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The founding story of a peer to peer marketplace for all things unique: Manavika Phukan, co-founder, Handtribe

Handtribe was born out of the idea of focusing on small retailers and hobbyists crafting quirky products that could be sold online

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The founding story of a peer to peer marketplace for all things unique: Manavika Phukan, co-founder, Handtribe

Ever since childhood, I seemed to be heading towards the typical Middle Class definition of success. Having been the Head Girl of my School followed by my admittedly good results in my Board exams I was expected to become either an Engineer or Doctor. But I knew that I wanted to start my own business someday so I decided to pursue a degree in Economics from St. Xavier’s College, to get a good grounding in the fundamentals of what makes a business tick.

I was clear with my goal because ever since I read Taleb’s Anti-Fragile I have always been intrigued by the concept of building anti-fragility within myself – becoming someone who is better not in spite of but because of all the problems that they face. Pursuing a regular corporate job would give me a sense of security but without my ‘skin in the game’ I would be too insulated to know whether my skills have any real value or no. I wanted an environment wherein I could learn and grow at an accelerated pace – so despite the obvious risks involved, entrepreneurship was the only real path for me.

Handtribe’s Founding Story

The Founder Arihant and I spent many days holed up at a local Starbucks to try starting a business together but we found nothing that excited us. We both were clear that we wanted something to do with the ecommerce space but wanted an idea that we could scale as the years pass by. We identified a real gap in the market – there weren’t any platforms focusing on small retailers and hobbyists who had lovely, quirky products that they could sell online. And that’s when the idea of Handtribe was born – a peer to peer marketplace for all things unique. The idea was that we wanted to help small retailers and individual entrepreneurs reach out to a larger audience via Handtribe – without investing their time and energy in things like technology, marketing or logistics.

We believe that even these small retailers are part of the Indian Startup movement and there participating in the digital space would be a crucial step for India’s retail sector. This made us very passionate about being an inclusive marketplace that helps vendors create an online business all on their own terms. We had our beta launch in April, 2016 when we opened the platform for Sellers and started adding our catalog to the mix. It was in August when we finally launched the website for Buyers and it has been a great ride so far.

We knew that as a platform, we had to get our supply right before we could go out to interest any Buyers. So from Day 1, our focus has been on scouting for Sellers from all across India – be it by stalking Facebook pages, to attending all kinds of Flea Markets and Exhibitions in the city and exploring our personal network to come up with the right kind of products for our brand.

It is only due to the strength of our idea that despite having no product to show for we convinced over a 100 vendors to join our Marketplace before the beta launch. The main issue, we realized, was not their skepticism with eCommerce but the lack of platforms catering to the needs of a small retailer. The flexibility of our platform combined with features such as being able to answer Buyer queries via our inbuilt messaging system and the ability to accept customized orders is what has kept them happy with our platform.

As for Buyers, our curated collection has really been a hit with them, as we are bringing to them unique products with a great value proposition that adds a special something to their lives.

Personal Challenges

There have been a lot of challenges that I have faced so far – after all it’s not often that you see a 22 year old North Eastern woman running her own startup. People really didn’t know what to make of me – especially because I was usually the youngest person in the room by more than a decade. Even my parents were worried for me, since no one in our family has ever ventured into Business before.

The key, then, to overcoming all of these challenges was for me to have absolute faith in my own abilities and continue to work hard – not matter what. At one point of time, I was pursuing a full time Masters, a Post Graduate Course in Data Science as well as managing Handtribe – all at the same time. It helped that I have a brilliant Founder who has always encouraged me and taken my ideas seriously. One major thing that I learned was to be more outspoken. Often enough, women tend to overthink everything and edit our thoughts to make it into something that would be liked/approved by everybody, a trait you don’t always see in men. But it really does pay to be more proactive – especially if you want to succeed in whatever career you chose for yourself.

However, my greatest lesson came in the form of never being afraid of my competition. It is said that the great racehorses tend to perform better when faced with stiff competition, being paired with average performers tends to bring their own performance down as well. So the stiffness of the competition in this Industry has been crucial as it has always kept us on our toes, raring to go for the next feature we need to build or the next marketing campaign we need to execute. We are playing the long game and this competition is only going to make us stronger.

We are a 100% bootstrapped company and have given all our heart and soul to building the marketplace that you see so far. We are currently looking to raise our first round of Angel Funding to further our focus on product development and marketing our platform.

I won’t deny it –starting your own business is a rather daunting task and there are going to be many mistakes and even regrets on the way. But being forced to make the best of your environment is the most surefire way towards personal growth. So despite the difficulties – it has all been rather worth it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the publication

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