Until Kapil Hetamsaria, ’05, launched his online jewelry business in Mumbai in 2013, he was living the corporate life. His 15-year career at high-profile multinationals included product management at Dell; engagement on large technology, media, and telecom projects at McKinsey & Company; and Asia head for enterprise strategy services at Microsoft Corp. When he decided to pivot to the start-up world, his big-company experiences provided a valuable education. Since Hetamsaria started Velvetcase.com, he’s raised $1.1 million in seed funding and is planning a second round of capital raising. Revenues have grown four-fold, the staff has expanded to 35, and the company opened an office in New York.
Of course I was well aware that most start-ups fail, and of course I was giving up the resources and access to talent that come with working for multinationals. But I had the bug to be an entrepreneur and a creator.
What exactly to do with that? I always was interested in the luxury segment of consumer goods as a business. I studied to be a mechanical engineer and learned to cut and polish diamonds as part of my training. When I moved back to India in 2011, I studied the female Indian consumer and how she made female choices.
The jewelry retail side here in Mumbai and across the world remained traditional. Stores continued to invest in inventory, assuming that people would come and buy whatever was in stock. I learned that even jewelers who had been in the industry for decades weren’t working off the most profitable business model. They couldn’t react to fast-moving trends because they were carrying inventory that didn’t always sell. The consumer, on the other hand, wanted to see new designs more often.
I began to wonder, can technology shake up what is happening in this market? How do you give customers what they want and not keep inventory? I thought of using Dell’s model: sell made-to-order product, going from order to design to certified delivery within 10 days. Velvetcase.com doesn’t stock inventory, so we have no reason to push a particular product. We play an advisory role, matching buyers with a network of established designers and manufacturers in India, as well as Hong Kong, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom. We average about $1,000 per order.
Even though the products—computers and fine jewelry—are entirely different, the sales strategy is the same. To create Velvetcase.com, I drew on the demand for structured thinking that corporate experience gives you—from learning how to best work with large teams solving large problems. I also respected that the network you build along the way is an asset for life. Establish that trust and collaboration and people are always willing to go the extra mile for you.
I’ve found that formulating ideas is easier than executing them. At McKinsey we would make the most intelligent of suggestions to clients—and then wonder why they weren’t executed. Now I understand you’re facing operational challenges involving regulations, shipping, logistics, fraud prevention, and other matters. As an entrepreneur, it becomes clear how much easier it is to formulate ideas than it is to implement them.
—As told to Madhur Singh