By Sidharth Rath
IN CONVERSATION WITH AJAY NANDA, FOUNDER – 22 BIKES.
Located in Saheed Nagar, Bhubaneswar, Ajay Nanda’s 22 Bikes store is not just a store but a place where cycling enthusiasts meet and frequent. If you wish to sip coffee and look over the best bikes you can find, or connect with the community and indulge in cycling, you can feel the passion for cycling in the air. With 22 Bikes, Ajay (a cycling enthusiast himself!) not only sells bikes but provides solutions for all cycling needs. In fact, he’s taken upon himself to grow the cycling enthusiast community of the city into a thriving community of all ages and walks of life!
Read the full interview below:
Sidharth Rath: Hello Ajay! Thanks for taking the time for this interview. So, your story is that of a MBA-armed corporate guy who left his job to start up and follow his passion. What is your startup ’22 Bikes’ about?
Ajay Nanda: 22 Bikes is one of a kind concept bicycle boutique in the temple city and also 1st of its kind in Eastern India. We have optimal solutions for everything when it comes to cycling; be it international brand bikes, accessories, other merchandise, or even spares and services. Our promise is to take care of all your cycling needs under one roof. We also promote the cycling culture in Bhubaneswar by various events and outreach activities.
SR: You got an MBA and had a job. What made you quit and start up? Was it an easy choice?
AN: Oh, it was not at all an easy choice. I was looking for the right time. After spending 2 years at UAE, I thought that the time had come to quit and to start something in my hometown.
Well, it was always in my mind to start something in my hometown. So, the idea was to start something that would not only be financially viable add value to the city as well. I thought that developing the cycling community in India’s No.1 smart city made perfect sense!
SR: You have been not only been running a venture but have been adding value to the community as a passionate bicycle enthusiast. Tell us about your activities!
AN: 22 Bikes started an initiative known as ‘Recycle Your Cycle’, wherein we collected old and used cycles from people, did the necessary refurbishment, and donated them to orphanages for their use.
22 Bikes has also been involved in cycling for social causes. We had organized a blood donation camp in association with Red Cross Society to mark the anniversary. We have also taken the initiative to collect old books from the cyclists who frequent 22 Bikes, to donate them to a public library in the city.
We crowdfunded money from 22 Bikes’ core group of cyclists and donated a new cycle worth Rs. 45,000 to a boy Budheswar Dehuri, residing in a slum. We noticed that he was very passionate about cycling and had even won a few medals in local cycling events with just his basic cycle.
22 Bikes also organizes workshops in schools in and around Bhubaneswar where we talk about the basics of cycling like safety measures, what shoes to wear, what areas to ride in, etc.
SR: Could you tell us the journey of your national and international bike expeditions? How did it all start?
AN: I participated in “Bhubaneswar – Bhutan” ride in 2015 and “Vietnam-Cambodia” ride in 2016. We did 2002 km of cycling in Vietnam & Cambodia in 15 days.
Riding in new countries is altogether a different experience. You enjoy nature, explore their cuisine, shop in the evening, meet new people etc. In a 2002 km ride, you happen to go countryside and there lies the real beauty! These adventures of exploration gives a lot of happiness.
Our club has an annual ride programme. Few members did “Manali-Leh” ride on 2014, before I joined the club. When the club decided to go to Bhutan in 2015, without any second thoughts, I stepped in. And again, in 2016.
SR: Tell us something about the biking community in the temple city of Bhubaneswar.
AN: We have a bike club named as “Bhubaneswar Cycling & Adventure Club”. Mr. Sanjeeb Panda (IPS), Mr. Lalit Das (IPS), Mr Manoj Ahuja (IAS) are name to few senior bureaucrats of Odisha, who started the club. I joined the club later and take some special interest in arranging new rides and events.
