Episode 204 / January 23, 2023

Ganesh Balakrishnan on Shark Tank & Comeback of Flatheads

50 min

Episode 204 / January 23, 2023

Ganesh Balakrishnan on Shark Tank & Comeback of Flatheads

50 min
Listen on

In the recent episode of Shark Tank India which went viral, we saw Ganesh Balakrishnan, the Co-Founder of Flatheads Shoes, pitch his sustainable and ethically-made footwear brand to the Sharks.

Although Ganesh faced some initial skepticism from the Sharks, he didn’t give up and continued to present his vision with confidence and determination.

And through his pitch, he made everyone realize that entrepreneurship is not only Unicorns, fundraisers, and large secondaries for the founders. It’s mainly about the fight that goes on within an individual and with the outside world.

Ganesh’s tenacity and perseverance in the face of rejection are an inspiration to all entrepreneurs, and his story is a reminder that success doesn’t come easy and entrepreneurship is a long journey.

In this episode, we talk to Ganesh about his journey as an entrepreneur, the inspiration behind Flatheads Shoes, and the challenges he’s faced along the way.

Listen to the full episode to learn more about Ganesh’s new Mantra for Entrepreneurship “Down but not out”

Notes –

01:22 – Intro to Ganesh

02:42 – Getting into Shark Tank

05:02 – What happened once the episode aired?

07:32 – The Joy of Creation

14:12 – Emotional Journey with family as an Entrepreneur

20:51 – Impact of Covid on Flatheads

28:44 – What’s next for Flatheads?

33:15 – Pandemic-driven thought process: Offline vs Online

35:28 – What else was discussed in the Shark Tank pitch that wasn’t aired?

38:12 – Why didn’t he take the Shark Tank offer?

39:45 – What brings humility to an entrepreneur?

43:50 – Knowing what he got to know after Shark Tank, what would he have done differently in Flatheads’ journey?

47:11 – His focus in 2023

Read the transcript here:

Ganesh 0:00

The fact that you create something, you put it out there, and then people vote with their wallets. Imagine your hard earned money, I’m pulling it out of your wallet to buy a shoe of mine. That is a testament to the fact that you’ve created something of value that people are seeing. And people are buying. So that is really a kick. Every time that Shopify bell rings on your phone, it’s a kick. What do people think about, what do they want to look at when they buy something, was something that we were always passionate about. So we’ve always been on the consumer side. Our corporate journeys have been more on b2b. Give me something more. Why should I connect to this product more than just the functionality of it? So tell me your story. Tell me why I should be emotionally connected. If you understand the consumers’ needs deeply. And if you are able to create value for them, everything else will fall in place. It’s a difficult category to get into.


But if you do a good job of it, you can actually build a resilient brand, something that lasts for 20 years and above. That is what our dream was, we want to make this right. If you hit it from first principles, at least our hypothesis, we’ll be able to do this right. These are the things that always ran in our mind. And unfortunately, that paranoia of the four month lockdown never went away. And hence the decisions were never in the favor of going offline. If it was a different time, definitely offline would have been on the cards within a year of when we launched.


Siddhartha 1:22

This is Siddhartha Ahluwalia, Welcome to the 100x Entrepreneur podcast. I have someone today who has taken national television by storm. And he simplifies that the true meaning of entrepreneurship today is not, unicorns, multiple valuation, it is about the journey, and the blood and sweat of an entrepreneur. So Ganesh, welcome to the 100x Entrepreneur podcast.


Ganesh 1:45

Thank you Siddhartha. Great to be here. And looking forward to the conversation.


Siddhartha 1:49

Ganesh is co-founder of Flatheads, Flatheads pioneered the making of shoes from organic materials. And it’s really amazing how comfortable their shoes are. And today, Ganesh became an overnight sensation across India, through Shark Tank. So Ganesh, let’s start with Shark Tank, and then we’ll come on to the journey at Flatheads. “Down, but not” out became a national cry for entrepreneurship in India and earlier, it was like all valuations, how much is the valuation of the startup evaluation, how many rounds have been raised? But we again, came back to basics, I think that was the only episode where all sharks cried on almost.


Ganesh 2:29

Aman didn’t, but yeah.


Siddhartha 2:33

Aman is a hardcore. He has cried. So let’s just assume he might have kept his tears for after the episode. But how was the experience? How did you get into Shark Tank?


Ganesh 2:44

So there is an application process, so you apply in June, I think applications open in April. So you apply and then you’re supposed to submit a written application where they ask for a lot of the usual business details, any Angel Network or something you apply to is a very similar process. And then they also ask for a video that you need to submit. We had a very interesting video that we had made when we had first raised our funds. So we just edited that and submitted that. And I think they loved that video. So that’s what pushed us into the next round. Then they have auditions. So we had our audition in Bangalore. So there is a jury who comes and evaluates it’s almost like a mock pitch. So we did that. And then we qualified for the main Shark Tank, pitch itself.


Siddhartha 3:19

And when was the episode shot?


Ganesh 3:21

The episode was shot in August.


Siddhartha 3:23

So long time, right?


Ganesh 3:24

Yes, it has been a long time. Usually they shoot from August to November, this is what they told us. And then Shark Tank airs typically in December- January. So they shoot multiple folks, we were one of the first that they shot.


Siddhartha 3:35

And the episode got shot in August. What was the journey before the airing? Because they were good five, six months before the episode got aired.


Ganesh 3:44

Actually, that was our last ditch effort at keeping Flatheads alive. So once the episode was done and we realized that, hey, this moment is not forward. So then we had a lot of conversations with our suppliers, partners, everybody, employees and said, this is pretty much like the end of the road. So what do we do? So called a lot of the employees, helped them get the next step going between me and Utkarsh, and a couple of employees, I should mention Chirag, who is one of our key folks in the founding team, all of us closed all the accounting processes and finance processes. Vivek is our finance guy. Once we finished all that we decided to keep a pause to this. We had some limited inventories in India, and we had inventories in UAE and US, which were selling on autopilot.


