- Date : 25/05/2019
- Read: 5 mins
With jewellery in her genes and a business degree from Wharton, she is one to watch out for.
Shuchi Pandya, CEO and Founder, Pipa + Bella, is a force to reckon with. This young, new-age woman has established a successful jewellery brand, raised funding, and is all set to change the face of the Indian jewellery market.
In a tête-à-tête with Tomorrowmakers, Pandya talks about her undying focus on customers, what makes Pipa + Bella unique and some of the values she cherishes the most, among other things.
What was the inspiration behind starting Pipa + Bella?
I was born into a family of jewellers, and I personally love jewellery. I essentially grew up amidst conversations around business operations, managing cash flows, investing in value-generating activities, and creating long-term growth. I began working in my father’s jewellery factory when I was 16 - I went to college in the morning and the factory in the afternoon, thereby learning the ropes of the industry early on. My father never differentiated between me and the other male members of my family, so I was exposed to all aspects of business in an open and transparent manner. I went on to complete my graduation in Economics from NYU.
At the age of 22, I knew I wanted to start a company of my own that was consumer-facing, however, I needed to gain more experience and credibility. I spent the next 5 years working in the family business and then went on to business school in the US where I was fortunate to study how revolutionary companies such as Warby Parker, Bonobos and Rent the Runway was changing the face of retail in the United States. That’s when Pipa + Bella as a brand and business was born.
Our underlying vision is to make trendy jewellery affordable for Indian women. Over the last few years, we have observed a shift towards women purchasing jewellery for themselves rather than depending on the traditional gift from a male member or the passing down of a family heirloom. As women become more financially independent and are joining the workforce, they are buying jewellery as a fast-fashion item rather than purely an emotional purchase. This has changed the industry because it means higher experimentation, more frequent purchase, and a greater focus on style and fast-moving trends.
What's a Wharton MBA doing in the jewellery business?
Firstly, I love jewellery, so my passion was integral to the business. Secondly, the industry has good unit economics so it also made good business sense. When I came back from Wharton in 2012-13, the e-commerce boom in India was just kicking off. Digital brands were starting to take the foray and we saw this as a way to reach out to as many women as possible. Traditional retail takes time, is capital intensive and has limited geographical reach. We spent nearly a year understanding the e-commerce model, the various metrics that drive website sales and we put together a tech team that built out products to support conversion rate and basket size.
What is Pipa + Bella’s USP?
We allow customers to customise jewellery on Pipabella.com. We believe product personalization is the future for the digital consumer. We have seen that customers are open to experimenting and as a result, we have introduced customisation across five categories. We have also developed a strong supply-chain to support customisation.
What are the challenges that you faced starting up?
The first challenge was raising funds in an ecosystem that was focused on B2B companies or tech startups. We were trying to sell a product that was for women and as a category, many investors had reservations and a lack of understanding of the sector.
The next challenge was building a team. We started with a small team of 4 people and grew to 45+ in a couple of years. This meant setting processes, systems, automations and most importantly a culture that allowed for people to be open and learn. Probably one of the best decisions we made was keeping core functions in-house. It pushed us to streamline operations, scale quickly, add new categories, etc. In the initial days, finding the right people – from great designers to tech ninjas – was definitely a challenge.
You have raised over US$2.8 million in funding. Any tips for fellow entrepreneurs on how to raise funding?
Firstly, it is important to ask yourself whether you really want to raise funds or you prefer running a business that is bootstrapped, yet stable. Raising funding, while having its advantages, also requires a faster growth path, higher cash burn and as a result, a certain risk appetite.
If you do decide to raise funding, start early and do not approach all investors at the same time. Do your research and identify investors who share your business philosophy and then convince them to get on board.
Get a really good lawyer to read the fine lines of the investment agreements and ensure you are well-protected as a promoter.
Can you share some values that you cherish the most?
The biggest value that we share in the company is the need to focus on the customer. Pipa + Bella believes that every single person, irrespective of the team, needs to think about how to make the experience better for the customer, whether it is from product design or quality perspective to operations and logistics. We have ingrained this in every employee and is a critical part of our initial employee training.
The second value is the open company culture. We have built a transparent culture where everyone is free to share ideas and feedback. People are allowed to make mistakes and learn and grow from them.
What’s your advice to India's young women entrepreneurs?
I believe that every woman should aspire to be financially independent, and starting a business allows you to gain that independence. I encourage women to follow their passion, build a business and make their dreams come true.
Secondly, my experience has taught me not to consider setbacks as failures, but rather as opportunities to learn, to adapt and to innovate.