Interview with Pragya Batra - Co-founder of Quirksmith - Handcrafted jewelry and accesories
Pragya Batra and her sister Divya Batra are the co-founders of Quirksmith, a design company that creates handcrafted jewelry and accessories.
In this interview, we chat with Pragya about how the idea of creating Quirksmith was born, how she and her sister started to work on their business as a side hustle with only $600 initial investment, the process of designing and producing handcrafted jewelry and her advice on starting and marketing a crafts business.
So tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Pragya Batra and I am the cofounder of Quirksmith, a design company that creates handcrafted jewelry and accessories.
Prior to starting Quirksmith, I worked in the corporate sector for nearly 8 years. In this time, I worked as the strategy lead at InMobi (2014-2016), which is an advertising Adtech company with offices around the world.
Prior to InMobi, I worked at Bain & Co in India as a consultant (2007-2014). During my time at Bain, I worked with several Indian companies across strategic initiatives like mergers & acquisitions, process improvement, and market strategy.
In 2011-12, I took a year-long break from Bain, to attend business school at INSEAD (Singapore & France).
What's special about Quirksmith?
Quirksmith is a brand of handcrafted jewelry which identifies with the basic instinct of women today to express themselves the way they want to. And while doing so if we can add a little edge to that brilliance, well that is what we are going for.
Why did you start Quirksmith?
The primary reason to start Quirksmith was to create almost a “cult” brand in jewelry. We noticed, while everything around us was evolving with time, there was very less innovation that happened in jewelry. Except for a few young brands designing interesting jewelry, the forms and motifs have largely remained the same over years. Think of all the junk jewelry being sold in the lanes of India – one can’t tell one design from another.
We wanted to make jewelry that was not loud or chunky, yet made a statement. Most of our designs are very light, can be worn everyday and reflect the character of the people who wear them. For e.g. our Aham brahamasmi earcuff or ring. Aham Brahamasmi means – “I am the universe, and I am responsible for what I become”.
How did you start it? Did you have any previous experience as an entrepreneur?
None of us (Divya or me) had previous experience in entrepreneurship. What we did have was two opposite people, one whose expertise was designing (Divya), and another who came with 8yrs of experience in business strategy (Pragya).
How did you validate your idea?
For almost a year (i.e. in 2015), we participated in several pop up events. It started with Bangalore, where we were living (then and now). And once I quit my corporate job in June 2016, I started to travel across other big cities to showcase our designs.
The initial validation happened through Bangalore events though. We would use one weekend in every 1-2 months, showcasing our designs at quirky artistic events across Bangalore. And the initial response was phenomenal. We often had women coming back to us at every subsequent event.
In small circles, women started recognizing and referring the brand to their friends. This initial response made us confident that we could take this online and create a larger group of like minded people who would relate to our craft.
How did you finance your project?
Divya and I invested only under $300 each to create the first set of a very small collection. This collection was then showcased at a pop up event in Bangalore. We sold out on our first ever showcase! This was in early 2015.
By mid 2016, we kept reinvesting the money earned from these sales into creating new and more designs. Hence our investment in the business was only USD 600 initially. What helped us was the time we took (almost 18 months) to slowly scale the business and validate our idea in small groups.
How did you market and promote Quirksmith when you were launching? What was the most effective strategy?
When we launched the Quirksmith website by the end of 2016, we already had a few thousand followers on our social handles. This was because of the pre-work we had done 18-24 months prior to this, which was to attend physical pop up events and create a small group of like minded people who loved our work. Therefore at launch, we had this small group to market to.
Apart from this, we leveraged digital marketing extensively, right from the beginning. We primarily marketed to audiences on facebook and instagram. Since both these social media channels are about visuals, it helped that our designs were iconic and were a conversation starter. People stopped and took notice and the returns on ad spend were pretty encouraging.
How long did it take you to start getting the first results and see you could create a viable business?
Having done physical pop up events for over 18 months, we had developed an understanding of the potential Quirksmith had, if we were to go online.
You started Quirksmith as a side hustle. How did you organize to work on your side project while having your day job at the same time? How long did it take to go full time?
The good thing about testing Quirksmith in the initial few months was, it only required our weekends. So it was fairly easy to manage our full time corporate careers, and invest our weekends in Quirksmith.
It also helped that all the events we attended were super fun with a great line up of indie bands and artists. So there was always a fun day to look forward to. Our spouses often accompanied us to these events and we’d make a day of it.
Taking Quirksmith full time happened after 18 months of it being a side hustle.
Tell us a bit how the process of running a handcrafted jewelry business? From design to production and to selling to customers.
The first step to creating a piece of jewelry is sketching the idea on a piece of paper. As someone working on the business side, I provide inputs on price points, categories, past designs that do well for us, etc. Based on these, we agree on the boundaries of the collection (What category to focus on - like earrings, rings, etc., what should be the price points - say between INR 1000-2000. The price points give Divya an idea about the size she needs to focus on).
