Business success to a tee

Rashi Panjabi is a woman with a plan. Having just launched her second business, the entrepreneur has her sights set on building a diverse portfolio
Panjabi hopes to grow Inexco Group to include more businesses
By Neil King
Wed 05 Jun 2013 09:51 AM

Entrepreneurialism can sometimes be a waiting game. Patience is most definitely a virtue, especially when it comes to implementing a winning idea. But to wait nine years is an exercise in true self-control and belief in a project.

Director of Inexco Group, Rashi Panjabi, found herself having to do just that – waiting. Having first thought of her idea of bringing mini golf to Dubai while studying in America in 2004, it has taken her the best part of a decade turn it into reality, with Tee & Putt opening in Wafi Mall in May.

In the meantime Panjabi acquired an MBA, worked with start-up businesses in Chicago, helped develop her father’s construction business, founded an online library in Dubai, and become a trainer in mind mapping.

But it is Tee & Putt which has proved correct the Indian-born, Dubai-bred businesswoman’s assertion that if an idea is good, then it’s worth waiting for.

“If you have a vision you can make it happen,” says Panjabi.

“Just don’t give up. I first had this mini golf idea in 2004 and now it’s 2013. It’s been a long time but I stuck with it and now that vision has become a reality.”

Taking inspiration from her surroundings while in the USA, Panjabi realised that a popular pastime among her friendship group was missing from Dubai, and so the idea for Tee & Putt was born.

“There was a mini golf course near our college, about fifteen minutes away. We went as a group all the time and when I was back in Dubai during the summer break, I missed it.

“When I went back to the USA I did some basic research and found there were a few mini golf courses in the UAE but mainly outside and nothing like the ones in the USA. So I started to put a plan together.

“I really like mini golf with a theme element, and I wanted to bring that here to Dubai. That was in 2004. I went and contacted a few companies to establish how I could bring the idea to Dubai. I found a company in Wisconsin and they were amazing. They’d done many courses and had exported them to different parts of the world. I didn’t want a company in Dubai to make it because they wouldn’t have had the right experience.

“I put the idea on hold until after I had completed my MBA, and then it took a back seat. Later, when the time was right, I started contacting malls. Wafi was perfect for us and were really helpful. They wanted something new for families, so it kind of just happened! As soon as we agreed something with Wafi, I went straight back to the company in the USA, so many years later, saying I’m ready now.”

Tee & Putt is the first 18-hole indoor mini golf course in Dubai, and Panjabi is quick to praise her collaborators at Wafi and in the USA, saying she “really needed that support from every angle”.

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The glow-in-the-dark, space themed course is accompanied by a party room which can be hired out for various events, and tailored to whatever needs the customer may have.

And Panjabi is hopeful that there will be few teething problems now the concept is up and running.

“It’s hopefully going to be a smooth operation,” she says. “There aren’t too many electronics that can fail, and we’ve got a really good team here.

“Also, the courses can be changed about and put together in different ways so that it’s not always the same, so hopefully that will keep people interested. Especially when we host tournaments, which is something we plan to do regularly.”

Having studied entrepreneurship at college, Panjabi admits to having always been keen to start her own businesses.

“It’s possibly from way back, due to my family background,” she suggests. “My dad had a construction business and I worked with him before branching out into my own ideas.

“My undergraduate degree covered major aspects of business which really helped me with my start-up. It helped me put theory into practice. But in reality theory doesn’t always help you  - there are many, many hitches you don’t anticipate. You have to plan as much as you can, but you sometimes have to think on your feet.

“It’s not always a smooth ride, being an entrepreneur. Being successful is not easy, and you have to work hard at it, but I accept the challenge. We voluntarily choose this work. I did have the opportunity to do other things, but I wanted to do something different in Dubai – something that makes life better for people here.”

She also explains that Tee & Putt benefitted from lessons she learned with her first business, Reader’s Paradise, saying: “The second business is easier because you have experience, contacts and finances. The first is much harder because you’re starting from scratch.”

Reader’s Paradise is an online library for people living in the UAE, delivering books to your door and making reading more accessible to people with busy lifestyles.

“I really liked books growing up, and loved reading,” says Panjabi.

“There aren’t really any libraries in Dubai. You can buy books but you can’t loan them out, and I wanted to give that to people over here. That’s how Reader’s Paradise evolved. People’s lifestyle here doesn’t always allow them the time to pick books up, so we deliver to them.

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“If parents don’t read, then children don’t read, and I think it’s so important that they do. I wanted to do Reader’s Paradise to enhance reading opportunities.”

Securing tie-ups with corporate companies as well as numerous schools, Reader’s Paradise has more than 600 members, having only set up a year ago.

And the reading material is varied.

“We have people reading business management books, self help books, nursery level books – all sorts of things,” says Panjabi. “We’re really happy to see that people are reading – very happy indeed. People were skeptical at first that there wouldn’t be enough interest, but when people have the opportunity, they want to read.  So we give them the opportunity.

“Obviously there is plenty of room to expand and cover a bigger area. When and how, we’re not quite sure yet, but we do plan to. There is interest from places we don’t yet deliver to, so hopefully we can reach those places.”

Not content to stop there, Panjabi’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to find out about mind mapping.

Attending a course to help with her own workload, she liked the idea so much that she ended up training to become a trainer, helping others get their busy lives in order.

Mind mapping is the use of diagrams to visually outline and organise information, ideas, plans, tasks or concepts.

Panjabi found out about the technique when she was introduced to author, educator, and mind mapping expert, Tony Buzan.

“I went to his workshop and fell in love with the idea,” she says. “I needed to mind map. I had a baby who was one year old, and was managing a business, and it was getting out of control. So it happened at the right time.

“It’s about planning, organising thoughts, and so on. I started doing it for myself and didn’t really think about becoming an instructor, but then I realised I was working with kids in reading, working with kids in entertainment, and that this could also fit the bill by helping other parents in their lives, and helping them to mind map with their children.

“Some schools are actually doing it, and it can be great for study, for exams, and also in business. It can help companies, business and government departments really grow.”

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Having taken her trainer’s course, and receiving an accreditation, Panjabi now works with her partner Nikita Mehta in giving workshops across Dubai.

And it continues to give structure to her own life.

“I get up in the morning and make a mind map of everything I want to do that day. A big part of that is making sure I have time with my daughter at the end of the day. At weekends I try not to think about work, but instead be a mother. It’s about balance and mind mapping really helps with that.”

Balance is certainly something Panjabi increasingly needs to find, as she eyes a future with even more businesses under her wing.

She plans for her umbrella company, Inexco Group,  to have a much broader portfolio, and has already set wheels in motion for more business ideas.

“The goal is to have a few companies,” she says. “Retail, F&B, and maybe some other things. I really do want to grow Inexco, but I don’t want to focus on too many things at once. Tee & Putt has to run without my daily involvement before I can look at something new.

“I have got ideas in mind already, and am looking into those, but I prefer to set up one thing at a time before moving on to the next. I don’t want to move too fast – I want to make sure I’m comfortable rather than going fast and risking it all.”

Her philosophy is a clear one when it comes to business. She asserts that the customers have to receive the best possible service – something on which she is unwilling to compromise.

“The customer has to be happy with what they receive. Customer service is what it’s all about. They are paying you for something. If you take their money, you need them to feel it’s worth it.”

And as for the future, she only has eyes for one location.

“I love Dubai. I hope to make a successful  entrepreneurial business in Dubai, I really love living here.

“This is my start. A few years down the line I want to still be here. This is home for me and I want to do as much as I can to give back to Dubai. I want to give it all I can.”

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