Virtuoso
Like A Boss

By: Sapna Nair-Purohit             Dated: January 29, 2015

There has been an encouraging trend of youngsters turning entrepreneurs thanks to social media. We explore how social media is fuelling the entrepreneurial dreams of people, one ‘page’ at a time.

Scores of individuals, mostly youngsters, are taking to entrepreneurship lately. What’s intriguing is that their entrepreneurial dreams are being fuelled not by any VC funding, special mentoring, or marketing blitzkrieg, but by their ambitions and social media skills. We take a look at how social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even WhatsApp, are luring the internet-savvy generation to start something of their own, even though on a small scale.

In an interview to Money Today, Sachin Rao, Country Business Manager of Facebook’s Small & Medium Business Solutions, APAC, said, “All you need is an idea, and Facebook to become an entrepreneur.” A lot of the new entrepreneurs we spoke to agreed. Before the advent of social media, an e-commerce portal involving legal formalities, design, and payment gateways was the only affordable medium for budding entrepreneurs to do business. These, however, required considerable investments, something that was not quite lucrative for those starting out.

Owing to the proliferation of social media and their business-friendly platforms, a variety of people ranging from students to new mothers, are today choosing to start something of their own. We spoke to some and here are their stories...

SOCIAL MEDIA STARS

Two Bangalore-based girls had the knack of making headbands out of scrap materials such as fabric, lace, ribbons, yarn, coconut shell, paper, and buttons. Their friends loved their creations which egged them on to set up stalls in flea markets. Encouraged by the response, they decided to turn this into a business called ‘Pigtails and Ponys’, via a Facebook page, in September 2011. Today, it has a member count of almost 39,000. 

Facebook is their primary marketing platform, though they are present on Instagram and Pinterest too. “Over the past two years, our brand identity has been created on our Facebook page and its contents are a strong representation of who we are,” says Nivedha Charles, founder of Pigtails and Ponys. The Facebook page also serves as the main traffic source (95 percent) to their website and online store. Charles gets an average of 2-3 orders daily.

For Tania Misra, Facebook let her unleash her creative side. An architect with Urban Design, Tania didn’t want to continue with her corporate routine once she became a mother. She started making flowers out of clay. “Flowers are deep-rooted in the Indian culture, but clay flowers were a new concept. Hence, I had to present the concept to people visually,” she says. She didn’t want to have a huge set-up or invest heavily in the idea and that’s why she posted some of her designs on Facebook. Her friends saw it and went “wow”. That was a big validation and soon she started receiving orders from friends. Today, Tania’s Clay Studio page has more than 19,000 likes. She runs her business with her mother Bonnie Misra. They get all their orders from Facebook, which is their only medium of advertising and PR.

When Mumbai-based Sushrut Munje’s first entrepreneurial venture — an ‘intelligent humour magazine’ — did not take off, he proposed the idea of a professional cleaning services business to his friend over coffee, blissfully unaware of the many such services that existed in the market. Thus was born ‘Hammer and Mop’ — a professional cleaning service for homes and offices, now a premium service, charging Rs. 5,000 for cleaning an area of 1000 sqft.

For a cleaning service provider, Hammer and Mop is incredibly active and buzzing on social media. “We are different from other companies providing similar services by way of our communication and behaviour on social media,” Munje says. He had a Facebook page up and running even before the business plan was in place and was immensely encouraged by the attention it got.

Reilly Rebello quit his cushy job at Percept H as a Senior Creative Director to become an entrepreneur. “Being able to work from anywhere and being my own boss” was too tempting a proposition for him to let go. He, along with his wife Mellisande, has set up an online store Lil Blu Van. They call themselves ‘curators of quirk’. His first step was to create a Facebook page and thereby a flutter about the venture. With 200 'likes' in three days, without any advertising, he surely is off to a flying start.

“We will source the quirkiest gift items — clocks, coasters, posters etc — from a dozen sites that offer them or through friends and flea markets and present them on Lil Blu Van,” Rebello explains, adding that he gets a cut when a customer buys it on the website. Although currently he is using only Google AdWords to promote his site, he plans to leverage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

THE SOCIAL PUSH

One confession each one of them universally make is that without Facebook, they probably wouldn’t have plunged into entrepreneurship. From actually being able to test the market by starting a page and gauging reactions from friends and friends of friends, to using social media as a product showcase/gallery, receiving orders, posting feedback/testimonials, staying in people’s radar constantly — it seems fairly apparent that it neither costs a fortune nor takes a fortune cookie to do what one always dreamt of.

“I can’t think of an easier way to spread the word,” says Misra, who occasionally spends Rs. 2,000 a month to boost posts on Facebook. She is happy with the 30-odd enquiries she receives on her Facebook page. Charles gets 95 percent of the traffic on her website from Facebook, as that’s the only marketing platform in use. “We get an average of three orders a day and these numbers are slowly on the rise,” says an optimistic Charles, who has plans of introducing pet accessories, bridal accessories, and a collection exclusively for new-born babies, soon.

For Hammer and Mop, too, social media is the only platform to communicate with the world. But interestingly, the ones they communicate with are not their customers. Over 80 percent of Munje’s customers — businessmen, celebrities, HNIs, and expats residing in South Mumbai — are not active on social media. These people use Google to validate their expertise and are happy with their social media presence. And it works well for Munje, considering his company has executed over 1800 clean-ups since inception.

THE ‘F’ WORD

The proliferation of internet and social media, especially Facebook, in India has been overwhelming. Facebook as of March 2014 had over 100 million active users in India. India is its second-largest market, first being the United States.

Facebook’s largest group of advertisers is the small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). It reportedly has more than 25 million SMBs worldwide with active Facebook pages, not all of whom actively advertise. Efforts are being made by the social media giant to educate these small businesses in using Facebook as an effective marketing tool, which includes buying ads. A workshop titled ‘Facebook Fit’ — a boot camp for small businesses — was launched in five cities of the U.S. in June earlier this year.

Ultimately, it is from people such as Misra and Charles that Facebook will aim to further reap its revenues. In a way, it is a symbiotic business relationship.

Facebook and SMBs

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