What happens when you bring together four engineers, a passion for entrepreneurship and a whole lot of conviction in one’s own abilities? The strength to follow what your soul truly desires!
That in its very basic essence is the story of The Souled Store, an online marketplace that is providing independent artists a platform to showcase and monetize their creativity. Aiming to support those with a passion for creative designs and unique products, the website ‘crowdsources’ its designs and pays a royalty to the creator for each product sold with that design.
The model has allowed them to market not only a wide variety of products such as graphic tees, backpacks, coasters, tote bags, stationary and more, but also an inherent sense of idiosyncrasy and individuality that is attached to each. This is in line with the ventures’ aim to ‘create a community for like-minded people to express themselves through their work,’ rather than being just another e-commerce venture selling apparel. This focus, along with being picky about the brand image that they want to project, is what the founders believe will set them apart from competition.
“It’s a pretty crowded market that we operate in. We aren’t just competing with online brands like bewakoof.com or wyo.in, but also the likes of Myntra, Jabong, and Flipkart etc. We’re particular about our brand image for which we put in a lot of thought to design selection. For example, we don’t do designs just because we think they’d sell and prefer to keep away from general crass humor,” says Vedang Patel one of the co-founders of The Souled Store.
The other co-founders are Rohin Samtaney and Aditya Sharma, who were also financial analysts at the same firm as Vedang, and equally dissatisfied with their jobs. “During conversations, we realized that all of us wanted to do more than just be a cog in someone else’s wheel, and figured that if we had to take any risk in life, now was the time,” says Vedang of their beginnings.
Leveraging their knowledge from their financial backgrounds, the three put in Rs. 1.75 lakhs each (from personal savings) to set up a business with strong fundamentals and a cash cycle that requires no working capital. This has allowed them to grow organically from a business that was started with a total inventory of 200 t-shirts running out of a small cabin, to a business with an inventory of 20,000 t-shirts that is run out of a couple of offices in Bombay. Financially, the team believes they have the potential to grow 50% month on month without any additional capital inflow.
A positive growth like this can’t be a purely numbers game and while the team insists their success lies in the simplicity of their business, we see some of their other unique moves that include partnering with music festivals such as the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, the Enchanted Valley Carnival (EVC), artist management agencies such as Krunk and Mixtape, comedy acts such as AIB (All India Bakchod), music bands which include the likes of Pentagram, Scribe, Indus Creed, Providence, Gutslit, Madboy/ Mink and many more, to become the 'sole' avenue for authentic merchandise for fans, followers, influencers alike.
By bringing schools/universities on board as well, they’re also attracting a legion of students/ alumni to buy alma mater merchandise turning them into returning customers. Of course, there is a regular ‘Make your Tee’ feature as well allowing for personalization.
This seems to be a lot of activity for a startup that still hasn't raised any external funding. When quizzed on their plans to scale up, they quip excitedly, “Our aim in the next three years is to offer an extensive range of products and we aim to introduce new products every two-three months and display artwork with unexplored themes. As our focus has always been on the artist, we plan to have 1000+ artists from around the world by 2017. We’ll also start international shipping soon, and there are also plans to set up a few brick and mortar stores in all major cities to help consolidate our brand presence in India.”
With such aggressive expansion plans in place, the team is also keeping a check on their obstacles, “Our greatest bottleneck is getting new designs. To overcome this, we are in the process of creating a stronger in-house design team and contacting more artists (including international artists) for our platform,” says Vedang. But the team seems unfazed by hurdles, having already faced many of them along the way.
Extrapolates Vedang, “Name an obstacle and we’ve faced it. The first challenge is still the social stigma attached to quitting your job, and having people tell you repeatedly that it's a bad decision. In fact, they’d probably wait for your business to go through a rough patch to say, I told you so. There’s also a lack of professionalism/business ethics that one doesn’t expect if you’ve not been exposed to it. We’ve faced delays, bad quality of products and some fraudulence along the way. The way around it has been to just be better planned ourselves and always have a buffer and a contingency plan.”
Fortunately for them, their efforts seem to be not for nothing. The online apparel industry which stood at $0.5 billion of sales in 2014 is projected to grow to $2.5 billion by 2017, and they’re fully aware of the potential this throws up for them. "We wish to partake in this growth story and our products, although curated, do appeal to a wide audience in terms of pricing and designs. We aim to be a brand that is associated with today’s youth. A brand whose design and feel is premium yet whose products are affordable."
Ask them about how their entrepreneurial journey has been so far and they assert that none of them has ever felt the urge to turn back and retrace to the conventional nine to five. It’s also the advice they share for those wanting to start off the beaten path, “We don't claim that the struggle is done and dusted with, but we're proud of having stayed afloat when things got rough, and sometimes holding on is the key. It may be the most clichéd piece of advice, but the sentiment of not giving up, keeping at it, and letting things just fall into place is something we fully endorse. It’s always worth taking a chance for if you believe that it’s worth it. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll learn something from it.”