Nav Kaplish, Founder at Beam Global Services

In our regular #MyFirstMcJob series, high fliers remember when they were still bottom feeders

Headshot of Nav Kaplish

Hi Nav! Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Nav and I’m co-founder at Beam Global Services. We help large companies with their information security, risk and compliance needs. I’m also currently co-founding a real estate platform that will help international investors invest in Indian real-estate projects.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

Selling vibrating massage cushions in malls and department stores in various department stores like Debenhams and Pearson all over London.

How did you get that job?

I was doing my degree at Middlesex University and wanted something more challenging than working at Burger King or McDonald's or stacking shelves at the local Safeway. I went into a job centre and applied for a sales job. The interview was brisk, and I started the next day.

What did you have to do?

I’d dress up in a shirt and tie, go to Debenhams in Croydon or Pearsons in Wood Green and set up a little counter with three chairs, and three bright red massage cushions. The idea was to encourage potential customers to sit on the cushions, enjoy a nice little massage on their back with the vibrating cushion and encourage shoppers to buy them as presents. I started in November so it was the perfect time to encourage Christmas shopping. I’d say: “You must be tired. Why don't you come and have a seat?” and try to talk to them about all the benefits of buying a vibrating massage cushion.

Did it take much training?

The area manager spoke to me for 15 minutes and said: “This is the cushion. You need to make people sit down, tell them the benefits, and sell them for £20,” and that was it! I’d be standing up for 10 hours a day on £30 a day with four per cent commission on sales. Either the area sales manager thought I was a natural salesman or it was their policy to encourage a “sink or swim” approach for new sales hires. I had just moved to London from Mumbai at the age of 17 and had never before worked a day in my life. Combine that with all the other cultural differences and the change in weather – it is never cold in Mumbai – and the whole experience was a steep learning curve.

How long did you work there?

From November to January and then some weekends during the academic term. I must have done well as the management seemed very happy with my performance. The next summer I was even sent all expenses paid to Brighton for a few days, as part of a larger sales promotion at Churchill Square Shopping Centre.

Did anything funny happen?

People used to call them whoopie cushions and sit on them. Back then, I didn't really know what a whoopie cushion was and would just play along. Some shoppers had funny questions. I still remember a lady asking me “do the cushions talk to you?”.

What skills did you learn that you still use today?

I realised I love selling. Lots of people don't like having to put yourself out there for 10, 11 hours a day but I must admit I enjoyed the challenge. Talking all day, working out how to influence potential customers of different nationalities and backgrounds, listening to customer needs versus forcing your own product narrative was an excellent learning experience. What I learned was phenomenal for the 17-year-old me, but very intense and tiring. Whenever I was tired and nobody was around, I would sit down and try out the cushions for a while!

Are you still in contact with anyone you work with?

No. It was 23 years ago and we didn’t have social media tools back then to keep in constant touch.

Why is alumni important to you?

Alumni is incredibly important to the work I do now. As you progress in your career, you are hopefully doing bigger, better projects and roles. Your network is a huge part of your asset base. As you develop your technical and soft skills, it’s your network that opens doors for you. At Beam Global Services, I need to constantly sell consulting and IT services projects. The easiest way to do that is to pick up the phone or go and meet people I may have worked with 10, 15 years ago. The alumni network I have from my days at Deloitte and Ernst & Young is an incredibly useful asset to call upon.

What would happen if you tried selling vibrating cushions today?

There is something about consumer interaction at the ground level that is very enriching. You learn how people think about buying things, and how to talk to different folks based on their age, appearance, and where they come from. Now I’m in my 40s, it’s much easier to sell to people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. Empathy is an underrated ability in sales – knowing what the customer wants and really understanding their unsaid needs is way more important than talking non-stop about your shiny red toy. It was much harder when I was selling cushions to what seemed like old people in my teens.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

I would encourage myself to take the entrepreneurial plunge much earlier because you learn a lot doing things for yourself that you can't learn in a corporate, no matter how good the corporate is. I would say: even if it's a side project on something you know nothing about, just give it a shot and, and go for it. The earlier the better.



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