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This Entrepreneur Is Disrupting The Way Typical E-commerce Sites Do Business

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A few months ago, I came across a term that piqued my attention – artisanal chocolate – and I ended up ordering a bunch of it online from QTrove, an online marketplace for curated and handmade products.

Thie artisanal chocolate – dark, milk, fruity, or nutty – produced by a wife-husband duo under the brand name Jus’Trufs, is actually handmade by artisans. But more importantly, it has no harmful chemicals, typically found in abundance in mass-produced chocolates.

“Pure chocolate contains cocoa and butter. I bet most people didn’t know this, and they would be shocked to know it wasn’t chocolate they were eating all this while,” shares Vinamra Pandiya, Founder of QTrove, short for curated trove (meaning store).

Curated marketplaces are the antithesis of platforms like Amazon, or Flipkart because pricing is not the key differentiating factor. In the case of QTrove (which sells everything from handbags and stationery to personal care products and granola), the real value lies is that the makers of the products – mostly small business owners – take great pains to ensure the use of all natural ingredients. There’s also a strive to ensure biodegradable, eco-friendly packaging.

Having been brought up on a diet of consumerism that was all about buying a “quality” product for the best price, this shopping experience was a whole new one for me. Over the years I have started questioning the idea of what we deem as “quality”, because, in a world that’s struggling with climate change, pollution problems and water shortage, our choices as consumers play such an important role in the scheme of things. “QTrove as a concept is tailor-made for today’s time. The way we are pulverising nature and the way it is taking its revenge, years are not far away when we will have to buy pure Oxygen,” observes Vinamra.

In many ways, QTrove is using technology to turn back the clock by marketing products that are not mass-produced or ridiculously cheap. Yet, they are not so expensive, that they fall in the high-end category (prices start at INR 60). Secondly, when you buy a product, you will know exactly who is making them, and more importantly how they are being made. As consumers get more discerning, these two factors will be core differentiators.

Consumer awareness creative
On World Consumer Day (March 15), QTrove’s social media pages had an important message

I was curious though to understand how such a platform stands up to the big dogs of e-commerce, which not only have deep pockets but are also constantly seducing consumers with lower prices. In such a scenario, consumer loyalty is not a thing.

To this Vinamra explains the long-term vision of what he is building, “We want to make customers for life, and not based on some discount fad. Hence this is a slow but sure approach. However, we are traditional businessmen at heart and believe each business should be started with the core focus of creating value for all the concerned stakeholders (employees, investors, customers and sellers). This philosophy is the underlying theme behind Qtrove.”

He also shares with conviction that online curated commerce is slated to be a billion-dollar industry.

Making In India

Many of the makers of the products marketed on QTrove (or “magicians” as they are referred to by the platform), are professionals who quit their jobs to do something they believed in. Manas Nanda, 31, a former financial analyst markets his brand of chemical-free laundry detergent Bubblenut Wash. The soap nuts, a base ingredient used for making soap (though typically adulterated with a whole lot of other stuff by most FMCGs), are directly sourced from communities living in remote forest areas.

Illustration of Doodle Ninja, a techi by dayRumana Haaris, a former engineer channelised her love for doodling into starting Doodle Ninja, which makes doodle-inspired stationary and other products. Since Haaris is a vegetarian-humanitarian, 30% of the proceeds of every sale go to two NGOs working for the welfare of animals, and mental health.

Makers like Manas and Rumana get as much prominence as their products. “Since these are non-branded products (in the traditional sense), trust won’t come easily. Hence the importance of content and community comes before commerce can commence. Through their stories, photos and videos, we want to establish that connect with the consumer,” shares Vinamra.

Finding and identifying the right “magicians” takes work and a certain amount of discretion on the part of the platform. They are found via online research, attending offline flea markets, exhibitions and offline research. “This is the toughest part and will surely test our theory in the long run,” shares Vinamra. “Yet, we feel there are millions of creators out there and we haven’t even yet scratched the surface.”

Behind-The-Scenes

Vinamra, a chemical engineer from IIT-BHU, worked for two years as a software developer at Infosys before turning entrepreneur at the age of 25. “After doing food tech for the last 10 years, I needed a bigger challenge,” shares Vinamra, who’s partner-in-crime is Prashanth, a third-generation entrepreneur from Chennai who was looking to start up from scratch. That opportunity arrived in the form of QTrove. According to Vinamra, he and Prashanth “hit it off from day one”.

Founder Vinamra and Co-Founder Prashant

“Co-founders should have complementary skills and I find his poise and calm demeanour a perfect foil for my controlled aggression,” says Vinamra. While Prashanth takes care of sales, vendor management and catalogue, Vinamra looks after product, marketing, operations and investor relations. He is also very particular about hiring right.

“Our every hire had worked with me before as I wanted a set of passionate people who would do whatever it takes to get our startup off the ground,” says Vinamra, who describes his team as “passionate doers with diverse skills”.

He offers two pieces of advice for anyone who ventures into entrepreneurship. “One, reduce your ego to zero. Two, love of money is important. A business’s objective is to make money and hence be very clear about this.” Touche.

Curating with a conscience

QTrove, is of course, not the only emerging curated e-commerce platform. There are other stellar platforms selling unique, quirky, and beautifully crafted products. These attributes make shopping an engaging experience. However, the real value of such a platform is the strive to cultivate a socially conscious consumer.

For me as a consumer, this is an important quality in a business I patronise, as I get to make sustainable choices without having to put in all that research to ascertain what human rights are being violated, or chemicals are being pumped in. That’s a lot of faith to put on a platform, but shouldn’t we encourage businesses to adhere to these values?

Secondly, I don’t think this is discussed enough but curated platforms are great enablers of the “Make in India” idea, because it provides a space for honest makers to build up their equity, something that’s tough in the cut-throat world of e-commerce.

“We are trying to create an industry of curated and sustainable commerce,” says Vinamra. “How successful we will be – only time will tell but we will do whatever it takes to make this planet a better place for our children.”

Well, you have my kudos for trying.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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