Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interview With Pallavi Singh Keshri, Eyaas.com

Featuring Women Entrepreneur
Pallavi Singh Keshri
Founder, Eyaas.com
[Category: Emerging Markets & Trends In India
Tweak The Supply-Side In Your Business Model]

Pallavi formed Eyaas.com with the aim of providing all things that are hand-made and ‘green’. There are two main areas of focus: 1) Crafts and hand-made goods which are endangered or lost. 2) Provide a platform or channel of consumer access for all those individuals and groups for whom handwork is a form of livelihood.

Eyaas.com is not only providing the commerce part for the hand-made products, but they are also endeavoring to provide information about how the product was made and who made that particular product.
Here is what Pallavi has to say about Eyaas.com.

1. I would like to start with knowing about your background – education, past work experience, do you have entrepreneurial roots?
I did my masters in Marketing from the TSM, Delhi, and my first job was with The Pioneer. After that I joined naukri.com when it was still a small company. I was with naukri.com for 2 years after which I joined a software firm in Delhi. I changed industries again and moved to CNN International and then with Dale Carnegie Training in Mumbai. I worked across industries and functions, as I didn’t want to get caught in the trap of bigger salaries for the same jobs. I then decided to do my MBA but having worked for 8 years I decided to go in for a 1-year program. I was in the US for 1.5 years and then I went to the UAE to set up a business school there. Once that project got over I came back to India.

I come from an entrepreneurial family. My father and brothers manage their own ventures and I guess I was waiting for the inspiration or desperation to hit me to start my own.

2. Is this your first entrepreneurial venture? If no then which were the earlier ones? Are you still involved in them?
Yes this is my first entrepreneurial venture though I did work with a few new companies through my career.

3. What market segment and industry are you addressing?
This is a very interesting question for me at this point. In the strictest commercial sense we are an online retail store and we retail handmade crafts. On the other hand, we are trying to really create the platform for various artisans and community organizations to gain market access through an online channel. In essence we are a social enterprise liking the grassroots to the mainstream.
4. How would you define your business model?
Our business model is two-fold. In the first model we procure goods on cash and sell at a markup. And we are currently giving a percentage of the profit earned back to the artisan. The second model works with organizations that want to list with us. We charge them a commission on sale. Part of earning of eyaas.com (either from option 1 or 2) goes to a supporting organization, Borderless World Foundation that works with orphaned girls in the Kashmir Valley.
5. Eyaas.com has a wonderful business model. You have collaborated artists in a niche segment [all hand-made goods] and buyers through an online platform. How did you arrive at this business idea? How did Eyaas.com evolve and when was it formed?
Eyaas.com is still in its infancy and it has already evolved quite a bit from where it started. We started out with a simple model of procure/list & sell handmade goods. As we entered the supply side I realized two things: 1) A huge gap between the large players & the smaller ones – typically the bigger ones were getting bigger & the smaller ones were dying out. So we thought of focusing our efforts on those who did not quite have market access. 2) Most organizations wanted to avoid the logistics of the online retail model though they would be happy to explore it if we provided the support and back-end for it. This is where we saw the opportunity and so this is where our model exists.

6. That’s really interesting. Could you elaborate more on this - how did you arrive at the idea of starting Eyaas.com? How could you identify that online retailing in handmade goods sector might make a good business model? Why did you not choose any other online retailing segment - e.g., health and fitness, apparels, kids and babies etc.?
From a business perspective, the market exists with several players. So we are not doing something that has not been done before in terms of the viability of the model. There are several international, US and UK based companies, which are into online retail of crafts. Purchasing online is fairly common in the west. But what motivated me to start Eyaas was that all these companies were close to the buyer and not to the seller. This is where we differentiate ourselves. We are close to the source.
I wanted to create something, which would allow for a more direct link between producers and consumers like in the west and experiment with how that might work.
On the other hand there is a twist in the tale. The business model exists in its current form with good margins but we are building it as a social enterprise looking to benefit the suppliers by sharing these margins with them. I wanted to work in this sector as opposed to any other primarily to create a system to reduce the gap between the earnings of the producers and sellers. Most artisans are still living on a subsistence level. Right now the artisan or producer hardly gets anything. Most of the mark-up is earned by sellers (retailers) or middlemen while a minimum pay is received by the artisan who actually makes the goods. Through our profit sharing model we hope to reduce this and provide for a more sustainable future for crafts and artisans.

7. Do you see high potential in online niche market for art and craft in India? Don’t you think people would like to see the artwork before buying it online?
Eyaas.com is a model for the international market. Having said that, there is a change in the mindset of the Indian consumer. Most craft buyers, Indian or international would like to see and feel the products before procurement. With the international model we are trying to bring the consumer a step closer to the producer.

8. How are you handling the competition?
I am not competitive so I don’t worry about competition. On one hand I think there is plenty in this world for everybody to get a piece. On the other it is always good to have people in the same space because it allows you to think and innovate. My objective through eyaas.com is to create a sustainable and transparent model of trade connecting the grassroots to the mainstream, connecting producers to consumers. There are so many producers and so many consumers in this world that every effort seems like a mere drop in the ocean.

9. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder?
I started this venture on my own but I have had tremendous support from friends & family.

10. How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own? When did you hire your first employee?
I think I managed the work on my own because I have always been a generalist. I enjoy working with different things so the variety of the jobs in a start-up is a challenge and the fun of it. Not everything gets done on your own even in a start up. You always find people to help you though it is usually on an as-is-when-is basis. I have had support from friends who have volunteered time, effort, expertise everything whenever I have needed it. My first full-time support staff starts this month.

11. How have you funded your business (starting from when it was incorporated)?
My business is self-funded with some support from friends; Bootstrapping is the term used in the financial circles.

12. Are you profitable now?
No, we are not yet profitable.

13. What have been the challenges – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling etc. Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
I think I have found recruiting most difficult and I realized belatedly that selling to consumer far from you is difficult too. I have made headway in both cases so I have my fingers crossed.

14. Last, but very important, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and the new venture?
I am still single so that has been easy. I think its destiny. Maybe I was supposed to do this the way it has evolved. It has required me to constantly challenge my assumptions and hard-nosed commercial education. I don’t think I could have managed so many adjustments and responsibilities at the same time.

Thanks a lot Pallavi for sharing insights from your entrepreneurial journey so far.

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