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A few months before graduating law school in 2015, Preethi Viswanathan lost her mother. By July she had her law degree from the U.K., but the time after her mother's death felt like “a blur." She went on job interviews, she says, but her heart wasn't in it. She decided to take a year off.
“I started designing T-shirts and patterns to inspire myself to stay positive," she says. “I decided I wanted to start my fashion brand to inspire love for books, happiness and positivity. Since I'm a huge book and music lover, I named it Books & Ballads."
Viswanathan has embraced the online realm of social media and influencers, garnering more than 7,000 Facebook followers in just over a year. She's returned to school, this time pursuing a business degree in entrepreneurship from the University of Texas at Dallas, while still creating new items for her book-friendly fashion line.
"The more problems you face, the better you become at overcoming them," she says. “For me, being an entrepreneur means being a creative problem solver and a good coordinator."
1. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
The biggest hurdle I faced in the beginning was geographical. Being an online business, we didn't really have an office location. I keep moving every few months so things like business registration, bank account and narrowing in on suppliers were initially a problem. There's also issues like customs, imports and phone numbers.
—Preethi Viswanathan, founder, Books & Ballads
However, the first few months have taught me to solve problems creatively. For example, one of the very first professional photographs we used on our website was provided by a blogger who reviewed our products. She was a model, and since professional photography is expensive, I asked her to do a few photos for the website. In return, I sent her the products and featured her blog on the front page. It was a great experience. Now, I'm a lot better at working with suppliers, photographers and customers from all over the world. I'm also learning photography so that I can do our website and social media images in the future.
Another hurdle was press. It's not easy for new brands to get press in major publications. I've worked on overcoming this by collaborating with bloggers, influencers and online magazines. These days, it's so much easier to collaborate with YouTubers, Instagrammers and bloggers. I've realized that influencer marketing is way more effective than traditional press these days.
2. What would you want other business owners to know about starting a business?
Begin as a lean startup and test your idea before you decide to take the plunge. This way, you get to build connections and relationships and test your product without sinking funds into the venture. Keep iterating until you've found the perfect version of the product that resonates with customers. Once you're sure it's on the right track, start investing in your business.
There is no one perfect idea. Anything that can't grow or change is bound to fail at some point. What matters is the process.
Stay positive and be resilient. Being an entrepreneur has tested my patience a lot. Things often move slower than you want them to. The sooner I learned to accept this, the better my decisions got. Also, be prepared for a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a good thing. It means there are possibilities.
3. What has been your most memorable moment as a business owner?
The love we receive from our followers and customers makes every day worth it.
There have been a lot of memorable moments, like hitting every thousand followers, being featured in Life & Style magazine, finding our niche audience, growing our newsletter, being featured by top influencers in our niche, meeting book lovers on social media, getting New York Times best-selling authors to interview for our blog, getting our first five-star review, hiring the first batch of brand reps, and kind messages from followers. There is a memorable moment every day.
I'm a believer in the process, not the outcome. I love that I get to do what I'm passionate about every day, and that makes this business memorable.
4. What tips do you have for business owners who want to start a fashion business?
Find your niche. Fashion is one of the most crowded industries. Nobody can say what will work and what will not. These things have their own way of panning out. Don't be discouraged if things don't look great in the beginning. Progress is what matters, not perfection.
I think the greatest ability of human beings is the ability to transform. A year ago, I'd never have thought the business would turn into this. Keep your mind open to possibilities and listen to feedback. Always keep transforming.
5. What is your favorite book?
This is such a hard question! My favorite book, from the ones I've read this year, is A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas—I love her whole series. My all-time favorite book is probably The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It's a children's book that has a profound message. I think everyone should read it to get in touch with their 'inner child.'