Meet Yosha, the resilient and ever effervescent founder of Meraki. With a passion for art and story-telling, Yosha started Meraki along with her mother Vibha Gupta with the aim to make art accessible to one and all.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I belong to a small town from India, Aligarh and have studied in multiple places – in Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi School, undergrad in Economics at Lady Shriram College, post grad at MDI Gurgaon (with an exchange programme in HHL Germany) and at HKUST in Hong Kong. Growing up in Aligarh, my main exposure to the arts was through my mother, she was a fabulous artist and had evolved a style of her own with charcoal paintings of Khajuraho. My family is full of entrepreneurs. My father started a new business at the age of 60 and worked very hard to make a success of it and I couldn’t be more proud of him. My brother is a very successful entrepreneur and has always pushed and inspired me. My aunt in Aligarh was one of the first female doctors there to run her own practice and started the biggest hospital in Aligarh at a time when working women were frowned upon. My great grandfather started the city’s biggest girl’s college, Tikaram College where 12,000 girls study every year. The values of hard work and resilience are ingrained deep in me because of each one of them.
What was your inspiration behind starting Meraki?
Art has always been a very big part of my life whether it be performing arts, fine arts or the folk arts. I have been organizing Indian classical events in Hong Kong for the last 8 years that I have been living here as part of Spic Macay and have organized more than 30-40 events attended by thousands of art aficionados and have long standing deep relationships with all the artists I have worked with. I loved folk arts so much that everything right from my clothes to jewelry to my own bags are all handpainted. Over the last couple of years a lot of people started asking me where they could get bags like mine from, what especially made a huge statement was when I got a Gucci handbag handpainted by our Madhubani artist Ranjeet Jha, everyone just loved it and it was obvious that there’s a market for this. The rest then followed- and the business took a life of its own. I think of this less as a fashion brand and more as a way to promote folk art, bags are just a medium, hopefully when people get more acquainted with folk art and the beautiful stories around folk art, they will start buying folk paintings too. The biggest mission for us to bring patronage back to the arts and for the artists to be able to see how their art makes a difference in people’s lives.
A bit about your previous startup experience? How difficult is it for you to balance time between your family and your start-ups?
I have spent 10 years in the FinTech industry and worked across Asia (India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar) with my most recent role being a Financial Inclusion Consultant with the International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group. I was the Regional Product Director for Monitise for Asia Pacific where I helped launch very interesting products like a P2P payments product BBM Money in Indonesia and prior to that I was with a mobile payments startup Paymate in India. I started my career with G.E. as part of their leadership training programme. I have now worked across companies in different stages of their lifecycle, across geographies and with multiple nationalities- all of this has helped me a lot in running my own startup better.
Building LafaLafa has been an amazing experience as and given me the confidence to start another venture. With LafaLafa the experience has been to build a scalable mass market business and one of the most memorable experiences was being chosen for 500Startups and spending 4 months in Silicon Valley to learn from the best in class.
I don’t think the word balance exists in my dictionary to be honest. I end up travelling 50% of the time since my team was in India, I constantly think about work – I would say I am lucky that I have a family that understands and appreciates this about me.
What do you love most about being an entrepreneur in Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s efficiency as a city makes it easy to be an entrepreneur here and even the government is doing a great job to promote entrepreneurship. What I love the most about this city is that everyone is an entrepreneur at heart! Even if someone is in a full time job, they’ll have a side gig going on and the ‘hustle’ and determination to be successful is infectious.
Challenges that you faced when starting your business in HK
At the end of the day Hong Kong is a small market and is it hard to build a sustainable and profitable business if it is only focused on Hong Kong customers so the biggest challenge is to expand beyond Hong Kong at the right time. The banking sector in Hong Kong is still not completely geared towards the needs of startups and everything right from getting a bank account, doing remittances, accepting payments still feels like rocket science even to a payments veteran like me!
Do’s and don’ts of having your own business
I think my biggest lesson from being an entrepreneur has been around teams and people –I made a lot of hiring mistakes early on and have since then realized that hiring for the right mindset and attitude and not just skills is the most important thing in an early stage startup. You can teach people anything but you cannot teach them hard work and resilience, I’ve been very proud of the team we built at LafaLafa and i hope we can repeat the same at Meraki now.
Some tips that you would like to share with budding entrepreneurs in Hong Kong
Don’t wait for the perfect idea or the right time – do your research, surround yourself with people who believe in you and your product and just jump right into it, there’s no crazier or more fun ride than being an entrepreneur.