From pottery to ivory crafting and from bamboo to terracotta, the Indian handicraft industry is an extremely diverse and intriguing one. These handicrafts are highly acclaimed throughout the world for their aesthetic appeal and magnificence. Aporv (pronounced a-poor-v) is a major online destination for Indian handicrafts, for which it tries to create a global audience. We caught up with Sudip Dutta, the founder of Aporv, who spoke about what Aporv is all about and how it has progressed through the years:What prompted you to startup in the field of Handicraft?
The greenfield opportunity. When we started Aporv.com in 2009 we were the first ones in India to concentrate on the Online Handicrafts model. This space, even today is very fragmented with a serious sourcing issue. No one knows the numbers of Indian market because there is no tracking of the same and lot of fakes being sold. Secondly, we wanted to help the artisans to be able to reach out to the global audience directly, rather than through multiple middlemen. Thirdly, being the second largest occupation in India after agriculture it seemed like a huge problem to solve. Fourth, we wanted to play only in the e-commerce space because the reach becomes multi-fold being an online player. And fifth, my personal interest in creativity and internet.
Aporv has been operational for more than two years now. How has your journey been? Share some of the trends you've seen.It has been a mixed journey so far. As true with most of the start-ups we have seen good and bad days, but all days have been exciting. The Indian e-commerce market is currently hot with so many start-ups in different verticals. That's good news, because that shows the Indian consumer is ready to buy products online. So in the last 2 years we have got visitors from 100+ countries including some great corporate customer lines like Infosys, Microsoft, NASSCOM, etc.
Tell me about the team at Aporv.
We are a 7 member lean team currently, out of which 2 people (Stanford, Wharton graduates) are helping us part-time. Among us we have 13 years of handicraft experience, 15+ years of software experience and 10+ years of design experience.
23+ million artisans and a huge market to tap. How much have you been able to penetrate till now?
23 million itself is a HUGE number, and when a '+' is added to it just looks enormous. We currently partner with close to 3000 artisans so far in 6 states in India. It is a tedious process, which not many people understand. When people shop for these products online, they don't realize the work that goes on behind the scene in partnering with the artisans and helping them get on board and getting their products online. But it's difficult to convince most of these artisans because lot of them have partnered with middlemen and it's difficult to reach out to them.
Having previously spoken at TedX, how have you managed to overcome the obstacles you mentioned in your TedX talk?
In my TEDx talk I talk about 4 challenges: Handmade, Language; Logistics; Sustainability. Handmade, the big issue that the artisans are facing today is fakes in the market and the vertical is highly fragmented. We tackled this by building customer confidence and educating the customers. We also inform customers the beauty of handcrafted product (as shown here). Logistics is another major issue, on top of that commitment from the artisan. Lot of the products are seasonal and highly dependent on weather. We solve this by our inventory management which we have tried over 2 years.
What is the most satisfying feeling you get out of creating stories around this artisans and helping them recognize their true worth?
There have been lot of exciting moments.
For example this artisan called Naushad from North India, he reached out to us (like most other artisans) and wanted to showcase his art work on our site. We are very selective of who we partner with, as we want to make sure that products are actually handmade, authentic and UNIQUE. So when we spoke to Naushad he was so excited that he almost cried to hear back from us. We are currently doing our due diligence and hopefully with partner with him soon. It is a real satisfying moment when you see some of these artisans who want to showcase their products and get a platform to reach out to global audience. You get goose bumps and feel excited when their product sells and you inform them. The excitement is infectious.
It really is inspiring to see a start up in a virtually untested field coming up trumps in a short period. That being said, it does look as though there still is a possibly long road ahead, and going by the evidence of their success so far, you wouldn’t bet against them crossing many more milestones.