The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Sajan Joshi, the co-founder of Kayo Creative Studio, an online handicraft company in Nepal. Kayo designs and manufactures handmade products and provides customization. We talked about the problems Kayo faced during the lockdown. It was very challenging as the company took a major hit in the first month of the lockdown in terms of sales and production. However, Kayo implemented some strategies to stimulate their business. Firstly, they collaborated with other handicraft companies for an online event. Secondly, they worked on their digital platform to keep their customers engaged and make them aware that Kayo is still present in the market. Currently, they are working on their website and some new products, potentially under a different brand, for the near future.
Please tell us about the company and its products.
Sajan: Namaste everyone! I’m Sajan Govinda Joshi, the co-founder of Kayo Creative Studio which is based in Kathmandu. We design and manufacture handmade gift items. We are currently specialised for customisations and premium corporate gifts. We work on different materials like brass, paper, wood, silver and other materials as well, as per your needs. Kayo is a very creative company when it comes to customisations and they are recently known as customisation products.
That is great. I was looking at your products and you work with designs that are small but are very elegant. The designs evoke that perfect blend between traditional and modern. That’s why, wherever they are, whether on an outfit like a cufflink, a collar pin, shoe piece or on the desk like a bookmark, they really stand out. I was going through your page as well and I saw that you work with the tagline “Giving a gift in the form of art”. So where did you come up with that concept?
Sajan: We were two co-founders and we were young. My friend Prasanna S. and me, we want to preserve the handicraft skills of Nepal. The handicraft skills were well known in ancient times but we see a lack of branding when it comes to those products. So we want to create something unique and handmade. We also want to be present in the global market. So we wanted to create that base and we started this company as a collaboration. A collaboration is specialised for handmade gifts. So we want to expand all around the world, in the global market, with our handmade products.
That is a very nice concept. Before 2020, before the whole lockdown situation, how was the business going for you?
Sajan: We have started very recently and that was three and a half years ago if I’m being exact. We are growing very fast because people like customisations. We are trying to change the sector of customisations and premium gifts in the corporate world. That business was really growing very fast but yeah it’s covered. However, it is somewhat stopped. Not completely stopped but we were working in a passive way since the past 3 months now. We want to grow fast in the coming days.
You said that a lot of your products are handmade. That means that your workers need to actually go to the studio and create the products themselves. But when we entered into the lockdown and people had to essentially stay where they are, how did that affect your production?
Sajan: It was during the lockdown that we came to implement the digital aspect of our business. In the past time, we printed the papers, sent them to the factory and waited for receiving the product. But after the lockdown, we sent everything through email. We were trying to work using the remote model because people started staying at home. Our company is based online. So we take orders online and we delivered them to the factories through email. The payment was also done digitally. The design centre functioned digitally as well. So the only problem was delivering the product to the client during that phase.
So you said that delivery was a major problem for you and you also mentioned that it was very difficult for Kayo for one month. It was very difficult to get sales as well. So during the pandemic period, what strategy did you put in place to stimulate your business?
Sajan: The first lockdown was for three months. We had to stop our business as our sales were totally collapsed. Everyone stayed at home and they had nothing to do. So they were not interested in buying the products. So at that time, we tried marketing campaigns and what we wanted to do was to engage. We were staying home and engagement was a challenge. We organised games and other digital events. They needed to know that Kayo is still working for them even though we weren’t selling our products. We wanted them to know that the organisation Kayo is still working for them. At that time people see and they know more about Kayo. So nowadays, after the lockdown, they know what to order, how they work, how we would work for them. So this is how we are getting back on our feet since the last lockdown period.
So you said that you involved your customers with games and other digital events. You also talked about how it was difficult for Kayo to gain some sales. But you did engage your customers through the digital medium. So what kind of behaviour did you see in your customers during the pandemic?
Sajan: During the pandemic, people started to stay at home but they wanted to know about us still. We realised exactly what a customer is, what they want and also the fact that they want to know what we are doing for them. They want to know how we process our handmade products and they need to know what impact we might create for them. They need to know the quality of the product we are providing them with. The consumer wants to learn everything about us. We have a wide range of customers in our company and they belong to different age groups. We have designs that can satisfy each age group. We know what our customers would buy and at what time they will buy more products.
