible. I used to blame my circumstances for not being able to advance as far as I wanted. In reality, the one factor that can almost certainly ‘move the needle’ in any situation towards a positive outcome is your mindset.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I always take every opportunity to pay if forward. The only reason I’m where I am today is because many people have helped me along the way. It is my life-long mission to pay it forward and help others however and whenever I can.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Everyday you will experience ups and downs. I wish someone would have prepared me emotionally for the ride I was about to take when I started my entrepreneur journey. Early on when we started and had no sales, I was constantly questioning myself on whether or not I made the right decision to venture off on my own.
- Manage customer expectations by providing full transparency. We had situations early on when our shipment and delivery dates were delayed. This was due to a number of reasons but we tried to ‘sugar coat’ the reasons as much as possible. Our customers were savvy enough to call us out on this and it did not bode well for our reputation long term. Now, we are 100% clear with our customers about any issues and they are very appreciative.
- Invest in long term sustainable processes upfront. Managing all of our files and data across our organization became very cumbersome at times. We took a step back to reset ourselves internally, and now have procedures and processes in place to manage our business on a day to day basis.
- Keep a rainy day fund. When growing a business, capital is key. We’ve had a few days when we just didn’t know if we could keep going. It’s better to have cash on hand versus looking for lenders and pay excessive interest rates. From day one we have always kept a ‘safety net’ of cash for rainy days so that it does not disrupt future operations.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. When we first started receiving unpleasant emails from customers, I would let it get to me personally and lose a lot of sleep. I slowly realized that hiccups will always happen and it’s impossible to please every single customer. Do your best, believe in your product and service and it will radiate through to the customer.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I strongly believe there is a need in this world to educate young people on better personal money management from a young age. So many of peers are straddled with student loan debt, excessive credit card interest fees and only realize it’s a problem when they are to far in. If you understand the core concepts of saving, investing and compounding interest then running a business will be that much easier. It’s something I try to constantly refine on a daily basis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched face” — Mike Tyson. In my personal life, corporate career and entrepreneur journey I have been faced with adverse circumstances where the rug has been swiped out from under me completely. From losing a best friend, being let go from 2 jobs and almost drowning the company I started. I do my best to approach every situation from multiple angles and work towards positive high impact outcomes.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Sara Blakely of Spanx! I’ve followed her journey for many years and continuously admire her principles and the way she carries herself in business.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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