Founder of a now thriving flea market in Pune, Durgesh speaks to YourStory about the importance of a platform for talented artists to showcase their creativity.
Durgesh Khandelwal is the founder and Festival Director of Wassup Flea, the largest organised flea market of Pune (see my photo essay). He founded the company Team ADit for experiential B2B marketing, and was earlier at Panoramic Universal. He graduated from Savitribai Phule Pune University, University of Pune, and National Institute of Event Management.
Durgesh joins us in this interview on the journey of Wassup Flea, and how such platforms help boost the creative potential of Indian designers and entrepreneurs. (See also my earlier photo essay on Kitsch Mandi and interview with its founder Laila Vaziralli, and the PhotoSparks editions on Coffee Santhe, Sunday Soul Santhe, and Chitra Santhe.)
YourStory: How did you get started on the path to Wassup Flea?
Durgesh Khandelwal: When I was fresh out of college, I began working with brands to get activation spaces at corporates. One of the corporate clients asked me to organise a small flea market for their employees. Though I had no prior experience, I took it up as a challenge and organised it successfully.
Since it went well, I started approaching other corporates with the same concept and it worked well for all my exhibitors. The news spread among other exhibitors, and I soon had more exhibitors than I could accommodate at any of these corporate fleas.
Therefore, I rented a space for walk-ins at a struggling mall, and started a weekend flea market. It drew over 30 exhibitors every weekend, and since then there was no looking back. I also visited flea markets in Goa and Bengaluru, and that's when it struck me that Pune should also have a flea market like them: a weekend experience with quality offerings in music, food, crafts and more that appeals to all age groups.
So the first Wassup Flea took place in April 2014. My two years of MBA and organising college festivals helped in my journey, as well as my mentors who gave me a sense of clarity on how to pursue my passion for organising events.
YS: What was the vision behind the founding of Wassup, and how has it evolved over the years?
DK: I noticed that there was so much creativity emanating from small artists, designers and entrepreneurs, but there was a lack of a proper platform to showcase their work. There were other exhibitions with exorbitant rentals that many could not afford.
Hence, the vision was to create an affordable and sustainable platform for such creative business, while also becoming an event property as a melting pot of art, creativity music and food.
Over the years, Wassup Flea has grown bigger and now has four editions a year -- two each in West Pune and East Pune to reach out to a wider audience. Our stall selection policy has grown stricter to ensure quality and uniqueness of the products exhibited.
YS: What are some themes you have had over the years?
DK: The theme of the event varies depending on the time of year. The October edition is focused around Diwali, the December edition around Christmas and New Year, February about gifting and Valentine's Day, and April around holidays and wedding shopping.
We are currently operating in Pune, with plans to come soon to Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi.
YS: Which companies have been partners for Wassup?
DK: We have partnered with many brands and companies such as Tata Docomo, Piaggio, Fosters, Mahindra, Paytm, Swiggy, Zomato, Titan and so on. They benefit in terms of branding, product displays, and product sampling.
YS: Would it make sense to start a ‘permanent’ flea market?
DK: We started off by being a permanent flea market which went on for three years. Our initiative also gave birth to other 'me too' flea markets that mushroomed around the city. However, maintaining quality control as we do at Wassup Flea is not possible in permanent flea markets since each exhibitor is selected from many applications received from Pune and outstation exhibitors, who may not be available every weekend.
YS: How do you select the bands that perform at the Flea?
DK: We have a mix of live music, dance, and comedy artistes. We select and encourage the best up and coming bands in the local scene, such as Kabir Cafe, Fiddlecraft, Folkstory, and Malang, who have won some major talent competitions. In each edition, we give a chance to one new band to perform at the event.
YS: What are the selection criteria for artist booths?
DK: Companies can participate only when an invitation is sent out to them. An interested exhibitor has to fill our inquiry form after which our curators make the final selection based on uniqueness, quality and presentation of the brand.
Our stalls vary in rent from Rs 9,000 to Rs 25,000 depending on the booth space and location. Wassup Flea does not make any profits from the booth spaces, but from entry fees for the walk-ins who come to the event.
YS: What do you see as some emerging trends in entrepreneurship and creativity?
DK: Over the past few years, we have seen that there is a boom in creativity in India, thanks to the startup wave. More and more artists and designers are coming out and expressing themselves through their creations.
With flea markets and so many online and offline marketplaces like ours, they now have the right kind of platform to reach the right target audience. We are open to new ideas and collaborations with makerspaces and startup movements, but have not formed tie-ups as yet.
YS: Do you cooperate with other flea markets as well?
DK: We announce our event dates as per our strategy. Some other events are our friends, some our competitors. Our success has seen some 'me toos' emerging, but they have not been able to reach or replicate our scale, quality or vibe. Still, we need to keep innovating and adding new experiences to the event to keep people interested and keep the competition at bay.
YS: What are your tips for the aspiring entrepreneurs and artists in our audience?
DK: My tip to all aspiring entrepreneurs is that your dream does come true when you believe in it. Go all out to pursue it, and you would surprise yourself. Keep investing and working on it till you become the best!