So that is something that was going on. We said Let us continue. Eventually this episode will air. So at that time, we will see what happens until then, this is on pause. That’s what the decision was. And then we started talking to different people about getting a different perspective. We were 10 years into entrepreneurship, and we didn’t really know, what’s the broader ecosystem out there? Because when you’re in your own startup, it’s like, pretty much , so it was a very micro journey that we were part of. So then we started opening up and talking to a lot of people so that’s what has been my typical journey post that.


Siddhartha 5:02

What happened since the episode got aired?


Ganesh 5:04

It was phenomenal. The episode aired on Friday, Jan 6th, and immediately after, actually it was like a mini reunion we had done with all the Flatheads employees sitting together and watching the episode. We did shots every time I spoke in Hindi, which is funny, because I don’t normally speak in Hindi and post that the phone just wouldn’t stop ringing. I didn’t understand what was going on. Next day morning, I opened LinkedIn. And I had 30,000 requests. I thought this is interesting, let me see what I can do. So I started hitting accept, the rate at which I was hitting accept was lower than the rate at which new invites were coming in, which is when I said I give up. It was overwhelming. To be honest, I had not expected the wave of empathy and support that poured in. I actually was very embarrassed at the end of it when we had shot because I had broken down and breaking down on national TV is not something that you like to do.


When that happened, first of all, on Saturday I wasn’t completely numb. I didn’t know what to do. Sunday is when I started looking at what’s going on and what people are talking about. And that’s when I realized, what we went through, and what we’ve been going through largely for the last 10 years is the daily struggle of entrepreneurship, is a daily struggle of most people out there, which was very clearly evident in the pitch. And that’s what people relate it to. So things blew up after that within 38 hours, all the remaining inventory that we had, we sold out, things started moving in the US and the UAE when people started talking about it, so shoes were selling out there. Then I quickly spoke to Aditya from the Souled Store. Aditya ping me saying, hey, you know what, you took us back to our early days and struggles as entrepreneurs, the four of us, so thank you, and kudos. I just reached out to him back saying let’s do something.


And incredible speed of execution. We spoke at 8am on Monday. And by 6:30, we were live with the “Down, but not out” t-shirt as well. So just the entrepreneurial community coming together was incredible to see. And I am still trying to process it slowly, starting to reply to a lot of messages that have come through, there are way too many out there. But happy to see that everybody has actually acknowledged that, hey, this is the real side of entrepreneurship. It is not, as you said, the funding and the unicorn discussions and the fact that stocks are getting hammered after the IPO and all that stuff. I mean, there is a lot of bad blood around entrepreneurship. But guess what? It is our blood, sweat and tears everyday man. And that is want people want to see. And that’s what people got to see. And that is what people relate it to.


Siddhartha 7:32

I think the fact that I appreciate most is, you were very genuine, authentic on Shark Tank. And I think what would happen if people watching Shark Tank live would have cried along with you at that moment, because they realized India has been almost like a poor country since independence. And now we are seeing, then we saw in the 90s, the lower middle class coming up. And now actually, we are seeing the middle class come up, which has some disposable income. So if I see your and my parents ‘ journey, they were all brought up in a struggle. And that’s why India as a nation preferred the safety of government jobs. It comes from that insecurity that our parents and grandparents have seen. The struggle of daily bread.


Ganesh 8:20

Yeah, it was survival pretty much.


Siddhartha 8:22

And this is the first time when they are seeing true entrepreneurship come out in the nation. Earlier it was all Sachin and Binny Bansal for a decade. Like Flipkart, and kudos to Flipkart and Sachin and Binny for building the initial guardrails of the ecosystem. And people thought that entrepreneurship is so sexy. Let me become an entrepreneur and become my own boss, which, for the last 10 years, you’ve realized you’re not your own boss, everybody is you boss, your investors, your employees, your customers, everybody else. But I think the only joy in being an entrepreneur is that you are a creator. And the joy of creation and seeing that creation go out in hands of first few tens, then hundreds and then 1000s. And then probably the entrepreneurs will scale in millions. Yeah, that’s what truly satisfies an entrepreneur. I think rest all, funding, unicorns, it becomes so much distraction that it takes away the essence of why somebody starts.


Ganesh 9:23

Very true. I think the joy of creation is something that is unparalleled in the entrepreneurial journey. The fact that you create something, you put it out there and then people vote with their wallets. Imagine your hard earned money, I’m pulling it out of your wallet to buy a shoe of mine. That is a testament to the fact that you created something of value that people are seeing and people are buying. So that is really a kick. Every time that Shopify bell rings on your phone. It’s a kick.


Nansi 9:49

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Ganesh 10:19

So the question I started out on the journey was, 11 years ago, and we were really out there to understand what consumer behavior is like in terms of buying behavior. What do people think about? What do they want to look at when they buy something, was something that we were always passionate about. So we’ve always been on the consumer side, our corporate journeys have been more on b2b and b2c, but we’ve not done much with consumers in our corporate lives. But this was something that really excited us. And he’s a designer. So he comes from a very ethnographic deep consumer understanding kind of a perspective. And I’ve been a consultant. So I come from a data and analytics perspective. So those two approaches are completely different. But guess what, they all converge in one place where you get a better understanding of the customer. And that’s what we wanted to crack. And I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet. Hopefully, in this journey, somewhere, we’ll find that answer.


Siddhartha 11:10

I think that keeps on driving you .


Ganesh 11:12

That’s the drive.


Siddhartha 11:14

To understand the consumer.


Ganesh 11:16

Mindset, mind map we used to call it.


