We are taking small steps but consistent progress. We have been working to create a marketplace to help those who have the skills and products (artisans/craftspeople) but are unable to sell directly to wholesalers or consumers due to a lack of knowledge and resources. With our pilot project, we have established a solid “proof of concept”: Essentially, that there are viable ways of establishing sustainable and conscious business models that can lead to equitable benefits for the marketer/seller (“Us”), the maker/craftsmen/workers, and the consumer in terms of profit, wages, education, better standard of living and consumer savings, to name a few. We understand that “business as usual” would make “Us” the greater margin earner, especially with markup potentials of 700% – 1500% and the justification of marketing, travel, branding, employees, and other expenses may make it seem fair to keep most of this profit/benefit, but the reality is there are truly fair methods to make a decent profit while being more equitable with makers and the consumers.
Thus the road to take is clear to us. Our plan is to sell our brand online directly to our customers (wholesale and retail), offering high-end products, with the goal of a fair financial benefit for each of the main three parties…where we and everyone working with us makes a decent living and our customers get quality products.
What have we achieved this past year?
We identified three initial industries to bring products to the market using the latest trends and internet technologies.
Project # 1:
Handmade leather bags and accessories.
At the invitation of government of Colombia, we attended arts and craft show in Bogota. During that visit we met several makers with passion for their industry and community. We came out with number of potential products that meets our mission objectives and launched our TheMakerWorld.com market place.
Working with one of the maker, we are in the process of development leather bag product line as our initial product offering with a plan introduce additional items on regular basis.
Project # 2:
Health and beauty products: Handmade hair cutting shears and scissors.
We attended a health and beauty show in Bogota, Colombia and launched our KR brand.
We made initial sales at the tradeshow, found positive reception for the product, learned a lot from our customer interaction and most importantly closed a wholesale deal in Ecuador. We delivered the first wholesale trial order to a national distributor of health and beauty products in Ecuador, generating 37K in revenue with the potential to reach 100K repeat business per year from that single customer.
The major benefits were:
- They agreed to carry products under our brand
- The experience of working a brand with a “real” customer
- The development of several key components of branding
- The insight into how to make the process better
- What the challenges are and where we need to invest (like in our own manufacturing plant)
- The production timelines for manufacturing, packaging, printing needs and graphic design
- The numerous sale support items needed, and much more….
There are still many wholesalers we have yet to approach, but we’re waiting to do so until we acquire funding and resources.
Additionally, for this product, the E-Commerce site prototype was launched. We are in the process of developing fully functioning e-commerce site that will include a regular purchase option and a unique, subscription model. The retail market is the most lucrative and can help fund several social self-sustainability projects.
Project # 3:
Ralli colorful quilts and cushion covers produced by women artisans from the Sindh region of Pakistan. We visited villages of the women who painstakingly make these products by hand but still live in mud houses and with no running water.
Funding is our biggest hurdle due to the nature of the business. We don’t get paid until the products are delivered to customers. We have to invest in raw materials, make a 60% down payment with the manufacturers due to their economic conditions, and for the e-commerce site we will need to purchase and stock inventory. So far we have been bootstrapping the business, funding it through one of us being fully employed and taking out small loan. To take it to the next level, the business will need significant investment.
What are we doing about it:
We are exploring several funding options from traditional business loans, to the startup model of VCs and Angel investors. This week we started visiting technology/startup incubators around town and introduced our company and mission to members of TechRanch. There are several challenges with these types of funding models but we hope to learn and at least use what’s out there from a technology perspective and use what’s available instead of reinventing a wheel.
The Ecuador experience was a huge collaborative effort by several folks in Colombia, US, Ecuador and Pakistan. This opportunity provided us the means to learn the industry, its players, the products, the challenges and the potential in such a way that we have a clearer vision on how to proceed and where we can make the most impact for all the parties involved. It has also made clear that we need funding and support.
We are exploring several funding options from traditional business loans to the startup model of VCs and Angel investors. The biggest challenge to the business accelerator is whether we will find that unique investor willing to accept and maintain our socially minded business model and stay true to that goal through the process. The great benefits, however, may come from exposure to other entrepreneurs, the community, and the new technologies that may help us solidify the business model and propel it forward. Our preference, however, would be to find a like-minded investor among our friends or a friend of a friend.
Although there is always risk in any venture or investment, we are confident that the industry would welcome this business model, that we have the skills and knowledge to implement and grow it, and that an investor willing to take the leap with us would generate good return on investment. Rather than charity or non-profit work, we have always thought it best to work on sustainable business models that shift the paradigm of opportunity and gains in a more equitable manner. We have no exit strategy; we are not in a rush to the finish line. Slow progress is much better than no progress and that is why we are looking for a conscious investor.
We are happy to hear your thoughts, advice, ideas, business contacts and/or if you are interested in investing with us or know someone who would like to contribute to move this along faster, let us know.
We can use advice in the following areas.
- Ideas to acquire funds
- Advice as regards the business structure/model
- Structured expansion/go-to-market models
- Referrals for wholesale and retail customers once the e-commerce site is officially launched (anyone can help with this, after all we all have to visit our hair stylist/barber quite frequently, once or twice a month or two months)
- Technology that can help us grow faster
- Your understanding, advice and continued support
We have done a lot of work but have not been able to truly benefit a single soul without being able to implement our model…. We have a feeling that it’s about to change.