From cost-cutting and jugaad, to investing time in building a customer’s trust - here’s what these housewives-turned-entrepreneurs are doing to expand their business
This year, on Raksha Bandhan, Geekmonkey, an online gifting platform, recorded a staggering spike of 300 per cent in their rakhi sales as compared to last year.
Despite clocking revenue of two crores last year, and securing a pan India customer base of 1,50,000 since its launch in 2017, the platform had recorded a loss ever since the lockdown was imposed in March. Naturally, the founders, Dehradun-based Nisha Gupta and Guddi Thapliyal, were pleasantly surprised.
“We were aware that people would not be able to step outside their homes to buy rakhis due to the restrictions, so online purchases would be the obvious choice. But not in our wildest dreams did we imagine such profits,” Guddi tells The Better India.
For Guddi and Nisha, the last two years have been full of such pleasant surprises as their homegrown company is growing at an exponential rate despite certain limitations including the lockdown.
The duo, whose children are married to each other, were housewives with absolutely no knowledge about establishing an online business or any experience of running a business at such a large scale.
They not only let the shortcomings deter them but also challenged the general perception that startups are for people in their twenties. The two housewives started Geekmonkey in their fifties with an investment of Rs 50,000 each.
While Guddi has studied till class five, Nisha is a graduate who used to sell gift items from her house and later at a shop.
“I remember once I ended up with several return gifts post a party and so I decided to distribute them in my social circle. Many people praised the gift and some even asked me to get more. That was when the seed of selecting gifts with an emotional value was sown. In the next couple of months, I started procuring items from local vendors and sold to customers from my house. I enjoyed the process so much that I decided to open a small shop. The experience accumulated during these years gave me the confidence to increase my reach,” Nisha tells The Better India.
Meanwhile, for Guddi, it was the excitement and anticipation of seeing a person’s reaction after receiving a thought-provoking gift that ignited her interest in starting a venture.
Guddi’s son Anil, who is married to Nisha’s daughter, works in the IT sector and he suggested going online instead of establishing a physical shop.
It was a strict no from both the mothers who had never operated a computer till 2017, let alone explore the online space.
Questions like ‘how will I help a customer select a gift, why will the customer want to buy from our website when there are already established e-commerce platforms, will the customers trust two housewives with no social media presence’ popped up. Anil and Pooja patiently tackled all their scepticism and answered their questions, but also ensured that they kept it real by warning them that the business could fail.
But the duo was excited and decided to take the plunge.
Expanding the Business
Anil worked on setting up the website and listing the products, while Nisha and Guddi worked on selecting the range of products that would cater to every age group, theme (such as home decor, kitchen, stationary) and even occasions (birthdays, weddings and house-warming parties).
It took months of research, sample testing and trust-building to find the right gifts and vendors across India. They also collaborated with local artisans and handicraft makers and gave them a wider platform to sell their products at the right price.
“We did not want to be just another gifting website and wanted to offer items that are either unique or not commonly available and accessible. For example, custom made bobblehead dolls or 3D illusion lamps are rare. Our research mostly involved studying our competitors and understanding the needs of our friends and families. Like one friend mentioned she came across 3D socks on a foreign trip so we looked for Indian manufacturers,” shares Nisha.
The trial and experiments of listing and delivering products lasted for a couple of months. It was only in 2018 when the sales picked up first through word of mouth and then via social media advertisements.
To reduce expenses in the initial days, Guddi and Nisha would pack the items themselves at home and courier it.
Another cost-cutting measure was sourcing gifting items in bulk but soon they realised the flipside. At one point, their warehouse was filled with hundreds of items but the sales did not happen so they stayed there for months.
Other problems like untimely delivery, order cancellation, irregular courier services were something that they dealt with for the first time.
“The courier executives would charge exorbitant rates and we had to compromise on our profits. This problem was solved when vendors understood our reach across the country. They started providing their own transportation,” says Guddi.
Geekmonkey started with 4-5 orders daily and gradually worked their way up to a 100 per cent growth rate in 2019.
Their revenue model takes into account packaging and shipping charges and taxes. Based on that, the profit margin is presently kept anywhere between 5-10 per cent.
What Makes Geekmonkey Unique
“You will not just get a showpiece or usual gifts like pen stands and photo frames. We help people select affordable gifts that easily define their loved ones. That’s why we decided to have almost 40 categories. From a person who is a party animal, a superhero fan, a pregnant lady to someone who is into car accessories, we have a gift for everyone,” the duo says.
The USP of the company is constantly learning and being adaptable to changes. For instance, in early 2019, when TikTok was gaining popularity, Geekmonkey got Gun Cash Cannons (a toy) that the users used to make videos. Within a few days, they sold hundreds of them. Plus they have an entire collection of DIYs that is another trending gift.
The delivery time is 48 hours in metro cities and the site offers a guest check out where a user need not login their details.
There is also somewhat of healthy competition amongst the Geekmonkey staff while they go about choosing products for the site. “We keep a tab on whose selection will sell most. This helps in igniting our creative imagination while picking a product,” says Nisha.
Constant support right from when they arrive on the website till they get a doorstep delivery is another strategy that is working well, “We have a live chat where we assist users in picking the right gift according to their budget. This is exactly like when one goes to a physical shop,” explains Guddi.
When Heena, a resident of Gurugram, came across Geekmonkey while scrolling Instagram, she ordered three products last month and was impressed with their customer service.
“That’s the thing about small businesses, they are very committed and trustworthy. When I had certain doubts instead of pushing me to buy the products, they happily answered them. I wanted a replacement for one of the products and they did it immediately without asking too many questions. Their policy of investing in a customer’s trust is a rare quality,” she tells The Better India.
While the duo has picked up business tips and tricks along the way, they have also enhanced the business using some of their own innate wisdom. For instance, when they weren’t able to sell wide mugs, Guddi took one and reused it as a planter, and posted a picture. A customer saw that asked for a similar one. That’s when they relaunched the product, but now as a planter and within a few weeks, they were sold out.
However, the biggest learning for the founders has been to invest in one arena, analyse if it is working then invest more instead of risking it all.
Nisha and Guddi’s entrepreneurial journey shows that having degrees and years of experience is not mandatory to achieve your dreams. All it takes is the willingness to learn, work hard and be sincere.
Get in touch with Geekmonkey here
Edited by Gayatri Mishra