Siddhartha 11:18

And I think consumers are also very emotional, and the buying decisions are also very emotional, the top, the rich Indians, which might be like .01%, for the rest of us, it’s just like the hard earned money, as you said, which you trade for the joy of a product, that an entrepreneur can give you.


Ganesh 11:36

You mentioned, we’ve gone through the journey of survival to at least making enough for our household. Now you can see that people are shifting towards, out of commodities, where we need basic food, basic shoes, up to a point where people are saying, Give me something more. Why should I connect to this product more than just the functionality of it? So tell me your story. Tell me why I should be emotionally connected. And that is starting to create brands. So this decade, I genuinely believe is going to be the ticket of brands in India. I know d2c is getting a lot of bashing these days in terms of economics and stuff like that. But fundamentally, if you look at it from a macro scenario, this has happened across countries, when your purchasing power starts increasing, people move beyond the basics to start to appreciate the nuances of what a premium product brings in and what is premium value beyond the functional. And that is something that is happening in a big way in India right now. You’ve seen this happen in the US and we used to go to China very often.


So you could see that wave happening over the last 20 years when we’ve been traveling back and forth multiple times as part of our careers as well. It was a matter of time before that happened in India, but it will definitely happen. That was given. And that is what drove us to getting into d2c as well, after working in an E-commerce marketplace. We said marketplaces are done, marketplaces are great for price convenience and options. I mean, Amazon and Flipkart are unparalleled here. But beyond that, there are vertical marketplaces like Nyka, Myntra, and so on, which actually give you individual verticals that they service to, with little more premium products. The next journey is the brand journey that we will go through in India. And the beauty of the brand ecosystem is also that unlike a tech play, it is not a winner take all . I mean, there are multiple people making shoes out there. But everybody has a unique proposition. We are making shoes with natural materials. Our competitors are making shoes out of natural materials and sustainable materials as well. But they position it differently. We position it differently, we call it great shoes for work.


So the motivation behind and the story behind why you did this, the reason for this brand’s existence is different for different products and different brands, which is why they will capture markets as niche in the beginning. And as they scale they will widen their scope beyond that niche. But those niches will be very different. And hence, it is not like only two players like Amazon and Flipkart or Uber and Ola will stay at the end of the game, it will be multiple brands serving multiple customers with multiple psyches with multiple needs and wants, which you will go back to.


Siddhartha 14:12

Ganesh, take us through your journey emotionally and with your family as an entrepreneur especially like you had an exit from Momoe and you could have continued to let’s say you worked in Shopclues for a while, then you could have continued to not be an entrepreneur. Now you are celebrated, even with a decent exit because exists are not so popular in India, you are like I will say among the top 5% of entrepreneurs in India, you could have continued to be a part of just working with the likes of shopsleuth and maybe Flipkart and Amazon but you came back started from basics. What was the thought process and the emotions when you want to build this.


Ganesh 14:53

It’s an entrepreneurial bug, once it’s there you can’t go back. It’s a Fundamental drive that you have, which both me and my co-founder have, and I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs have, which you can’t take away. Every time you see an opportunity that is under penetrated, and nobody’s doing anything about it, suddenly something lights up. And you’re saying, Hey, can we do something about this? So you’re always in the everyday thought process of your life, you’re always watching Spaces, which can potentially become interesting business proposition that is hardwired into every entrepreneur, I’m sure you relate to this, through the journey, the beauty of what we’ve had is the family support all the way through, my wife, I’ve talked about this during the pitch as well, she has been a pillar of support, she decided to stay.


Siddhartha 15:44
She earns, I eat.


Ganesh 15:46

Exactly. She earns, I spend. And she has been the breadwinner in the family all the way through time. And we got married in 2005. And I have done 11 years of entrepreneurship. And she’s held the ship there. As you mentioned, my father has been in the PSU, he joined the job, and he retired from the same job. So it was stability for him more than anything else. So we’ve never had entrepreneurship in the family as such. So this is almost like a first time entrepreneur, first generation entrepreneur in our family. And never once have I had a conversation at home saying, I told you so that this would happen, when things didn’t go well, it was always continuous support, even when one of the startups didn’t work before, Momoe, everybody said, go do your thing. And pursue what your dream is, while we hold the ship for you. So that has been very key in the emotional journey, if you will .


A lot of people are under a lot of pressure. Also, there is a privilege of the big education degrees that we’ve had. I have never had the existential crisis of saying where will one get the job? I know that if I put my resume out there, there will be some jobs that are available. The networks are so beautiful. Everybody connects and helps each other in both the IIT and IIM fraternities and broadly in the entrepreneurial ecosystem as well. It’s very collaborative in that sense. So I’ve never had a fear that I will go hungry that has never been there. So then it’s only about the upside, you go and take your risk, and then see what happens. So that has always been the mindset when we jumped into entrepreneurship. Yes, it doesn’t work sometimes and it works sometimes. But we’ve always believed in first principles thinking. And we’ve identified opportunities that we thought were great. Momoe was in 2013, one of the first mobile apps that enabled mobile payments at real world restaurants, retail stores, and so on. At that time, even Paytm and Mobikwik, which were the big guys, were doing utility bill payments and recharges. Nobody was doing it offline.


In fact, worldwide, other than China where WeChat pay and Alipay had exploded, most of the other places, literally, Google had done one pilot with Google Wallet and PayPal had done one pilot, but that’s about it. Nobody had deployed this. So it was a huge white space. And it was very clear that there is going to be digital payments coming through. And it was just that, hey, if we don’t do it, somebody else will do it. So when you spot an opportunity like that, you just have to move. We were not from the payments ecosystem, we just said this is a brilliant place where consumers will change habits. And it will happen. The mobile is becoming more and more powerful. 3g had just come in at that time. So the ecosystem in the app space was exploding. And we said, this is the opportunity. Let’s go and get it. So that’s how Momoe was born.


