DJ Navz and DJ Deepika are acclaimed artists in their own right, with a multitude of startup companies under their wings. From a full-fledged resto-bar to an entertainment company, they have not shied away from pursuing their passions. I had the pleasure of speaking to them about their diverse portfolio of business ventures. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
What inspired you to launch so many business ventures, and such a diverse range at that?
N: Once you find a problem and look to bring in a solution — that’s how an entrepreneurship comes around. We look at our hobbies and try to seek opportunities to add value to this. When we started ‘DJs for U’, there was no one who had established a full-fledged DJ-ing company. We tried to solve this issue, came up with a business plan, all the while linking it to things we were passionate about. For example, we wanted to bring in a quality resto-bar in the ECR stretch. Hub at ECR was a solution to this lacking night-life.
Let’s talk a bit about your businesses,
Your resto-bar, Hub at ECR, shot to fame when just four months after its launch, it was dubbed Chennai’s Best Continental Restaurant by Luxury Affairs. What has your journey been like, as restaurateurs?
N: We weren’t sure it would go well. In Chennai, it usually takes people time to get used to something new. In fact, during our first year of operation, we didn’t have an alcohol licence, despite the fact that Hub had, initially, been advertised as a resto-bar. We were insistent on providing good quality food to our customers, firstly. In terms of interior and quality food, we felt it was incredibly unique in Chennai’s market. As a result, we quickly gained a loyal customer base and in just a few months, we were given the title of Chennai’s Best Continental Restaurant.
It was only after this that we got our alcohol licence, which, of course, boosted our business exponentially.
Hub boasts of quite a diverse spread (of cuisines) — what prompted you to create such a menu?
N: You seem to have done your homework on us (laughs). We view the clients are our family. And we look for ways in which we can serve them better. It’s because of this that our menu is huge. We never want to disappoint people or turn them away because we don’t make something they like. Hub’s customers are quite regular and it’s like their second home. We wanted to ensure that they never got bored with our food.
In addition to the huge menu, we organise festivals as well, such as our lobster festival, where we serve large and beautiful lobsters to our customers.
Given how successful Hub at ECR has been, do you have any plans of expanding to other cities?
N: We would love to scale or franchise [Hub]. But since this is our first large-scale venture, we want to focus on Hub at ECR at the moment. We want to take our time to see all its pros and cons and be systematic about expanding any further. Our first priority has always been our guests, irrespective of the venture and that’s something we hope to continue.
While we’re still on the topic of food… why did you choose to expand into the confectionary business by launching ‘Cookies for U’?
D: ‘Cookies for U’ started after the onset of the pandemic. I have always loved cooking and since the pandemic, Hub as well as ‘DJs for U’ weren’t getting a lot of business and that’s when I thought — food will always be in demand. So I decided to turn to baking. I have a bachelors degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, so I felt more than equipped to start my own cookie business. Moreover, my baked goods have a ‘home-made touch’ to them as I use only organic ingredients. I also ensure that my cookies are appealing to children by making colourful, organic, multigrain cookies for them.
… do you plan on continuing this after the pandemic ends?
Oh yes, absolutely! We have cumulated a good audience already — from the ‘DJs for U’ members to Hub customers, we have clients who are eager to eat our cookies. We have started offering them as wedding return gifts too — so people can offer these instead of cakes or other sweets which might get spoilt. After the lockdown eases up, it will be a bit difficult for me to devote all my time to ‘Cookies for U’, and that’s why I roped in my best friend from college into this business as well.
You also have a venture called ‘The Shades of Wedding’? What is that all about?
D: ‘The Shades of Wedding’ is not a wedding planning business but it is more of a platform to elevate people who provide services in weddings such as the caterers, makeup artists, outfit designers, entertainment, etc. When planning a wedding, people usually check famous wedding pages on Instagram who tag well-known designers and wedding organizers. We noticed that it is often the same, famous wedding designers who get promoted on these Instagram pages. We felt that we should offer a platform to promote these start-up businesses since we had first-hand experience of what it’s like to launch a start-up.
We have launched our first season so far and are planning to launch the second season by February 2021.
Moving onto DJ-ing, it’s quite an unconventional career choice — how did you go about making this career decision?
N: I have always been passionate about music. When I started out, I wasn’t certain about learning DJ-ing. During college, when I first moved out, I was all alone and decided to learn a new art form to keep myself occupied — that’s when I chose DJ-ing. When I was younger, I used to go to parties with my mother and I always saw one person controlling the entire crowd with their music — I found that so fascinating, and so I decided to look into this in more detail! It might not be a conventionally musical instrument but you can create and recreate music while entertaining people — that’s a fact.
When I was sure that this is what I wanted to do, I reached out to DJ Cave, learnt under his guidance and that’s how it all started.
D: My reason was a bit similar to Navz’s. I have always been passionate about music — I even wanted to learn how to play the drums when I was younger. When I met Naveen, I attended all of his shows and events and found myself enjoying them. After marriage, he asked me if I wanted to try DJ-ing because he felt that I was just as passionate about music as he was. I decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised when it got off to a great start. So, four years ago, in 2016, was when I started out as a DJ.
