Building a business around your passion
By Chenelle Fernando
Kamaj Silva is a 35-year-old entrepreneur with a rather interesting and inspirational story. Born and bred in Sri Lanka, he schooled at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia and pursued his bachelor’s in England.
He holds a master’s in film from Canada and has had the privilege of working for some of the top entertainment companies there.
Today, he’s the owner and founder of Sneakertub, a new and innovative business which offers curated mystery packages to its customers.
Apart from this, he also manages Kitgrid, a monthly subscription service involving clothing which delivers ready-to-wear packages to its subscribers.
Sneakertub isn’t your everyday online shopping site or retail store. What is it and how does it work?
Sneakertub is the world’s first sneaker subscription service and works around the subscription model concept. So it’s basically a mystery package that arrives at your house every month.
There are various types of boxes including style boxes and women’s care boxes. It’s essentially a whole different business model.
You have your traditional retail, you have e-commerce, and then you have the subscription model. A subscription business model is where the customer signs up for a certain period of time, they pay every month, and they receive a mystery box every month. They basically have no idea as to what they’re getting.
Why Sneakertub and why this particular business model?
I’ve always been a fan of the subscription boxes and the model. It’s a popular revenue model in Canada, US and the UK as well. I’m a huge sneaker fan and I collect sneakers as well (his personal collection has over 300 sneakers!). So when I wanted to do my own thing, I wanted it to involve something I liked, so I chose sneakers. I basically took my favourite business model and favourite pastime and merged them.
At Sneakertub, a basic package starts at $ 50 where you’d only get a pair of sneakers. The $ 70 package offers you a pair of sneakers and a few other accessories.
We also have higher tier premium packages for like $ 150 where you would get two pairs of sneakers and a few other accessories. The highest tier packages are priced at $ 250 where you get all premium goods.
Sneakertub has grown since it initially started. What are some of the brands you offer through your business?
Puma, Nike, New Balance, Alpha Industries, Timberland, and Dr. Martens, just to name a few.
In total, we have around 25 leading brands.
With Sneakertub, every brand we work with is direct, meaning we have official accounts with them and we don’t buy from third parties. So we guarantee authenticity.
The subscription model is quite a fresh and innovative concept to most of us here in Sri Lanka. Is this what you’d say differentiates your business from the rest?
Yes, because right off the bat, the subscription model is quite different, especially in relation to this business where you mostly see retail and online traditional outlets.
Sneakertub was the pioneer in the sneaker space because there was no one before us and we were the first to vouch for the sneaker subscription service.
Apart from this, certain web stores use third-party dealers, but we are the only official, original company that has direct contact with these companies. Even certain other subscription boxes involving clothing use third-party dealers, so you might not even get the best deals because the collections might be two or three seasons old. Because of our connections with the brands, we have access to the best and most up-to-date deals.
Could you shed some light on the pros and cons of this model?
The subscription model requires very little money to start up and was pretty easy to manage as opposed to starting up a retail store where you would require a ton of inventory.
Since you know how many orders you get prior to doing the vouching, it almost guarantees your capital because the customer pays ahead of time. This helps massively.
In terms of the risks, it has a high churn rate. What this means is that the rate at which you lose your customers is faster than that of you receiving them. So it’s always important to keep an eye on this.
The sneaker world is mainly based on a brick-and-mortar model where you go out to the retail store and make your purchases. Even in the world of e-commerce, it can be challenging to prove their worth because all the accounts in the sneaker world belong to the same people and these people live by the brick-and-mortar model, so proving a new business model in this environment was challenging. I don’t think we have disrupted it yet, but I think we have definitely penetrated it by providing people with an alternative.
Increased competition is also a result of resorting to this model. Any new company can easily resort to this model against a traditional model, thus making it easier to replicate/copy.
You mentioned that this model guarantees the company its capital. That being said, what reassurance does it provide the customer that they will receive exactly what they paid for?
To be honest, people were a little more sceptical as there’s always the issue of the authenticity of the company. When it comes to sneakers, there are a lot of fakes out there. Legitimacy and trust are things we build with the progression of time. You provide the customer with authentic and genuine products and they come to trust you. Additionally, banking systems and regulations in countries such as Canada and US are deployed in manners that facilitate business models of this kind.
What was your experience implementing this model in Sri Lanka?
Being a Sri Lankan in a foreign country, the systems are bound to feel alien. The process of working hard and doing your own thing is always a challenge and it’s also a huge risk in comparison to the safer option of getting a salary at the end of the month.
Furthermore, trying to make it as a legit and authentic company in competition with sneaker outlets was definitely challenging, and as I mentioned before, people were sceptical as they need to know the company is authentic. So when you’re in the sneaker circle, you have to prove your authenticity, so this was a little tough for me.
Name some key attributes, in your opinion, an individual is required to possess in order to make it as an entrepreneur.
While I think I have got a long way to go, I think hard work is the number one thing when it comes to making it. I still put in 14-18 hours a day. I don’t believe in sleep, I think it’s overrated.
And also being patient is very important because most people get into business and expect results overnight.
Furthermore, most people start businesses with the intention of making money – which is also important – but this shouldn’t be the first thing you dream of. It’s about finding something you’re passionate about and building your business around it.
Photos: Indika Handuwala