It Pays to be ExoticTipping Point | August 17, 2012
We’re combing the country to find examples of intelligent, scalable...
We’re combing the country to find examples of intelligent, scalable innovation – and we’re going to pick 20 of the best to be featured here, and on the pages of Tehelka. These are some of the most compelling and untold stories of our time – and they reflect another truth; that spirit and determination can master any challenge.
This article was originally published here.
SOME OF INDIA’S richest, most exquisite craft traditions are centered in the smallest villages, many barely a dot on the map. For years, access to these crafts has been limited to an adventurous few who venture that far, or to middlemen and ‘cottage’ emporia that selectively exhibit or supply these to a niche audience. But wider global access has been impossible — artisans have had neither the means nor the technological know-how to put their creations on that most democratic of all platforms, the Internet.
IT’S BEEN CALLED the Etsy of Asia but that’s almost simplistic for the role Craftsvilla plays in bridging the artisanconsumer gap. It was on a trip to Kutch that Manoj and Monica Gupta fell in love with the exquisite local craftware, and talked to artisans about why their craft wasn’t available more widely. “We have always loved to travel to villages, and discovering local crafts are a huge part of that,” says Manoj, CEO and founder of Craftsvilla. By the time they returned to Mumbai, fascination with craft had blended with Manoj’s entrepreneurial instincts and Craftsvilla was conceived.
Like Etsy.com, the behemoth that dominates the global craft marketplace, Craftsvilla is a platform for artisans and craftsmen to link directly to end consumers — but it goes beyond. Unlike in the West, where Internet access is the norm and technological awareness wide, the craftsmen Manoj and Monica interacted with were completely out of the tech loop. “We therefore launched something called Craftsvilla Studios, where we guide artisans and designers to bring them online — from helping them with photo-shoots to content-writing, web upload and in some cases, even in helping them with inventory management and dispatches,” says Manoj.
The other vital difference from the Etsy model: whereas the former only allows individual artisans to list, Craftsvilla encouraged collectives of artisans and NGOs to join, exponentially increasing their reach.
AS A VENTURE capitalist at Nexus Venture Partners, Manoj Gupta had invested in leading e-commerce firms and sat on the board of Yebhi.com and as board observer of Snapdeal.com. After completing a BTech degree from IITMumbai, an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, as well as MS and CPhil degrees from universities in the US, he’d co-founded a tech start-up in the US. Perhaps most impressive about Manoj’s start-up is that he has demonstrated that social entrepreneurship and innovation can be highly profitable and sustainable — Craftsvilla has received VC funding worth $1.5 million.
IT’S BEEN JUST over a year since Craftsvilla’s launch and already, over 800 sellers list and sell more than 75,000 products. The sellers, mostly collectives, represent 10,000 individual artisans, offering them formidable reach and improving their livelihoods significantly. “Our sellers earn two-four times more profit as we remove middlemen and provide direct access to one million customers,” says Manoj. Sellers echo his satisfaction. “We started working with Craftsvilla in 2011 and reported a 500 percent jump in business just in the first six months,” says Vandana Agarwal, a trustee of the NGO Gramshree. “It’s especially rewarding for us since most of our artisans are women. Now, we have a dedicated team working only for Craftsvilla, and hope to grow 10 times thanks to their intervention.”
“WE PLAN TO list more than 25,000 sellers and one million products in the next 12 months. This will make us one of the world’s largest online ethnic stores. We plan to expand internationally by bringing Asian countries into the Craftsvilla.com loop in the next few months,” says Manoj.