What pushed you to become “The Couple DJ”?
D: DJ Navz started his DJ career in 2010 and I started in 2016. I initially started out as a part of “The Couple DJ” and as I gained confidence in my craft, I launched myself as a female DJ — the only female DJ in Chennai who plays every Wednesday (that is, ‘Ladies Night’).
We continued to play as “The Couple DJ” after this as most wedding parties feel more comfortable with a couple, as opposed to a single DJ, as it’s a family event. It gives us great recognition as well, we have branded ourselves as “The Couple DJ” and we are incredibly sought after, especially in the wedding scenes.
How was it for you to navigate your career in a male-dominated field such as DJ-ing?
D: Yes, you’re absolutely right. DJ-ing is a very male-dominated field, especially in Chennai which has around 5000 male DJs and only a handful of female DJs. In fact, at an event held by Sound Room, a DJ academy, I was the only female DJ present there!
I have always wanted to do something unique and stand out from the crowd. When I found out that there weren’t any (regularly playing) female DJs from Chennai, I knew that I had to prove myself in this field.
Any and all criticism I faced, as a part of “The Couple DJ” or even as a solo artist only pushed me to prove myself even further.
Could you tell me a bit more about ‘DJs for U’?
D: ‘DJs for U’ is actually our first baby. (laughs) We have put a lot of time and effort into it; it wasn’t a spontaneous idea [like ‘Cookies for U’]. It was DJ Navz’s dream to have such an establishment and that’s how we came up with the idea for ‘DJs for U’; we wanted to give the people the best entertainment possible.
We usually played around 4 to 5 weddings per month and one day, we got the opportunity to host a stall in a wedding fair. We were the only entertainment stall in a sea of photographers and designers. People were quite fascinated by us and our brand and the only promotional video we had was of us performing at a wedding — but that seemed to be more than enough. We gained around 120 clients just at that fair and that’s how business for us, at ‘DJs for U’, boomed.
As opposed to other DJs who have limited availability, at ‘DJs for U’, we train and recruit DJs from all over Chennai, who then work with us to provide the best wedding entertainment in the city.
If the two of you had to choose between being a club DJ or a wedding DJ, which would you prefer?
N: I would have to choose wedding DJ. I feel that there is nothing better than playing in one of the most special occasions in someone’s life and if I can help make that day a good one, there is nothing like it!
D: I would choose club DJ. I quite enjoy the monopoly I have over choosing the songs I play as a club DJ. You definitely don’t get to do that at weddings!
You have also launched ‘Music for All’, with the goal of providing music access to 1 million people by 2023, and aim to help people play, perform and produce music through this. Could you elaborate a bit more on that?
N: Whatever we do, we do for other people. The music industry has given us a lot. And what are we going to giveback? And how? The only way to do this is to ensure that every person who witnesses DJ-ing considers learning it.
Music is the only thing which activates both sides of your brain while increasing concentration, creativity and hand and eye coordination. Our target audience is students and older people. It’s well known that musically inclined students do well in day to day life. Even older people who are stressed out due to work are able to use music to relax.
Everyone loves listening to music — but why are people not that interested in playing it? There are two main reasons for this — the cost of learning how to play an instrument and secondly, the time it takes to master said instrument. I felt DJ-ing would be the perfect solution to overcoming these challenges.
That is why I decided to launch a platform, Mobile DJ, which allows you to learn how to DJ in just 7 days! We not only teach students how to mix tracks but also how to produce Bollywood and commercial tracks.
We have also been approached by a school who are open to promoting us among their students. In fact the National Education Policy (NEP) is also making music a part of the student syllabus, which I think is a great opportunity to learn a futuristic instrument through DJ-ing.
Our aim is to make music a part of everyone’s daily lives.
It’s often said that you shouldn’t mix relationships with business — has this thought ever posed a hindrance to becoming, as you like to call it, ‘couplepreneurs’?
N: A lot of people have asked us this, actually. Business should never ruin relationships, but the risk of that happening always exists. I think balance and mutual respect is very important — you have to define your individual work processes and respect the other person’s space.
D: Yes, absolutely. Mutual respect between partners is very important.
When it comes to business, hardships are inevitable. Is there any such instance which stands out for you? And how did you overcome it?
N: Every business has a period of 6 to 10 months when it is still finding itself and its client base. There’s always a learning phase — that’s inevitable. But it is your determination and passion for your business as well as a good support system which will push you forward.
Do you have any future plans for expansion into other businesses?
N: One thing we are very keen on is converting peoples’ passion into profession. We want to give back to the community and help them hone in on their talents. We want to help them inculcate in themselves a business sense and brand awareness, to help them forward their own careers. Through ‘DJs for U’, we want to create a good balance between demand and supply of entertainment. ‘Music for All’ on the other hand will help nurture creativity within children and adults, alike.
D: Of course, we could also have other brands popping up, just like ‘Cookie for U’ did!
You can check out their various Instagram pages to find out more about them!