Sudip Dutta, 33, graduated as an engineer in 1999 from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, and worked in India for six years before moving to the US. After working there for five years with the sales department of a technology company, he returned to India with the aim of starting Aporv.com, an online platform that sells handicrafts made by artisans across India. In Sanskrit, Aporv means “unique”.
Click and buy: Dutta turned his passion into a business. A Chowdhury / Mint
“Having been involved with BITS.aid, the first college-based volunteering organization in India, it was clear to me at the start that any venture (I start) would have (a) social angle to it,” he says. “And the profit-making factor of the idea had me single-minded in thinking in this direction.” Dutta adds that they aim to make Aporv.com the one platform for all things Indian and handmade. His core team comprises three friends, Subhra Banerjee, Shashikanth Khandelwal and Deepak Kumar, who are currently working pro bono for Aporv, and are based in the US.
Having dabbled in sketching and painting for a long time, Dutta says the idea seems to have been in his mind all the time.
Dutta moved to Bangalore in 2009. He travelled to various places to meet artisans or contacted them through middlemen and non-profit organizations, consulting his US-based partners over email and telephone. They eventually tied up with 350 artisans and groups. After a year of strategizing and working on the website, they were ready to launch on 5 June. They have had around 42,000 visits to the website since.
Apart from online orders, the company has also landed its first corporate client, Infosys Technologies. “Infosys has given us orders for corporate gifts and in-house gifts as well. Doing business with such a recognized name at such an early stage is good news for us,” says Dutta. The start-up does not have a retail store and believes that its online presence will have a wider reach than any retail chain can hope to have.
At the moment, Aporv.com ships only in India, but they plan to change that by November. In time, they plan to set up Aporv.org, a non-profit organization. “Part of the profit from Aporv.com will be diverted to Aporv.org, which will work on health, education and water for villages,” says Dutta.
Artisans are often apprehensive about business deals, and more so if a middleman they have worked with is eliminated. It took a lot more convincing than Dutta had imagined.
If it doesn’t work out, Dutta has the option of going back to a day job. But having packed up from that world and invested his savings in this venture, he’d rather call it Plan D, while B and C are to make Aporv work.
Handicrafts is the second biggest occupation in India after agriculture, so the production rate is proportionately high. Judging from the number of clicks the site gets, they know it is safe to assume that there is a huge market demand. To counter the touch-and-feel factor that retail stores have, Aporv.com has a no-questions-asked return policy. “If you don’t like it, send it back to us,” says Dutta, pointing out that this is a unique experience for most Indians.