Rupal Ismin: A Business that Makes Businesses

Rupal Ismin.jpgAndable is an online marketplace for independent sellers of products made better.  Every time you buy, 10% of the sales price goes to help fund a micro loan to a person in need.  Because it's a loan, it gets repaid, and Andable repays sellers their 10% contribution after three months, guaranteed.

In 2012 you launched Andable, where did the idea come from and what was the vision behind the company?

I didn't set out to start a business, but after speaking with over several dozen indie sellers in Australia, all of whom were passionate about the products they design and made, I found a gap in the ecommerce space which I wanted to try to fill. Most ecommerce sites are primarily transaction based; indie sellers wanted to be in an environment in which they could tell their story.  Our FRESH badges (Fairtrade, Recycled, Eco-friendly, Supports local business, Handmade) are a way for sellers to tell their story in a digitally concise way, and for buyers to browse by what's important to them.

The social mission of Andable was inspired by my grandfather who grew up dirt poor in India. The state would pay the education fees for the person in each class with the best grades, so he studied to make sure that was him (and it was, every year).  He ended up becoming a doctor, which is just incredible. Ever since he earned any income as a boy, he donated 10% to charity.  His self-made story and his attitude toward helping others had a big impact on me ever since I was a little girl. This was the inspiration behind the 10% number as well as micro loan social mission. Micro loans help people pull themselves out of poverty through their own hard work.

How will Andable’s global marketplace function? What countries are you targetting?

Andable is still in its infancy. We are focusing on nailing the Australian market before we expand internationally in earnest. With a marketplace model like ours, scale is key and the platform has been built with foundations that allow internationalisation. 

Working with international partners like Kiva and Paypal has really helped with our international aspirations.  With Paypal, we don't have to worry about the logistics of currency conversion.  Kiva is fantastic because its global presence has a halo effect on Andable's.

The balance we (or any international site) must get right is maintaining a sense of community while growing internationally.  That's hard.  Because of this, we will take internationalising slowly starting with where our sellers are naturally coming from.

How do you aim to attract global customers and why do you think this is important?

We're currently getting some international traffic seeping in through our social media efforts.  When we focus on a new market, however, we will need a physical ground presence in the market. Andable is such a grassroots brand and individual relationships with sellers is very important. 

How did you get your business off the ground? Did you use any grants for funding?

I was lucky enough to find a development agency who was on board with my vision for Andable.  Development would had been our biggest cost and having a dev partner with the same incentives as I do was absolutely key.

That, coupled with interns, volunteers, advisers, and a co-working space is the perfect recipe for a lean operation.  We did raise a private seed round to get us off the ground. 

Have you worked with any partners?

Collaboration has been the only way that we would have been able to launch Andable, so yes, we have many partners and advisers.

Having partners like Kiva and Paypal gives us trust, stability, and security.  Recently, we've secured a partnership with an executive producer and a TV presenter to launch our content marketing initiative AndableTV. Of course, all of our shops on board are our partners as well. 

People to lend an ear and give some advice have also been paramount for us.  Prior to completing the business plan, I informational-interviewed with over 50 people who gave me advice, contacts, and a hand in launching the business. And as mentioned, I also spoke with over 200 indie shop owners. 

From an international perspective, where would you like to see Andable in the next five years?

Usability on a web platform as complicated as the Andable marketplace is so important.  In five years, if we can be in a place where we are functionally set up to go hard on internationalisation, I would be very pleased.  My husband and I are American (and Australian), and of course the US market is a big lure. 

What advice would you give to women who want to grow their business internationally?

Since we don't have a strong international presence, I probably am not the best person to give advice.  However, I can say that all the best examples of internationalisation (for businesses that may not have had eight or nine figure investments like AirBNB & Etsy) were businesses that worked with local partners.