So after gaining this information about the taste of your customers, did you see an increase in your sales?
Sajan: After studying consumer behaviour, we wanted to change our customisations at the pre-product level also. People say that it takes lots of time to produce one product and they want quick products, I realised. So we are planning for the pre-products. We also want to launch another brand. Not exactly a brand, but like a lifestyle section where we can produce more products for our clients. Those would include accessories, bags and other easily available corporate gift items. So we want to create such a company for the future.
So this is the customer’s side of course. But then on the other side, there are your competitors. So do you know what your competitors are doing during the lockdown?
Sajan: During the last couple of months during the lockdown, we didn’t see our competitors as competitors. We do want to prove ourselves to be better than the rest. But in the crafty core challenge, we collaborated with 11 different start-ups. We wanted to engage them as well. So we have a lot of handicraft start-up companies that can merge with us to celebrate their good work and they came with us. We had success even in the last lockdown. So as competitors we want to boost them as well. We want them to grow with us. So we collaborated with them and made that even successful.
That is very nice to hear indeed that during this time these companies came together and you collaborated. So instead of there being a competition between you about who gets the more sale, you focussed on synergy and created better products. So now the lockdown has been eased in Nepal. How is your business performing right now?
Sajan: The situation isn’t the same as what it was before the lockdown nowadays. People want to buy and they are interested in the products as well. They know when to order and they will wait for time to celebrate or sometimes they will buy for themselves. It isn’t as usual as before but now we can feel the slow growth in sales.
As far as the business model goes, are you using the same business model that adopted during the pandemic?
Sajan: Yeah exactly, nowadays we are using the same model. But more than that we want to know about other resources as well. So we can use this digital or remote model as well. Because nowadays we are using all the social media platforms from home. Only the production department is only at our office. And me as the co-founder, we have to come to the office and work. But we are not allowed to work in our office. We are working on that model because it will be easier for us and them as well.
So with these strategies in place, what is the outlook for Kayo for the next three months?
Sajan: What we want to do in the coming months is use more of the digital resources. We are planning to launch a more client-friendly website. Only delivery is the problem. But other than that we want it to be easier for our clients to buy our services. As for our team members, we want to create more resources that can easily work by staying at home also. That’s the main thing we want to plan for the coming plans. We also need more paperless work and less physical work as well.
Alright. So you mentioned delivery again. So in the next three months, what aspects do you want to add to the delivery system, so that it is easier for you?
Sajan: Before the lockdown, we used to deliver with our own delivery services. But now, we use the outsourcing model. So we assembled and packed our product in the office. Then the delivery companies would come to pick them up and deliver to the destination. We didn’t really have a process for delivery during the lockdown period. We are facing a major issue about that one. Because we can’t go anywhere we want. Sometimes the clients want us at someplace but we can’t. So we are collaborating with logistic management companies to work in the future, with the hope that it will be easier for us.
So this is my final question to you. You have already mentioned your delivery system. But if there are any three parts of your business that you need help with, what would they be?
Sajan: First of all, we need to collaborate with other companies to increase our sales. Like other business houses, I want to make us and other start-up companies work together for achieving the same goal in the future. We not only want our company to grow but we want it for all the companies as well. The other thing I need help with is resources. For example, before the lockdown period, we didn’t know how to zoom and how that software works. Maybe there are other resources out there in the digital market that we would like to adapt. So we need those resources which will make work easier for us in the future. That is essential for us. The other thing would be government subsidies and the creation of an ecosystem for all the entrepreneurs in our country. Many started before the lockdown and many of them collapsed after the lockdown. So there is no real data on what they had invested and where they have gone. So we want all start-ups to grow with us as the team of the start-ups of Nepal.
About the Guest
Kayo is an online handicraft start-up company where they make any product (accessories, décor items, and miscellaneous) according to how the customer wants it by hand with minimum machine work. This company was started with a noble aim to uplift Nepali Craftsmanship and bring it to its former glory with a modern twist.
Mr. Sajan Joshi is a person with a zeal to uplift gift-giving culture with traditional Nepali twist. He completed his Masters in Business Studies from Tribhuwan University. With a passion for promoting Nepali traditions, craftsmanship and artisans, he aspires to promote his business in Nepal as well as the global market.