Entrepreneur Bhagyashri on her venture SheepStop.com which aims to change the perception of online shopping in India
What is SheepStop all about?
SheepStop is an eco-friendly, ‘designer T-Shirt’ brand that crowd-sources its designs from a large community of artists across the world. SheepStop follows a fair trade policy and the designers are duly rewarded for their artwork and also paid royalty for the sales of the t-shirts designed by them. These tees can be bought online at our website or from select retail outlets in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi & Kolkata.
What is the rationale behind the name, SheepStop?
We envisioned creating a brand which people would love to flaunt! Hence, the brand asks its patrons to ‘stop’ being shy as a ‘sheep’ and live up to the tagline, Stop Covering Up!
And what is your team like?
SheepStop was founded a year and half ago by my husband, Parag and me. We are both from engineering background; hence a venture in apparel and design space was an unconventional choice.
Parag is a PhD. in Mechanical Engineering and Scientific Computing from University of Michigan. He did post-doctoral research at the University of California for a couple of years, but the love for his motherland and a penchant to start something of his own brought him back to India.
A Graduate in Information Technology and an art enthusiast at heart, I started my career as an ERP consultant and in 2005, attended Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Post MBA, I worked for another three years. A strong drive for making a change led me to quit the comfort zone and jumpstart this venture.
Today, I lead an all-women team of four to manage the entire online and retail operations of SheepStop. Considering the current scale of operations, SheepStop is surely a very lean startup!
So you do the designing in-house?
We do not have a single designer in-house, but hundreds over the world. We host an ongoing “Evergreen” contest and several other themed contests throughout the year on our website. Designers across the world submit their designs online and these are voted upon by the entire SheepStop community. The top 10 designs every week make their way to the SheepStop “Casino”.
People can place their bets on the designs that they like and they get back double the amount as reward points if the design they betted on happens to win! The winner is of course the design with the maximum bets placed.
How did you come about starting this venture?
SheepStop came about as an effort to change the perception of online shopping in India. After having spent more than seven years in the US, Parag felt that both, the online shopping experience as well as the state of customer service in India, were average at best. On the other hand, I had always yearned to work on something of my own. We both decided to start SheepStop over a cup of coffee and tried to add the ‘zing’ element in the online shopping zone.
Also, we wanted to provide an opportunity for the masses to get onto the eco-friendly movement without straining their wallets. This is achieved by offering these eco-friendly designer tees at a very competitive price.
What has been the response so far?
To put it in one word, phenomenal! We started off by selling 12 tees in the first month and have grown to selling thousands of tees every month. But more than financial success, we are proud of the fact that we have been able to really delight each and every of our customers - the objective that we actually started off to achieve.
This year, SheepStop was selected to display its merchandise at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and the response we received there was simply overwhelming. It was not only a great sales channel but also brought us into the eyes of interesting retail outlets, celebrities and corporate houses.
How do you sell your creations/products?
Starting off as a purely online player, we have now moved on to several sales channels: retail, exhibitions, corporate selling, bulk orders, etc. So, now we have multiple customer touch points. We have seen many customers initially getting introduced to SheepStop through one of the channels and then becoming our loyal patrons online!
Have you invested your own money in the venture?
My husband and I took a conscious decision to self-fund the startup in the initial stages. While I quit my job, Parag continued his. This provided a cushion for the venture and allowed it to get going with minimum external funding. Parag, however, had to do a lot of multi tasking.
The initial investment of 5 lacs came from personal savings and we raised another 5 lacs from family & friends within the first year. We even made the website ourselves. And yes, like all great companies, we too started in a garage!
Do you plan to seek external funds for your expansion?
We are a profitable company with robust cash-flows and sufficient funds to keep us in the growth spiral. We have developed good relationships with both, the suppliers and the retailers, which help us get good terms on both sides. We will be scaling up our team as we continue to grow, however we might look out for a VC funding if that adds significant value to our venture.
How do you market your products?
Frankly, we do not have a marketing budget at all! Word-of-mouth works extremely well for us as our tees speak for themselves and become topic of conversations among friends. Social Media plays a central role in our marketing strategy and we have pioneered concepts like bidding for a T-Shirt on Twitter through our #TwitBid platform.
And where do we see SheepStop 5 years from now?
We would love to take SheepStop to a pan-India level including Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Apart from the retail push, we would also like to make our online sales channel as one of the key drivers for future growth. We would love our brand name to become synonymous with quality and service and our team will strive to make that happen. The cash flowing in would then merely be a by-product!
We at YourStory.in wish SheepStop.com good luck with all their endeavors and we will keep you posted about all the latest happenings at their end. Meanwhile, you shop at http://sheepstop.com and share your experiences with us!