Melissa Dean and Rupal Ismin had no entrepreneurial background before going it alone with Andable, but realised that the opportunity was too good to turn down.
The business acts as your standard online marketplace for handmade sellers but has a twist – 10% of the sales price goes to Kiva, a micro loans organisation that provides credit to small businesses in the developing world.
After ditching their jobs and teaming up with a Sydney development agency called Interesting, Dean and Ismin recently launched the business.
They speak to StartupSmart about how they are going to marry their business and social missions.
Can you explain the deal you have with Kiva?
When a product is sold through Andable, the seller receives 85% of the sales price. We receive 5% as commission and Kiva, which looks after a micro loan fund for developing countries, gets 10%.
The fund lends money to small businesses overseas, which you can see on the Kiva site. So there will be someone running a fruit stand in Uganda, for example, getting a micro loan through the money given.
We guarantee to sellers that we will repay the sellers the 10% after three months. So, they are ultimately left with 95% of the sales price.
The micro loan gets repaid, and Andable pays sellers the 10% after three months, guaranteed. The seller is left with 95% of the sales price. Effectively, it’s a win-win situation for every party.
We went with Kiva as they have got a good record. They’ve got a 98.9% repayment rate and they’ve given out about $230 million in micro loans since 2005.
We think this is pretty much a world first in terms of how we are operating this business.
What gave you the idea for the business?
We did some market research and found there was a gap in the market for independent sellers. There were three areas that weren’t being properly covered off.
First, they want a cost-effective way to sell their products, they also wanted a tie-in to a social mission and they wanted a solution that was online.
We came up with Andable as we thought it was a perfect idea to help small sellers. Quite a few sellers are doing well on eBay or Etsy, but you can’t really tell the story of your product on those sites.
You may be able to talk about being handmade or reused, but it’s hard to tie it into a social mission. That’s why we came up with the 10% idea, which was inspired by Rupal’s grandfather in India, who always gave away 10% of what he had to charity.
Who are your sellers?
We’ve got 150 shops on board, which has surpassed our target. We’ve had some fantastic small businesses come on board, such as Betty and Cash in Sydney.
The businesses include wholesalers, retailers and individuals. We knew a few people ourselves and we also went to trade shows to have direct talks with sellers.
We want consumers to have a range and depth of products to choose from, so we’ve talked to a lot of different shops. We want to support small businesses but we don’t want one individual shop ethos across the site.
How did the two of you end up in business together?
We worked together in advertising at NineMSN and we worked on the idea for about a year. I’m Canadian and Rupal is Australian-American. We started developing the site in October.
We’ve funded it privately through friends and family and are now in the process of raising more money.
What motivated you to do this?
I’ve always wanted to start-up. I’ve been a risk-taker and always wanted to jump into things and make them a success.
The idea of creating a global company is great, but having the confidence to do it is something different. It’s been so rewarding to do this, knowing that there’s a social mission.
RUPAL: For me, it’s completely different, I never really wanted to run my own business, but I was interested in the huge gap in the market for this.
I really wanted to do this. I think it chose me, more than anything. We have a passion for it and so do the merchants we speak to.
Our mission is helping small businesses help other small businesses. There’s a really great community around this, which is quite rare to find.
We have to balance our message – the primary focus is on the product but there’s a secondary social mission.
What are your goals for the business?
MEL: Our goal is to have 10% growth month-on-month over the next year. We hope to grow internationally, too. We already have six other countries on board, but our initial focus is Australia and New Zealand.
Australia is our bread and butter, but this idea has a global platform. There’s a long way to go but I’m looking forward to educating the market about micro loans.