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Turning passion into business: My Sunny Balcony

In 2009, four friends in Bangalore decided to convert their passion for gardening into a business, and they decided to call it My Sunny Balcony. They are Shailesh Deshpande, an environmental consultant; Athreya Chidambi, a web designer; Sriram Aravamudan, a software architect and writer; and Reena Chengappa, a technical writer.

In an exclusive chat with SupportBiz, Shailesh talks all about My Sunny Balcony, the changing garden scenario of Bangalore and how it is like being an entrepreneur.

How did you come up with the idea of starting My Sunny Balcony?

Three years back, the four of us – Athreya, Sriram, Reena and me – were lamenting the lack of ‘real’ gardens in the ‘garden city’ of Bangalore. We are all Old Bangaloreans, and we miss the city of olden times.

We decided to do something to bring back the green cover that was so rapidly disappearing from a city that was becoming more and more of a concrete jungle. All four of us are gardening enthusiasts, and so, we came up with this idea of starting a venture that would help people create gardens even in apartments, as apartments were coming up all over the city at that time and individual houses were diminishing. That’s how My Sunny Balcony was conceptualised.

Then, we did a few experiments in our own gardens for a couple of months, and when we were convinced of the viability of our decision, we quit our corporate jobs and launched My Sunny Balcony.

How big is your team, currently?

Apart from the four of us, we have a staff of four in our office and about four gardeners, who help with our various projects. We also use the services of external artists as and when required.

Do you have any retail outlets where you sell gardening implements and decorations?

We do sell gardening equipment, pots and ornaments out of our office at Malleshwaram, but it cannot really be called a retail outlet. We are planning to start a full-fledged retail outlet in Ulsoor, which will, most probably, be functional this May.

Do you maintain gardens for clients too, or just help them set it up?

In a city like Bangalore, transportation is a huge problem. Repeated visits to a client’s place, transportation of gardening equipment, pots and other things would add a lot of cost, and sometimes it is not feasible for the client. However, if a customer requests us to maintain their garden too after setting it up, we furnish them with an estimate. If the estimate meets the approval of the client, we go ahead with the maintenance.

In case we do not take up maintenance of a garden we have created, we ensure that a gardening expert meets the client and provides them with detailed instructions on how to care for the garden in the long run.

What type of clients do you get the most?

We have done hundreds of gardens so far, and most of our clients have been families.

Do you do gardens outside Bangalore as well?

We have consulted on a few gardens outside Bangalore – clients have sent us photographs of their apartments/houses and we have made suggestions about the type of garden that would suit them the best. We haven’t physically done gardens outside Bangalore.

We are open to doing that, though, if the cost is feasible for the client.

Why did you choose Bangalore as your base of operations?

All four of us were based in Bangalore, and so this was a natural choice when it came to choosing a business locale. Moreover, we felt that the climate of Bangalore was pretty much suited to this kind of a venture. Pretty much anything can grow in the Bangalore climate.

What are the major trends that you are noticing in the gardening scenario in Bangalore?

We are noticing that more people are warming up to the idea of having a garden in their homes. They are accepting that a connect to nature is required amidst the stresses of everyda y life, and are ready to work for it. Most of our clients come to us because they want a home garden, but have no clue how to set it up.

Most clients of ours look for sturdy plants that are low in maintenance, and suit their aesthetic appeal as well.

What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

Seeing our business flourish makes me the proudest. We started off as a tiny venture, with just a website. Now, three years down the line, we have done up several gardens all over Bangalore, and are all set to launch our own retail outlet. Recently, we have also started home delivery of our products.

When we started out, we thought we would be working on a limited basis – only over the weekends. However, the demand for our services grew and we became really busy. We have understood the market, we know what customers want from us, we have met challenges, and grown considerably. When I look back on this entire journey, it makes me feel immensely proud.

And then, of course, when we put the finishing touches on a garden – when the client tells us that he/she is completely satisfied and it matches his/her visualisation of the garden, I feel very proud of us.

We hope to become a one-stop shop for everything related to gardens: equipment, saplings, advice, decorations, et al. We also hope to make a significant impact on the environment by helping to increase the green cover in the city. We wish to change the mindset of more and more people about the unutilised space in their homes, and make them more garden-friendly.

How do you cope up with competition?

When we started out, we hardly had any competition. Our concept was pretty unique at that time. However, in course of time, many ventures sprung up providing services similar to ours. What we do to cope up with the competition is to keep doing our best and keep bettering ourselves with every garden that we create.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in your line of business?

All four of us are from the corporate sector. We are used to strict deadlines and guidelines. However, this sector is completely different – it is unorganised. To set up a garden requires a huge amount of co-ordination with several people – gardeners, suppliers of gardening equipment, artists, bamboo basket makers and what not. We need to strictly follow up with a number of concerned parties to ensure that we create a client’s garden within a day’s time, which is our usual deadline. There is a lot of groundwork that we do prior to setting up a garden, and that is really challenging.

Then, there is the challenge of finding labourers at the right time. In India, that is a perpetual problem.

We have had clients who have been wonderful, and at the same time, we have had horrendous experiences with some others, who expect the world.

These are the major challenges that we face.

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

To an aspiring entrepreneur, I would say: ‘If you are passionate about your business idea, go for it!’ I would, however, advise him/her to give the business time to grow. You should have a USP; you should provide to your clients something that is unique, different, which other entrepreneurs do not provide. I would advise them to go step by step, and be unfazed by the negative opinions that people might have of your business venture. Also, be prepared for the business to take over your entire life – that usually happens with an entrepreneur.

My Sunny Balcony

Corporate Website: http://www.mysunnybalcony.com/

Address: 155, 8th main, Malleswaram, Bangalore 560003

Phone: 080 42035252