Raising funds as a 20-something woman in India can be a challenge, especially because inevitably you are faced with some dogmatic questions from investors such as ’What’s going to happen to your business once you get married or have children?’ That’s when I know the investor’s not right for me. While choosing the right investors, it was really important I work with someone who has faith in my commitment towards the growth of the business,
says Shuchi Pandya, the Founder of Pipa+Bella who recently raised $650,000 from the Singapore-based Lion Rock Capital, Rajesh Sawhney, Teruhide Sato, and Roopa Nath. The company’s advisors include GSF Founder Rajesh Sawhney and Former Freecultr.com CEO Sujal Shah.
Pipa+Bella offers women curated collections of fashion jewellery at affordable prices. As for the name Pipa+Bella, Shuchi reveals that, “Pipa in Spanish is a colloquial word for someone who is ‘bold/adventurous/risk-taking’ and Bella is Italian for ‘classic and beautiful’. We wanted our brand and jewellery to reflect both these personalities and cater to women who could relate to either or both.”
With the recent funding, Shuchi and her team plan to use the funds for hiring, building their tech platform and expanding their customer base.
Based out of Mumbai, they have operations in Singapore as well. Shuchi is quick to point out,
Our focus is still largely India. The market here is growing rapidly and while we plan to expand internationally in a couple of countries, we want to keep our core target on India for the next year at least,
The jewellery way
Jewellery is in Shuchi’s blood and that is what drew her to this sector. She grew up in Mumbai in a family of jewellers – where dinner table conversations often revolved around best business practices and the concept of creating value through business.
The lessons learnt at an early age stuck with her throughout her undergrad days at New York University, where she studied Marketing at the Stern School of Business.
She turned to the family business upon her return. This is where “My early experience in a product-focused environment helped me understand the dynamics of supply chain and pricing,” she says.
In 2010, she joined the Wharton School for an MBA. “It was here that I began developing my idea for Pipa+Bella and began understanding what I would need to think about when building a new-age/tech-based business.” While at Wharton, she enrolled herself in an eight-week class on how to build and pitch a business plan. To bridge the knowledge gap she took up finance and accounting classes, and a course in coding too. “With the right guidance from some incredible advisors, Pipa+Bella was born,” she adds.
Other than her familiarity and experience in this sector, she also feels that this is a great segment to build online. “Jewellery is an impulse purchase, because of its ease of trial and ready-to-wear factor. More importantly, the demand for fashion jewellery is on the rise. Today’s youth is looking for high-street fashion that has unique designs, is affordable with good quality and doesn’t absorb the fluctuating gold and diamond prices”
Though there are many fish in the sea, Shuchi is conscious that the novelty factor gives them an edge. “We launch approximately 100 new designs every week and are expanding our customizable section on the website, wherein customers can contribute their own designs to be made.”
With a 12-member team their business model is an inventory-based one with a technology-driven distribution and for their customized pieces they have a 21-day just-in-time design-to-shelf cycle.
One of their biggest challenges says Shuchi, “Was around building stickiness and loyalty around a product category that is traditionally not driven by branding. In order to do that, we had to create a brand that was aspirational yet affordable. But as you know, often-good quality and affordability don’t go hand in hand. Luckily our experience in jewellery manufacturing and design has helped us improve upon our supply chain and we work with vendors closely to ensure our pieces have great quality and design!”
Hiring poses a challenge. Good talent and people with passion for their work are hard to find, mentions Shuchi. What keeps her going everyday is her team, that comprises of energetic, creative and hard-working individuals and their attitude to take on any challenge as a piece of cake.
They soon plan to launch a mobile app and expand their product offering as well as introduce customer loyalty programmes on their platforms. With a razor sharp focus and discipline as her business mantra, she believes that it never pays off to try and do too many things. “I believe one should focus on their core competency and use that as a basis for innovation.”
With the recent funding she has raised her advice to others walking the same road is –
First- “Start early! Things can take a lot longer than you anticipate and the last thing you want is to be out of cash while you’re still negotiating with investors.”
Second- “Be honest with your investors and be open about the issues and challenges you’re facing. I find this is a much better approach than masking them as the issues will get revealed either way at some point and you’ll lose the trust of your investors.”
Third- “Terms are more important than valuation. The terms determine how you run your business every day and can really make or break your happiness. Get a good lawyer to help you work this out.”
Fourth- “Know why you’re raising money and how you’re going to spend the funds.”
Fifth- “Not everyone who is willing to give you money may be a good investor. Do some reference checks and get a sense of what it’s like to work with that investor.”