Creating Sustainable Livelihoods for Rural Artisans
The idea behind Lal10 is to use the vast untapped potential across rural communities and organize it with technology and innovative business models while also empowering rural artisans to become micro-entrepreneurs
Maneet Gohil had set up Lal10, a B2B platform connecting rural artisans with urban consumers and global retailers, in 2014 during the first year of his post-graduation at National Institute of Industrial Engineering. Though he passionately felt about the project as his grandfather was an artisan, after college he followed the general course of progression of an engineering career and took up a sought-after job with Flipkart.
But, it wasn’t long before Gohil realised that a corporate career was not his calling and decided to go back to support his ancestors' community full-time through Lal10. He was soon joined by co-founders Sanchit Govil, a friend from Delhi College of Engineering, and Albin Jose, an acquaintance from school and IIT-Madras graduate.
Connecting Rural Artisans with Global Market
The idea behind Lal10 is to use the vast untapped potential across rural communities and organise it with technology and innovative business models while also empowering rural artisans to become micro-entrepreneurs, says CEO and co-founder Gohil.
The bigger challenge with rural artisans is not the lack of skills or training to create high quality products, but of right marketing. Several NGOs have taken care of the former.
“We have met over 6,000 SMEs (small and medium enterprises) across 22 states, who are facing problems reaching out to markets with their products. These are rural SMEs who manufacture textiles, garments and home-furnishings,” says Gohil.
Lal10 is solving this by, one, selling bulk orders to large retailers and two, by enabling artisans to digitise their inventories and launch their stores on the company’s website within 30 seconds with the use of technology.
The Covid-19 led pandemic prompted the company to build the latter product as rural SMEs could not go to offline exhibitions to sell their products, says Gohil.
“We took two steps backwards to understand the problems in the deeper clusters and create a right technology solution for the rural SMEs," he says. “Today they can list products with a click of a button on all the mainstream B2C websites which are affiliated with Lal10.”
SMEs can also use Lal10’s mobile application to directly connect with buyers real-time and fulfill the orders.
Another hurdle that many artisans face despite possessing sophisticated craftsmanship is the lack of contemporary design knowledge to make their products more marketable. Lal10 is tackling this by helping them contemporarise their products.
Further, the company’s model of directly working with the SMEs ensures fair pricing for manufacturers that often gets trimmed down due to multiple middlemen.
On the demand side, the company claims that by combining best in class technology infrastructure, CRM, sourcing and supply chain processes and systems, and innovation in design and production, Lal10 has become the one-stop sourcing destination for global brands.
The company has so far served over 400 clients, including major retailers like Zara, GoColors, FabIndia, Anita Dongre, Taniera etc, as well as e-commerce platforms Myntra, Nykaa, Pepperfry, Amazon and Flipkart, among others, across 18 countries.
Lalten - A Beacon of Hope
Why the name Lal10?
“In the initial days, when we travelled across the country we found a lantern, which means lalten in Hindi, in each rural household in every state,” recalls Gohil. Being a source of light in rural households in the absence of power, it suggests the company’s objective of giving rural communities a beacon of light and hope in the absence of a formal market.
“We added 10 at the end of the name to make it more quirky and new-age,” Gohil adds.
In its six years of operations, Lal10 has helped over 1,800 rural SMEs reach more than 400 offline and online retailers across 18 countries and digitise their inventories and contemporarise products with the help of technology.
On being asked how was the year 2020 for a company that involves a lot of field work, Gohil says it seemed like starting Lal10 all over again. “We never operated in a WFH (work-from-home) structure and it was a big challenge for us in the first three quarters of 2020.”
“We listed down the company's vision, mission and value systems and enabled a sense of constant motivation for every team member to over achieve in these times,” he says.
Looking back, despite it being a challenging year, Gohil counts several achievements for the company. “Pivoting in agility to new business demands and models, closing orders despite movement restrictions, closing investment rounds and gaining credible team leaders from the industry were some of the high points for us.”
In early March, the Noida-based company raised USD 1.1 Mn in its Pre-Series A funding round led by US-based Utah’s Sorenson Impact Fund along with participation from AngelList and other VCs and in subsequent months hired former President Fabindia, former design specialist at ITC Wills and product team from Paypal India for its leadership team. Lal10 has raised a total of USD 1.85 mn so far.
The company also scaled to open two warehouses in Noida.
"We out-performed to launch four tech products in the first three quarters of 2020,” says Gohil, further pointing at the company's achievements last year while adjusting to the new normal.
In the coming years, Gohil and the other co-founders intend to develop Lal10 into a one-stop platform for all working capital, cataloging and design support needs of artisans and SMEs.
The company is profitable on a contribution margin level and works at an average 35 per cent gross margins, as per Gohil.