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Rediff.com  » Business » Want to surprise your loved ones? Contact ASAP

Want to surprise your loved ones? Contact ASAP

Last updated on: July 30, 2010 10:29 IST

Want to surprise your loved ones? Contact ASAP

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Puja Banta in Mumbai


In October 2006, 22-year-old Ruchi Chopra was at her office at Gap International in Delhi, when a friend messaged her saying, "I want to eat a pizza." Chopra decided to surprise her friend by getting a pizza delivered to her place.

To Chopra's amazement, it was extremely difficult for her to convince the pizza company to collect the money from her and deliver the pizza to a different address -- her friend's house.

This set her thinking about the opportunity for organising surprises.

Within a month of this incident, with Rs 50,000 at her disposal, Chopra left her job and launched ASAP, or Any Surprise Any Place.

Her family was divided in their support of the young girl's decision. "My father was very supportive and encouraged me to give it a shot, while my mother was worried about my future and did not like the idea of my giving up a salaried job at a good multinational company," says Chopra.

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Image: Ruchi Chopra, founder, Any Surprise Any Place.

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But Ruchi was convinced about her decision. She went ahead and launched her website and sent some personalised gifts to friends to spread the word. The word did spread among a small group of people and orders started trickling in.

From personalised cupcakes and photo frames to an ASAP Jab We Met book for couples telling their story, Chopra started touching lives. Despite a slow pick up, when the company got 14 orders for Valentine's Day in February 2007, Chopra knew her instincts had been right. There was a market for helping people surprise their loved ones.

Nevertheless, the first year was full of struggle and disappointments.

"While I noticed there was a market, my research wasn't good enough to realize that summer is a slow season. So a few months after I started the company, there was a slow season, which was very discouraging. I almost wanted to quit, but since I had left my job, I decided to hang in there and that was a good decision. In fact, I have learnt that patience is a very important part of running a business," says Chopra.

And this patience paid off when ASAP registered a turnover of Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million) in 2008. The repertoire of surprises now included surprise honeymoon packages, personalised dinner arrangements at exotic locations, Nine Months Nine Surprises -- monthly surprises for an expecting mother over the 9-month period, singing messages where a person is sent to your doorstep to sing and wish you on your special day, surprises for parents, bosses and much more.

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Of all these, it's the romantic surprises that were the bestsellers and even today, couples remain Chopra's biggest clients, "Romantic surprises constitute about 63 per cent of our business, 23 per cent are parents and children," she says.

As business grew, Chopra was encouraged to venture into smaller towns like Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Pune, Jaipur, Udaipur and Thiruvananthapuram. She was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response she received from these places.

"From these places, we started getting requests like one from a man to send a guitarist to sing a song for his wife on her birthday."

The cost of these surprises ranges anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2 lakh (Rs 200,000). The most extravagant surprise that ASAP has helped put together so far has been what Chopra calls a 'traveling surprise' from a woman to her husband.

"We organised this surprise in a way that everywhere the person went, he was being surprised throughout the day. This included a limousine to pick the couple up, a silver cigarette case, a hot air balloon ride, personalized bedcovers and bedsheets at the farmhouse where they stayed, a dinner organised on a truck with a romantic set-up and personalised cutlery, and a special musician singing while serving them."

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Year 2009 saw revenues climb up to Rs 18 lakh (Rs 1.8 million) and Chopra was further encouraged to explore the overseas market and reach out to Non-Resident Indians.

This again worked very well for her, especially in the parent-child segment where children living abroad wanted to do special things for their parents in India.

As a result, in 2010, the company is looking at a turnover of Rs 33 lakh (Rs 3.3 million) and Chopra has started thinking big. She wants to now scale up to a level for which she will need funding.

She has started approaching venture capital funds, but is determined to maintain the personal touch in the business. That is the reason she wants to stay away from a franchisee model.

"We are not looking at a franchise model at all. Ours is a very personal business; we need to understand our customers and their requirements very well. We are not keen just to set up shop anywhere, or to just let the brand and its customised touch fade away," she says.

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Image: Ruchi Chopra.

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Since innovation is the key to success in this business, the ASAP team is constantly working on new products, like the chocolate club launched in May this year.

On buying a monthly membership of this club, each week the person receives a hamper of chocolates, brownies, cupcakes, cookies, fudge and more. The club has been a hit with chocoholics and already has over 100 members.

Chopra, who now has seven offices across India and caters to 10 cities, is now looking at tapping the corporate clientele.

She had this to say to budding entrepreneurs, "Start small. Don't try to reinvent the wheel; take advice from people who have been in the same line of business. Passion and patience can you take beyond your own expectations."



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