INTERVIEW WITH A YOUNG INNOVATOR, THINKER AND ENTREPRENEUR
Today’s interview is with the Founder & CEO of C&M Group. At age 15, this young change-maker started a business called STR which got a valuation of 6 million dollars.
For the benefit of readers, can you give us a summary of your background? Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Chirag Kulkarni. I’m an innovator, thinker, and entrepreneur. I grew up in the Detroit area, and later moved to Kansas City, where I started STR, a large-scale tennis racquet company focused on B2C and B2B operations, which received a valuation of 6 million dollars. After the experience of helping some of my fellow entrepreneurs with their businesses, I started C&M Group to offer entrepreneurial consulting.
Tell us about C&M Group.
C&M Group is a strategy consulting and R&D firm that is headquartered in Boston, MA. C&M Group prides itself on being an entrepreneurial firm, dedicated to increasing the bottom line of businesses ranging from startups to fortune 500’s. Our motto is “entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs” meaning we are entrepreneurs that are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs with their venture.
Who are your clients and what’s the value you provide to them?
The clients we work with range from small startups that need help with business development, to large fortune 500 companies that need more help with R&D before products are unleashed.
Prior to C&M Group, you founded STR. What is STR all about and tell how it got a valuation of 6million dollars plus why you sold the companies assets.
STR was a company that focused primarily on tennis racquet stringing. When I first started playing tennis, I would spend close to 50 dollars per week on racquet stringing, and it was a huge financial burden on me. I was able to figure out a low cost approach to racquet stringing, and replicate that throughout the market.
The 6 million dollars valuation was based on current revenues and profits, as well as some of the major contacts and partnerships we had, which altogether valued us as a company at 6 million dollars.
At a point, tennis was a huge passion of mine, but I later realized that tennis racquet stringing was tedious, and I lacked the passion necessary…… Having the opportunity to go to college meant that I would have to run STR from Boston, which would have been an operational and logistic nightmare.
How do you think young people can start highly successful and profitability companies?
I think people think they need to be the next Instagram or Facebook to create value. However I think the most profitable and successful companies start out with tweaking an existing problem in the market, and finding a societal as well as a financial solution to the problem. My advice to any person that wants to be an entrepreneur is to learn to critically analyze and assess all scenarios, and be open to trying new things. Generally, it’s those people that are lifelong learners, people who are hungry to learn, and are always looking to improve themselves that create the most successful companies of value.
Where did the idea for C&M Group originate?
C&M started out with just me consulting for fun, while working on my venture, STR. After attending a conference in Boston, MA, many of my mentors were telling me that it’s great to help people out. They realized that I have the potential to build a career out of consulting- that was how C&M was born.
Where have you had the greatest success with your marketing efforts to date?
Being such a unique business model, and by also being young, a lot of the traditional marketing techniques can sometimes be ineffective to get clients. My suggestions are to continue to reach out, and talk to everyone you can about not only their business and ideas, but also your business. You would be surprised as to how many people are willing to come forth and help out entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs. Many times, we are afraid to reach into our networks, but I have found that is the best place to start. Once your firm has success with clients, you can use the traditional marketing techniques to gain more clients. The last suggestion I would give is creating partnerships with companies that are the best at what they do. For example, if you offer strategy, don’t try and do web development, social media marketing, and software development. Learn to partner with other companies and help your clients to the fullest.
Have you faced any difficult business decisions? What did you find helpful in making the decision?
In 2013, we received talks of a merger from companies, specifically companies that offered services that we did not offer, which made sense. The deal ended up being a 20 million dollar equity deal. I have to admit, its difficult saying no to large sums of money, but for me, it ultimately came down to the vision of the company we were merging with, their values, and the say I would have in the merged organization. One thing that helped my decision was to talk to some of my entrepreneurial colleagues, and business mentors, as well as people that know me best.
How did you get your first job as a consultant?
My first job as a consultant started at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) in Overland Park, KS. In our global business class, we had an experience of working hands on with a client, and I was the head project manager. I learned so many things from business development, strategic planning, and client interaction. I loved working with the client because I realized that a lot of consulting is about business, but is also about people. Every since then, I began consulting.
What do you like best about what you do?
I think the most rewarding aspect about consulting in general is seeing a company go from point A to point B, and seeing where they first started and where they are because of your advice. I feel that I am able to help entrepreneurs increase their bottom line, and truly make them feel as if I am working with them, rather for them. My favorite feeling is getting of the phone with an entrepreneur that needs direction and seeing their confidence shoot through the roof.
What inspires you everyday?
What truly inspires me is to really discover, and change an industry. My goal for C&M Group has been to not only be an entrepreneurial minded consulting group, but to offer a Silicon Valley tech company feels for management consulting. My goal at C&M is to truly revolutionize the traditional way consulting is practiced, and show people that entrepreneurs can truly be better than MBA’s when it comes to advice, especially in startups.
What personal qualities are necessary for someone in your kind of business to thrive?
Anyone that is looking to create value, and disrupt an industry really needs to have the passion, dedication, and self sacrifice to be successful. As entrepreneurs, we tend to have a very fixed and set view on our dreams, but when crisis arrives, we need to learn to pivot accordingly, something that I tend to struggle with. I would say having a balance between naivety and confidence is necessary to show people that you are ready to fail and learn from your mistakes, but are dedicated to eliminate any barriers, specifically people that may come in your way. Stop worrying about people that might have more experience than you, and start putting together a plan so that you will exceed what your goals were initially.
Where do you see yourself in the 5 years?
My dream is to continue growing C&M Group into a world class, one stop shop for any business looking for sound, strategic advice on entrepreneurial minded ventures.
What do you think about Under35CEO.co?
The beautiful thing about Under35CEO.co is the strong network, and empowerment you get when reading about people that are working as hard as you are. Being young, you sometimes become lonely when your friends are doing things other than starting companies, but having such a strong network such as Under35CEO.co helps you eliminate that barrier, and show you that there are people working just as hard if not harder to achieve your dreams.
Any last words of advice to prospective consultants?
My advice would be to do your due diligence regarding the industry itself, rather than talking and working with consulting projects in the industries you are interested in/available or reading books such as The McKinsey Way, or Million Dollar Consulting. Any kind of opportunity to jump into the field will give you that much more of an idea as to what industry you want to disrupt, or see the inefficiencies in businesses.
Are you a young entrepreneur under the age of 35 with an interesting story of success (or failure)? If yes, then the Under35CEO community has something to learn from you.
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