So every time we see and we find an opportunity that we think is game changing, you can actually make a dent in the universe, if you will, for want of a better cliche, we just want to jump at it. And the thinking is very first principles. What we say is, we are not from the industry, it doesn’t matter if you understand the consumers’ needs deeply and if you are able to create value for them, everything else will fall in place. The payments industry is heavily regulated. But when we walked in, we had no clue. We just went in and said let’s make a payments app, then some PCI DSS came along, KYC came along, and a whole bunch of things started happening. Our investor came and said, hey, the only reason I’m investing in you is because you have no idea about the payment ecosystem. So you will think very differently from anybody else who has been in the banking industry, or the payment industry. And that’s what we want. We want disruptive answers.


So that is the game that we’ve always wanted to play. Same thing with Flatheads as well, if you really look at it, we met the founder of Colorplus, deeply passionate entrepreneur and he said we had spotted an opportunity when people were moving from formal to semi formal dressing, , the number of colors on the shirts exploded options on pants went from regular formal pants to chinos and joggers and God knows what and they capitalize on that. So he said the same thing is happening right now people are moving to casual, but look at the shoes. You don’t have an option for casual shoes. So then you start researching it, get deep into it, figure it out from first principles. Ultimately, it’s an engineered product. And we are engineers. We are IITian engineers, we should be able to figure this out. So we’ll just jump in, figure it out. We spent a year and a half trying to build this out. I don’t know, that is just the passion of an entrepreneur . So the emotion is primarily that drive to figure something out, and just being passionate about going and solving something and an opportunity that you see, that’s pretty much


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Siddhartha 20:50

So in the Flatheads journey everything was first principled, I think something that didn’t go in your favor was COVID. Essentially, you also said on the pitch, that you’re waiting for four months for people to come out with shoes, but nobody came out of their homes, and when people are not coming out of their homes, nobody wears shoes. And yet people were in their shorts at home taking online zoom meetings. That would have been a very tough time, Because 2018 to 2019. For one and a half years, you conceptualize the product, you took out the first product in the market. And as soon as you’re about to put more money into marketing, March 2020 hit.


Ganesh 21:29

Yep. When we conceptualized Flatheads, it was about great shoes for the urban workforce, if you’re wearing jeans to work, if you’re wearing joggers to work, this is a great shoe for you to wear. Think Hush Puppies, what they did for the semi formal and the formal era, super comfortable and great for casual dressing. So that was the intent of building Flatheads. Our initial thought when we launched in November 2019 was to just figure out product market fit, what is the pricing that will work? What is the product? What are the colorways that sell? What are the product silhouettes that will sell? And is this communication fundamentally working? We believe it’s an interesting communication, we’ve done a research, but really will it resonate with the audience was the biggest question that we had in our mind. And that’s what we went out to figure out.


So the first, six months to a year we had kept for product market fit testing. Four months, we said entrepreneurship is aspirational among the workforce. Everybody wants to start up one day. And that aspiration is only growing in India, given that it’s a great positioning. So we literally went on LinkedIn and pinged every entrepreneur and VC out there saying, Hey, would you want to try out our shoes and a lot of people tried it, they started talking about it. We got 25 to 30% organic traffic from LinkedIn and Twitter, not from Instagram as a brand. So things were moving really well. We started figuring out how much money to put on performance, marketing and all that. And then March 2020 happened, it was a blow and it is something that you cannot control. You can’t do anything about it. It’s just happening with you. What are you going to do?


Our first lot of shoes came from China, our products got stuck. First they weren’t dispatched. And then when they were dispatched, they got stuck here in customs. So we didn’t have any supplies either, we had some supplies but then the following supplies didn’t come. At the same time people are not buying shoes. The whole concept of shoes for work went away. So that moment was first of all, it was a shock. We said okay, it will be a one week phenomenon, this lockdown, one month phenomenon will go away, and then people will come back. But then it became one month, two months. It’s extending. The first lockdown was three and a half months, we were just sitting there saying what the hell should we do. We spoke to a lot of our investors and advisors. A lot of these people are from our professional networks. All of them unanimously said, You know what, as long as people have the need for shoes, this is a temporary blip in the radar. But it will come back for sure. And when it comes back, the revenge buying will be massive. So be prepared for that revenge buying when it comes. But until then just hold off on any demand generation because it is going to be, number one expensive, it doesn’t make any sense. And even then you will not be able to ship. It’s not an essential commodity. So that’s an issue.


So then we said what do we do now? And since our stocks were stuck, we said maybe this is a good time to build out our Indian supply chain. Our idea was, after doing the Product Market Fit, then we will figure out localization and figure out optimization on COGS. We never got to that product market fit conversation at all. We never figured it out. But at the same time, we had to do something. What was under control, supply was under control. So we went and we started finding suppliers in India, a lot of them who had initially said it wouldn’t happen, because we were two guys who had never worked in shoes. And suddenly they show up and say to them, they didn’t take us seriously. But now that we had launched a product, a lot of these were export houses, so they had orders from Europe and America canceled. So they had spare capacity and that’s when they started taking us seriously and we started building our local supply chain as well.


So broadly Yes, there was a lot of morale that was down in the team. And suddenly this was a shock to the system. But then we tried to figure out, in the interim we sold masks, all our suppliers are knit suppliers and masks are also knit products, so they were also making masks. So we started selling masks in the meantime, at least something comes in. At the same time we figured out our supply chain, we would go and park ourselves in the factories and towns and try to figure out. They had a limited operation at that time. And we started doing that. So even then you are very much motivated to do something in terms of an action, you cannot sit and twiddle your thumbs.


Siddhartha 25:27

Entrepreneurs are just not wired that way.


