Manisha Lath Gupta, an MBA from IIM Bangalore, has largely had a large corporate career. Her first job was with Unilever, where she handled sales and marketing roles for 8 years. Then in Colgate Palmolive she played new product development and business roles for 6 years. And her third job was with Axis Bank, where as the Chief Marketing Officer, she headed the electronic banking group, retail liabilities product and portfolio till 2014. She then started an online platform as a hobby and went on to be the co-founder of a discovery and buying platform, Mojarto.com.
She spoke to SheThePeople.TV about her venture. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you become an entrepreneur?
In 2005, I started an online platform for art by the name of IndianArtCollectors. It was a platform where collectors of art could share their collections with each other, and also buy and sell without going through intermediaries. It wasn’t a business – it was just a community. I had started collecting art myself during those years, and felt there was a need for collectors to connect with each other. Remember, this was before social media and marketplaces became popular.
Within a year or so of launching IndianArtCollectors, a lot of artists started writing to us, requesting for the platform to expand beyond collectors. So, I commercialized the site and created a click & buy model for art. The paucity of physical avenues for showcasing their work, and lack of transparency in the gallery model led to a large number of artists to become aggregators on IAC. Before I knew it, IAC had taken a life of its own.
All these years, I had a day job and IAC was my go-to place to do something creative, re-energise myself and relax. A close friend, Namita Sibal, helped me run IAC for several years and between the two of us, we managed to run it like a full-fledged business. In 2010, I joined Axis Bank as the CMO, and not wanting any conflict of interest, I requested my sister Anuja Lath to run IAC for a few years. Since Anuja’s company had developed the web platform, she was a natural choice to manage it.
Once I left Axis Bank in 2014, I decided to run IAC full time. It was also the time that the e-comm market was booming, and every now and then I felt anxious that a competitor would come up and displace IAC despite it being the pioneer in this market. So I put all my energy behind it, set up a team, revamped the customer experience, introduced new categories like digital prints and gave it a fresh thrust.
Also read: How e-commerce is changing our lives
In September 2015, I was introduced to Tara Roy of NDTV by Neha Kripal. This led to the acquisition of IAC by the NDTV promoted company OQL and the subsequent rebranding of IAC to Mojarto. Several times in the past, I had considered rebranding the site myself, but got cold feet. Being assured of the media reach of NDTV and its ability to establish a brand name quickly. I was happy to change names to Mojarto – a unique brand name derived from Mojo and Art.
Today, Mojarto is well established in the industry. It is the largest marketplace for art & collectibles and a destination of choice for discerning audiences looking to add art & design to their space. The NDTV backing had helped Mojarto secure a central position in the art market as a trusted brand for promoting the arts and giving all players a transparent & neutral platform.
So like my story suggests, I am an entrepreneur by serendipity. I didn’t really start off as an entrepreneur and in fact resisted being one till 9 years into the launch of my venture! In 2014, however, I realized that you cannot run a small business forever. One has to either scale it up or shut it down. This prompted me to turn full-time entrepreneur.
What’s the concept of ‘Mojarto’ and what’s your vision behind it?
Mojarto is the largest discovery and buying platform for Indian art today. It targets a large section of the affluent middle-class who are now looking for self-expression and status through evolved categories like art. Despite this desire to embrace art, the market is small because of lack of awareness & education about art, fragmented nature of the industry and lack of transparency in pricing. Mojarto aims to solve these problems by creating a curated marketplace, 100% transparency and the trust & credibility of NDTV to support it.
Your future plans with ‘Mojarto’?
Mojarto will continue to use technology to grow the art market and make art more accessible to the average person. The future roadmap will be digital & technology led, with unique solutions to address this need.
What market gap are you trying to address with your venture?
Mojarto addresses 5 main problems – lack of education about art, a fragmented market, lack of transparency in pricing, absence of credibility & trust and a well-curated selection of art. One of the issues customers have is that they don’t trust their own judgment of art – so want someone to curate it for them. At Mojarto, anything you buy is good art.
What are the current projects or initiatives you are working on?
Mojarto keeps enhancing its customer experience. An interesting initiative we launched recently was Artify. Most Indian homes have big blow-ups of family photographs adorning its walls. Something told us that customers may be more open to embracing art if it revolved around objects of their affection. Artify allows you to convert a photograph of something you love into a work of art. A group of digital artists at our end convert a simple photograph into a work of art in styles such as realism, sketch, pop art, expressionism or drawing. This breaks down entry barriers, and also gives a basic appreciation of art to the buyer.
What makes you different from your competitors?
Curated-discovery-platform. The 3 things that differentiate us from competition are that we are an aggregator, we are rich in video & written content, and each work/product is curated.
How did you manage funding for the base operations initially?
I bootstrapped IndianArtCollectors on my own. Over the 10 years that I ran it, most of the time I had a full-time job & salary, so I could afford to bootstrap. After acquiring IAC, NDTV provided further seed funding and incubator support.
What were the initial days like — what kind of challenges have you faced and are still facing as an entrepreneur?
Apart from the usual challenges that entrepreneurs face, the biggest challenge is that of category creation. The current art market is very small – our ambition is to grow the pie. Bring more people into the realm of art. Get more folks interested and appreciative of the talent, ideas and skills of artists. This task has to be addressed in a combination of ways – content, videos, social media, marketing, PR – everything plays a role.
What skills do you think an entrepreneur must have to be successful?
An entrepreneur must be a problem solver at his/her core. And a core skill to solve problems is creativity. An entrepreneur must be able to think out of the box and solve problems.
How do you think the digital boom in India is empowering women? How has it helped your venture grow in the market?
Well, the digital boom does not know my gender. Neither do the customers who come to Mojarto and buy art & collectibles for their spaces. You are as good in the marketplace as your product, your experience and your quality. Since IndianArtCollectors/ Mojarto is an e-commerce venture, obviously the digital boom has helped tremendously in its growth. The digital space has grown tremendously since 2005, and the venture has grown and evolved in line with it.
What else is your passion other than running a company?
I am a passionate environmentalist and a permaculture farmer. I strongly believe that our generation, especially affluent people, have to be more conscious of their carbon footprint, and lead carbon positive lives. I run a small forum on FB called EverydayEco where I try to share ideas and suggestions towards leading a carbon neutral life. Also, I have a 10-acre farm called Aanandaa, where I practise permaculture and organic farming. My family and I have restored a barren piece of land, and converted it into a lush forest over the last 5 years – we have planted over 5,500 trees, dug ponds and pools and harvest over 100 lakh litres of water each monsoon. We grow all our own food like grains, pulses, spices, vegetables, oil, fruits, and are fast reaching a point of being completely self-sufficient for our food.
The rise of woman entrepreneurs — Do you think the term shaped up because of the digital boom in India?
You know, I find is rather sad that no matter what a woman achieves, she can only get glory in the ‘woman’ category. Man-woman does not matter. It’s true that the digital boom in India is leading to a rise in the number of entrepreneurs. Traditionally, we see 20-30% women in our workforce, and I think the numbers would be similar among entrepreneurs too.
What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs?
I would advise fellow entrepreneurs to validate their consumer idea and raise seed funding before they plunge into being a full-time entrepreneur.
Join Us on https://www.facebook.com/SheThePeoplePage
Follow Us on https://twitter.com/SheThePeopleTV