Based on these broad outlines, Divya sketches a few rough ideas over the next few days. Once a collection of 10-15 rough ideas are ready, we go through them together, discussing every idea in a little bit more detail (on wearability, production constraints, uniqueness etc.). During this process, we select the ones that move to production.
At the production stage, every design sketch is converted into the first sample by a master craftsman. Divya engages in every stage of this sample creation process to ensure the first sample is good to go.
Once the first samples are ready, each design is tested out. It is worn for a few weeks to test for comfort, breakage, or any other issues. Once the sample clears its quality test, the specific design is then produced in small batches, to launch on our website
Once the design is launched, we wait for our customers and followers to organically respond to it. Which essentially involves closely tracking units sold. Based on this initial reaction we plan for production of subsequent batches. In parallel, we also include these new designs in our marketing ads on facebook and instagram.
What are the most useful tools/software that you use for your business?
Our website is built on Shopify. Apart from Shopify’s basic features, we also use a range of other applications.
Judge.me is one such app. It was a very effective way to consolidate all the social proof our brand already received. Within a short span of time, we were able to collect over 1000 reviews from our customers, along with lovely images. This has further helped in building credibility amongst new customers.
Searchtap is another great tool that has helped improve our search experience considerably.
On the order management front, we use Orderhive. We were looking for a tool that is a one-stop solution for inventory management, order processing, label generation and allows coordination between various team members on fulfilling orders. And Orderhive serves all of those functions and much more.
For internal co-ordination, we use Trello to stay organized and share tasks with different team members
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
The ability to constantly learn new things. I have tried to learn every new skill myself, with the help of an online course, or reading up a lot and finally implementing it on Quirksmith and constantly upgrading my knowledge!
Some of the skills I picked up post Quirksmith and continue to hone them are digital marketing (using Facebook/Instagram), SEO, user experience on the website to name a few. This ability to solve problems myself has also helped me have a rounded understanding of how to grow an online business with a lean team.
What has been your biggest challenge/failure as an entrepreneur?
While running your own business comes with the flexibility to manage personal life, it also comes with the tradeoff that lines between personal and professional work start to disappear.
Especially because I work with my family. Divya, who is also my sister, is the cofounder at Quirksmith, and our parents are also involved in the business. This often means that dinner conversations end up being about Quirksmith. And the constant talk of work tires you down sometimes.
The good thing is we recognize the issue here and are consciously working on it lately. Family catch ups outside of work now have some rules, like “no phone” and “no work talk”.
What are your business goals for this coming year?
Today, Quirksmith is a sustainable and profitable business. We get over 100k visitors on our website every month, 1/3rd of these are returning customers - this is a metric we are proud of. It is an indication that people like what we do and keep coming back. We have grown at 60-70% every year for the last few years.
Over the next few months, we want to start shipping internationally, create a B2B business vertical - where we can work with corporates for their gifting needs and with wedding planners for wedding give away gifts.
On the product side, we recently launched our home decor series with poetry wall art. These are mostly Divya’s own poems, parts of which have been converted into inspirational wall art in engineered wood and hand-painted. This line has shown some promise, and we’ll continue to expand this.
How can an aspiring entrepreneur start building an online crafts business now? What would be some tips for beginners?
Here are a few things to keep in mind while building an online crafts business:
If you are building your own website (which I highly recommend), then leverage digital marketing from day one. Most new businesses shy away from trying digital marketing until much later.
Budget for returns - depending on your industry, returns can end up being a high cost. If you do have a returns/replacement policy in place, remember to budget for the shipping and other costs associated with this.
Collect customer reviews early on. Invest in a review app (Judge.me is a great one) that nudges customers for reviews after their orders have been fulfilled. User generated content in the form of images or reviews can be a great asset to build a reliable brand
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I make lists when it comes to my work at Quirksmith! Never for vacations or other personal taks. But always for Quirksmith related work! And this habit keeps me on my toes, having something productive to run after, every min of the day.
I always carry a small notebook (often with a quirky print) which has a running list of things I need to achieve in a day/week. And I get immense joy in ticking off an item off this list :) - This habit also keeps me organized.
What's your favourite quote?
“The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.” It is from one of my favorite books - Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.
This is also something I need to keep reminding myself. I think while growing a business, we often keep chasing growth. But it is important to know that everything comes at a tradeoff for something else. Which is why it is also important to remember the tradeoffs we are willing to make for this growth.
Any good book(s) to recommend to an aspiring entrepreneur?
The hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz has been a very inspiring read for me. It was refreshing to read a business book where the author focused on mistakes rather than their company’s glory.
Another inspiring book was Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. Shoe Dog is the story of Nike by its founder Phil Knight. What stayed with me from this book was the way it ends, and Phil Knight emphasizes the importance of building genuine relationships - something we tend to forget in the hustle.
Learn more about Quirksmith at www.quirksmith.com
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