Nepali women entrepreneurs have been proving and uncovering themselves as a leader, visionary, achiever and much more recently. I was fortunate enough to interview one of the most talented and inspirational personality; Nikita Acharya, Co-Founder, and CEO of Urban Girl (UG), who also belongs to the list of aspiring entrepreneurs of Nepal.
She started doing business at an early age and has constructed her business empire with her hardship. Urban Girl now is one of the most successful e-commerce portals of Nepal and has been spreading its wings with the addition of new extensions to its business, one of which is UG cakes. She did not achieve the peak of success easily and her story is interestingly relatable to most young people and their struggles as Nepali child.
Her struggle throughout the journey has made her stronger and here is what she has to say about her journey.
Q. Where did your journey as Nikita Acharya start?
Nikita: My journey as Nikita started from my birthplace at Biratnagar at 1993. Our family moved from Biratnagar to Kathmandu when I was young and I studied in Kathmandu till grade 5.
Q. Narrate us about your early life and how UG started.
Nikita: I was a normal kid in school. Back then the concept of entrepreneurship was known little or none. 10 years back or so, the craze of creating and initiating something new by ourselves was not very popular as it is today. I had never imagined being associated in the business, as I had no family member ever involved in a business.
However, I was a kid who always liked to lead and come forward. I served as a house captain and representative while in school and my friends always teased me by calling me a politician back then. After SLC, I had no idea which course to pursue, so I joined Science because of its popularity. I scored good marks in Science and my father wanted me to be a doctor. I secretly joined Management course at Kathmandu College of Management (KCM), which brought a drastic change in my life.
I initially had difficulty with studying because of the science background. I thought a practical approach would help me understand management better.
I started working in an IT company, that’s where I met Kiran who is one of the founders. I had a lot of free time there so I started surfing a lot of online shopping portals. It was then that I started wondering why such stores did not exist in Nepal.
I started brainstorming its benefits and how easy it would have been if such stores existed. That’s where the idea for UG started and finally, Kiran and I jointly founded UG. I was 19 when I started UG and because of the fear of demotivation, I did not even inform my parents for 6 months that I had started a company.
Q. How would you describe your experience of UG?
Nikita: When we decided to start an e-commerce business, we initially thought of tying up with the local vendors. We visited many stores and found lack of professionalism among them as the delivery of the products got delayed or the vendors went out of stock, which ultimately might have created an environment of dishonesty among customers.
They hesitated to trust an online store, which was reasonable from their perspective as it was not a popular concept in Nepal and as one of the first movers in an e-commerce industry, we did not want to create a first bad impression among the customers. So, we had to quit the idea of selling products of local vendors and started to import on our own.
Kiran and I used to buy products ourselves, promote it on social media, deliver, and keep track of the stock. Our main goal was to develop trust amongst our customers.
Gradually, UG started to build a strong brand and got famous among our targeted customers. We started to supply some unique design imitation jewelry which got good hype in the market. Due to our brand image, we started developing a good relationship with local suppliers as well. People started approaching us and local vendors started contacting us to sell their products. We then extended our product line including t-shirts, watches and other accessories focusing on occasions, which grabbed the attention of our International customers.
During that phase, we realized that we get international orders mostly during an occasion, and after some brainstorming, we came to a conclusion that cakes can be the best gifts for all the occasion. That’s when UG cakes came into existence. Initially, we tied up with local bakeries. However, due to high demand, they could not serve us on time, so we had only two choices left with us — either to quit or to start our own bakery. Finally, we started our own bakery last year.
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Q. Can you share us UGs’ yearly profit?
Nikita: I cannot share the exact profit we make right now but I can share where we stand currently. Our initial investment was Rs. 20,000 back in 2012. We do not have savings; we have an office space at Minbhawan with more than 2000 sq. ft area where all our operations are handled, a cake factory at Old Baneshwor, a store at rising mall and over 35 employees.
Q. How did you manage to balance your work life and student life?
Nikita: As I completed my high school as a science major, I had difficulty in understanding accounting and management concepts during my undergraduate. Surprisingly, after founding UG, my study life drastically started improving and I began scoring good marks. I related stories from class with the company. In other words, practical knowledge blended with the theoretical knowledge. “Management Is The King” as it plays a major role in every sector. UG is not just entirely related to IT but it has a huge part of management involved too.
