“How I handcrafted my dreams on paper" - Kavya Agarwal on the journey of Kaagazi
a fine handcrafted stationery brand in India.
Our charming and vibrant entrepreneur Kavya Agarwal is a perfect example of a quote by Earl Nightingale -
“Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.”
This alumnus of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad is en route to make a change through 'Kaagazi', a fine handcrafted stationery brand in India.
YC- To begin with, could you tell us a little about your background, childhood and family.
Kavya- I was born in a small middle-class family in Kanpur, a city that thrived on businesses. I had a fairly happy childhood. My parents realised that there wasn’t much of an exposure for me in Kanpur so they sent me to the boarding school - Welham Girls' School, Dehradun.
Initially at Welham Girls' School I faced bullying and found it quite hard to fit in. But eventually, I started to make friends. During my years at the boarding school and also back at Kanpur, I had already heard of the National Institute of Design (NID) and was fascinated by the prospects one could find there. From a young age I had imagined myself in a creative role. Actively taking part in various clubs and activities gave me practical knowledge of various design related applications. This made my entry into NID quite easy.
“In a way I had been preparing for such an entrance exam all my life. The questions were really fun for me. I got in with ease without fretting about the preparation unlike many peers.”
YC - How did you start Kaagazi?
Kavya- The initial experiences of summer internships at various companies made me realise that I wanted a more original and creative role. I felt my efforts under-recognized, and decided to speak with my guide Tarun Deep Girdher, the activity chairperson at NID. We discussed my wish to start something of my own centering around paper.
It was the third year of college, we had to work on a classroom project that had 3 parts to it:
Designing creative processes
That is where I conceptualised my plan of Kaagazi. I did not have a lot of support as the idea of starting your own business was not especially popular at that point. I confided in my mother while most of my friends thought I was whimsical. Even my parents were initially sceptical with the whole plan. They were not too happy when I told them that I planned on staying in Ahmedabad instead of returning to Kanpur.
YC - How were the initial days of Kaagazi?
Kavya - The initial days were really tough, challenging and lonely. My parents helped me set up the project initially. This was under the condition that I'll fend for myself in future. In the early days I would take small orders and make small amounts of money. Coming from a business family I knew that I had to reinvest the money I was making. This principle of reinvesting helped me a lot. I bought more raw materials from what I earned, and led a minimal life. Gradually, things began to change and evolve, I started getting more orders.
YC - Can you elaborate on the journey of Kaagazi?
Kavya- Kaagazi will complete its 10th year in 2022. We started out with a small team initially but now we have a strong team of eighteen employees - fifteen in the production team, two taking care of the orders and one working remotely who takes care of editing and social media. I head creative decisions, miscellaneous things and the task of following up.
In the early days we put up stalls at various fests and events in and around Mumbai. Being in the same industry I was able to partner with various offline stores in Goa, Leh-Ladakh, Mumbai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad to stock up and sell Kaagazi products. We were also selling through marketplaces like Amazon and Little Black Book. Simultaneously, I was also working on getting an online store setup for Kaagazi.
We were doing well, Kaagazi products were also chosen by various corporate houses as innovative gifts for employees. We made books even out of Amul milk tetra packs; the rainbow books collection, linocut series and Bollywood bawaal series were all very popular indeed. Many artists were using Kaagazi sketchbooks to create their artworks.
The USP of Kaagazi products has always been the personalisation and customization we were offering. But I realised we were not able to provide the same by selling our products through third party sellers or apps. Gradually, we started shifting our focus on selling through kaagazi.com. During the pandemic we shifted 100% to our website.
I am a Naval Officer’s wife, we have to keep moving every one or two years and that has been quite challenging. For that reason I would say Kaagazi is still in its evolving stage and we haven’t found our footing yet.
YC - What was the most important learning during your entrepreneurial journey?
Kavya - My most important learning which helped Kaagazi grow was -
“ How to make people, rebuy my products”
I always believed a diary is one’s personal space. When I started Kaagazi I used fancy bindings for our products. Although sales were good, repeat purchases was an issue. I decided to interact with customers directly at events and fests. That’s when I realised that people were buying but not using my product. People deemed Kaagazi products too fancy to be used. I never wanted Kaagazi to be on a pedestal that is never used.
I did a lot of research and came up with a product that was simple, affordable and usable. Our repeat purchases increased significantly. Now we define ourselves as “Inclusive, affordable, durable and creative at heart”, and this has become our new product motto as well.
YC - Where do you see Kaagazi in the next few years?
Kavya- I want Kaagazi to have an identity and a sense of direction even in my absence. Right now we are focusing on e-commerce platforms and a few years down the lane, I see Kaagazi to be in a much better shape. In spite of the ongoing pandemic we have seen a growth of 21% in revenue. My target is to hit one crore a year in terms of revenue. We are currently focusing on our main markets, Bombay and Surat. Maharashtra alone accounts for 30% of our orders.
YC - What has been a piece of advice or a mantra that has sustained you through the years in business?
Kavya - I learnt something from my mom very early on that has stuck with me through all these years. She taught me that any ideal career has three things:
My mother taught me that businesses should also serve people besides making money. Her guidance has helped me retain my personal balance and cultivate passion. Every day I want to wake up and go to work irrespective of the numbers, this is something that I am driven to by passion and hope to be for the rest of my life.
YC - What advice would you give a young entrepreneur who wants to start something of their own?
Kavya - Each individual needs to understand their own strengths, weaknesses, their mental makeup and their financial liabilities. Then decide whether they are better suited for jobs or businesses or a startup. The sooner people figure themselves out the better, as it gives them more time to gain experience, build expertise and develop their business.
A sense of one’s own circumstances and position is necessary to build a healthy relationship with one’s career. You cannot compare yourself to the growth of others since their struggles and hurdles would be entirely different. One needs to consciously build their abilities and educate themselves for their specific role and business.
“If one inculcates these values in his life and works hard, I sincerely believe they will find success.”