After witnessing how his parents’ jobs were made redundant multiple times during their corporate career, Prashant Kumar knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur who could take the reins of his own destiny. More importantly, he is passionate about making an impact in his community with job creation. A graduate of the University of Birmingham, Prashant co-founded FREO Labs, a B2B brand, design and digital consultancy and shared his experience on this challenging but rewarding journey.
Briefly share with us your career path after graduating with an International Business degree from the University of Birmingham.
I worked with a food chain business for a while but decided to start my own venture early as I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and did not want to wait too long. I believed my journey with SIM and Birmingham had adequately prepared me mentally to begin my entrepreneurial journey.
My degree specialisation was international business with a focus on marketing. I decided to hone those very skills and apply them in the real world. I ‘hunted’ for a co-founder and was very lucky to find someone who had considerable experience in advertising and brand building. We worked on a project together for about a year and used that time to get to know each other and our working styles. Importantly, we were in the quest for a ‘meeting of the minds’ and I am glad to find that in him. In 2015, I co-founded a B2B brand, design and digital consultancy, FREO or Friends Representing Each Other.
What inspired you to start your business?
I have never been able to relate with working my entire life for someone else. I have always dreamt of doing something on my own and taking the reins of my own destiny.
I witnessed my parents who pursued corporate career paths being made redundant multiple times. The idea of being ‘expendable’ is clearly something I did not want.
Most importantly, the idea that I can create opportunities to make an impact especially the lives of others, was a key driving force. I was born and raised in India and have witnessed poverty and insufficiency first hand. I strongly believe that corporate enterprise has a very significant role in creating jobs to enable better livelihoods for people.
To date, I have played a small part in creating jobs in India and witnessed the betterment of the lives of the people I have hired. This has been my greatest achievement. It is still early days but the satisfaction these last 7 years has been immense and certainly fuels my desire to continue to grow as an entrepreneur.
The entrepreneurial path comes with more than average risks. What made you want to take the leap of faith?
The risks of being an entrepreneur, especially a first generation one like me, are real. No matter how much you prepare – mentally, physically, emotionally, and via education – it simply does not prepare you for the harsh realities of running your own business.
As an entrepreneur, you work 24/7, 365 days which means that your social life comes to a grinding halt. No entrepreneurial journey is devoid of failures. With FREO, dealing with failures in our initial years took a toll on us on multiple levels. For example, I did not draw a salary for many months. But it taught me the value of money, unlike any textbook or classroom can, and most importantly it has taken me on a life lesson worth learning. Working with tough clients can leave emotional scars but it has taught me resilience, grit, perseverance and given me the opportunity to gain mental and emotional strength faster than I would have ever been able to within the golden handcuffs of a corporate environment.
So, has it been worth it and will I continue? Absolutely, I would not change a single thing. Living on the edge has made me a better person. It has taken me on the wildest life journey that I could have ever asked for.
What are the key challenges when building your business. How did you overcome them?
Managing people and their emotions can be very frustrating at times. Over the years, I have learnt to be soft with people and hard on issues. Nevertheless, it is an art easier said than done.
Secondly, it will be raising funds and managing finance. Fund raising is the easy part as compared to managing stakeholders’ expectations, which is a much harder task. We have to manage their expectations by establishing and managing agreed goals.
Last but not least, staying true to your mission despite stakeholders such as investors, advisors and customers, who continually challenge the very core of your ideas and beliefs. Sometimes, you will wonder if you have to change. For me, I overcome this by trusting my inner voice and instinct.
Has your education in SIM-Birmingham benefitted you?
My time with SIM changed my life. I went from being a rote learner to learning by critical thinking and application. I also learnt to become an all-rounder. At the Toastmasters Club, their emphasis on developing soft skills made me better in every way imaginable. From project works like marketing campaigns as well as my participation at the Harvard National Model United Nations in Boston, I learnt entrepreneurial and business management skills. I picked up leadership skills as a student leader as well as through the SIM Scholars Network where I have to speak at outreach programmes.
I cannot imagine what life without SIM would be.
Is what you are doing currently aligned with what you envisioned as a student at SIM?
I recalled my scholarship interview with the then CEO, Mr KC Lee, where I was challenged to start my entrepreneurial journey after graduation. SIM gave me the chance to dream of becoming an entrepreneur. It equipped me with relevant competencies and bolstered me with the confidence and life skills I possess today.
SIM gave me the opportunities I needed to become the person I am today.
Posted online 10 Jul 2023.
Learn more about the programmes offered by University of Birmingham at SIM today.