They say, “History repeats itself” and it is only ironical that it has happened so in my case a little too early. As I sit here today at a stall showcasing our range of products at a Diwali Mela at MDI (my alma mater), from where it all actually started, I feel like I am right at the starting point once again. Interestingly, it has taken my team and me 3 years to complete the full circle.
Now, before I confuse you, I must mention that when I say we are back at the starting line, I don’t mean that literally. In these three years, Earthen Me has grown from a team of just two friends to a team of 10 people who are working hard to make the best quality products aimed at helping consumers adopt a sustainable lifestyle in a cool, fashionable way. We have sold over 5 Lakh eco products to consumers all over the world.
The growth that we have seen so far has come at a very steep price. Like a trek into the mountains, we have had our share of ups and downs. And the business has had its set of problems, some internal while some other external. There have been so many moments when we have tried to grow but failed to do so. In one of the funding rounds, we raised money through debt and completely blew it off without making even a single paisa out of it. While in another round, we succeeded partially.
There have been several days when the idea of quitting has crossed our minds. But then there has been that one thing that has kept us going – HOPE.
During the early days, when we had figured what kind of products we are going to sell, our biggest challenge was to find the cheapest method to reach out to our target customers. Traditional retail had the most depth but it was way too costly. Online businesses were beginning to mushroom and we thought let’s ride the wave. We started working on our own e-commerce website with no experience and the knowledge on how to build one. Outsourcing suited us best and the work started. Thomas from France who initially came in as an intern at Earthen Me started working to set the website up. A true entrepreneur at heart, he did his best to get the ball rolling. My friend and me however I believe were a little clueless at that stage, not sure on what to do next. Barring a few orders from friends and family, the website never took off. A lot of business would have closed at this stage. We just had the “HOPE” that we are onto something impactful and a little patience may help. So, we stuck around.
Snapdeal which was earlier just as a deal website had started selling products as well and through a chance meeting with them, we got our products listed on the portal. Within 24 hours, we went from 0 to 20 transactions a day. We thought, this might be the game changer. We went to Flipkart and got ourselves listed there too. Post which, we went into an overdrive and partnered with all the leading e-commerce websites that you can think in India. Sales improved, we saw a glimmer of excitement.
If you have been tracking the way ecommerce has grown in India, you would know that most companies are operating on wafer thin margins and are hardly making any money. Apart from the investment money, which ecommerce companies have raised, it is the sellers like us who supports their marketing initiatives with various deals on our products. As a result, we too take a big hit on our margins. Sales volumes however kept on increasing while margins kept squeezing. We cannot however deny the contributions all ecommerce companies have made on our business. They did bring us cash which is the most important fuel for any business. But, very soon we kind of got into an operational comfort zone where all that we were doing was managing operations across all the ecommerce companies. Now, this is an evil sign for any company. It is a recipe for a disaster about to come. We were not doing anything new, we had stopped innovating.
Very soon we realized we were not growing. We had in fact started to lose money every month. And because, we were not operating at a very huge scale it pinched us all the more. 6 months back we reached a stage wherein we were left with no cash to invest back into the company. We were just about meeting all our operations costs. We however once again chose not to give up.
We took a very critical look at our business and changed a lot of things. One thing that did not change was the undying “HOPE” inside us that things would only improve from here on.
On my own personal front, till last year, my wife was working in Google and we were at a slight comfort zone with respect to personal finances. In April 2014, however she decided to jump the start-up train too. We were confused, apprehensive and in two minds on how to deal with this. But, I believe when it comes to starting up, if you got to do it, you got to do it. She took the plunge and we did what we know best – keep moving forward. I once again “HOPED” that things would eventually fall into place.
My partner and dear friend Chetan has a tough life too. I know he fights an internal battle almost every single day and also with a lot of people around him. It takes huge amounts of conviction to stick around and I am so glad that he has. For in him, I have the most trust-worthy partner any start-up could dream of. And, whenever we meet and talk about the business, he very often mentions the word – HOPE.
I have now come to very strongly believe that the one word that every entrepreneur should hold onto very dearly is HOPE. There will be days and moments when conditions will try to pull you down, you will run out of your patience and it is only the HOPE for better times that will keep you going. Always, and I mean always keep your HOPES alive. Never lose them.
We at Earthen Me are a live example of the same.
Today, we are again at the crossroads. While people from all over the world are buying our products from various platforms where we are present today and we indeed have made Jute very popular, there is a good chance that they may not be able to recall the name of the brand. We now believe we can change that and are ready to take on the next curve. Our business is going through a transition and I can see some exciting times ahead. What will be destination of this journey is something I don’t know and very honestly I don’t want to know. The high that you get while on the road is enough to keep us going. And HOPE is always there.
So, here’s presenting to you a new us – a new version of Earthen Me.
We are LIVE once again on www.earthenme.com.
Note: Author is Rohit Prakash, co-founder at Earthen Me