How Trinajit Keisam Turned His College Hobby Into a Business

How Trinajit Keisam turned his college hobby into a company through participating in the Business Development Center’s entrepreneurial training program

Trinajit Keisam started Tvakh (Sanskrit for hide), a leather goods company in 2011. His products have been sought after by companies, stores and individuals for it’s hand stitched, distinctive designs.

1. How did the Business Development Center’s (BDC) entrepreneurial training classes help you start your business?

A) The BDC trained me to develop a vision for my business and life.

The vision of Tvakh is to create durable, high quality, handcrafted leather goods and to give hope to local communities by creating employment.

Creating a vision for my business was a turning point for me. It caused me to think about what values mattered to me. Once I started writing down my ideas on paper it solidified the vision for me and made me more passionate about it.

There are times as an entrepreneur when you don’t see much happening with your work and the business is not where you want it to be. In these difficult times my vision reminds me of what’s important and helps me continue moving forward.

One facilitator, John Maudlin, played a key role in shaping my vision, as well as the logo, products, finances, etc. His feedback and commitment to seeing the business launch was amazing. He was genuinely excited about how my business could impact the lives of Manipuri women.

B) The BDC helped me price my products and stop under charging for them.

Previously, I struggled with choosing the appropriate price for my products. I would make a leather bag and select a price randomly by guessing what someone might pay for it. Through the BDC’s entrepreneurial training I learned how to give my products a more accurate price.

There was one particular class on variable costs and margin. I learned how to break down variable costs, do market research online to see what others charge for similar products and combine the two to set the price. I came out of the class being able to insert numbers and project how much things would cost scaled down and up. I realized I was selling my products much lower than my competitors and increased the price to be equal to market cost.

2. How has your business changed since taking the BDC’s entrepreneurial classes?

I started making leather products in college as a hobby. After I graduated I primarily sold my products to friends whenever they wanted something. I didn’t understand how I could price products on a large-scale basis, nor produce them.

After taking the classes I’ve finished several large orders. I had the capacity and understanding to plan and complete them.

3. What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

A) Ask questions to others in your same field

Look at people who are in your same line of work and see how they are getting the job done. If you can talk to people who are in a similar field and ask them questions then you can save yourself from making mistakes. We don’t ask questions because we’re not sure if someone will tell us, but you’d be surprised at how often people are willing to help. There is nothing to hide and no trade secrets.

B) Get the business set up as quickly as possible

The longer you take to set things up the more money you’re losing. After I received a loan for my business I bought the equipment I needed, but I took time to begin the business. If I could do it all over again I would get a few things started immediately upon receiving a loan.

Along with the principle of starting soon is to train up workers. I had shops asking for my products, but because I didn’t train others to help me create the products I couldn’t meet the demand.

C) Persevere through hardships

In order to get your business started you have to persevere when things get challenging. You must find a way to buy materials and tools, hire man power and work through various other challenges. If you don’t have what it takes to go all the way then it probably will never happen.

4. What is one hardship that you’ve faced?

A friend whose relatives own a tannery in Tamil Nadu offered to meet me at the tannery and introduce me to his relatives. We thought that my connection to him would cause his relatives to give me the leather at a discounted rate. I was excited about this as I was hoping to create an exclusive contract for them to be my supplier. A good friend in Bangalore offered to drive me to Tamil Nadu in his truck because I would need as much space as possible! We made the 6 hour drive and what happened? I came back with a sample piece of leather and an empty truck. My friend’s family didn’t have what I was looking for and they wanted to charge me high rates. I felt horrible on that drive home because without leather I can’t make anything. My friend felt bad also.

5. What sacrifices have you made to be a successful entrepreneur?

My family wanted me to get a job that paid more money so I could use my salary to support them. These are typical Indian family expectations. Having conversations with my family didn’t always go well, but now they know I am passionate about my work and support me.

6. What is the major difference between entrepreneurs and people who work for others?

A) Increased Responsibility

You have the freedom and space to do things the way you want to do them, but you have to be honest with yourself about the work. If you work for someone else and you slack off you will still get your salary, but when you own your own business and you don’t do what you say then you are the only one who loses.

B) Increased Flexibility

You can work the hours that you like. I currently work late night hours. Sometimes I would like to start my day earlier because it makes it easier to connect with other people, but as long as you get the work done you can work the hours that are best for you.

7. What are some of your most satisfying moments in running your business?

The most satisfying moments are when I give the product to the customer or client and they go crazy about it. Those are precious moments to remember especially when things are not going well.

8. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My greatest inspiration is Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception. Godin inspired me to embrace my calling as an artist and entrepreneur by making products I love and selling them. Godin uses the story of Icarus whose father told him not to fly too high or his wax wings would melt by challenging the moral of the story of “playing it safe,” to take risks and fly high.