EDITIONS
Social & Green Entrepreneurs

Sudip Dutta, Founder, Aporv - Indian Handicrafts (Aporv means Unique)

Team YS
21st Jul 2010
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“Social Changes with Handicrafts”

Aporv Founder

Handicrafts is the second largest source of employment after agriculture in India. With roughly some 23 million+ artisans this sector is the one that stands to have great social impact on our nation. Sudip Dutta believes that the sector offers some unique opportunities not just for business but also to promote social changes. His venture Aporv is all about Indian Handicrafts and the impact that new age media and technology will have on them.Sudip Dutta spoke all about the possibilities he see in Handicrafts in an extensive conversation with Yourstory…

What connection does aporv.com have to Indian handicrafts?

www.aporv.com is the online destination for Indian Handicrafts – from searching for handicrafts, buying them online and getting them delivered to your door step with premium service and making a Social Impact. We take care of everything including customization of products. We bring to the people across the globe unique Indian Handicrafts. We don’t just sell handicrafts but the story; all our products are sold as a story rather than on the face-value of the product. We believe that given a chance all of us would like to know the history, art and how the craft is being made which adds intrinsic value to the product. Along with this we are bringing 12 differentiations in this sector including, open Evaluation, Authentic Products, Unique Products, etc which will revolutionize this sector. Through our business model we are bringing in a unique online experience which people would have rarely experienced like our return policy rarely seen in the Indian market. On the other side we are also looking to make a greater Social Impact looking to make each artisan and entrepreneur. Do visit us at www.aporv.com and http://www.facebook.com/aporv to learn more about us.

What sort of market space do you hope to occupy?

Aporv Logo

Aporv.com draws its conception from the above needs and wants. It realizes the growing need for utilitarian yet aesthetic handcrafted products and bridges the gap between the creator & the appreciator. With our unique and 12 differentiators, like return policy, premium customer service, Story with each artifact, though through online model we are revolutionizing this sector by making buying a pleasurable experience by educating its online retail customers of the various art forms.Thought this model we bring the unique Indian handicrafts to people all across the globe. Aporv also has a B2B Corporate Gifting Solution for organizations looking to make an impact on their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Carbon footprint through our social and eco friendly products. Reach us at info@aporv.com to get more details on our Corporate Gifts.

Aporv’s scope is to provide all our appreciators with unique Indian Handicrafts with a premium service and at the same time make a Social Impact – be it through livelihood generation, fair trade policies, partnering with the right NGO’s/ SHG’s/ Organizations. It empowers artisans by practicing fair trade and assists in preserving rare Indian art forms. Read more about our uniqueness and social initiatives at www.aporv.com/about-us.

Getting back to the question, there are not many players in the Online Handicrafts space, thus it’s too early to say the kind of marketspace we will occupy, but we are looking to reach out to an audience who are educated, want to make an educated buy and at the same time want to make a Social Impact.

What sets your business model apart from others in the handicrafts niche?

In this field of crafts, visual appeal is very important and so is reaching out to your audience. We have been able to do that with our12 differentiators to this segment. Some of them are:

Story rather than the product – Our fundamental belief is that given an opportunity we all love to make an educated buy. That’s exactly what we are providing to our appreciators. We bring to our appreciators the story on how the product is made, where it is made and the history of the products which add intrinsic value to the product and provides them the tools to make an educated buy.

Authentic products – Our own search led to the conclusion that this is one of the most important points to tackle.

Unique artifacts from across India – Where does one go to find Indian Handicrafts which have historic significance and help you make an educated buy. Our answer is www.aporv.com. We bring to our appreciators artifacts from all over India.

Open Evaluation – We are trying to revolutionize this sector by opening up the artifacts evaluation by everyone and we call it ‘Open evaluation’. Each artifact on our site can be evaluated on 4 parameters – Skill/ History/ Aesthetics/ Uniqueness.

Premium Service – We all would love to get a service that we can think of. Aporv aims to provide you just that. We have a policy if you have an unanswered query for 72 working hrs the mail gets directed to the CEO. Yes, we are that serious with our service.

Returns –To build consumer confidence we currently have “No Questions Asked 7 day return Policy”. We believe that you should be satisfied with our products else we will be glad to take it back, No questions asked.

How is your business performing so far?

We have good response from retail and corporate customers. In the first month we got about 15,000+ page views on Aporv.com. On the corporate side, we have made a good beginning by partnering with one of the IT Company in India for their Corporate Gifting Solutions. We have great solutions from our Corporate Gifting Solutions for corporate, starting with eco-friendly products for conferences/ business meetings to gifts for their employees and clients. The eco friendly nature combined with our Corporate Social Responsibility adds great value to the corporate CSR footprint and Green initiatives.

Secondly, we are launching in the international market soon. Join us on facebook to get the latest updates on launches: http://www.facebook.com/aporv

We have been working on this since June 2009 and launched a year later on 5th June 2010 on World Environment Day. It’s too early to say our growth trajectory so far, but we are more than satisfied with the hits, conversion and appreciation we are getting on www.aporv.com. Along with that our model for Corporate Gifting Solutions has got a good response. We have been successful in partnering with one of the top IT companies in India and few more partnerships on their way as we speak.

