With an attitude that can take on any challenge, Yosha Gupta walks us through her entrepreneurial journey as a solo female founder, from e-coupon aggregator Lafalafa to artisanal brand MeMeraki, her latest venture.
Born and bred in India, Yosha Gupta may have grown up as a quintessential small-town girl from a sleepy borough in Aligarh, a four-hour drive south of Dehli, but in reality, for the 37-year-old, embarking on a journey as a solo female founder was always part of the plan. “My dad launched a new business at the age of 60. I’ve seen his perseverance and discipline of working really, really hard.” Recently named one of the Top 100 Women in Fintech 2019 and one of the Top Influencers in Fintech by Fintech Asia, Yosha launched her first venture – e-coupon aggregator LafaLafa – in 2014, raising seed funding from 500 Startups and Vectr Ventures to catapult the platform onto the Asian stage, rapidly garnering over a million downloads in just over a year. With over a decade of experience in Fintech under her belt, she’s helped companies in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka launch, scale, and redesign their user experience as a financial consultant. And now, she’s turning her hand to saving artisanal techniques back in her home country with her latest venture MeMeraki, a brand that works with local artists to celebrate traditional Indian art alongside contemporary fashion. The serial entrepreneur and professional speaker on startups and Fintech talked Hive Life through a prolific career spent redefining what is possible through innovation and her experiences as a female entrepreneur.
Starting out in India, Yosha first learned the ropes in the nation’s fast-paced and rapidly growing startup scene before going on to join payments company PayMate. “I joined a startup before it became a buzzword. I was in FinTech before it was a mainstream term, too,” laughs Yosha who passionately highlights the crazy learning curve one undergoes at a fledgeling business. “What you learn in one year at a startup is something you can’t learn in ten years at a big company because it’s all hands on deck.”
What caught Yosha’s attention for her first business was India’s rapidly growing e-commerce market. “There were so many low-funded e-commerce companies that took off in India who were giving out discounts left, right and centre. As good as it sounds, it was actually causing a problem for customers who didn’t know which discount was the best one,” she explains of the window of opportunity she saw, especially in India, a place where consumers carry a strong deal-seeking mentality. That vision led to the launch of LafaLafa in 2014, a cashback and coupon comparison platform. “We combined price comparison with coupons to give customers cost comparisons and extra cashback. So, if they went through us, they got an extra discount.” She also moved early on mobile – something made easier by having over a decade of experience in mobile payments in Asia. “Our competitors were doing alike concepts on websites. Nobody had done it on mobile yet. So, I decided to, and that’s what helped us to differentiate ourselves in the market.” Her decision more than paid off with LafaLafa expanding rapidly from its beginnings in Northern Indian city Gurgaon to Hong Kong, simultaneously fielding over a million downloads of their mobile app – a rate of growth that earned them a spot in Silicon Valley’s prominent accelerator 500 Startups 2015 cohort, granting them intensive mentorship and funding. Soon after, they were selected for Facebook’s FB-Start Programme and accepted into the Hong Kong Government’s Cyberport Accelerator Program.
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Having left Lafalafa in 2017, Yosha’s latest venture is cut – quite literally – from an entirely different cloth. Built upon a team of more than 100 artists, MeMeraki is a brand that specialises in hand-painted, artisanal fashion accessories made in India. “I’ve always been artistically inclined. I used to get my own bags, jewellery and clothes hand-painted,” she tells us. The idea came from something she had customised for herself. “I got a red Gucci bag painted once by a traditional artist in India and I got such positive feedback from people in Hong Kong asking me if it was a limited edition,” she relates of the window of opportunity she’d spotted. “There are literally hundreds of these artists who are masters of crafts in every part of India. They’re not digitally savvy, so they don’t know how to reach customers outside their community. More importantly, they don’t have the money to invest in good quality products.” At MeMeraki, she solves this problem, sourcing high-quality products, primarily handbags, before sending them to different artists in India who all have different stories to tell, making each design distinctive. “MeMeraki ticks off everything I like including art, social impact and technology. Today, consumers are changing. Sustainable fashion is not just a word anymore; people actually do care about the impact that it has on the environment,” says Yosha.
For Yosha, a career taking in mobile payments, Fintech and now artisanal endeavours has taught her plenty of life lessons along the way. “As women, we need to put ourselves out there more. It’s not hard for us anymore. It’s about making sure we encourage each other and make the right networks. I already see a change happening. The whole tech sector is thriving with women now,” she enthuses. For her, it’s been a challenge well worth taking on. “The feeling of making new things happen is so addictive. It’s very hard not to do it again!” It’s an approach she holds close to heart – not least with MeMeraki, a label that’s raised USD 15,000 to help build an art school for girls in India. “India was the starting point, but I’m planning to have artisanal companies across Asia. I don’t want this to be a small side project. I hope it can be a big scaleable project.”