To be ‘content’ is a strange state of being. We’re all after that elusive ‘contentment’ – where we feel that we truly are at peace in the moment. Yet, it isn’t what one would associate with a dreamer. It seems plausible that a ‘dreamer’ wouldn’t be content – There’s always a better place to be, right?
Ritesh Goel is the antithesis of that assumption. He claims to be content and it shows in his demeanour, manner of speaking and in his general perspective of life.
While he’s had his share of travails, Ritesh’s attitude towards life remains unchanged and almost contradictory – that it’s possible to be at peace and still have aspirations. Today, he runs Design n Décor, a company that operates across India and provides furnishing for large corporate entities as well as luxury-hotels. Some of Goel’s clients include Infosys, JW Marriott, Taj Vivanta and Ritz-Carlton, among others. A look at his plush office and you know he’s truly experiencing the best there is. Yet, through our conversation, it’s clear to me that his feet never left the ground.
The spark of entrepreneurship
As a child, Ritesh lived a fairly comfortable life. “I come from a well-to-do family, and we were already involved in business.” While he had the opportunity to experience a bit of luxury, his conscience never allowed him to. “I always felt very guilty taking money from my parents. I don’t know why, it’s just who I am.”
At the age of 16, in the year 1991, Ritesh moved to Delhi from Assam to continue his education. It was here that he would learn to survive with very little. “I would not take much money from my parents. Even If I needed more, I never told them. I had just enough to survive in the city.” That didn’t stop him from finding a way to experience a little bit of the good life. “I remember craving for the famous Nirula’s burger back then. I had to save up the entire month to just have one burger! I’d travel several kilometres to reach my cousin’s school with my local guardian. Since the school was out of the city, I would get my haircut done only in that town to save money – it was just Rs. 8 there, but in Delhi it was Rs. 30. The remaining would go into buying the burger from Nirula’s!”
His fierce need to be independent pushed him to make something of himself early on. “I always looked out for opportunities to earn and live on my own.” His first break was to appear from an unconventional source when he was just 17 years old. “To get to school, I would catch the local bus. I met an old man often during my bus journeys. I befriended him and discovered that he was a Sub-Inspector with the Delhi Police. Over time, I decided to ask him if there was anything I could do to start earning for myself. That’s when he took me to the police station.” Barely a few days later, Ritesh landed an opportunity to serve the Delhi Police by creating tenders and supplying vests, canes, gloves and other equipment through different suppliers in other states.
Within a year, Ritesh was able to buy his own car. He was just getting started with college. “I still keep that Maruti, even though I own more luxurious vehicles. It keeps me grounded.” His skill to crack the right deals at the right price proved to be invaluable and he kept at it until he graduated from college.
The Dotcom boom
After he completed his undergraduate studies,in the year 1996, Ritesh had saved enough money to invest in his first full-time venture. “I was looking for the ‘new’ thing or trend in the market. At the time, the Internet was beginning to make its mark.” With another partner, Ritesh started DellDSL, which provided DSL lines to corporate entities.
However, the earnest entrepreneur had his fair share of teething problems. He admits to not being able to know how to use a computer! “It was quite terrible! One time, I didn’t know how to move to the next page in Microsoft Word. My partner had a hearty laugh over it. He actually told me to put a piece of paper behind the monitor, and it would appear. I kept searching for a slot to put the paper in!” His obvious naivete paved the way for eagerness- Ritesh would work on the computer everyday until he figured out how to use it proficiently.
Of course, that was the least of the difficulties they had to face. Infrastracture and the laying of lines was a big challenge in those days. Procuring government permissions, ensuring that there were no faulty lines as well as informing and educating customers – all of these were the complications of the time. Dealing with these factors often involved working with bureaucracy and pushing through long hours. Regardless of all the hurdles, they moved ahead and became highly successful private providers, expanding in major metro regions across the country.
Unfortunately, their success was short-lived. Within a few years, everything changed in what would affect many innocent players in the market all over the world – the dotcom bust.
