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My Journey as an Amazon Seller and #WomenOwned Business

My mother Sharda Daga and I, Pinky Maheshwari started Surprise Someone in September 2015. To give you a small background about myself, I am an MBA graduate and have worked with the world’s largest advertising agency - Ogivly & Mather in Mumbai for 8 years and later at Vodafone for 2 years. Eventually, I quit my high paying job and chose to bring smiles on the hidden talented artisans of India with my business venture.

What is it that we: Mother-Daughter duo do?

We make recycled handmade paper. But you may ask what’s novel about it? Well, there are many reasons why our paper is unique. Firstly, we don’t cut trees to make paper, we make it from cotton rags/waste cotton and paper waste. Secondly, we mix seeds in the paper so that there is life even after it loses its strength. Hence our tagline, “Why throw when we can grow” echoes in all our products.

Paper-making process uses energy, water and chemicals and produces waste. However, handmade paper made from recycled materials consumes at least 50 per cent less energy and up to 75 per cent less water than virgin fiber. It also produces upto 90 per cent less wastewater and reduces air pollution by 70 per cent.

And while we do all of this to conserve the environment, we also empower women from rural India. More than 85 per cent of the artists we work with are women. We are targeting to train 10,000 girls and make them self-employed by next 3 years. Thus when you buy things from Surprise Someone, you actually make someone smile.

Our products have brought about a positive transformation in the way gifting is done during all Indian festivals. Back in 2018, we made Plantable Rakhis that later grew into beautiful plants. For Diwali, we came up with “Oxygen wala Diya”. For Christmas, we made plantable Christmas- themed seed bombs that could grow into plans. For new years we have plantable Calendars. We even made plantable hearts for Valentine’s Day and plantable flags for Independence Day and Republic day with the objective – ‘why throw when we can grow.’
sell on amazon representation of products sold online
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Awards & Accolades

In an extremely short span, I have received numerous National & International Awards. I recently also received a 100% scholarship from IIM -Bangalore for their under 10K women program wherein I got an opportunity to pursue Executive Entrepreneurship Program from one of India’s leading institutions.

The hard work, passion and commitment have yielded many positive outcomes. We have an envious list of clients in the corporate sector and have received several orders from the Government of India. Our young and budding start-up has been receiving 95 per cent subsidy on domestic and international trade shows from Start-up India Scheme. We have been proud recipients of awards across multiple forums: style icon Karisma Kapoor presented us with the Ravishing Design Awards 2017, Soha Ali Khan honoured us at the Pride Awards 2018 for innovative wedding invites made of seed paper. I have also been named amongst the 100 Women Faces of India by Womennovator (an initiative by Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs, India).
selling online representation of online store

My journey as a Seller on Amazon

After completion of the Executive Entrepreneurship Program at IIM Bengaluru, I took a lot of learnings and made relevant changes to our business operations and systems. Up until now we primarily did wholesale and bulk orders but post this course we were walking in to the biggest turning point of our business – launching as a SELLER on AMAZON.

It was in second half of the year 2019 when we started selling on Amazon with little knowledge of how the marketplace nuances. I was not sure how and when the orders would start coming in.

Soon after launching on Amazon, in the month of July 2019 we listed one of our unique product’s - the Plantable Rakhis. Much to our surprise, we were inundated with constantly increasing orders in just a week.

Our listing started showing up on first page because we had a unique idea of plantable rakhis that was 100% eco-friendly. We did sales worth of 1.5 lac rupees in first month itself, something that was way beyond our expectations. We achieved all of this without any promotions and sponsored ads because frankly I had no clue about these products at that time.

This was our world class big bang welcome on the Amazon marketplace. We now have more than 200 products listed on the marketplace.

Our business objective has always been to sustain the environment and our efforts have been aligned to initiate trainings of making recycled seed paper in government and private schools so that more and more young minds can join and innovate with paper thereby help stop global warming.

“As we do all this, Amazon India has supported us beyond our expectations. They have promoted us through:
• Emailers
• Placing us upfront on the Amazon homepage , that helped us garner fantastic visibility
• Placement of our products on the front page of news dailies
I believe for startups like us, support of this kind is of greater value than monetary support. This support will bring money automatically from genuine clients.

In another incident, Amazon invited me and one my woman artist to Bangalore for an influencer program. I was part of a selection of only 6 sellers across India. The event saw influencers from across India, advocators who saw and interacted with our products and eventually promoting them to their audiences on their social handles. An opportunity of this kind is something all sellers will be grateful for.

My success alone cannot be attributed to our unique products. While a marketplace like Amazon recognizes unique product selections, it also supports them in how they are showcased to the rest of the world.

I strongly believe that people do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic. Businesses have only 2 major functions- Innovation and Marketing. If you have uniqueness in your products then Amazon will definitely help you become visible with their engagement activities and that would result in outcomes beyond your expectations.

In this difficult times of COVID-19, we are still trying to stand strong as we believe “this too shall pass”. To support our women and to sustain the business we have started making Trendy cotton mask with gloves which can be reused and washed again.

We are ever thankful to Amazon for helping and supporting at every step. Be it early payments during lockdown, reducing referral fee for mask category and above all the big bang support that was providing an insurance cover from COVID-19 for all of its sellers.

I believe there is no substitute to hard work but having a supportive marketplace like Amazon has helped us scale our business to newer and greater heights.
These are just a few tips on which may help in increasing e-commerce sales. You can, of course, try different approaches on how to grow business online. The ultimate goal is to get more returns on your investment, that is, making more money. One thing to keep in mind is - your spends should always be lesser than your income. That’s the whole point, right? Planning and decision-making play a key role here. So plan well, before starting. And don’t worry, we’re always there to help you wherever you get stuck.

Want to create your own success story? want to establish your own online business & begin your women entrepreneurial journey? join our initiative "Amazon Saheli", a program to bring to the fore locally made products from women entrepreneurs in India. A program to enable women to become successful sellers on Amazon
PINKY MAHESHWARI
Founder, Surprise Someone
Amazon Seller - Part of the Amazon Saathi,
Seller Mentorship Program
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