A reverse career move

A reverse career move

Manoj Gupta is not a typical IIT-IIM guy. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) – Bombay in 1998, Gupta went on to get a Master’s in engineering in the U.S. After a brief stint in the corporate world, he went on to pursue a PhD. at University of California, San Diego. One fine day, his professor and advisor in the PhD. programme decided to start a company, Wireless Interface Technologies (WIT) and roped in a few of his students as its early-stage employees. Gupta was one of them. It was an event that probably transformed Gupta’s career path. WIT was bought over by Chrontel, a wireless technology company and Gupta worked there for a few years. In 2006, he moved back to India to pursue a one-year MBA degree at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) – Ahmedabad and then joined Nexus Venture Partners (Nexus), an Indian VC firm, as its first non-partner employee. A few years later, Gupta quit Nexus to start Craftsvilla, a brand he hopes to transform into a luxury brand in the handicrafts space, world over.

In a chat with The Smart CEO, Gupta takes us through his thought process behind the career switch and his vision for Craftsvilla.

What prompted you to turn entrepreneur after a stint in the VC world?

I always wanted to create a big organisation in India. My expertise at Nexus was in the e-commerce space. My wife was then working in the handicrafts industry and I thought if we could combine our two skill sets, there was a huge opportunity waiting to be tapped. I decided to take a chance. Craftsvilla was born in December 2010.

Could you share some lessons you learnt from your stint at Nexus?

Obviously, I understood the importance of building great teams and there was some expertise I picked up on how to build these high quality teams. In addition to that, it exposed me to the fact that a large amount of capital is not always easily available. We need a business to be profitable and sustainable business models are crucial. Handicrafts, as a product segment, is a space in which high margins can be maintained. Selling handicrafts online is something unique; it is not a clone of any business that has been built in the U.S.

The one thing you never had to worry about in your previous job (Nexus), that you have to worry about now?

I guess the big difference is my personal financial stability. I never had to worry about that before but now I have to.

I get the sense you are looking at creating a luxury brand for handcrafted products, something along the likes of a FabIndia. Selling online is only a part of the process. What are the other aspects of making Craftsvilla work?

The top few aspects are brand building, building scale and selling globally through the online platform, with a focus on several markets including markets outside India, and maintaining a high gross margin of over 50 per cent to 60 per cent. Some people think selling handicrafts is a niche market. That is not true. It is a US $ 7 billion opportunity. Market demand is less of a problem. The crucial aspect is to deliver on the supply side. The supply chain is broken, staggered and there are several issues in terms of quality and consistency of quality. We are learning things regularly. For example, we just learnt that during the monsoon, for a period of two months, suppliers are affected. We are bringing in people from the ecosystem to understand and fix these details.

Using technology is another aspect that is crucial to build scale. In spite of being a small company, we are already implementing SAP (for enterprise resource planning and inventory management). Managing our own inventory and that owned by others is crucial in this business. Overall, we are convinced that there is an opportunity to build a huge brand.


THE CLIMB TO TURNING ENTREPRENEUR

1994-1998

B.Tech, IIT Bombay Exposure to the outside world, met and worked with people from various cultures across India

1998-2000

M.S., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Initial interest in the startup world. Interacted

with people from around the globe

2001-2006

Early-stage technology team member at WIT, followed by Chrontel Learnt how to build a company from scratch, grow it and then get it acquired

2006-2007

MBA, IIM – Ahmedabad Had never worked in India. It was a great platform to get started on building something big in India Dec 2010 onwards  Founder, Craftsvilla.com Constantly learning something, especially on the supply side, to better manage a budding brand

2007-2010

Principal, Nexus Venture Partners

Learnt the importance of building good teams, and building a profitable and sustainable business