Stappu is a game played in North India where you throw a stone at a number and hop to the box where the stone lands. It’s like hopscotch and is a fixed marker of the Indian childhood. When friends and co-founders Jeevika Tyagi and Kanika Khosla were brainstorming for a name for their hard to categorise startup, this one popped up. “The name takes us back to our childhood where you could play silly games like stappu and not be judged. Whatever you did, you had fun doing. Also, our business model is hopping from one art category to another,” explains Kanika.
Stappu is hard to categorise because of the sheer number of categories it deals with. But at heart, it can be described as a medium that empowers artists. At Stappu it is the artist, and not the product, which is at the forefront. “Buyers can look at the videos or read the artist's stories and then buy their products or book their services,” says Jeevika. In addition, they have pop up events every month where these artists have a platform for live interaction with people, thereby facilitating a relationship beyond and more fulfilling than merchant and buyer.Of Stappu’s latest pop up food event ‘Taste the Game’, Livemint reports, “The idea is that Stappu’s monthly events help familiarize the city with the city’s hidden population of talented cooks, bakers, painters, artists, performance artists, musicians, designers and pretty much anyone who wants to sell or offer their wares or services alongside the company’s strictly curated assortment of sellers.”
“We have launched with the culinary category and this winter we would be hopping to another,” says Kanika, justifying the nomenclature of the venture.
Both Jeevika and Kanika were based in New York, working as a banker and an architect respectively. Both wanted to explore life beyond the mundane corporate existence they had unwittingly chosen. And consequently, both quit their high powered jobs and worked with a series of startups to get the lay of the land. When the friends decided it was the right time to start something of their own, they decided they would, “Explore the space that facilitated the growth of an individual's passion.”
“During our time in the States, we saw an equal appreciation for the artists and the art. However, when we moved to India, there was little to no acknowledgment of the artists behind the art. We wanted to tell those stories and also bring out the entrepreneur in each artists since we were ourselves struggling to become entrepreneurs,” says Kanika.
It was not merely a desire to empower artists. Inaugurating Stappu’s business model at this time in India made acute financial sense to the co-founders. “The ecommerce industry is still limited to selling products and services. The culture of telling the story behind each sale is very new. However, it is catching up really fast. Even when you look at the advertisements on TVs, all e-commerce are telling stories now.
Stappu is launching at the boom of this trend,” asserts Jeevika.
Stappu is self-funded but is set to raise seed fund soon. Apart from a core tech team, the Stappu family just consists of the two co-founders and interns for now. They have the bandwidth to focus on one city at the moment, but are going to scale up fast. “Since we are based in Mumbai, it was easier to start up here and with everyone having this mutual love for food, it by default became our first category. However, in the next few months, we would be expanding to Delhi and Bangalore,” says Kanika. “This December we would go forward with launching our second category: Fashion. Soon we will have presence in all four cities and eventually launch all our ten categories. The team will expand to operations, business development and tech simultaneously. The end goal is to build a team that can make all the Indian artists gain recognition in India and abroad.”
Despite Stappu’s ambitious growth plans, the current model revolves around of word of mouth recommendations. Do the co-founders think this is enough to sustain the stability? For Kanika and Jeevika that is a no brainer. “Definitely. Presently, these are the key measurables because an artist's reputation precedes them. However, our tech friends are working hard to build our e-commerce which will have a full page artist presence and a review system. The model is profitable as we are looking to go into ten different categories for online sales and the events are always a plus for revenues.”
Jeevika continues, “In this industry, the mind-sets are changing. People are ‘all about the experience’. They don’t just want to buy a product and let it lie in their living rooms for years. They want their friends to talk about it so that they can tell the story behind the products. The buyers are more educated and discerning now. Make a transparent platform, show them where their product/service is coming from and they might buy it.”
“When we just started off, we were approaching artists and telling them ‘how important it is to tell their stories.’ Now, we get requests every day from artists from different fields who want their stories to be told and their focus is on their art - not just their sales and numbers on the balance sheet,” she says.
Given Stappu’s experimental business model, the founders are loathe to point out particular competitors. Instead they identify the US based Etsy as their rival, a rivalry that is insignificant because Etsy has little to no presence in India. Even the Indian startup that modelled itself on Etsy is no longer operational. “This is our humble attempt to show the person behind the art, to transform the artist into the entrepreneur. We are least worried about the competitors at this point,” reinforces Kanika.
Stappu’s first set of clientele are Mumbai culinary artists and brands like Eatyadi, Poppaddum, Madd Batter, BakerHer and Sucree Delights. For their events they partner with other startups (Insider, HipCask) or the venue where they are holding the event. “Many of the artists have started their brands with us. Which means, we were involved in forming their business name, model, marketing and the deliverables,” says Jeevika.
Though the two women are in their mid-twenties, they have a strong handle on their respective leadership roles. “We both are concentrating on building a powerful team where each individual has their own strengths. As leaders, we have faith in the person whom we bring on board. It is important to us that everyone who works towards this ecosystem of artists believes in it.”
Their friendship supplements their relationship as co-founders. “We are in it together. There have been a lot of ups and downs already. But each time, it has been mostly ups because we lift each other. We are always running out of finances on the personal front. Everything we make is put back into the business. Although avid travellers, we both haven’t gone on any trips lately. It’s all about Stappu. We have always chosen our startup over the rest.
We are now wiser,” the duo reflect.
Speaking candidly about mistakes and lessons learnt, Kanika says, “Before we made a lot of hiring mistakes. Our business model kept changing and we would listen to everyone’s advice and implement it right away. Now, we do what’s right for Stappu. We still listen to good advice but only implement it if it goes with our model. We have learnt to nurture every relationship, whether it is our artists, buyers, financial advisors. We are well aware that if there is no mutual appreciation nothing will last.”
Despite the heartaches, starting up is the best thing they have done. “There is an invisible self-check button on both of us now. It is amazing to wake up every day and come to your own office instead of working to make someone else’s idea bigger,” says Jeevika.
“We are going to keep playing this game of Stappu,” comments Kanika on their plans for the future. Jeevika adds, “We plan to go into raising investment and expand internationally. India is artistically rich. We want these artists gain popularity abroad as well.”
Their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to always startup with a partner. “It’s less scary,” deems Kanika. “And don’t wait on beautifying an idea. That all can happen after launching.
It needs to be something you truly believe in. Most of all don’t do it for the money,” Jeevika rounds off.