Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Beenthere | Marking merchandise with faraway memories

Past life

Before Kavita Singh, 40, founder of Bangalore-based Beenthere, started putting prints of Bangalore’s Bull Temple and Delhi’s Qutub Minar on mugs and T-shirts, she had worked for more than a decade in the apparel industry. Singh did her postgraduation from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, after graduating in history (honours) from Lady Shri Ram College in 1997. She started her 10-year-old career in the apparel industry with a job at Weekender Kids. In 2010, she decided to take a break and enrolled for the post graduate programme in management at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad.

Eureka moment

Four months into the course, Singh realized she was not keen on returning to a corporate job. The year-long intensive MBA had one project that entailed coming up with a business idea and seeing to its implementation. “We were a group of four. One was from the hotel industry and she thought of museum shops," she says. One thought led to another till they chanced upon the lack of travel and monument merchandise in India. “Whenever you travel internationally, after seeing a city or a monument, you’d find great merchandise that was about the place you visited. There was nothing like that in India," says Singh.

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The four-member group interviewed people in and outside the business school to understand what sort of monuments and merchandise they like. “We made plans of designs we’d work with and the business plans of the stores," says Singh. Since this was an academic project, every detail was discussed.

By submission time, Singh had realized she wanted to take the project beyond business school. “I applied to The Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurship Development’s incubation centre that is a part of ISB and they liked it," she recalls. She opted out of the placement process and decided to launch a start-up instead. Starting May 2011, she worked for a year with the incubator, which provided her with some funding.

“It worked well because they give you some capital. They have strict rules—you report your progress every month. Even the amount they release depends on whether they think your bills are justified," says Singh.

This helped inculcate discipline, but she says a bigger fund with a free hand might have been less frustrating. Her first customer was a collegemate’s friend who ran a chain of resorts in Ooty. She made a bag and coffee mugs for them with prints of elephants, tigers and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

“The essence of all our products is that each item should tell you something about the place," she says. In addition to its own site, Beenthere sells through Flipkart.com and also retails in stores across the country.

Singh currently makes merchandise like mugs, bookmarks, bags and T-shirts related to Bangalore, Agra, Hyderabad, Delhi, Rajasthan and Mahabaleshwar. Her next series will include Mumbai and Chennai. She has a wildlife and nature line too and plans to set up stand-alone stores near tourist destinations.

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In 2012, Beenthere worked with a company that hosted an online store. This was a frustrating phase because IT was her weak point. “The store just did not look good," she says. By the end of the year, she moved to Shopify.in, an e-commerce website solution company that provided her with the back-end for Beenthere.in, her own website. “The online space is bursting with activity and I am not confident how to handle it," she says of the number of players in e-commerce and how to drive customers to her online store.

Plan B

“When you start a venture, you reassess every single day, but you keep going because your heart is in it. I will always have the option of getting back into a full-time corporate job, but I hope to stick to plan A and make it work," says Singh.

Secret sauce

There was no merchandise with art inspired by cities and people are always looking for gifts from their travels, Singh says.

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