Ganesh 25:29

And the team is not wired that way. Every day, the team comes and says, Hey, what do we do now? Let’s do something. So that’s how it happened. And we are always eternal optimists, man. It will come back again, that’s always the thought process. So yeah, in a nutshell, we wanted to crack product market fit, we did not, big mistake. And we struggled with that all through after that. Every subsequent wave, it was the same thing, we got revenge buying, we got capitalized on that. And by the time we started optimizing our marketing and trying to figure out pricing, the next wave hit again. So this happened like three times over a period of two years. And then there is also the supply chain, you’ve got stocks, you’ve deployed working capital, and it’s locked in inventory. Now, what do you do? So then in the second wave, we hedge your bets, we decided to go international, Zappos had called saying, hey, we need a fresh infusion of interesting shoes and USP for our core audience. So we are opening up an international programme, would you be interested?


So we went to Zappos in the US. One of our investors from the UAE, angel investor said, hey, we can help you launch shoes here in the Middle East, there’s a big Indian diaspora, whatever marketing, brand marketing you do there will resonate here as well. So why don’t we do that? So all these are things that we did in order to hedge our risk and try to figure out whether we will get some velocity or not, while the India market was going through this fluctuation. So that is just doing something and mitigating your risk during survival. That’s what an entrepreneur does. But I wish we had more time to figure out the product market fit. I wish we had a little more leeway to actually create the products that were at the right price points. But to be honest, that is one thing that we didn’t get right. But yeah, I mean, hindsight is 2020.


Siddhartha 27:12

But let’s say after the second wave, since 2022, there was a lot of demand in the market, were you able to capitalize that demand?


Ganesh 27:22

We were actually fundraising in early 2022. After Diwali 2021 We were on the fundraising path. Again, because this happened, we never could hit a consistent growth trajectory. So there were still a lot of question marks, and people were not very bullish about investing. And then when April happened, all the conversations and potential term sheets that were on the table also went away. So when the demand actually came, we didn’t have the marketing money to do something meaningful. We tried until June, we could see the demand, which is where me and my co-founder, both of us put in our personal money as well, to see whether we can actually capitalize on this and do something. But yeah, you don’t have much of a nest egg after bootstrapping for one and a half years. And basically, whatever cash exit we could get from Momoe that we put into Flatheads, and then we just ran out of money there was nothing else. The opportunity was there for the taking. We had created shoes, we had invested in our own mores, we had created very interesting innovations. We wanted to crack the price points. So there were specific plans around how to play on the price ladder and figure things out. But then yeah, you just ran out of money. That was it. Unfortunate problem.


Siddhartha 28:27

And how much of your own money did you put in?


Ganesh 28:30

So both of us had put in 35 Lakhs. So there’s about 70 lakhs of personal liability that we have, not counting the pre cooperation of the company, one and a half years that we worked for was about 20-25 lakhs each. So that was pretty much all of the corpus that we had saved up, put it all into our dream.


Siddhartha 28:43

And what’s next for Flatheads? Is it like you’re thinking about an acquisition, because there’s a brand, there’s a process to the madness right now.


Ganesh 28:53

See a lot of questions that the sharks asked about, product market fit about the pricing about the value proposition are genuine and that’s where I started reflecting during the pitch as well a lot of things have gone wrong, fundamentally, we believe that there is a proposition of great shoes for work, what is that in terms of the product in terms of the price? Is it natural materials? At the price points? Probably not. Natural materials we did because it is great for the tropical climate, because if you wear a polyester t-shirt versus a cotton t-shirt, you know the difference. So, it is Heaven and Earth because the moisture wicking properties the skin feels are very very different from natural materials, which is why we did natural material. But at that price point we were not able to hit it because the product itself is hard to make.


So given that, I think those fundamental questions are still to be answered. We have some thoughts and hypotheses along how to proceed but right now the company is still pretty much dormant. We have done all our supplier negotiations and close stuff. So we are trying to figure out whether there is a potential home where Flatheads can belong. It could be another brand, it could be a house of brands. It could be an incumbent footwear player who wants the next generation to be captivated with a new proposition. So all those angles are open. And we are talking to multiple people right now, that is one thought.


The other thought is if there is somebody who wants to come in and run it as an operator and raise funds for this, we are happy to work together. And we can do this. That is the other thought process right now. It’s a very early stage to be honest, I don’t know which direction it will go. But the entrepreneurs dream of getting national brand awareness, and even international brand awareness has suddenly become true, I wish this episode was aired in September when we still had legs, then it would have been just, find the money, do something and build again, but there’s a lot of time that has passed and a lot of things. I mean, August to January is a lifetime in a startup world, there are a lot of things that need to be done to restart the engine. We’re trying to figure it out. There is something interesting coming up right now as well, where we try to, in the interim, what we do while these things are getting figured out, is what we’re doing right now. But yeah, hopefully something materializes sooner rather than later, is the thought.


I remember when we used to talk to marketing, creative agencies and branding agencies. And everybody talked about this thing called authenticity. While the older brands used to do these slick ads that are on television and stuff like that. And your pictures were always perfect, your photo shoots, you would spend a fortune to make that happen. The new mantra is authenticity, it is what we heard from everybody else. We never could figure out what the hell is this authenticity? Well, you know what we are living in now. This is authenticity, this is what we are. And this is the real brand story, if you will. So there is an authentic brand to be built, we need to figure out how.


Siddhartha 31:34

And maybe Flatheads can become a category of its own. It doesn’t need to be just shoes right?


Ganesh 31:39

Absolutely. So the intent was to create Flatheads as an urban lifestyle brand in the longer term. But we wanted to start with shoes and why shoes, because if you look at apparel, if you look at other categories, the engineering of the product, I won’t trivialize a lot of those categories, because everybody has their own nuances. But the engineering of the product is a little simpler. But shoes are very, very hard to engineer, the Indian foot versus the Chinese foot versus the American Foot versus the European foot is very different. And guess what, we are the second largest consumer of footwear in the world because we are the second largest population in the world. But Indian foot has never been measured, there has been no study on what an Indian foot is.