Q. What were the challenges that you had faced as a teenager and an entrepreneur? How did you address it?
Nikita: First of all, as an entrepreneur and a teenager, the biggest question that troubles you is whether you’re doing the right thing. I knew I started something, which I had really wanted to, but I always had questions in my mind. I questioned myself, “Am I rushing a bit fast?”. I kept myself backward somehow psychologically. Our society also pushes us backward in such case, as we all can relate how our parents push us to study and get a job.
In my case, when newspapers started featuring me, this society itself pushed me forward and I stand here as a founder because of the society itself. I also had to sacrifice my student life, time with friends and family, hangouts, college functions and much more. During meetings and gatherings, people laughed at me and questioned if I really was running the company. It was hard to prove and build trust initially but at the end of the day, it was a great learning experience.
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Q. Over the years how have these challenges grown?
Nikita: Challenges always knock your door in one form or the other. Our challenges commenced from vendors not being able to pursue our idea and lack of customer’s trust. Gradually new challenges introduced themselves. In my opinion, the best possible way to tackle a challenge is to give your best at the worst point. With this strategy, we were able to stand where we are today.
The biggest challenge till date is that of last year’s blockade. We had to sell our scooter and buy a bicycle in order to deliver the orders. Another challenge that we are facing these days is of extensive e-commerce sites being launched every other day. Some of these sites do not provide a proper customer response, which in turn develops misconception about online shopping. This is a threat to business like ours which wants to pursue online shopping professionally.
Q. Your worst experience of dealing with customers till date?
Nikita: I cannot remember any “worst” experience dealing with customers because I think it’s the best part of my work. We mostly get lots of love and good feedbacks from our customers which is a true motivational factor for me and my team. If you talk about worst experience, I just can recall one or two which happened during our initial days when we had not started our own factory. The case was more of a miscommunication where a daughter had ordered a cake and her father was the receiver who thought that was not the design they had ordered and hence we got a lot of shouting but we believe that “No customer is an angry customer if you provide him good service “. The situation got back to normal when we explained everything and also made a new cake as per his wish. Now, the same customer is one of the regular and happiest customers of UG.
Q. What are some of the major accomplishments of UG and UG cakes?
Nikita: When I look back and think of all the accomplishments UG has made so far in all these 4 years, the first one that actually makes me happy is the employment opportunities it has been providing to 35+ youths. In a country where thousands of youths are going abroad in search of a job, if UG is providing a job opportunity and holding few if not all, I think that’s the major accomplishment we have achieved so far.
Apart from that, showing the possibility to the youths that you can start your own business in Nepal and run it successfully through UG is something we are proud of. And this applies not only to UG but to all the startups that had contributed in promoting the entrepreneurial status in Nepali society. I believe, if you are a startup and growing through all the obstacles, you are an achiever already.
Q. Who was your source of inspiration in difficult circumstances?
Nikita: I would say for running a business efficiently and productively you require understanding partners. In my case, my co-founder, Kiran has always pulled me during hard times. Business partners play an important role in business growth and I am happy that I’ve found a partner with same mission and vision as I have.
Q. What is the long-term target of your company?
Nikita: Yes, we definitely have set a target for the company. Our main target is increasing customers and providing them the quality of service. We also plan to extend our services outside Kathmandu valley.
Q. How do you define success?
Nikita: Success, in my opinion, cannot be defined in a particular way. I think success lies in little things if you can picture, execute and achieve it. Continue working hard, success will come along.
Q. What message would you want to convey to other entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs?
Know what you are good at and chase your dream.
Female entrepreneurs have so many opportunities in this century. The world is promoting you, all you have to do is take a step forward to work on your idea. One should know how to tackle challenges in order to become an entrepreneur.
Nikita Acharya is an inspiration to many young entrepreneurs of Nepal. Her story is particularly relatable to young Nepali women, who always have been set a step backward when it comes to creating something new and bold. Her story tells us to run after our dreams no matter what consequences come along the way. TechLekh wishes her and her team immense success in the near future.
Name: Nikita Acharya
Business: Urban Girl
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
Industry: Apparel & Accessories
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