My Swag Merch is a start-up that helps other start-ups, artists, small businesses, NGOs, etc., to start a merchandise store of their own. It was founded by Abhishek Gupta, a fourth-year student at MIT studying print and media technology, about three months ago in the most unusual way possible.
My Swag Merch – Seeds of an Idea
While traveling, it occurred to him that there should be original merch of the small stores, businesses, and artists as they hold the authenticity of the place itself. He figured merchandise stores are not available everywhere, as one needs a physical location, inventory, and investment. So that is why he wanted to do it online, with the brands having a virtual presence with no inventory cost.
“My Swag Merch displays the product, prints, and ships it on demand, being cost-effective so that small business owners could afford it,” said Manorath Khanna, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, co-founder at My Swag Merch. He also told us that it is open to everyone, even outside Manipal, since it is online. If an artist wants their digital art to be printed on coffee mugs, t-shirts, etc., My Swag Merch will help them with it.
Dilshaad Uzair, a third-year chemical engineering student, is the Management Head of My Swag Merch. He said, “We also help housewives. For example, if a woman who has a business named ‘Divine Hijab’ wants to spread it, but finds it difficult because of any reason, My Swag Merch would help her. It would take zero investment cost in the initial stages.” In addition, the team also spoke about how various clubs from Manipal could benefit through My Swag Merch, using it as a platform to put up their respective clubs’ merchandise.
Digital Outreach Through Social Media
On being asked how they contact the artists and businesses, Pratik Shewkhani, a third-year mechanical engineering student and Management Head at My Swag Merch, said, “We mostly contact through Instagram and other social media platforms. We do not consider ourselves as a competition to Amazon and other big companies, as we want to bring out the small artists and the authenticity and originality of the local places.” Since they are in their initial stages, they can manage it but they look forward to hiring people in the near future.
On being asked about the management of the site, the young entrepreneurs talked about how they manage the site by themselves as of now. They have a team that oversees the various nuances of their website. It is obvious that problems in the initial stages pop up; for example, they sometimes face issues while setting up stores for the people using My Swag Merch as their platform to portray their work. But they are figuring it out as they go and learning along the lines of their experiences.
Bootstrapping – No External Investors
Along with being a great management team by themselves, they are super-smart about the investment aspects, too. They haven’t spent a pie in investments. They follow bootstrapping, which is, covering their finances from the sales they make. People earn after sales are made. The turnover goes into managing the site. They split the royalties with the artists.
This technique enhances the opportunities provided for graphic designers and other self-employed people or freelancers. People usually tend to freelance and set their stores for the sake of creating their brand. (In other words, bootstrapping is the process of building a business from scratch without attracting investment or with minimal external capital.
It is a way to finance small businesses by purchasing and using resources at the owner’s expense, without sharing equity or borrowing vast sums of money from banks.
Now, the team is versatile. They manage the site, the finances, and the networking all by themselves! The organization itself reaches out to possible customers via Instagram after seeing their products. They don’t spend money on marketing. The person they reached out to further spreads the message, and hence a chain reaction is set up. It is mainly based on their existing contacts and word-of-mouth. LinkedIn is another excellent platform for them to reach out to people and build their expanding network.
If you’re wondering what makes them different from the million other sites, say, Amazon, you must know that they have a very noble aim behind setting up the site. First, they don’t wish to establish themselves like Amazon. They want to reach out to people and emphasize gestures more than the business aspect of My Swag Merch. They want to give a platform to artists and bring out their themes and thought processes out there.
Though their business has already seen orders from across India, they want to be an officially recognized pan-Indian organization. They wish to turn their artist’s art into reality while keeping the message behind it intact.
The team has a very insightful approach towards the future of their site. When asked about where they see themselves in a few years from now, they said they envisioned themselves having better, improved problems to deal with.
Abhishek mentioned that they hope to have the problem of recruitment; they hope to expand and build themselves so much that they have a huge huge line of people wanting to work with them. Adding to this, they also wish to work for a higher turnover so that they get to pay GST. This idea of having better, more experienced problems as they grow surely is motivating for us too. After all, like Manorath says, “With bigger problems come bigger opportunities.”
In the end, the guys just want to have an impact on people. They want to provide all the people who wish to create a platform to present themselves. All they hope is to create an impact and help people reach their potential. And we think that is so beautiful. We wish the team the very best of luck.
About the Authors: Aditi Agarwal, Diya Manikpuri, Siri Vaishnavi have jointly written this article. They are all second-year students at Manipal Institute of Communication.