So we have to start there, there is a lot of discovery out there to be made. And once you create a shoe, if you look at apparel, there are multiple brands that have launched. If you look at food and beverages, if you look at FMCG, personal care, brands are exploding, because there are a limited number of formulators out there, for example, but once you create a formulation, then it’s about a brand play and a supply chain and distribution play. Whereas in the shoe category, you haven’t seen too many brands launched, it’s a difficult category to get into. But if you do a good job of it, you can actually build a resilient brand, something that lasts for 20 years and above, that is what our dream was, we want to make this right. If you hit it from first principles, at least our hypothesis, we will be able to do this. It doesn’t have to be a huge billion dollar valuation or whatever. It was more about creating something that stays in the urban lifestyle as a much more longer term proposition. Typically four or five great brands will be built in this category of shoes.


Siddhartha 33:111

Skechers is a great example. Everybody loved Skechers, in India it’s like a 4-5 year old brand

That’s it. It doesn’t have a memory beyond the four or five years. But now it has taken at least the urban lifestyle by a storm. Do you think the other problem could have been that shoes are an experience more than a cloth for offline would have worked better for you than online?


Ganesh 33:31

Yes. Again, a very pandemic driven thought process unfortunately. We used to do a lot of road shows by the way before the pandemic hit.


Siddhartha 33:38

I remember you were putting stalls in offices.


Ganesh 33:40

Correct. So all the WeWorks, co-workers, the IT offices, startup offices. So every week, we used to do at least two road shows. And that worked beautifully well, people tried the product, one in three customers who used to walk into our pop up used to convert into customers. So we always saw it as a brand awareness channel. But guess what it was happening as a sales channel as well. For an early startup, that is huge. And it was inherently supposed to be part of our marketing strategy. But then once the pandemic hit, people stopped going to work. Even after the first wave ended, people were still working remotely. Remote working became a reality. People are not coming back to work. In fact, people have gone back to their hometowns. A lot of these works are empty, then we start getting paranoid. We have very limited inventory. If we deploy it into a store and then the store closes for one pandemic wave. It’s four months of inventory.


So is this the right time to go offline? Is this the right time? Or should we explore marketplaces? Should we explore internationally but stay online because it can be a lot more nimble. These were the things that always ran in our mind. And unfortunately that paranoia of the four month lockdown never went away. And hence the decisions were never in the favor of going offline. If it was a different time, definitely offline would have been on the cards within a year of when we launched as you said it is a touch and feel product and the kind of shoes we were making, you really need to wear it. When people pick it up, it is less than 500 grams. So you will see a twinkle in their eye and then they will wear it and they will See the comfort and the breathability of the fabric? It feels like an AC on your foot. Immediately people will convert that experience we could never give online. It’s an image. It’s a GIF. You can even tell that story. But can you hold the person’s attention long enough to see that among the millions of Instagram ads that he’s seeing? It was very hard to do. So yeah, pandemic, again, put off our offline plans. I wish we could have been offline earlier as well. So I would write that story very differently now.


Siddhartha 35:27

And we were only able to see the 15 minutes of your pitch during the Shark Tank. You mentioned it was one half or more than that, what is the part that was missing? That we couldn’t see and was worth seeing?


Ganesh 35:38

So most pitches last more than 45 minutes on Shark Tank? And is it a proper investor pitch? I mean, you’ve done pitches before, it is a proper conversation around, tell us about your first month, tell us about your core customers. Tell us about your cohorts, tell us about which channel has worked? What are your best sellers? And a whole bunch of conversations around, product market fit, what is the team you have assembled? So it is a clear Angel Investor Pitch, if you will, except that there are five angels sitting in front of you, instead of one. So it’s almost like a panel interview. But other than that, nothing changes. Of course, it got a little, what do I say heated. Because that’s what television is about. But all of those guys who are out there on the other side of the table are folks who have built brands of their own. Respect. And my approach, there always was, yes, I am pitching, but it is also about really understanding their mindset versus what we were doing, because what we were doing wasn’t working.


So really understanding what their thought process is, and which direction they are questioning, because that gives you an indication of what is behind in their mind, throughout the one and a half hours for the multiple rounds of questioning. It was always like, let me understand where you’re coming from. And let me understand what your thought process is on what are the key levers that I need to pull in order to make this more successful? That was broadly the way the conversation was going? Eventually, I think the last 10 minutes was when we started getting into the downside of it. Where we’re saying hey, you know what existing investors are not following on, your co-founder has left, now what’re you going to do. Then Anupam got in and said, I can offer you a job. And Aman said, sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s okay, just take a break and come back.


There I saw a lot of empathy. Until then it was investors questioning entrepreneurs. But then there I saw, they are all entrepreneurs, that have gone through this journey, you saw Namita getting emotional, Namita was genuinely concerned, hey, is there a problem? How is the family dealing with this? Any help you need, let us know. It was a very genuine conversation around a lot of this. Peyush said you know what? We can recapitalize the company. And we can do this again, would you be willing to do that, but you have to bring somebody else who you will understand this thing.


Siddhartha 37:46

But you were not willing to go down that path.


Ganesh 37:48

Recapitalization is a different story. But that’s where I saw the entrepreneurial side of them. And that was very heartening to see. That’s when things got a little emotional as well. I hadn’t planned or prepared for that. But that’s where I saw that, everybody’s journey is this. And sometimes it doesn’t work, it’s just a matter of two or three things going right for you to kick that flywheel up. And that’s why they are where they are. And I am where I am. So that reflection gave me a lot of emotions. So why didn’t I take the offer? Look, I had raised 10 and a half crores for 33% earlier. And I know that if I go back, and recapitalize this company, I can still raise four to five crores for that 33%. And I know that 70 lakhs is not going to be enough for creating this brand, there is still a lot of work to be done, we have to go back to the drawing board, and we have to start again. And that is not enough. And then at your cap table, the next investor who is going to come in is going to say, your cap table is already full? How are you going to get more investors in? And that will be a challenge again. So I don’t want to be stuck in another loop of survival at that point in time.


