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Gurasheesh Singh, founder of Karigari and member of the founding Undergraduate Batch of Ashoka University, is proficient at a lot more than one would think. An ardent sportsman, he has represented his home state, Jammu and Kashmir, at National Level Cricket and Shooting Tournaments. At Ashoka, he got the complete experience, and arguably much more than most of us can ever get out of this university: He was a member of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the Constitution, he was in Ashoka’s first Sports Committee, where he was instrumental in converting an athletics field into a multi-purpose sports field, and getting a shooting range installed. He also served as a Resident Assistant. Entering university intending to major in Political Science, he fell in love with history after attending Prof. Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s classes and ended up earning a degree in History and International Relations. His interests don’t stop there though: he is a fan of the sciences. When I went over to his place in Sonipat, he showed me how had built his desktop himself. The cooling system was built using a car radiator, a desert cooler pump, and a bathroom exhaust fan. Despite having achieved so much and being so good at so many things, when someone asks, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Gurasheesh?”, the answer is something else altogether: entrepreneurship. I sat down with Gurasheesh to get to know more about his venture Karigari and more about his life as an entrepreneur. Some excerpts from the interview:
When did you start thinking about life after Ashoka?
My final year- it involved a lot of contemplation. I was considering joining the army, writing the civil services examinations among many other things, but I finally settled on entrepreneurship.
I must place on record my thanks to the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Ashoka for their Entrepreneur in Residence program (EiR), which gave me some wiggle room and a taste of the entrepreneurial life. I don’t think I would’ve gone down this path without their guidance and efforts. Even though the idea of Karigari came to me a few months before graduating in May 2017, EiR, which started in August and lasted till December, helped me crystallize Karigari into what it is today.
Tell us a little more about Karigari.
We are looking at handicraft industries and trying to add more value to the proposition that sits before the customer and the artisan alike. Usually, in enterprises, sales are of utmost importance, and hence the enterprise tries to extract the most out of the workforce — making it an almost exploitative affair. We are trying to be different in terms of workforce relations, because they really aren’t a workforce or our labourers, they’re artists. I personally admire these artists and art-forms a lot. I don’t think enterprises admire them as much as they should, specially when they form the basis of the enterprises’ existence. We are aiming to contemporize their products to the market demands. Handicrafts are innately “old” in their design: they have a historic appeal to them, but they aren’t relevant to the modern times in terms of functionality. While they are very aesthetically appealing, people don’t perceive these “artefacts” as functional items, which significantly reduces their market appeal. We are trying to change this. At the same time, we have a chapter in the pipeline which works with recycling. We want to produce decor, gifting items, and ambient lighting using recycled raw materials.
Who is your customer?
Karigari has multiple customer segments. The luxury products are targeted to the first-world audiences abroad, and the Indian metropolises. We also have more affordable products aimed at the youth.
How do you take Karigari to the market?
We haven’t begun advertising because we aren’t selling yet. Karigari is only a few months old. Before starting this venture, we spent some time doing our research in this sector and affirming if we wanted to do this. Then we looked at the possibilities of what could be done. We only really started 4 months ago, in December 2017, and are now working on our line of products. We have started our pilot-tests in the markets in exhibitions and niche markets. Our website karigari.org is up and is slated to be completely functional by mid-May this year.
Do you work alone?
No, we are a team. Professor Gwen Kelly from the History department is a partner here along with a YIF alumna, Saumya Seth, who is also a partner. We also work with a Young India Fellowship ELM (Experiential Learning Module) team, and finally, we have our artists in Kashmir.
We have also sourced a lot of talent from Ashoka. Meher Sachdeva from the Undergraduate Class of 2018 is managing our social media marketing: we are putting together a team soon. When I was working on our website, there was some issue I couldn’t solve, so I contacted Yash Joshi from the ASP (Ashoka Scholars Program) to help me with it. (Pointing to a picture on the Karigari website) The smoke you see here is coming out of Shubhankar Mukherjee’s a.k.a. the “Smoke Machine 3000”’s lungs. This is the spirit of bootstrapping in entrepreneurship. (laughs)
Can you describe your typical day as an entrepreneur?
No. (laughs) It’s very difficult to describe a typical day. An ideal day, though, is where I waste little time: where I get work done, don’t compromise on my health and eat properly. The scheduling is completely haywire, though. There are days when I wake up at 5AM and then there are days when I wake up at 3PM. There is no typical day, and that’s a problem- a more structured daily schedule would certainly make life easier.
What is your greatest fear about being an entrepreneur?
My biggest fear is sustaining too high an opportunity cost for being an entrepreneur: going down this road versus appearing for competitive examinations. Being an entrepreneur also means engaging in a high-risk activity. Since the risk profile is high, it brings in the question of financial security, but I’m not too scared about that.
As an entrepreneur do you have any ventures that you look up to?
Absolutely- It might sound cliched, but whatever Mr. Musk is doing is quite phenomenal. I was a fan of his electric cars from the time when they weren’t the fastest to go to the 100 km/h mark, and now they are, so I’m quite happy about it. Also, while there are massive players towering internationally, I feel it is important to admire local ventures — there’s this gentleman who manufactures mattresses near the Bahalgarh intersection in Sonipat. He started manufacturing with his father in a couple of rooms near his farm, and now has a full-fledged factory with over 20–30 rooms, manufacturing and selling mattresses in Haryana, Delhi and Punjab, and has developed an impressive revenue stream.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Gurasheesh Singh, founder of Karigari and a very talented individual otherwise, is part of the Founding Undergraduate Batch of Ashoka University. You can find him on campus almost every day.
Ashokan Entrepreneurs is an initiative to put under the spotlight budding entrepreneurs among the existing students and alumni of Ashoka University.