He is a designer by profession and an ardent art lover. She is an MBA and comes from market research background. Both wanted to build their own venture – something that they could call ‘their very own’! That said, they started G-Girl.in – an online store where you can buy various merchandises with vibrant designs and popular Indian art forms printed on it. While running the store, the couple is encouraging people to go green with a very interesting initiative – ‘Guardian of Earth’.
Meet Shirsendu Sengupta and Ajanta Ghose Sengupta!
Saikat: To set the context, tell us about your background, what you studied, what you did after graduating etc.?
Shirsendu: Since childhood, I had always been interested in painting and arts. Creative ideas always attracted me and at college, I used to make hand-painted greeting cards on handmade paper and it felt good when it appealed to people and they bought it. After graduation I started my career as a graphic designer and have loved every bit of it. Since early in my career, I had started my own and first of its kind Bengali based e-card website, 99colours.com where I would experiment and introduce my own concepts and see how it all worked out.
Ajanta: I have done my MBA and started my career with market research and development. Since then I have had a multitude of experiences in my career ranging from publishing, eBooks, limited edition luxury items, jewellery, herbal medicines and e-commerce. These experiences helped me have confidence to start something of my own. This dream came to form when we both decided to draw up a basic business plan and start G-girl.in.
Saikat: Couples often make good co-founders! Did you consciously choose each other as co-founder OR it happened accidentally?
Shirsendu: We have been a couple before being co-founders! Although we have different expertise we do have common interests. One advantage couples have is that they know each other so well, that the roots get well established to be partners in a new venture.
Saikat: Tell us about your business? What do you offer? How you started?
Shirsendu: We initially started G-girl.in as a web comic and it grew quite popular. The character G-girl is the essence of our very own girl-next-door and we depicted her simple joys of life through the drawings. People loved this and wanted it on mugs and other merchandise. When the same customers came back to us asking for more, we decided to diversify into new design avenues. In many areas, the Indian market has scope for creative influx and we have been researching and creating such ideas. Say, the ancient art of Madhubani has never been depicted in coffee mugs and when we implemented it, it was very well accepted by connoisseurs from India and abroad. Today the Madhubani collection is available in mugs, coasters and notebooks and with sling bags, greeting cards and wall clocks in tow.
Saikat: So, are you offering customized merchandises?
Shirsendu: Customized merchandise is not exactly our target. We aim to put our energy more into high class design and quality which is more of an untapped market in India. Through G-girl we are presenting vibrant designs to those who prefer it more than personalization in a product.
We have Greeting cards, Coffee mugs, Coasters, Notebooks in our store. We also sell T-shirts, Sarees and Fashion accessories.
Saikat: What was the motivation behind starting this store?
Shirsendu: When we started in 2014, we were both engrossed in our 9 to 5 corporate jobs but we both wanted to have entrepreneurial ventures. It was tough at first having to juggle time and energy but we were enjoying the journey. It was our rules and our experience. We were able to fulfill our primary goal through G-girl – be able to spread many positive ideas. We used vibrant colours so that every G-girl item would send out happy vibes. At the end of the day when our customers flooded us with truly happy reviews, we felt great.
Saikat: Are you still into your full time jobs? Both of you? How are you managing?
Shirsendu: Both of us have 9 to 5 jobs and limited time, so we decided that putting up an online store would be the best way to reach maximum people and places. Thinking of long-term plans, we had deduced that an e-commerce platform would become indispensable. An online store is absolutely efficient in showcasing and touching individuals on a larger basis.
Saikat: How large is the core team?
Shirsendu: We both started G-girl initially but today we work like a matrix organization. We believe that every little job assignment to a project is like a brick to the building and success only comes with team work. We have designers, digital marketing professional, coder, customer service expert, logistics support, sales person and printers. We are grateful for each one’s contribution for success of G-girl.
Saikat: My next question is to you, Ajanta. You are managing your day job, building G-girl and then you have the home-front! How do you balance?