I genuinely believe that 70 lakhs is not enough for creating this all over again, which is why I said no. It was a rational decision. Also, from my personal perspective, when Aman said that, sometimes it doesn’t work, take a break, I started reflecting on that as well, Hey, you know what, this is the end of this journey. Almost, if I’m not making this money, this is the end of this journey. Now what for me? That’s when I said, instead of being emotional and taking Anupam’s offer on the spot, maybe I should go back, I should reflect on what I need to do for myself, as well as for my family. And what is our prerogative? What are our priorities? Let us really think about it, what I’m interested in doing at the same time, what will bring us a little more stability in the journey. I really wanted to go back, think about it, and then come back again.


So what they didn’t show in the conversation was I told Anupam you know what, thank you very much for the offer. I will definitely reach out and I will talk again, and we have talked again, but I really need some perspective. So give me some time. And obviously he said, whenever you want to talk we can talk. Yeah, so that’s what happened after the pitch. And that’s why I didn’t take the money.


Siddhartha 39:45

What was the thing that during the pitch, you were very open during the pitch. It was not that, hey, I’m a serial entrepreneur with this much experience. I come from IIT Mumbai, IIM-B and this is how I want to do it. So What brings that humility.


Ganesh 40:01

To be honest, I wasn’t that humble earlier. Entrepreneurship and failures teach you a lot of humility. It’s just a journeyman. If you are willing to learn, you will learn a lot of things which you would have never otherwise. I was a part of corporate for 15 years before I started my entrepreneurial journey, there is a lot of ego out there. And I’ve been one of those guys, the problem with bringing your ego into the picture is that you stop learning, suddenly, there is a wall that you build in front of you, you’re not listening anymore. You’re just continuously saying, in your own mind that you know what, what the hell is he saying, I know more than him. Then the ability to learn, that attitude goes away. But guess what, when you’re talking first principles, and when you’re in that entrepreneurial journey, everybody that you talk to has something to offer, has something that you can learn from that is something that I’ve discovered through these 10 years that I’ve been an entrepreneur, that openness, if you don’t have, you miss a lot of things that you could have done very differently going forward.


So that’s what I approached it with, yes, there were a couple of places there where I said, what are they talking about? Maybe I should interject, but it’s fine, I mean, they’ve been through this, and they’ve done their work better than I have. So the approach there was, again, okay, maybe they have something to say here, which I need to learn from. And I mean, they’ve been friends, they’ve been pinging me after that we’ve been talking. A lot to learn from all of them. Respect for Peyush as well, he made the offer, we spoke. Look at the brand he has built, it is one of the first d2c brands out there, who has built a completely vertically integrated product. And he’s defined an industry in a category which is very hard to do worldwide. Warby Parker probably cracked it, and he has cracked it in India. It’s a beautiful story. And it’s how businesses should be built. It’s almost like a case study for how businesses should be built. Lot to learn from these guys, bringing your ego in place doesn’t solve anything. It’s okay that I have an IIT, IIM degree, but that doesn’t matter.


I think there is a lot of perception out there, outside of the IIT & IIM ecosystem, that these guys are very entitled and very egoistical. But guess what, most of us are not like that. That is what you learn inside that ecosystem as well. I mean, I topped my school when I went into IIT, but everybody out there had topped their school. Now you’re suddenly in a place where you have to prove yourself all over again. And you have to find yourself in a different ecosystem. And this ecosystem is an ecosystem of achievers. So the story there is every time you’re getting into a different group of people, whether it’s an IIT, then you go into an IIM, every one of these people is a group of overachievers. And you need to, get yourself into that and prove yourself in the world.


So there is always a chip on your shoulder when you’re in any of these places to say that, how can I put more into what I’m doing? So the ethos of effort, the ethos of learning, the ethos of being better than what you’re seeing up there, in front of you. And among the people with you and around you is something that is inbuilt. Which is why the drive of what people do in their career in their ambition to become either corporate leaders or to become great entrepreneurs, is much more is what I see. Well, I wouldn’t say much more, I would say it is inherent in that ecosystem. And that doesn’t come from being egotistical, it is just their own need to be better than what they were and better than what most of the people out there are. Maybe some of them are egotistical. But that gives a bad name to the overall, one bad apple kind of story. But the majority of people are not like that. The majority of the people are very helpful, very genuine, and very honest. And forthcoming in their help, and the willingness to learn. The attitude is very different. So yeah, I mean, for all the IIT, IIM bashing out there. I’m gonna stand and say, we are not those guys. We are, like you.


Siddhartha 43:51

knowing what you know after Shark Tank, What could you have done differently, in Flathead’s journey, conditions being the same, the COVID and everything else.


Ganesh 43:59

I would have paused everything, I would have told people to go take a holiday, and come back. And we will try when this madness dies down, I would not have spent as much on trying to force the product into the market where the demand was low, which is why our caps were high, I would have worked a lot more on figuring out the right product at the entry level that really can resonate with the audience. And I would have maybe repositioned it a little differently. We did a lot of functional positioning after the casual shoes for work didn’t work. We called it ridiculously comfortable sneakers and stuff. But guess what, even Relaxo says ridiculously comfortable. So the name itself is that. So functional positioning, you are not able to create the aspiration.


So I would have played the brand story a little differently, given a little more of an emotional connect rather than a pure functional Connect. But most importantly, I would have paused and not spent the money and I would have held back on that and just hit the market when the time was right. Just build the Great product that we always wanted to build. Hold on. It’s okay money’s in the bank. But it doesn’t mean that you have to deploy. We were just in a hurry, looking back, maybe we shouldn’t have been in that hurry, just hold on, and come back.