Bursting of the bubble
The bust was the market crash that turned out to be a surprise recession of sorts. Thousands of jobs were lost across the world, and the trickle-down effect impacted India as well. Software companies and other related organisations found themselves crumbling in the market down-swing. As an Internet Service Provider for such entities, Ritesh and his partner found themselves in the red.
DellDSL tanked in 2001 and there was no saving it. To add to the constraints, Ritesh was newly wedded earlier that year. “I had lost everything and had very little money with me to survive. Month after month, I struggled to save cash. I did not want my wife to know what I was going through and ensured that things on the home front were better.”
“Interestingly, while I was struggling, I never found myself unhappy or very upset. I was still content and happy. I accepted this as a journey everyone had to go through and I knew that I would get out of this and the reward would come. I hardly spent time moping or doubting myself. There was no question about it – I just got back to work to find the next opportunity.”
The new path
Ritesh started interacting with several people, including family and friends, to come up with new ideas. Soon after, he set his gaze on the textile industry. “I realised that there was something massive in it if I could break through. I started connecting with different people in the industry. There was no time to waste.” Ritesh eventually tied up with a purchasing agent in Delhi who was in business internationally. One of his customers in Greece demanded the width of the silk material to be double the normal size available in most Indian units.
“This would dissuade most people, but I took it up as a challenge to provide something not easily available. We needed special machines and even one of them would cost 18 lakhs.” Ritesh approached several banks to request for a loan, but with very little assets backing him as he was still in his twenties, he was rejected everywhere “I went to every possible provider for the loan. I didn’t stop. I knew that nothing could stop me from getting ahead with this business.”
Finally, United Commercial (UCO) bank heard that them out. “We did a good job of convincing them and secured a loan of 18 lakhs.” That wasn’t the end of it, though. Within a few months, the demand had risen and Design n Decor needed three more machines. “We went back to UCO and they were shocked when they realised that we had returned so soon for another loan! I handed the manager the required documents and he shoved them aside in frustration and told me ‘Just give me the bottomline figure and what your plan is on one sheet.’” Ritesh succeeded in convincing him and they were able to add another 36 lakhs to their kitty.
Soon after, production began and Ritesh’s new firm, Design n Décor, was in business. It wasn’t long until they were back in the red – Greece soon went through the brunt of recession and this affected their demand. To top it off, a customer from the United States had his own set of issues and refused to pay him and other suppliers in the business. “The other suppliers in India had to mortgage and sell their houses to survive. My family members told me to do the same, but I decided to risk it and fight it out.” Ritesh flew the United States, took the legal route and recovered 85% of the money.
This, nonetheless, was a wake-up call for them, and Design n Décor decided to change their strategies. “The export market had come down by 60 per cent. We were definitely in trouble. I had no idea what to do, but I was always in “solutions-mode”. I had no clue of any other market, but decided to venture out and get the job done anyway. This was like any other challenge.”
After a series of discussions, Ritesh and the team finally decided to break into the hotel industry and function heavily within the country. “Today, we’re completely in the hospitality business and have succeeded.” A long journey filled with risk may not have been possible without the help provided by UCO bank, with whom Ritish enjoys a profitable and trusting relationship. “All of us have grown bigger in our own paths. I’m very good friends with the manager that I approached for the first loan. I strongly believe that it’s important to stay connected with people you come across in your journey.”
“I think one of the biggest factors that led to my success is that I was very content all through it. The good times or the bad times, I was always at peace. It was so much easier to operate from there. I also never lost ground of my roots because it reminds of me how I made it through. Jumping will make you tall for only a second. Real height is about growing taller – your feet are still on the ground while you seek aspirations.”
“I don’t look for profits. I look for growth. I don’t look at the net profit on the balance sheet, I look at my turnover. That’s my growth.”
Ritesh’s views seem to beat the conventional business credo. People are taught that net profit is the ultimate indicator and not the turnover. To be ‘content’ and still function extraordinarily somehow beats the generic understanding of ‘success’.
Is it actually possible to be at peace and still go after what one wants? I’ve struggled with that question often. Admittedly, I haven’t always felt that way. I’ve been told that that it’s important, but I’ve always wondered if it would hinder my aspirations.
I guess it isn’t really about aspirations. Maybe, it’s just a better way to live.