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Startup Marketing Handicrafts
Sci & Tech

Startup Marketing Handicrafts

Less than a year ago, two bright minds in their early twenties saw a gap in Iran's handmade craft business and set out to fill it.
To help promote indepe ndent artists and market their handmade crafts, Pooria Karimi and his partner Behnam Akradi came up with a startup idea that eventually led to the launch of the website named "Parvaneh" (meaning butterfly in Persian).
Financial Tribune spoke to Karimi on the development of this startup.
"Back in our university days, many of our friends were making handmade crafts and selling them independently, some in shops and some on online social media websites such as Instagram," he said.
"Some of them approached me and Behnam to help optimize their social networking activities," said Karimi who has studied IT, is a developer and has been into programming since he was a teenager.
After a while, it became apparent that social networking per se was insufficient for promoting the sale of handicrafts. Hence, the duo did some research on the trends of selling handcrafts.
"There were a few Iranian websites where artists could sell their products, but they were not operating well enough," Karimi said.  
On the other hand, Etsy—the best foreign prototype—gave them inspiration. It is a peer-to-peer e-commerce website focused on handmade and vintage items.
"We began to read deeper into what Etsy is and how it had begun."
That was how the embryonic idea for Parvaneh was born: to create a website by which Iranian artists can directly sell their handmade products.
Originally a three-person team, Parvaneh is gradually expanding and has now taken on two more members.

  Selecting Artists
To maintain high standards, the team at Parvaneh has been selecting artists with whom it works directly.  According to Karimi, what primarily mattered was the high quality of the products.
"The items mainly need to have a unique and special quality, and should not be a copy of other works," he said.
"We also tried to select artists who were rather well-known; those already active on social media networks who also had a good number of followers."    
Parvaneh currently sells a range of accessories, bags, mugs and throw pillows.

  Pricing
Karimi clarified that the artists themselves are responsible for setting prices while adding that Parvaneh only "sets a range and maintains that prices are not lower or higher than the maximum and minimum preprogrammed ceiling."  
Once sold, Parvaneh takes 15-20% as commission. This may seem high, however owners of shops selling handicrafts can hike up prices by up to 50% as commission.
"Artists have said that despite the fact that they were told their work would be sold for $20 and they were receiving 50% of that price, shop-owners would at times sell the item for twice the price they had quoted to the artist."
Offline shops, however, remain popular because the "trust" factor is a matter of concern in the realm of e-sales.
"We are not concerned about winning customers' trust at Parvaneh because we are working as a licensed company," Karimi said, adding that people tend to trust a well-structured system more than independent pages on social media networks.
Also, Parvaneh will soon be receiving the official electronic badge of trust “eNamad” issued by the government.

  Competition
The main difference between Parvaneh and rivals such as Eshti, according to Karimi, is that the latter stores the goods and distributes them.
"They are also in charge of the content and photography, which adds to costs," he said.  
Storing goods prior to customers' purchase has certain drawbacks. If the goods fail to sell, they will be sent back to the artists.
The artists might have made a certain product with a specific kind of material that may go out of stock by the time the next orders arrive.  
"Our competitors are very selective in what they choose to sell and they subtly push the artists toward creating what they want and what the market demand is," he said.
  Challenges
Karimi said that most artists fear that their ideas will be stolen once they are out in the public.  
"In this regard the team is trying to make them realize that they should not be concerned about such matters, because once a work of art is created it will eventually be bought by someone and if it is destined to be copied there is no stopping that!"
However, Parvaneh has tried to work with artists who do not copy other people's works.
They have prepared plans whereby if an artist claims his or her work is being copied, the complaint could be assessed and taken into account. Another major challenge facing Parvaneh pertains to the time it takes to deliver the package to customers.
"We don't know when the customers will receive the packages once they are posted, and sending out of Tehran also has added complications," he said.

  Acceleration & Future Plans
Karimi noted that working with Avatech has been a great experience for the team.
"This is our first serious experience in startups and the support provided by the mentors provided by the accelerator is really helpful. They helped lift the spirit of the team when we were so disappointed and wanted to give up."
Karimi announced that when their site gains a foothold in Iran, they wish to promote it internationally.
The team ended by saying, "we might also release a mobile application in future."

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