[Kavita Singh is the founder of Beenthere.in , a leading E-Commerce portal which brings you contemporary products and souvenirs inspired from monuments and cities of India. Kavita started the venture in the incubation centre of her alma mater Indian School of Business. Kavita has rich experience in apparel retail industry of 11 years with leading brands like Levi's Strauss, Lee Cooper, Wrangler]
Sagar : Kindly throw some light on your start-up Beenthere.in. How did it start?
Kavita : I started working on the idea during an entrepreneurship paper at my MBA from Indian School of Business. Having worked for many years in the apparel retail industry I had toyed with the idea of starting out on my own for a while. The incubation centre at ISB gave me an opportunity to do this. I submitted the idea and it was chosen for incubation. I had to sign out of placement but that was fine since I planned to take this up for good.
Sagar : What is the underlying idea and the concept?
Kavita : At Beenthere we are trying to tell a story through modern souvenirs. Most souvenir shopping in India is about handicraft items. Often these products may not tell you much about the place. I have picked up the same silk stole from Janpath in Delhi and a beach in Kovalam, Kerala ! So there is an unexplored opportunity for contemporary products that have contextual value. We create products like mugs, tees, bags and bookmarks that carry art, graphics or text inspired from monuments, history or culture. We love to use hand sketches and art as a medium to tell a story. The ceramic mugs we create are unique because they are printed with art. Each product carries information or trivia that can educate the traveler or the culturally inclined about a city. In fact all products are designed around a destination. These have true souvenir value. As Indians we live with so much history and heritage around us that we stop taking note of it. ‘Beenthere.in’ is an endeavour to remind us of it. It is ‘a little piece of history’ that we carry back from a place we have been to. It’s a great way to remember that we have ‘been there’.
Sagar : How good is the blend of Travel & Tourism industry with E-commerce in today’s growing economy? Is that the future?
Kavita : Well Travel and Tourism forms the largest chunk of the e-commerce industry so it’s here for good. The model has worked well in developed economies and India with a huge population that has access to internet is bound to see growth in this segment. Apart from the biggies in ticketing I see a huge growth in smaller/medium businesses that cater to niche travel experiences. Whether its firms who curate stays at boutique resorts/villas or those who promise an adventure-led experience, this segment is seeing a lot of exciting activity.
Sagar : When was the company founded and where?
Kavita : Oh well I kinda dread this question. I mean firstly it’s a one-woman show out here at this point. It makes me feel like a real outlier amidst the gazillions of tech startups with teams of 3 or 4 or more engineer founders. I wish I could say that at such and such point 4 of us got together and ‘founded’ this firm. To come back to the point after the rant, I run this thing with my spouse who is from the retail industry but has a day job elsewhere. It’s somewhat a joint venture though I am the one full time on it. I passed out in 2011 from ISB and began work on this. We got our first order in that year but got our official registrations done early last year and began retailing offline and online in the 2nd half of 2012. So you decide the ‘when’. And we are Bangalore based.
Sagar : Where all in India is it currently operating? Do you plan to go global as well?
Kavita : We don’t have a branch office, but we sell all over India.
We think India specific souvenirs should have a global market. There are India lovers all over plus the NRI’s who would like a déjà vu about their favorite Indian cities/destinations. Recently a customer from Malaysia got in touch. He had travelled to India many times and loved our mugs. We stretched ourselves to ship a superfast consignment to his colleague who was travelling from Delhi to meet him.
We are present on sites that ship international but we are far from having tapped the market well. It will take a greater fine-tuning of logistics and we will take some time to get there.
Sagar : What are your plans on the scaling up of Beenthere.in?
Kavita : We are expanding into traditional retail stores. We are present at Mother Earth store in Domlur, Bangalore and will be getting into their other stores in Bangalore. We sell through DCube in Hyderabad. We have already shipped to some stores of Central, Future Group. We do set up stalls at Flea Fairs etc. Online, we sell through our own site, beenthere.in. Plus we sell through Shopo.in, SimplySizzl.in, GiftingNation.com and very soon we will be selling through Flipkart.
Sagar : What are your thoughts on the E-commerce industry in India and its potential in the near future considering the Indian demographics and the shopping preferences.
Kavita : Its here to stay but what is worth watching out for is not how the discount segment will work but how sites operating in niche segments will build their customers and credibility.
Sagar : Did your rich experiences with premium brands like Levi’s, Wrangler or Lee Cooper in the apparel retail sector and the intensive MBA course at ISB help you in setting up this venture?
Kavita : Yes definitely. The apparel industry is very fast paced and entrepreneurial (not very streamlined, rigorous planning required, everything that can go wrong does and execution is key) in nature. I have seen many entrepreneurs get made in the industry. People who started from scratch and worked their way up to build a great product or brand in a span of 5-6 years. Those guys were very inspirational. They are sharp, were up to date with latest trends, well travelled, worked hard like crazy and knew their market. It was a pleasure to know them and work with them. I worked on the product side in apparel brands which was very satisfying creatively and gave a great exposure to the end-to-end process of creating and marketing a product.
ISB was great because we had these killer assignments…the kind we thought we will never get through (clue : I am not an engineer) but somehow we got through the grueling schedule and managed much more than we had imagined we could. It got me to trust in my abilities a lot more than earlier. I miss the teamwork of those days especially since I am a solo founder. The incubation at the Wadhwani Center worked well because initially I did not have the confidence to put my own money in the business. I was too apprehensive. They helped me with initial funds. Now ofcourse I am self funding/bootstrapping it.
Sagar : What would you recommend the budding entrepreneurs about the potential sectors of tomorrow? Do you see any particular niche getting created out of nowhere?
Kavita: There are many sunrise sectors like healthcare, education, apps, renewable energy, QSR etc and e-commerce still. But my general advice to budding entrepreneurs irrespective of sectors would be ’Follow your gut and the earlier the better because there is no right time’.
P.S. : Few rockstars are building India’s Biggest Fan merchandising store at www.bluegape.com ! Check them out.