Ajanta: Yes, one can easily get overwhelmed. I make it clear in my mind what tasks to do and when to do. Keeping a to-do list makes things easier. I set priorities to balance my work and personal life. Don’t set unrealistic goals, don’t clutter your mind space. Most importantly, I take time out to relax, meditate and gardening which gives me a huge boost and clarity of mind.
Saikat: And which part of your work you enjoy the most?
Ajanta: Every job has its high and low points but I am overall quite happy with what I do. At G-girl there is a lot of scope for market research and product development ideas. Working on these aspects and applying my professional experiences for my own venture is really satisfying. However getting compliments from my family for a new dish well done, is probably the most enjoyable.
Saikat: Great! What is your future plan with G-girl?
Shirsendu: As per our business plan for 2016, we have two clear goals. We had gained popularity in the local market in the last year. This year we have to target the metro cities and establish our presence there. Secondly, we have in mind some unique art forms to implement in our products which will definitely bring some of the most fresh and never-seen-before designs in the Indian market.
Apart from these we are also aware of our social responsibilities. Last year at the festive season we were proud to help small scale female entrepreneurs and artists showcase their art and product through G-girl.in. It felt wonderful and we have long term plans on it. Also we are taking up a go-green initiative at G-girl called the Guardian of Earth.
Saikat: Interesting! Tell us more about Guardian of Earth.
Shirsendu: Our new go-green initiative Guardian of Earth is one of the most exciting things we have ever done. The idea is to reduce our carbon footprint and compensate for destruction of trees for paper in our own little way. So with every purchase at G-girl.in we have decided to give away free plant seeds. It will be easy to plant these seeds in the ground or any small container which will grow and bloom gorgeous flowers. The seeds come in a GOE (Guardian of Earth) kit ready with instructions. We are also providing guidance through our website as to how to take care of your plants and any such related support. We have made it easy and simple for everybody to get earth-friendly now.
We dream to see our customers grow plants from these seeds and we understand the power in synergy. If people started doing these small acts of care towards Mother Nature, the world would change!
Saikat: That’s a great initiative indeed. This is something that all of us have to fight together.
On another note, how are you funding your business? Are you making profit? Any ballpark amount will do.
Shirsendu: We started with a modest amount to build our website and launch the first product range. The biggest benefit of having an online store is its low maintenance cost which made our work easier. The profits now have been rolled over to cover production, product testing and marketing costs. We are making good profit but in future we plan to do better.
Saikat: Are you facing any challenges when it comes to running the business? If yes, what?
Shirsendu: The biggest challenge in the Indian market is getting good quality products. We want to be absolutely sure that we are providing only the best quality in terms of design and item. If we are not completely content we will not get it out in the market.
Saikat: How are you acquiring the raw material? Just want to understand the exact challenge you are facing.
Shirsendu: We are not dependent on one but we try to work with multiple vendors for even one product. We research and get various samples as to determine what look and feel would be best for a particular item. Sometimes we push to make the vendors think and get materials and finishing that they haven’t tried before. So it is common that we have to do multiple test runs to meet up our quality standard.
Saikat: Of course – it’s an essential part of what you are doing and you need to keep experimenting. Tell me one thing, did you have any ‘High’ or ‘Down’ moments in your journey?
Shirsendu: We have been disappointed many times, when sales didn’t turn up as we expected or we had to reject a set of our products because it didn’t match our quality aspects. That’s part of the journey.
But the high moments make it feel worthwhile. It really feels good when we achieve our sales and other goals but the real high comes when we find that we have been able to spread happiness. A major portion of our items are bought for gifting purposes and many post their pictures and happy comments to us. Some of our customers get so excited that we ourselves get pleasantly surprised. At the end of the day, after all the hard work we feel satisfied and that’s what it is all about.
Saikat: What is your suggestion/advice to the fellow entrepreneurs?
Shirsendu: There are many others out there like us who have dreams. Make your goals clear. Have a business plan but keep it simple. See where you want to be clearly, but don’t pressurize yourself. Have fun. Just take a step every day. Most important, do it your way. Your organization is like your reflection, it grows as much as you grow.
Saikat: Great! It was nice to learn what you are doing and about your journey. Thanks for your time.