What do you think is a challenge that every (Indian) entrepreneur must deal with?

There are lot of challenges for an Indian Entrepreneur. To start with the social pressure to stay in the 9-5 job, but this is changing in India with new entrepreneurial clubs coming up in colleges and lot of buzz about entrepreneurship. I’m sure you will see a lot many startups in various sectors that most of us wouldn’t have even thought of.

What led you start Aporv and delve into Indian Handicrafts?

10+ years in the corporate sector it was a difficult choice to make to leave the ‘luxuries’ of corporate life and get into entrepreneurship. My family and friends helped me take the decision and we returned back to India to start Aporv. I am also the founder of BITS.aid which is the first school based volunteering organization for my alma mater BITS, Pilani. BITS.aid gave me the exposure to the social sector and my interest in creative spaces got me thinking in 2008. It is a culmination of personal interest in creativity, a business opportunity and an opportunity to make a Social Impact.

There are couple of things that triggered this unique model:

Our own search to find Indian Handicrafts which are authentic, unique and has a historic significance… My own interest in creativity and looking for new and unique products…Understanding the need and trying to fill that gap…We saw a hiatus in this sector that we can plug with our business model…Lastly and most importantly, making a Social Impact.

What sort of social impact does Aporv intend to have on the Handicrafts sector?

After agriculture, handicraft is the second largest occupation in India with more than 23 million people in this sector. Every 7-10 years 10% of these artisans leave their jobs looking for better opportunities. If this continues the Indian Handicrafts will be lost in the next few decades. This is when we decided to take this situation head on and create a unique ‘aporv’ platform. So I quit my day job in 2009 and started work full time on Aporv. We also have a great team working on this. Our varied experience ranges from the Indian craft sector to Information Technology, from Hospitality to Luxury Management and Management Consulting. Our team members also have prior associations with corporations like Bain & Company, Infosys, Trident-Hilton and Oberoi Hotels. We have a wide educational background that covers premier design institution, BITS-Pilani, Stanford, Wharton Business School, INSEAD.

Aporv through its business model will have a direct impact on the livelihood generation. Going ahead we also help the artisans with education, healthcare and few other initiatives which will help them in empowering themselves and help Aporv achieve its goal to make each artisan an entrepreneur.

What challenges did the Indian Handicrafts industry and the market throw at your business?

Challenges were 2 dimensional, artisans at one end and customer who are not used to buying artifacts online. We successfully tackled both.

For starters, there are not many players in this space. So we at Aporv had to think through the model, revolutionize the way people think and bring out the issue people faced and tackle them head on. Authenticity and finding products from all over India are just a few of them and we successfully tackled them.

We in India are not used to service in this industry and policies like; returns are new to the Indian market. We are revolutionizing this space through such premium service. We brought to this market the Unique “No Question Asked Return Policy”. We are confident that you will like our products and if you don’t we will be glad to take them back. This is our way of saying Thank You to our appreciators. Secondly, if your mail doesn’t get answered in 72 working hours it gets directed to the CEO. This would give you an idea on how serious we are about our service.

Convincing our customers about the Social Impact that we are making was challenging, but we have been able to do so with our unique model. Through our mantra on educating our customers, we have been able to achieve it to a large extent, which is clearly visible in the kind of support we are getting from our appreciators across the globe.

Next one was Language, on an average any Indian who has traveled a bit speaks 4-5 languages, that’s close to 20% of the official Indian languages. Thus communicating with artisans gets a little difficult unless you know their language and this hampers an effective conversation.

In this industry, logistics is the key and is the biggest challenge that we faced. Through our business model we have been able to not only overcome it but also provide the cost benefit to the customers.

What accomplishments make you proudest of Aporv?

We believe in our appreciators and have got great reviews from them on our site, the idea, the products, navigation and above all our service. We consider getting constant and valuable feedback as a great achievement for us in the short time since we launched. That proves the confidence and the value we bring to the corporate and retail segment.

To quantify our accomplishments, we got 15,000+ page views the first month we launched. Delivered products to the top IT Company within 2 days of our launch, thus a successful launch for our Corporate Gifting Solutions. This proves the confidence the retail and corporate customers have on us. Thirdly the feedback that we are receiving from our customers keeps us highly motivated.

What is your vision cum mantra for the next 2 years?

Aporv's mantra is to ensure that correct choices are made. Artisans choice to sell the products at a fair value and your choice to make an educated buy. The next 2 years we plan to concentrate on building partnerships with the artisans/ organizations/NGOs and building the brand. We will also launch in international markets to expand the market linkages for the artisans.

What according to you should be a budding entrepreneur’s prime focus?

One thing for sure that helped me and may help others too is stay true to what you are trying to do. Having a good mentor helps, try to get a mentor who can help you when you stray from the company vision. Lastly if you are interested in Aporv, do get in touch with us, you can mail us at info@aporv.com and join us on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aporv

Yourstory wishes Sudip good luck with his dream of bringing a positive change through Handicrafts. We hope to see his work flourish and blossom in the coming future.

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