Client Showcase – Flatheads: Taking the world by storm, one shoe at a time

For most of us, especially men, shoes are a matter of utility, but Flatheads has decided to change all that, once and for all. With the millennials redefining how workplaces function and bringing casual wear to the forefront into the 9-5; Utkarsh and Ganesh have decided to take this trend on a new path, literally. With their latest venture, focusing on sneakers for men that can be worn to work and beyond, they are making sure the shoe is part of a man’s style statement.
With a growing team Flatheads were looking for some great Finance talent to join their team. However, they had a unique requirement - they wanted someone who could work flexibly or even remotely. Enter FlexiBees, a company that specializes in placing experienced women professionals, who are returning to the workplace but want to work flexibly and could help them find the right fit.
We recently, caught up with Ganesh Balakrishnan, co-founder of Flatheads, in an interesting conversation about how they are creating a niche in the world of footwear and their ambition of creating “casual all-day wear.” 
Ganesh Balakrishnan, Co-founder Flatheads
Some excerpts:
Flatheads is a unique concept, what made you venture into this?
In the last venture, Utkarsh and I created a mobile payment app Momoe which was eventually acquired by ShopClues. In the e-commerce space, we worked with a lot of merchants who were trying to build their brand on the platform and that’s where this whole idea of establishing a brand germinated.
As far as the idea of shoes for men goes, it is all because of Utkarsh. A shoe addict himself, he owns more than a 100 pairs of shoes! He likes to try out shoes and predict the next trend in this space. So, when we started looking at which area to build a brand in, shoes were on top of the list and that is how we came about selecting this.
Footwear for millennial office goers and men is very niche. Why this?
Well, though this is a niche area, the millennial office-goers itself is a very big segment in terms of people who shop on online marketplaces. If you look at the overall market, it's more than a billion dollars in size, especially the casual, premium footwear between INR 2000 to 6000. 
There has also been a shift in the lifestyle of people who are going to the office today, especially, the millennials and the post-millennials. For one, they have started moving from semi-formal, business-casual dressing to pure casual. Most of the office-goers prefer wearing denims to work especially in the urban cities.
Another major change is that people now stay in their shoes for a longer period of time. They start their work early and typically hang out in a café or pub or have dinner with friends, post-work. In most cases they usually go straight from the office. So, if you see, they end up in the same pair of shoes 13-14 hours, every day.
What we at Flatheads found was, there is not a single brand that is focusing on this trend, specifically, styling with denim and offering comfort for 13-14 hours.
Yes, there are a lot of people getting into the formal or semi-formal space or in the sports and athleisure space, there are even some who are talking about skateboard culture but nobody is talking about a ‘work sneaker’ that you can wear for a long day, every day. We saw that as an opportunity. Right now people are substituting it with sports shoes, which is way too casual. We are saying, this work sneaker is a perfect fit for the current urban youth lifestyle.
Did your previous experience in a Fintech, help you in this journey?
Yes, definitely. Building a start-up from scratch and scaling it, raising VC funds and then in the end getting the acquisition done, that journey itself has been very valuable. We have built a good network of people including those who come on board and work with us, and people who invest. 
I was the CMO for our last venture and did the marketing and branding – creating a brand from scratch and marketing it, is something that I have carried over here as well. Since this is a touch and feel brand, there is a lot of trial you need to do in the early stages when the brand is not known.
Utkarsh on the other hand worked as the CPO at ShopClues, understanding how the website works, how we optimize performance in terms of sales, minimizing returns, etc. A lot of this intelligence that we gleaned earlier, we are able to use here.
What kind of a work-equation do you and Utkarsh have?
We have been together since our IIT Bombay days and we have worked together for the last 10 years, so in terms of understanding each other, our value systems and our wavelength, we are the same. 
Utkarsh has a design background and I have done strategy consulting, marketing etc., so he is the creative brain and I am the analytical one. We complement each other and bring different perspectives to the table. If we thought the same way, it would not be so much fun.
This is your second venture, any insights you would like to offer to budding founders?
Well, three things mainly:
One, be really passionate about what you want to do. When you are getting on the entrepreneurial journey, you have to be super self-motivated.
Second, it is a lonely journey. Every day you are trying to solve problems that could make or break your venture and so it is very high stress. Therefore, ideally, I feel, it is best to go with a co-founder or a business partner, who understands you and can pick you up on your off days.
Third, and most important, spend time on your “Idea.” I would strongly suggest understand what your customer wants. When you share your idea, the customer should go, “Oh my god! This is so cool, where were you for so long. Give me your product now and I will give you my money!” Customer validation is crucial. Some people think their idea is the best in the world but do not validate it with the end consumer. Instead, they go ahead and vet it with their friends, who may or may not give the right input because they don't want to discourage you. 
You have seen success with two great start-ups, when expanding what is it that you look for in a candidate?
In the early stage of the start-up we usually look for “Generalists.” People who don’t mind getting into multiple roles and are enthusiastic. Someone who is self-driven and a self-starter because no one has the time to follow up.
Another important value I look for is willingness to learn. In a start-up ecosystem you will make multiple mistakes, before you find what works, so someone who is a quick learner and doesn’t get stuck on their ideas. 
What made you opt for remote talent and FlexiBees and how has been your experience?
FlexiBees was started by three of our batchmates from IIM Bangalore and in the alumni, start-ups is a small world, so I had heard of them. I have been watching what they are doing and I feel what FlexiBees is trying to accomplish is awesome. I had also spoken to a few people who had used them and they gave great reviews.
I have been watching what they are doing and I feel what FlexiBees is trying to accomplish is awesome.
The need for us came when we were looking for someone in the Finance and Accounting department. It was a unique requirement because we did not have work for a full time hire and if we reached out to a regular CA or accountant, the onus was on us to give them all the data. We were willing to hire part-time talent. This was very similar to what FlexiBees was doing, so we thought why not reach out to them. So far, it has worked great for us. FlexiBees did the perfect hiring for us with Subha. She is more than qualified for what the role demanded, and since she has come on board, we have given her some additional responsibilities, as well. 
What plans do you have for Flatheads?
We want to create a brand which stands for casual all-day wear. It could be footwear now and become a lifestyle brand later. But we want to stay in the casual and urban lifestyle space. However, in the first 4-5 years of the company, we will continue to focus on footwear.
The idea is, so far, people have looked at footwear as a utility with the exception of women, who do look at it as a style product. But the niche of people looking at the shoe as completing your look is quite small. We want to establish the shoe as a lifestyle product - something that completes your look and is part of your style statement.
FlexiBees has provided companies, both startups and established players, with part-time talent for many projects and roles; across a variety of functions & skill-sets like Marketing, Digital Marketing, Public Relations, Investment Banking, Inside Sales, Business Development, Technology, Content Writing, Graphic Design, etc. All these companies have benefited by being able to hire high quality talent at pricing optimised only for the hours of work they need. Many of these have converted to ongoing roles (also part-time) with everyone being satisfied with the arrangement.

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