Siddhartha 45:07

But that is very much against how an entrepreneur is structured or wired, you can’t do the wiring differently.


Ganesh 45:14

Our advisors told us this, that shutdown and take a vacation, the voices were there. And these were voices who have been through multiple, cycles of bad times, and good times, this was a once in a generation event, for sure. But the voices were there. And they were very clearly telling us not to do this. We were always going back and saying, you know revenge buying is coming, let us go and get this and stuff like that. Whereas, all the VCs, if you look at their startups, they just wound on their operations like nobody’s business and just sat this through. And because of that, they’re probably surviving right now. So yeah, maybe I should have listened a little more. For all the listening that I’m talking about. I should have listened a little more to those voices that were out there at that time.


Siddhartha 45:52

If I were ever in your shoes, it would have been impossible for me to pause. Entrepreneurs don’t take a pause. For an entrepreneur one year pause is like a decade.


Ganesh 46:03

True. So we would have done a lot of work on Sleepers for example, Sleepers sold very well, when we launched the sliders, instead of saying let the shoes get sold first then we’ll make sleepers. I would have said, Hold on to that inventory, I’m not going to push the shoes at all, let me only do sleepers right now for the next six months. Maybe we should have in the first round of the pandemic, when we started selling masks, we should have just pushed through on those masks, maybe I should have made innovative masks. And we should have launched that. We just did a normal n95 mask. So a lot of those ifs and buts are there, which we could have done. And we brainstorm a lot of those as well. We never got down to action on those. For example, Solethreads, they grew phenomenally during the lockdown, because their proposition was very, very comfortable open footwear, Sleepers, flip flops, sandals, and they took off phenomenally well. They raised funds and picked that up as well. Respect to Sumant and the gang for doing it. They recognised it and they were fast enough to move. We didn’t move fast enough.


So yes, I agree that you can’t completely take a vacation. But there are things you can do better, instead of fretting over the fact that you already have so much inventory, but launch in small batches, be nimble, but keep doing things that work. So, that is something that we could have done,


Siddhartha 47:11

Though in 2023, you are still figuring out what to do for the next 12 months. What are the principles that you have set for yourself that you’ll get the direction but I’ve to do it this way only.


Ganesh 47:21

Whether it is Flatheads, or whether it is somewhere else, for me it is still about that drive of understanding consumers and their mindset. So pretty much I will continue to be in the consumer space and try to figure out something. For me one of the priorities is a little bit of financial stability as well. It’s about time, 10 years and broke is not a great place to be. So that is one thing that I’m thinking about.


Siddhartha 47:41

How old are you?


Ganesh 47:42

I’m 45, 44 turning 45.


Siddhartha 47:43

Still like15 years of pure entrepreneurship left.


Ganesh 47:46

I have 15 years left. And as Aman said, maybe I can do two years of a little bit of reflection and then come back. So that is on the back of my mind while there again, I might be associated with a brand trying to figure this out. Or if there is a way that we can get Flatheads moving with this aspect of things figured out for me, maybe that is one direction that we might go. So all those doors are open right now I’m still trying to figure that out. But hopefully in the next couple of weeks, three weeks, an answer will emerge is what I’m thinking and the aftermath of this Shark Tank episode things are very different. Until then it was a lonely journey, but now everybody is seeing what’s happening. So hopefully something will happen.


Siddhartha 48:24

And what I see, at this moment you have the timing right for you. So whatever you launch, the masses are behind you to take you from A to B.


Ganesh 48:32

True, very true. Yeah, it remains to be seen whether this is a wave that will come and die down or people have related to this deeply enough that they care going forward, what will happen but yeah, I mean, I have never seen an outpouring like this before I have never seen, and every shark has called me and said this is unprecedented throughout the two seasons they have not seen anything like this. So I believe that this is genuine and people will support. I just need to take the right step.


Siddhartha 48:56

I wish you were fundraising right now, doing a crowdsource, I could rally my audience to be a part of.


Ganesh 49:02

Today we are launching a crowdsource. So hold on, you will see something. So we have figured out something in the meantime for Flatheads, we are launching a limited edition collection. You heard it from me first. You will see and hopefully this wave of support will actually translate there, we will see that’s an experiment. That’s a consumer experiment that I’m running for myself as well to see whether people will actually resonate with the idea and actually put the money in. So we are doing pre-orders. That is what we’re planning to do. Yeah, let’s see, hope for the best.


Siddhartha 49:33

Itreally comes from my heart and my gut feeling like I genuinely feel that you will do something huge because there is so much learning that has gone in the last 10 years and still your drive has amplified, it has not come down to learning to experiment to at least know the consumer through your products that you launch. So I genuinely feel that it’s just a matter of maybe 12 to 24 months, something big is coming from you.


Ganesh 49:57

Possible man, thank you. We are trying our best to do that. A lot of people have asked me whether I will go back to a corporate job. I’m not made for a corporate job.


Siddhartha 50:07

Your wiring has completely changed in the last 10 years.


Ganesh 50:08

The kick is not there. The kick is really in figuring out the core of what a consumer brand is.


Siddhartha 50:17

What drives people.


Ganesh 50:18

Pretty much what consumer behavior is. And that’s where my heart lies. So I don’t think I’ll go back to a job.


Siddhartha 50:23

Thank you so much. It’s one of the most moving conversations that I have ever had on the 100x Entrepreneur podcast.


Ganesh 50:29

Thank you, man. Thank you very much. I think a lot of questions that normally the press reporter wouldn’t ask, which I’ve gone through in the past week. So thank you for a great conversation. I think there’s a lot of reflection that I also did. In the process of this. I enjoyed this. I hope your audience enjoys it too.


Siddhartha 50:46




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