Some business plans are complex; some are simple. In the simple category, there is the making of customized silicone wristbands and bracelets and marketing them on a customer-friendly Web site at competitive price points.
That’s the idea that led Azim Makanojiya, a computer-engineering graduate of the University of Houston, to start a silicone wristband manufacturing operation out of his bedroom, then his garage — and make it a million dollar company and one of the largest online sellers of silicone wristbands in North America.
The Indian American entrepreneur and company CEO told India-West that he launched Houston-based Wrist-band.com with co-founder Zishan Momin about six years ago.
Makanojiya said the idea came after he saw bracelets and wristbands on display at a trade show in China.
“I was amazed by how much one could customize the product," he said. “There was not a single site in the U.S. where individuals could tailor bands online, so I created a site that gave the customer the freedom to decorate a band any way they liked.”
The Livestrong Foundation (formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation — founded by professional cyclist Lance Armstrong) popularized the practice of wearing wristbands to show support for cancer victims.
Now, high schools, universities, businesses and other entities use customized wristbands, sometimes ordering in huge quantities, to bring attention to a myriad of campaigns and causes.
Makanojiya said one key to the company’s success was to “start small” and not get overextended in hiring or expenditures.
Through Google’s AdWords, the two-man team initially researched anticipated marketing niches for the business.
He said it was obvious that he needed to have the wristbands made in China, due to the low production cost of silicone there, relative to the expense of having them made elsewhere.
Luck came into play, Makanojiya admitted.
He and his co-founder don’t speak Chinese, so give and take about mouldings, tooling and other specifications were done through e-mails and Skype. There were communication snafus, “but trust grew progressively at every step. We were lucky,” he told India-West.
Before the platform was fully developed, the co-founders took orders over the phone, jotting them down on order sheets and sending the orders to China every night.
A key move was to link up the supply chain through Federal Express, so that shipping is handled seamlessly from manufacturer directly to customers.
From these modest beginnings, the company posted annual revenue of about $6.9 million at the end of 2010.
“The only reason that this could happen at a very fast pace, from my point of view, was because we had the drive," Makanojiya said.
In 2011, wrist-band.com was named one of Inc. magazine’s fastest growing 500 companies in the U.S., placing 31st.
About 30% of the company’s sales are direct to consumers, which include schools, graduation events, etc. About 70% are corporate clients, including Google, Ford, MTV, Coca-Cola and many others, Makanojiya said.
“The biggest thing is how we distinguish ourselves. We provide a guaranteed delivery date” and 24/7 phone support, he added.
“The interesting part of our company is that we are not a manufacturing company. We tell everyone that we make wristbands but the beauty of our company is we are a technology company.”
“We don’t have a single equipment that touches the product. If you order a product from us, we don't touch it," Makanojiya said. "We’re a technology company and we’re basically providing that portal for you to place your order and get your products seamlessly.”