As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Konark Ogra.
Konark is the Founder of Rural Handmade. Prior to this, Konark was employed as a petroleum engineer with Schlumberger. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Tulsa and a Bachelor’s degree from MIT, Pune, both in petroleum engineering.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
As an engineer, I was always fascinated with designs and technology while as an extroverted person, I was always into people. This created a perfect opportunity for me when I noticed a lack of modern design innovation and technology infusion in the traditional artisan work in the handmade industry. I noticed the gap between the contemporary tastes of modern consumer in product design and utility on one hand and the still, largely traditional approach of the product makers in developing countries. This led me found Ruralhandmade.com, with a mission to blend contemporary design with traditional craftsmanship.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the biggest mistakes for me in the initial stages of establishing this business was to recruit unsuitable partners to work with me. These were people who I did not know beforehand and had not work with earlier. I would recommend to startup founders to work with people who you know and can trust to be long term allies. Running a new business is challenging and entails a lot of uncertainty, you need people on your side who can persist.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I avidly listen to the Freakonomics Radio podcast. The breadth of Topics and knowledge covered in this podcast stimulate my thought experiments and help me think differently.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My vision was to help the skillful artisans secure a meaningful place in the global handmade industry. Many developing nations have abundant supply of skilled labor when it comes to the handmade sector, still I see that most of these skills are both undervalued and under-utilized. Despite the best skills, a lot of artisans lack in design innovation and in an in-depth market knowledge needed to thrive as a business. My missionis is to change this and modernize the entire value chain of import/export intensive handmade business.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Never give up! Persist till you succeed!
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My wife was 7 months pregnant when the pandemic ensued. Thankfully, there were no serious pregnancy related challenges in the last trimester, and the baby was born in May. Both my wife and I were anxious and nervous to be visiting a hospital for her delivery due to the fear of corona contagion, add to that we could not have the support of friends and family because of the travel restrictions. This was a challenge but both of us backed each other up and faced the hardships boldy.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As a startup, it’s hard to convince and acquire your first set of customers. You essentially have to go door to door and meet up people personally Unfortunately, the pandemic lockdown coincided with the beginning of our first sales and marketing cycle which made sales especially challenging. There only so much you can do online. To address this, we are doing our best to acquire customers through outbound email marketing and a few inbound marketing tools.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As I mentioned before, both I and my wife very anxious and fearful about having our first baby during the pandemic. My parents could not travel to UK to see us and neither could we have the support of our friends who could visit. I did my best to motivate and sooth my nerves, and comfort my wife. I’m thankful to the excellent health care system we have in UK that made this whole process easier for us.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I see a renaissance of small businesses that will emphasize on supporting the local economy and champion sustainability. Loss in jobs and income will lead to a changed consumer behavior and people will explore out of the single income mindset to diversify their sources of income. This opens up avenues of social commerce (P2P or C2C business)
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think we’ll all collectively start respecting Nature a little more. This has been a time for self-reflection for many and a realization towards moderation in life-style. I can see people cutting down on unnecessary international traveling and challenge conventions in social interactions
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
With the acceleration of technology adoption that the pandemic has caused, all businesses need to focus on the new landscape of inbound-dominant marketing strategies. Small businesses can get a lot done with the free online tools that they have at their disposal for business building, sales and marketing. We plan to do the same.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
This is time to reflect and reset! The opportunities to cut costs and increase efficiencies are staring right at our faces.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Our mission at ruralhandmade.com is to help small businesses on both ends of the supply chain to survive and thrive. We wish to see a more equitable future for our progeny and we are working towards that goal
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can visit us at our social media pages and our website. We are the world’s largest repository of eco-friendly, sustainable handmade products! We’ll be glad to be at your service.