Interview with the founder of Wrist-Band.com.
By Raif Karerat
WASHINGTON, DC: Azim Makanojiya was born in Mumbai, India and raised in Houston, Texas. When he founded Wrist-Band.com, he was a student at the University of Houston who also helped financially support his family. Makanojiya may have often struggled to make ends meet, but after just one year of operation his company had pulled in over $6.9 million. The year 2011 saw Wrist-Band.com’s induction into the prestigious Inc. 500, debuting at a lofty number 31, and the company continues to be one of Houston’s quickest growing businesses entities.
Azim’s father, Amirbanu Makanojiya, previously emigrated to the United States in 1984. Azim and his mother, Karimali, initially remained in India but made the journey to Houston two years later, when Azim was just a year old. Since then, Azim’s father has worked in the retail grocery industry while his mother has kept busy as the family matriarch and homemaker.
In an email interview to The American Bazaar, Azim Makanojiya dwelt on his phenomenal success story. Excerpts from the interview:
When you first founded Wrist-Band.com, did you truly envision it would be as successful as it is today?
Wrist-Band.com was founded as a school business project that my friends and I came up with. We never had envisioned it to be as big as what we currently are.
What was it about silicone wrist bands that caught your attention as a viable product worth investing in?
Silicone wristbands was a product at that time which could only be made in China. Also, the idea of wearing a silicone wristband was at its peak around the year 2008. That is what really got us interested in the product. We confirmed silicone wristbands was a viable product to pursue as a business when we discovered the demand of the product through Google traffic. There was a significant amount of traffic was for the keyword silicone wristbands.
What is your day to day routine like?
My work day starts at eight and ends at five. All of the partners meet daily and have the same drive to pursue bigger and greater things. We routinely work to improve the product line and ordering process. We are always developing our site to stay ahead of competition.
You’ve called your company a technology company as opposed to a manufacturing company. Can you elaborate on that?
Our expertise is not in manufacturing even though we own our own factory in China. Our core expertise is in the technology side. We focus most of our energy on providing a platform for our customers to customize their products as easily as possible. We created a way to streamline the entire customization and logistics process in a way where there is a minimal friction in ordering customized products.
Furthermore, you’ve stated that no one at Wrist-Band.com physically touches the products. Where are the bracelets produced?
The bracelets are produced in our factory in China which we have strategically located three miles away from the international airport to expedite the delivery of our products. Most of our customer’s products are delivered in one business day from China to the US.
One could argue that Livestrong bracelets pioneered the silicone bracelet market in the name of philanthropy. You’ve taken that concept and put a capitalistic spin on it. Has there been any backlash from non-profits?
I have never come across any backlash in regards to the capitalistic approach we have taken in customizing wristbands. Honestly, we have received much praise. When Livestrong was producing wristbands, it was impossible for an average individual to order their custom wristbands due to the cost of manufacturing. At that time in 2006, it cost over $1000 to just produce a mold to create 1000 wristbands. We have pioneered a way to give the customization opportunity to the general public; to create one wristband for as low as $2. This advancement in technology and hours of R&D has given millions of people and organizations the ability to raise over billions of dollars for their personal ventures, charities or various causes. Before Wrist-band.com, all of this was not possible. In all honestly, I believe it has been a win-win situation for both sides.
Do bracelet orders tend to shift with current events and hot topics?
Absolutely. We will see a huge demand in orders when there is a huge event that is coming up, for example a presidential election. We will see demand spike if there is a national catastrophe such as 9/11 and the earthquake in Haiti. In most recent times we have seen a huge spike in the orders of wristbands for Peshawar, Pakistan attacks. Wrist-Band.com has always supported the public when they order for causes such as the attacks in Peshawar, the earthquakes in Haiti and other events that effect the public in a positive or negative way by providing a percentage of free wristbands and expedited services.
You’ve said that your company began as a two man team. What is the current size of your staff?
Our current staff is 27 call center reps and 42 factory employees.
Switching gears for a moment– you are the sole investor in Burpy, a grocery delivery service, and also serve as the primary advisor. Can you tell us more about your endeavors in the food delivery sector?
The next big thing I believe will be in instant gratification. More specifically, in the food delivery business. In the recent years we have seem many companies such as Amazon, eBay, and Google follow this new idea of product and grocery delivery to your door step. This was a project which I took great pride in and had a talented team of five college UT students develop this product from group up. Burpy basically had one vision; to provide grocery delivery to customers as fast as 1 hour. It has come a long way and now serves over 200 customers daily in the Austin area alone. Burpy partners will local grocery stores in the local area such as HEB, Kroger, Wal-Mart and other vendors to provide its large inventory of 40,000 SKUs of grocery item for customers to order.
Again, this company took the basic root from wrist-band.com, which was to create a technology that provided customers the ease of ordering their groceries directly from the site and have it delivered in one hour. Burpy has been a great success with a vision of growing to ten more cities in the next six months.
Are the products more popular amongst male or female demographics?
We have never seen a trend in products more favorable to male versus female. Our demographics, if I had to estimate, would be fifty-fifty; 30 percent being business/government and 70 percent being direct consumer related orders.
Do you have an international client base? Do you plan to expand internationally, such as India perhaps?
We are in process of doing a complete overhaul of our site and part of that overhaul will be to launch sites that will cater to more of the worldwide audience. Yes, that will also include India.
What was your time in college like? Do you believe college is a prerequisite for success considering what you’ve achieved so early on in your career?
For me, college was not the traditional college life. I never left home to go out of city or state for school. I graduated from University of Houston. I had the opportunity to attend out of state colleges however due to my business growing, I made the decision to stay back and focus on my business. But I have no regrets.
I don’t think my parents would like saying this but I personally don’t think college is a prerequisite to success. What I firmly believe is that having to work in real world jobs in early life gives you great understanding of how business works. I think the times I worked at fast food restaurants and grocery chains has given me a better understanding and the drive to be successful in my business.
Do you have any ideas that you are looking to launch in the near future?
There are very cool things that we will be launching, very cool products. All I can say now is stay tuned!