Interview with Alumna Zeenia Percy Master ’08 founder of Xenia Hospitality Solutions LLP
Zeenia Percy Master comes from a business family, but she still had a lot to learn when she started her own event management agency and discovered some of the “untold horrors” of the business.
After graduating from Glion in 2008, Zeenia got into the entertainment industry in a round-about way and ended up launching her company, Xenia Hospitality Solutions LLP and a venue, Yiamas: The Experimental Space.
Since then, her company has grown to become one of India’s top 25 emerging wedding planning agencies, winning her coverage in the news and a steady stream of picky brides and grooms who want the best for their special day.
For the Glion blog, Zeenia shares her insights into the challenges and perks of running an event management agency.
Founded on the definition of hospitality
“Xenia” is the Greek concept of hospitality, Zeenia explains. “The Greeks believed that generosity and courtesy should be shown to those who are our guests. Literally translated, Xenia means “guest-friendship,” and Xenia Hospitality Solutions functions on these basic but simple guidelines.
“We are determined to have long term relationships by delivering a service par excellence within the budget they have set. We understand how important an event is to our clients. To share it with people means that moment is even more important, so it is very important to us.
We understand that the wedding days is one of the most important days in a person’s life, and there are many things that can be forgotten, or that can go wrong. So we offer an all-inclusive service: you have just one number on speed dial. That is why we say “Let Us invite you to your own wedding!”
In addition to weddings, Xenia Hospitality Solutions handles a plethora of events from private parties at home to large corporate events and weddings. Every event – no matter how big or small – receives the same attention to detail. Zeenia also has a venue, which is called Yiamas: The Experimental Space. It’s a venue situated in the heart of the commercial district of Mumbai. It can host a variety of events ranging from corporate seminar, conferences, product launches, private parties, weddings and a variety of different performing arts and cultural shows and showcases.
Breaking into the wedding planning industry in India
“Weddings became my specialty by a fluke. I got into this industry doing a lot of music and stand-up comedy gigs. Once I branched out on my own, I got my first event, which was a destination wedding in Alibaug, a resort get away a few hours from Mumbai,” Zeenia said, “From there on it was a domino effect within the industry.”
“I realized I had a way with fussy brides and grooms. The fussier the couple the more I enjoyed dealing with them, because in their own way they pushed me to over-deliver every single time. Each event was a learning experience in terms of skill, crisis management etc. They also pushed me creatively, which has lead me to think out-side the box and create sets and ambiances I didn’t know I could.”
Zeenia comes from a business family, so she perceived starting her own business as an eventuality. From the moment she set her mind to having her own business, it took off fast.
“My father is in logistics and as much as I tried when I was younger the industry really didn’t appeal to me as much. I was curating events for the company I was working for at the time and I hadn’t received my salary in about four months. So I put in my papers and walked into the nearest Starbucks. I bought my domain name and started calling all my old clients. Within the first hour I booked my first event. That’s when Xenia Hospitality was born.”
Four challenges of starting an event planning agency
When asked about the challenges of being an entrepreneur, and how she overcame them, Zeenia was blunt:
“The list honestly is endless. There are so many untold horrors that when they unravel in front of you sometimes they knock you off your feet. Here are a few I faced:
Breaking into the market: In a city where there are over 4500 registered event companies and every second person thinks they are an event planner, breaking into the market was a herculean task. It’s a tough cutthroat market where there is always someone cheaper. Relying primarily on your immediate circle to give you references and leads even though they are at a throwaway price helps you build your portfolio.
Building trust: Being new in market, people don’t really want to take a chance on a new comer and especially a girl cause often time they think she is doing this as a hobby. Giving your clients the freedom to pay you at the end eases their discomfort quite a bit. Also, keeping them in the loop with constant updates puts their mind at ease.
Staffing: Getting qualified people to put their career in your hands is a lot to ask out of anyone, especially for a company that is just starting out. When you eventually find good people, retaining them becomes extremely difficult. Being kind and having an open dialogue with them makes them feel more like they are working with you, rather than for you.
Vendors: Getting the best deals for your clients is paramount. But being new in the market, your leverage isn’t as much. To add to this, your naivety within the industry does set you up for disaster. Picking your vendors wisely from people that have recommended them is always helpful. Getting yourself introduced by a solid contact will eliminate any such actions as the vendor stands to lose both clients if they are dishonest.
“Glion changed my life in more ways than I can count.”
Like many of our alumni who go the way of entrepreneurship, Zeenia found herself relying on some of the tools and skills she developed during her time at Glion.
“Glion changed my life in more ways than I can count. From being a girl who was an average student, GIHE pushed me to become an honours student. I learnt to push myself every day and realized I could achieve anything if I set my mind to it,” Zeenia said.
“Glion gave me the tools to set up a company in terms of finance and revenue management. It gave me opportunities of employment outside my own country, which has given me my leadership skills. More importantly it gave me my PR skills on which my business survives. It taught me that second best was just not an option. Perfection is what you strive for and the path it leads you to is excellence. Also, not to forget the grooming! i.e. Dress code.”
Her company is doing great at the moment and it was even listed one of the top 25 emerging agencies in India, and Zeenia is not slowing down.
“I have a few things on the horizon. One of which will come true this year, I have wanted to do an event abroad and expand a branch somewhere. So mid-2017 Dubai is on the cards. Other than that, I’ll keep developing the venue, which already hosts a plethora of private, corporate or ticketed events. Maybe I’ll open a few more across the country. Also, I want to start a property based on western classical music in India. We’ll see where the road takes me.”
Advice for students who want to be entrepreneurs: choose excellence
“Take the leap. It’s the best decision you will ever make. Seeing something you envisioned come to life and grow is a high that cannot be equaled. Guaranteed job satisfaction is a great plus point. But don’t do it for the money. Do it because it drives you and you want to make a difference within the industry and community, as money is a by-product. When you choose excellence money, fame and success just follows.”
While hospitality management degrees are often associated with hotels and restaurants, the alumni of Glion can be found working in many different sectors, and many of them are business owners and founders. This evidence prooves that hospitality prepares students to make their own path as professionals and entrepreneurs and Glion has two bachelor degree majors for those who want that freedom: the Bachelor Degree in Hospitality Management and the Bachelor Degree in Event, Sport and Entertainment Management for those who lean more towards the event management industry.
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