Kavea R Chavali is an award-winning Anchor and the Co-founder of Kalaneca Uppada Sarees. She has a strong passion to promote the handlooms of Uppada, Andhra.
As the co-founder of Kalaneca, she looks after the daily activities around the hand-woven sarees, connecting and collaborating with the weavers of Uppada to introduce newer designs and luxurious sarees to people around the world.
Kalaneca is a women-run organisation started by Kavea, her sister, Ramya Rao, and her mother, Lata Rao. Naaree.com caught up with Kavea to learn what inspired her to start her company and what lessons she learned along the way.
What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out?
So one of the many common challenges would be making the people aware of the idea/product/brand.
When you think of silk sarees you will say a Kanjeevaram or Banarasi, but bringing the heritage and luxurious weaves of Uppada and explaining the intricacies took us time…the faith in our brand built when they started shopping with us.
When we started most of our customers were from South India but now close to 35% orders come from the USA as well.
Secondly, as it was a bootstrapped business model, every penny mattered. We have had some of the agencies who tried wasting our money on digital marketing and other technology-related products but thankfully we kept our intent very strong.
One common challenge was the inventory. Our initial business model of retaining the inventory did not really work in our favour. We changed that model and shifted the gears eventually increasing the sales by 45%.
What are all the things that an entrepreneur in your industry needs to keep in mind? Apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?
One needs to be armed with a consistent intent to start and tremendous patience. My brand doesn’t serve a need like an Ola/Uber. It serves a want.
Patience is very important because everyone is talking about unicorns and billion valuations. The brand has to serve the very same intent it started with at the start. Do it well and do it at your pace.
Secondly, in the age of social media, there are so many brands investing so much on the popular platforms – Instagram marketing or Facebook marketing. This may make them popular but not necessarily successful.
My team cannot sit and compare the number of likes we have vs. another niche handloom brand every day and this is why focus your target audience well. There is tremendous competition but there is room for every honest product too.
Thirdly, enjoy what you do. You are filled with a zillion ideas but once you start a brand if you do not enjoy the process, you will perish. The brand is run by the people so you have to be motivated even if you are on a holiday to fulfil the requirements. So if you do not enjoy it, you are part of the wrong idea.
Did you have a mentor to guide you through your journey? In your opinion, what does a mentor bring to the table?
I never had a specific mentor but I have constantly engaged in startup discussions and digital-related conferences thanks to my work. The fact that I have hosted almost 800 shows surrounding technology, digital and start-ups… gave me an idea of how to go about with my brand.
I interact with the best of the speakers to gain insight and thankfully as an Anchor for the show I get enough access to them and their ideas.
Having a mentor, of course, brings about newer and mature perspectives. My sister and I have friends who brainstorm wonderful ideas as well and that really helps.
Please describe some successes and failures you have experienced as an entrepreneur.
As our brand is a B2C business, customer satisfaction is the biggest measure of our success. We are just 4 years into this business, but 2 years ago we received a brilliant order from a client in the US.
As the bride, she had certain requirements and we went the extra mile to fulfil them in terms of the weaving, packaging, shipping and getting them done in precise time.
To date, that experience taught us how we could control time in our hands if we were driven so passionately. That grew our orders in the US market big-time.
Failure would be the year 2016, where close to 180 of our sarees came out of the loom with a weavers blot.
Now this concept of the Weaver’s gum/Mark doesn’t hamper the saree, as it goes away after the first dry clean. But how can one sell these sarees to a customer even at a reduced price? This resulted in a heavy loss for us.
At Kalaneca we do not spend time brooding over unhappy things and we do not try repeating those mistakes again. It’s a lesson learnt- the hard way but we dust off the bruises and work on an immediate action plan.
What are 3 key lessons that you have learned as an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be your own boss, your own peon, your own assistant, your own photocopy vendor and the delivery boy too. One thing that I learnt is that no work is small and that just because the world calls you an entrepreneur you can never, never feel entitled.
At Kalaneca, my sister used to pack the bags and would write handwritten notes herself. My mother would visit weavers and procure the designs herself. I once delivered a saree travelling in a local train just because my delivery boy didn’t turn up, but we had to get the job done, so it had to be done.
Secondly, you have to be aware of the industry so read well. Learn what the government schemes are so that you can make the most of it and don’t feel bad if you are seeking help or opinion.
Just because you want to make it on your own doesn’t mean you do not include the people around you. Kalaneca for us is our passion but unless we do not get to connect the right stakeholders the growth will only be derailed.
Marketing. We as Indians have started to believe in the power of marketing now more than before. One must hesitate to make his brand especially when you have such a great product to offer.
There are so many of those who spend so much money on marketing but have a bad product which is why the consumer doesn’t approve of it after a while.
But when you do have a great product get the people to know it in whatever marketing budget you have. Our brand mantra is simple – Straight from the weavers to your closet.
We stick to this mantra and we believe in it 100% and which is why our customers also believe in it.
- Kavea R Chavali, Entrepreneur, Anchor, Game Changer, On Being An Internet Saathi Mentor
- How Mentoring Can Help You Succeed In Your Business Or Career