gyal-yong ga’a-kyid pal-‘dzoms
A term coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck .The phrase was coined as a signal of commitment to building an economy that would work on increasing the country’s Gross National Happiness(GNH) instead of the western material development that was represented by gross domestic product (GDP). Could that same philosophy be applied to an organisation? Where happiness was the goal?
Meet Rushabh Gandhi, founder of Handmade Hope. A social entrepreneurship venture which nourishes individuals and organizations who are highly skilled craftsmen at creating artistic souvenirs. Then it bridges the gap between the market and the artisans increasing their sales and helping them achieve self sustainability.
A 16 day road-trip to Bhutan changed his perspective about a lot of things about his life, says Rushabh. He observed that the Bhutanese do not subscribe to the concept of accumulating wealth.
What strikes me is that Rushabh uses words like contentment, transformation , happiness – words which are not very commonly found in the vocabulary of entrepreneurs of today. You would mostly hear businessmen talk about investment, funding, gross sales, Facebook advertising and product updates. But Rushabh is not the ordinary entrepreneur.
Starting since the time he was a high school student Rushabh has worked in the social sector for more than 10 years. It is evident from the number of organizations he is still associated with. He is guided by his mentors like Nipun Mehta – founder of Service Space, Srijan Pal Singh- Adviser to Late Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam, Jayesh Patel – founder of Manav Sadhana and Amitabh Shah – founder of Yuva Unstoppable.
But what does this young and focused entrepreneur have to teach us about building a sustainable social enterprise?
I tried to understand his approach with a visit to his very lovingly created workshop – The Paper Ashram in Vadodara.
I had first met Rushabh when he visited my college as the media team member of the What Can I Give Mission – a mission undertaken by Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
His simple goals and efforts to make a sustainable and socially responsible business is what motivated me to take a short trip to Vadodara to visit his workshop.
How did it all start?
I met a young boy called Rahul at Fatehsingh Ashram, Vadodara, an orphanage. Rahul was a creative young spirit. A few Sundays later, I found Rahul missing from the Ashram. I met him a few days later to find that he had been selling cigarettes and tobacco products to pan shops to earn a living.
A dilemma faced me, as I wanted him to leave selling cigarettes but I also understood his need to earn money. Rahul promised me to never tread path of cigarette selling again, if provided with an income source. After putting in a lot of thought, an alternative solution began taking shape in my mind.
We met after a week and asked if he could make greeting cards. Always eager for new things, Rahul expressed his wish to learn making greeting cards. He was taught by a friend, who was an expert at arts and craft.
5000 greeting cards were created and were sold within a span of two months. During this phase, Handmade Hope was born to plug the lack of proper space and a channel to fulfill their need of self sustenance. A well planned, organized, set up that helped people to achieve economic independence.
“Wherever I have been, people ask me this question about the challenges that I faced. I believe one faces challenges when one is going beyond his/her capacity of growth.
Can you tell us about the products?
We started with Paper bags made of used newspaper. We have close to 50 different sizes and types of brown paper bags today. The second category is stationery of different types like diaries, notebooks.
In the process of community building, we come across as many individuals and organizations who are highly skilled craftsmen at creating artistic souvenirs. We are currently working with Manav Sadhana Foundation, the only organization operating out of the Gandhi Ashram to bring out their hand embroidered diaries.
Can you tell us a bit about the business model of handmade hope?
We work on an order based system. Every month we try to tap in new retailers who would make the shift from plastics bags to paper bags.
Then the production responsibilities are distributed amongst the artisans at the Paper Ashram. From the very beginning I have tried to make this a sustainable model. So that even if I am not here to handle the operations the team should continue growing. Right now we have trained our first level of members who are either families or individuals who make the paper bags and stationery. They have also been trained to take orders and distribute it in their localities and then collect back the produced items and deliver them.
We pay them a salary decided on the per bag rate. In our organization we also have students from various colleges who regularly work/intern with us.
I am slowly starting to move towards the marketing and partnerships side and let my people handle the operations.
Who are your customers?Where do you see the biggest potential of the products been manufactured here?
The small and medium retailers is one segment and the corporate another. We are gradually finding innovative sampling methods to reach out to these small businesses.
People who use poly bags are difficult to convert. Instead the people using the bags made of a cloth like material are our market. Because although it is marketed as a bag made of cloth it is technically a polypropylene material. It costs almost the same as our bags. Apparel store owners are the largest segment. For the corporate we have come out with gift boxes which are ideal for corporate gifting during various occasions.
What were the biggest challenges faced?
“Yaar challenges nahi hain to kya karu?? ” Rushabh asks with a laugh. “Wherever I have been, people ask me this question about the challenges that I faced. I believe one faces challenges when one is going beyond his/her capacity of growth. Whereas I am growing organically. Till the last month I had not spent a penny on marketing or advertising. Still I was getting steady rate of orders.”
“Once during recent floods in Gujarat we faced damage to our warehouse and we have since then moved to a better place on the 4th Floor.
On another occasion we were not able to fulfill orders due to a lack of production. That was the day when we got down together as a team and we crunched the numbers. At the end of the exercise each member knew that they had to make a minimum of how many paper bags per day to stay profitable. Sometimes there are small day to day hurdles which we work on swiftly.
Can you recollect any instances where a customer feedback really made you feel good about what you were doing?
Very recently I was called by a small time undergarment seller who wanted to use paper bags for his outlet. I was in utter disbelief, as we had been many times turned down by corporates because they found the bags expensive. And here we had a relatively small time seller wanting to experiment the usage of these bags.
How are you innovating in marketing your products?
I am inspired by the Volkswagen approach. If you ever go to buy a Volkswagen car the sales representative would tell you the entire history of the company for close to 15 minutes. It makes the customer associate themselves with the brand.
When I go to meet a prospective customer I tell him the entire story of how these bags are made and who are the ones who would benefit from the sales of the bags. This is even before the price discussions come up. In such a cases the customers never bargain and also are proud to be associated with the cause.The product itself is the biggest marketing tool we have.
How has the e-commerce venture worked out?
It has given Handmade Hope, a new life. After the floods in 2014 there was a low point. That is around the same time we launched the online store. The response has been really encouraging. Our online and offline methods combined we get orders of more than 20000 pieces per month.
However, people still call up separately to get a bargain, laughs Rushabh. Zepo allows us to put a limit on the quantity of available pieces for the particular product which is very helpful. I was browsing through the Zepo blog and also came to know about an application called Canva and it was just in time because I was about to pay more than Rs 20000 to a creative agency for the same purpose.
What is your word of advice for young entrepreneurs?
Happiness and balanced sustainable growth should be the goal. When I say sustainable growth it doesn’t mean a sustainable enterprise but the individuals in the enterprise should be fully aware when they reach a situation where they can say this much is enough and I am content with what I have.
You know it should be like the hotels of Bumthang, Bhutan. There people have these family run hotels for the tourists and they would build just the enough number of rooms required for the sustenance of their family of four or five. That’s all. They wouldn’t make a single more room to accumulate wealth.
Rushabh drops me in an auto to the city center. The auto is filled with brown paper bags and acts as his delivery vehicle. “You see this store has its launch tomorrow.”
What do YOU think of Rushabh’s approach towards building a organically growing organization? Rushabh and we are interested in knowing your views. Let us know in the comments.
You can check out the beautiful Handmade products at the Handmade Hope Store. Your purchase actually goes into supporting multiple livelihoods in Baroda.
You too can take your passion online!
Try out the Zepo Ecommerce platform and start your own E-commerce Store!!