Thursday, July 5, 2012

Interview With Monica Gupta, Founder, Craftsvilla

Featuring Woman Entrepreneur

Monica Gupta

One road trip to Kutch (a rural part in Gujarat) changed her life. Monica built Craftsvilla after she saw an opportunity in providing access to the artisans of the collapsing handicraft industry of India.

Q. Welcome to TheAccentors, Monica.  Why don’t you tell us more about yourself – your experience, your passions and your education? Do you have entrepreneurial roots?

I am a Marwari… so…, as they say, that business runs in our blood, maybe I consider myself born with that trait!

I have worked previously in our family business. While doing my CA, I used to work with a few NGOs that make handcrafted embroidered lifestyle products. I loved their products; and then when I was studying M.S. in the US, I could see that there is a huge opportunity of selling handcrafted products that are so much loved in the Western countries. My road trip to Kutch just supported my dream of having a social enterprise which could very well turn into a business.

Q. Is Craftsvilla your first entrepreneurial venture?

Yes, Craftsvilla is my first venture into Entrepreneurship – my very first venture into fulfilling my dreams and helping many more women entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams…

Q. How and when did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

Being an entrepreneur was my first choice as I wanted to take care of my 2 kids along with work. My road trip to Kutch and meeting with so many artisans just gave me a path where I could start this journey. I could feel that this platform could give hope and satisfaction to many including myself.

Q. Tell us more about Craftsvilla. is a marketplace to discover unique handmade ethnic Indian products. We connect the sellers (artisans, designers and housewives) to the buyers in different parts of the world. The listing and registration for sellers is free. We only charge a 15% commission when the sellers get an order from us. The buyers also benefit as they pay directly to the seller and all the middlemen charges are taken off. We give both the buyers and the seller protection against frauds which makes selling and buying hassle free and profitable for both.

Q. How did you arrive at this idea?  What made you sure that this idea made a good business? Why not go for a good job career?

I wanted a job that gave me flexibility and satisfaction, which I don’t think is possible in a normal job. Entrepreneurship in e-commerce gave me the flexibility of working on my own schedule (even late nights) and helping other small entrepreneurs and artisans open an online shop to cater to domestic and international customers. This idea gave me immense satisfaction.

Q. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder?

I started this alone,with guidance from my husband who joined himself after 4 months.

Q. Did you validate this business idea? How did you do it?

I had seen the production and sales of handcrafted products while working with NGOs earlier. I did a research about the price range and art forms that appeal people, by giving questionnaires to family, friends and neighbours. My husband was already working in a venture capital fund and with e-commerce companies, which gave me an insight on the on-goings of the industry.

Q. Being in e-commerce industry, what is your opinion about the supply chain issues in India (you can tell about vendor management, logistics issues, whether this side of the e-commerce industry is yet to be organized etc.)?

The e-commerce industry is still in nascent stage in India. It takes a lot of time to get good vendors for simple things like boxes and packaging material. There are still many logistics companies which do not have an API which can be installed with your system.

Some vendors are not very much aware of the on goings of e-commerce industry wherein we educate them about taking good pictures with proper props, pricing the products and providing full details about the products like materials used and sizing. It takes time for them to give that ‘look and feel’ effect to a product that is sold online. Still, there are some vendors who understand e-commerce very well and are very quick in uploading and dispatching their products.

Q. What is the turnover? When did you become profitable?

We are still very young to announce our numbers. Right now we are measuring our success in terms of the number of sellers, products and customers. We now have 600+ sellers and 50,000+ products which gives a huge range of options to customers.

Q. How do you handle competition? How do you differentiate yourself?

We operate from the base level i.e. we have our team members who go to the rural parts of the country to get artisans and rural entrepreneurs online. We give them the facility for photography, content writing, uploading, marketing, packing and dispatch. Our branch offices in Jaipur, Delhi NCR and Bangalore guide them in every way; we hand-hold them for e-commerce business.

Q. You started “Craftsvilla Artisan Fund”. What was the idea behind starting this fund and how did it help your business? I see a business strategy as well as an element of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in this move.  Your comments...

My goal of starting Craftsvilla was to provide a profitable platform to artisans and micro-entrepreneurs of India. We started Craftsvilla Artisan fund to help artisans get raw materials and to fund their kids’ education. We have supported a few of the artisans by paying school fees for their children. This helps them continue the traditional art forms and does not lure them into working for machine-made products.

Q. When did you hire your first employee? Was hiring easy for a start-up?

I hired my first employee in May, 2011. Hiring good people has always been a challenge. I am still blessed to have loyal and hard-working people around me. Their energy motivates me when I am down. Their love for the company and faith in the values of Craftsvilla is what keeps me going.

Q. You could scale-up your business incredibly fast given that your business model is dependent on a lot of variables. What tips can you give to our wannabe Women Entrepreneurs on scaling-up a start-up?

Scaling up is a frankly a very easy thing is you are willing to burn a lot of cash, but not an ideal way. You should always plan your long term and short term goals and cash flow. Scaling the right way is very important. Always remember to take care of three pillars of a company – Customers, Sellers and Employees. If you take care of them, you will see things getting into place and company growing up fast.

Q. External funding is one of the key sustainability factors that a lot of entrepreneurs depend on. What is your take on this? Did the venture funding come before you expanded or did it come after you had sustainable revenues and potential for growth?

I agree that external funding is very important especially if you have big goals to achieve. We got our seed funding after 6 months, which was ideal. We had just started growing and wanted a venture capital fund who could share our vision and faith. Luckily, we got funded by two such companies (Nexus Venture Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners) which helped us grow faster.

Q. Would you like to share some tips with our wannabe entrepreneurs on ‘When’and‘How’ to look for external funding?

You need to have a different business model, a good confident team and a great business plan to get funding. Always start looking for funding 4 months ahead of time, as it takes time to get external funding.

Q. How did you fund your business for kick starting it?

I started with my personal savings of Rs 10 lakhs.

Q. What are your future plans for business expansion?

We want to have 1 million products by the end of this year with over 10,000 sellers. We also want to open offices in Ahmedabad and Kolkata to reach out to more and more rural artisans.

Q. What have been the challenges of being a Woman Entrepreneur – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling etc.? Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?

I feel that the worst part is that people do not take you seriously as they think that you are doing something for leisure and are not capable of handling a business.But also, the best part is that many people are willing to help you just because you are a woman. My most difficult challenge has been travelling around India to look for good artisans and handcrafted products while handling 2 kids. It is at times very tough to juggle with business, kids and home.

Q. What message would you like to convey to the aspiring Women Entrepreneurs?

I have seen most women entrepreneurs struggling with guilt of not managing kids, home and business well. I just want to request them to stop being perfectionists. I feel that life is a constant juggle wherein you have to drop one of the three balls once in a while. Just take care not to drop the same ball twice. God has made us strong and capable of handling 10 things at a time, just take your first step ahead. You can do it!

Q. Last, a little about a typical day in your life – how do you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids (if you have) and the new venture? How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own along with a family to take care of?

I have 2 kids – 3and 5 years of age. My normal day is full of variety (as I call it!). I start early and take care of household chores and drop the kids to school. My office starts from 9 in the morning till midnight. In between,I make sure to take some time off for kids. I can survive and keep a balance between my family and entrepreneurial life only because of my super supportive husband and really caring and understanding girls. I,too drop my balls of juggling once in a while!

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