With the luxury market set to expand in India at an annual growth rate of approx 25 percent, it is sunshine time for startups in this space. According to an Assocham study released at the beginning of the year, the Indian luxury market is expected to cross $18.3 billion by 2016. At present, the size is pegged at $14.7 billion.
Though luxury sedans, hi-end fashion and accessories, five-star dining, jewellery, watches, and pens are the most sought after by consumers spending on luxury, fine art is another area that has big takers. Taking advantage of the growing market, husband-wife duo Varun Backliwal and Lisa Jain set up Artisera, an online platform to discover and buy unique pieces of fine art, collectibles, home décor, and furniture, with an aim to create an ‘artistic luxury’ brand.
“The idea was born in August 2015. We pitched to potential partner brands to get them on board as sellers with just a PowerPoint presentation. These pitches were to some of the most established names in the space, so when they told us we’d be solving a genuine problem for them, we knew we were on to something,” says Varun. They went live at the beginning of this year and have added 40 partner brands, a strong community of clients comprising individuals, interior designers, and corporates.
Artisera is bootstrapped at the moment, with the personal savings of the two founders. “We’ve put in Rs 20 lakh of our own money, and will now be actively looking for strategic investors who have a passion for, and understanding of, what we are trying to build. We don’t think the VC model is the right fit for our business at this stage because it is important to grow a luxury brand slowly and steadily,” says Varun.
According to him, revenues have been promising. “We’re now covering our monthly operational costs. What gives us confidence is that we’ve built a strong set of repeat clients,” shares Varun.
Selling high-value items online is a challenge, but the founders claim they have been able to sell pieces for as high as Rs 2.75 lakh within a couple of months of going live.
Family of entrepreneurs
Belonging to a business family that is associated with the fine arts and handicrafts trade since over a century, Varun worked in the family business for eight years. In 2008, he moved to Spain to do his MBA from IESE Business School, Barcelona, and worked there for a few years. During his course, he spent three months in Mexico, interning with a luxury retail firm to design their online strategy. He moved to India in 2012, as he was “smitten by the energy of the startup ecosystem here, and soon joined a leading startup accelerator to advise and mentor retail-focussed tech startups.” That’s when the idea to marry his two areas of expertise – the arts, and online retail - struck him.
Lisa comes with investment banking experience at UBS, London. Born in Kolkata, she completed her undergraduate degree in economics from University of Warwick, UK, and MBA at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. While Varun oversees business development, client relations, and technology, Lisa looks after design, content, and finance.
“We have very different personalities, backgrounds, and skill sets, but there is one common factor –we both come from families with a strong entrepreneurial bent of mind. In fact, we were the first in our respective families to get a job. So after having spent sometime successfully in the corporate world, it was only natural for us to start our own venture,” says Varun.
In the past few months, luxury fashion marketplaces have seen a lot of investor interest. Smytten, an online discovery and trial platform for premium products and services, recently received an undisclosed amount from angel investor Rajan Anandan, MD of Google for Southeast Asia and India. Startups like Delhi-based Confidential Couture and Bengaluru-based Zapyle are bringing luxury fashion to a larger customer basevia pre-owned goods.
According to the founders, although there are many interesting online ventures in the aspirational or luxury fashion space, there isn’t any single platform that helps individuals discover exquisite, non-mass manufactured, unique art pieces from the best brands in the business.
Varun says, “Our emphasis is to promote ‘fine art’ as a whole, including contemporary and modern art as well as traditional art forms, sculpture, and photography. And we believe art should extend to other elements of our home and personal spaces as well, such as furniture, tableware, rugs, décor and more.”
Some of their partner brands include The Great Eastern Home, Balaji Antiques, Cocoon Fine Rugs, Jaipur Rugs, Sarita Handa, Essajees, Portside Café Furniture Studio, Tasveer, Navrathan Antique Arts and more.