Under the club banner, we did one annual ride every year like; “Manali-Leh” ride on 2014, “Bhubaneswar-Bhutan” ride on 2015, “Vietnam-Cambodia” on 2016. Apart from annual ride, to make people grasp the advantages of cycling and to promote cycling in Odisha, we have been organizing bicycle trips to different places, such as: Bhubaneswar to Sambalpur, Bhubaneswar to Rourkela, Bhubaneswar TO Gopalpur and Bhubaneswar to Digha.
Cycle ride is not all we do, by organizing cycle training program and city based cycling events we are doing our part for society. We are open for everyone and accept association without any registration fee.
SR: Could you share some challenges you’ve faced in this ride of starting up?
AN: Initially it was very difficult to arrange funding to start the venture. My ex-Boss, stepped in as investor and I realised the benefits of taking ownership at my earlier jobs. Another issue was to get skilled manpower for this particular field. We hired an energetic local mechanic, Mr. Prafula Pani, and he updated himself by reading technical books, watching YouTube videos, experimenting etc.
Third, and the most critical issue was to create a market for high-end bicycles. We do regular rides, arrange different cycling events, and use social media as well. The Bhubaneswar cycling fraternity has grown to around 500 serious cyclists, while it only had around 20 cyclists back in 2014. The work for developing the community continues!
SR: There are international brands who are opening large sporting goods outlets. Also, ecommerce is taking a larger chuck of new categories. How do you position 22 Bikes in the market?
AN: We never compare ourselves with others! We are known for our quality and commitment of service. Sometimes, our staff ride 60 km from Bhubaneswar to Puri for delivering a repaired bike to our customer.
Large stores or e-commerce sell bikes. Whereas, we give 360 degree solutions to all bike enthusiast at one place. We do service, repair, finance, insurance, rentals, events etc. Others sell bikes, whereas we ride bikes and sell bikes as a second option. So we cater to a community we are a part of, and understand well.
SR: What would you like to say to the bike enthusiasts of the country? Is age a barrier for biking as a hobby?
AN: Riding a bike has several health benefits. By riding a bike, you add value to your body as well as to society. It’s a green option of commuting. I know riders aged over 70 years. And 3 cyclists with 50+ years completed 2002 Km of ride with me during the “Vietnam-Cambodia” trip!
SR: You come from a typical middle-class Indian family. How was the support from your parents and other family members when you decided to leave the job and start something of your own?
AN: By the grace of God, my father worked as a laboratory attendant at an Institute by Central Govt of India. He knows the value of education. He did his best to give me a proper education and allow me to take decisions for my life.
My parents support me at each and every stage. They didn’t panic at my decision of quitting my job. They believed that I was quitting my job for creating a better future. They always told me never to look for short cuts, and to have the highest standards of ethics in whatever I did.
SR: You hail from Bhubaneswar, Odisha, which has not had a rich startup ecosystem or an entrepreneurial focus. Do you feel that things are changing in Bhubaneswar, and in other cities and small towns of India?
AN: Yes, the startup ecosystem in Bhubaneswar is not that rich. But you must have heard the “Two Shoe Salesman” story. (Two shoe salesmen were sent to Africa to see if there was a market for their product. The first salesman reported back, “This is a terrible business opportunity, no-one wears shoes.” The second salesman reported back, “This is a fantastic business opportunity, no-one wears shoes.”) I saw the world from the second salesman’s eye. It’s good to work in a virgin market and build your startup as well as add value to the ecosystem.
SR: Would you like to comment on the government’s Startup India programme?
AN: I’ve heard a lot and gone through the website. It will be helpful in building an ecosystem as well as motivating young people to take the plunge into the startup world.
SR: Many people start young, while many start later in their life. Some get into ventures from the campus itself, yet some want to take up a job for a couple of years before starting up. What’s your take on this?
AN: Listen to your heart and act accordingly. As per my choice, it’s always better to have some corporate experience before you start your own.
SR: If you could give one piece of advice to new startup founders, what would it be?
AN: There is no short-cut to achieve your dream. Work hard and build a brand. Always focus for goodwill primarily than profits. It’s a strategy that’ll pay off in the long term!
Send me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d be happy to forward your questions to Ajay!