Nirjala Shrestha and Shanti Shrestha, co-founders of Friend Handicrafts, shared the story of their entrepreneurial journey amidst a programme recently organized in the capital. Friends since their college days, Shresthas are the rare figures of women entrepreneurship in the nation.
FoundedÂ 14 years ago with an investment of only 6,000 rupees and only themselves as the working staffs, the business has now grown to be one of the largest in the nation on the felt handicrafts sector. The factory located in Guheshwori currently employs more than 125 working staffs, mostly illiterate women and those who had to face various problems from their family.
In the programme, they shared how challenging their initial days were and how they were able toÂ overcome the challenges. â€œFor us, it was challenging to manage everything in the beginning, as both of us are women, and had to do everything on our own. We could go to work only after completing the family work first. But, as the family of both of us were very supportive towards our venture, things were not that hard,â€ shared one of the co-founder, Shanti Shrestha.
For being able to continue the partnership for 14 long years, both of them acknowledge the mutual trust and understanding towards each other. â€œWe respect each otherâ€™s opinion, most of the time. And,Â in case aÂ dispute arises, we reach to the solution only after thoroughly discussing with each other,â€ they said.
Through the business, they want to show that one doesnâ€™t need any university degree in business to be a successful entrepreneur.
â€œYour capacity to properly manage human resources available to you is all what it takes for you to be successful in the business,â€ said Nirjala. â€œAt the same time, you have to respect the self-respect of your employees, and make them feel that they are significant for you, and support and motivate them in their hard times. As an entrepreneur, you need to have the capacity to understand their pain, and help solve their problems.â€
Similarly, they also shared that time management and dedication towards the work is very important to succeed in oneâ€™s business. â€œWe even work for as long as 18 hours every day. As an entrepreneur, you canâ€™t take the business as 9-5 job. You have to be always ready for your work. You need to feel the ownership towards your work. You need to be very careful about time, and meeting deadlines to your customers,â€ they said.
They also remembered their other hard moments, the economic challenges they had to go through, and the vision in starting the business. â€œThrough the business, we tried to break the stereotype and develop the concept that women can even start aÂ business, that too even without taking loans from their husbands. The next thing we really wanted to do through the business was, we wanted to bring the daughter-in-laws outside of their home and the boundary of 4 walls.â€
In the programme, they also remembered their other challenges. â€œIn the beginning, even paying the house rent and electricity bill was really hard as there was no immediate return from the business. â€œThough our family were very supportive, the way other people in the community used to see us was not that good. There was not an entrepreneurial culture among women that time at all. We had to go through a lot of hurdles. But, we never gave up, and continued the journey. Thatâ€™s the reason we think we are here,â€ they shared.
At present, the organization exports various felt products to European countries and USA.
In 2013, their business was also honored with the prestigious recognition of Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award.
â€œThough there are thousands of handcraft businesses in Nepal, and more than 200 in felt sector alone, our government has done nothing to help grow the business further. Itâ€™s a sad reality for entrepreneurs in Nepal that the government is almost non-existent and, is never there to support you to do business and become an entrepreneur, other than taking tax from us,â€ they lamented. They also shared the challenges of going international/export oriented business.
Giving a message to the upcoming entrepreneurs, they say that one needs to identify their interests before pursuing anything. â€œYou always needs to start small. Donâ€™t take huge risks in the beginning. Also, you shouldnâ€™t imitate what others are doing. As everyoneâ€™s business model and ideas are different, there is a higher chance of failure if you try to copy others,â€ they shared.
The programme, Last Thursdays with an entrepreneur, is a monthly programme organized on the last Thursdays of every English month. Started in January of 2009, the Last Thursdays series has been a platform for many emerging and established entrepreneurs to share their experiences and provide a learning and networking platform for the budding ones.
Photos Courtesy: Biruwa Ventures
By Basanta Kumar Dhakal