SME Spotlight

Siblings in business: Surekha and Aaghir Yadav

The division of labour in Creative Insurgence is clear, Ms Yadav does digital and content creation, and Web design. Everything else is handled by Mr Yadav and his team.
The division of labour in Creative Insurgence is clear, Ms Yadav does digital and content creation, and Web design. Everything else is handled by Mr Yadav and his team.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

It can be a make-or-break situation when running a business with family, but siblings Surekha and Aaghir Yadav, who run marketing agency Creative Insurgence, make it work. They tell Chia Yan Min how they do it, in the final instalment of a four-part series

Q: What was your first business venture?

Aaghir: My first venture was in retail. After graduating from school, I went straight into selling beachwear.

This was before the era of budget airlines, when shopping was a big thing in Singapore and going into retail was a lucrative business.

I realised that people were willing to pay a premium for bikinis - for instance, it was common to spend more than $100 each for a bikini top and bottom.

At the time there was only one swimwear store here, located in Wisma Atria, and it was very successful. I knew some women who would save up just to buy their swimwear.

BOTTOM-LINE DRIVEN

The market has shifted over time. Clients became less interested in the content of the shows, and more focused on the ability to translate these events into sales.

AAGHIR YADAV

So I started a brand called Buttcheeks and we sold beachwear at two stores located in The Heeren and The Cathay.

I figured we're a tropical country, so why not?

Q: How did the marketing business start?

Aaghir: It was born out of the fashion shows I started doing as part of the marketing for my retail business.

I started getting requests to do fashion shows at events and exhibitions. The exhibition circuit was huge back then.

At first, I did these shows free to market the Buttcheeks brand. After a while, I didn't want to do them free any more, because every show destroys products and they can no longer be sold afterwards.

So we started charging, and it became a very lucrative business. I also realised that I was better at marketing the lifestyle than just the swimwear.

I set up Creative Insurgence in 2010, two years after we started doing fashion shows to market the stores.

Over time it became less about the shows and more about marketing a lifestyle. The stores have since ceased their operations.

Q: How did Surekha get involved in the business?

Surekha: I used to be a journalist, and took a break from work to do a master's in journalism at Columbia University.

Shortly after that, I developed health issues and couldn't work.

While I was undergoing treatment, my mother suggested that I follow my brother into work once or twice a week, just to get out of the house. So I helped out by writing press releases and website copy. At that point, I had always imagined that after my treatment ended, I would go back to being a journalist.

But I started to really enjoy the work, and two days a week increased to five days a week. I realised I didn't want to leave.

My skills lie in producing digital content, so I spun off a sister company - pun intended - called Social Insurgence, which focuses on digital marketing. This was about two to three years ago.

Q: How has the business evolved over the years?

Aaghir: The market has shifted over time. Clients became less interested in the content of the shows, and more focused on the ability to translate these events into sales.

We still do fashion shows, but through a different company. Creative Insurgence is now entirely a marketing agency, and we run campaigns across different platforms for our clients.

We also own some events - our biggest one involves a series of beachside fashion shows and is broadcast across Asia.

We have also set up a few other companies under the group. One is called Vanilla Luxury and it does marketing and fashion shows for the high-end market.

Another of our companies manages deejays, influencers and models. We have 39 of them signed to us.

We also have a public relations arm and are looking at setting up a sports marketing firm.

Q: How is work divided between the two of you?

Surekha: The division of work between us is quite clear - I do digital and content creation, and also cover Web design. Everything else is handled by my brother and his team.

Sometimes, there's an overlap, for instance, when there's a digital budget in a client's campaign.

We offer clients the whole package. For instance, a client who approaches us for a digital campaign might want to set up a physical booth after the campaign ends, and we can also do that.

Q: What is it like being siblings in business together?

Surekha: Many of the other company directors are long-time friends of ours, and it's fun to go to work every day with family and friends.

But it also means we fight a lot, and when that happens, there's no diplomacy involved at all.

It's mostly, "You're an idiot and I think you're wrong." We have huge fights and we scream at each other, but, by the end of the day, we would usually have reconciled.

When my brother and I can't agree on an issue and have reached an impasse, our parents are the main mediators.

We both present our case, and they advise us. We're lucky to have pretty cool parents.

Q: How big is the company and what sort of presence do you have outside Singapore?

Aaghir: We have 24 staff in Singapore housed in our Little India office, eight in Sri Lanka and two in Jakarta.

We're also looking to set up an office in Bangkok - a client there has hired us for a digital campaign, but next year they want us to start building marketing partnerships for them.

We're also exploring Kuala Lumpur.

Q: How much has revenue grown over the years?

Aaghir: We aim to grow sales by about 20 per cent a year. It's gruelling - we've been managing about 15 to 20 per cent.

But our business doesn't involve physical bricks and mortar, and each project can increase our turnover very significantly

We're now trying to bring in more clients with a presence across South-east Asia, so we can assist with their marketing across the region instead of just doing country-centric marketing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline ''It's fun to go to work every day with family... but we fight a lot''. Print Edition | Subscribe