Mayjai: Bringing Rural Cottage Industries Online
The first thing that strikes you about Mayjai, is the name itself. “Mayjai in Tamil means table. A Table solves a myriad of purposes. But, the one common cause it fulfills, is it brings people together. Imagine an office where people sit around a table and discuss, imagine a household where all the family members sit together and dine, imagine a pool table where people get together to play. Going by that, we would like to think of ourselves as a medium where people gather around for a cause, to fulfill a purpose,” said Vignesh Babu, Founder, Mayjai.
Mayjai was launched in September 2011 and is based in a small village called Kottaiyur in Tamil Nadu. Mayjai adopts rural cottage industries and provides them with the necessary tools and techniques required to grow and compete with industrialized firms.
“I have lived in villages a big chunk of my life. In one of the villages I grew up, lived a carpenter close to where we lived. He chopped wood all day, sometimes carved shapes and figures on them, painted them and assembled them into beautiful window mounting units. He has been doing this all his life, and his father did too and so did his grandfather. But none of their lives ever changed. They still live in the same house, drive the same bicycle and still struggle to get a Rs. 10,000 bank loan. Why is that?” Vignesh asked himself.
He further pondered, “Things have changed considerably in the last couple of decades. People don’t carry around woven baskets as much anymore, but our palm leaf artisans are still weaving mega baskets. Where the Chinese are making lamp shades out of jute, our jute workers are still making sacks. Our potters are still making simple pots while they can actually make a gorgeous table lamp out of clay – Lots of things can be changed. But why haven’t they?”
This prompted Vignesh to ponder the fact that this was happening not because these people aren’t talented or skillful enough, but because they are just not equipped with the right tools and techniques of the 21st century to grow their businesses. “I thought, what if we provided him with just that? What if we brought the modern day ideologies into a rural setting to boost up these economies? Will it work?” said Vignesh. And that is how Mayjai came into existence.
Mayjai goes about doing its work methodically. At the operational level, they initially conduct a market analysis of existing products in the market. Based on this analysis, they come up with new and innovative product designs. “These designs are then converted into physical products by our cottage industry partners with continuous manufacturability assistance from us. We also ensure that the right quality control measures are in place throughout,” informed Vignesh.
“At the post production stage, we carry out marketing & sales initiatives through our e-commerce platform. We have also started partnering with retail outlets to display out products in their boutiques. Partnering with corporate gift suppliers is also in the pipeline,” added Vignesh. The entire revenue being generated currently is through the website and retail outlets. They do not charge the artisans/entrepreneurs anything for Mayjai’s services.
The Mayjai team comprises Vignesh, Sriram and Neera. Vignesh is the founder and is in charge of the entire operations of the company. He completed his Bachelors in Engineering from National University of Singapore and worked in Europe for 2 years. Sriram is an engineering graduate from SASTRA University and is responsible for the supply chain and logistics at Mayjai. Neera is an accessories designer from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and designs all the Mayjai products.
Key challenges Mayjai is addressing
The first challenge that Vignesh points out is that of inefficient distribution channels. “SMEs in India are largely in the unorganized sector and are predominantly located in rural settings. This has made it difficult for large retailers to source directly the highly skilled products of these small scale industries. The margins of the small scale industries are squeezed by middle-men, who aggregate products from remote locations and sell at a mark-up to retailers, who add on their own profit margins. The result is a lose – lose situation for customers (high price) and the original producers (low margins),” he said.
The next challenge is the distance to market. “The key driver to the success of B2C companies is an intimate knowledge of their customer’s needs and requirements. The distance of the rural industries from affluent urban markets makes them oblivious to the changing needs, trends and preferences of their target customers. This leads to outdated products which are received unfavorably at their marketed high price,” pointed out Vignesh.
There are two fundamental differences between Mayjai and other e-commerce platforms operating in India in this space. First, is their end-to-end capability. “While our competitors are focused exclusively on marketing and sales through online platforms, they have not addressed the supply chain inefficiencies in procuring the products through middlemen. Our direct and close relationship with the producers, combined with the logistics and operations capabilities owned in-house gives us a unique advantage by providing us control over the quality, kind and quantity of products we market to our customers,” said Vignesh.
The other difference is Mayjai’s social impact. “We do not look at small scale industries as our suppliers. We view them as our primary partners whose growth is intertwined with ours. By highlighting real life examples of the change which Mayjai can bring to successful small scale industries, we aim to invite consumers to participate in our larger social mission. Mayjai is pioneering a unique model which prioritizes the social impact without sacrificing the economic necessities, which is a strong differentiator from the rest of the playing field,” informed Vignesh.
As of today, Mayjai focuses on about 20 industries, which directly employ 250 people. These industries can be listed under 9 categories; jute products, palm leaf products, banana fibre products, lacquerware, cane, hand painted fabric, sea-shell craft, arts, crafts & painting, embroidery and clay based products.
Speaking about where he sees Mayjai head over the next few years, Vignesh said, “We sure would love to be one of the well known shop-for-cause companies in India. But more than that, we want to be a name known for our product line-up, for our intricately designed products made with ethical practices.” He also added that the intention is to turn this medium into a place where people can use their support and the crowd support to start-up their own initiatives to nurture rural economies.
There are a number of ways to get involved. You can adopt a cottage industry or set up a small supply chain of products that you can find in villages around you, on the website or by offering training in multiple streams to rural entrepreneurs and artisans or by offering expert services for the needs of SMEs etc.
“We are just setting up a mini warehouse of products that we have designed and manufactured with our rural talents. That in itself is a massive step ahead, considering where we started. But otherwise, we are still in the very initial stages. We need to clear so many milestones before we can think of further expansion,” concluded Vignesh.