Digitizing Nepal, One Cake at a Time
“E-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon are popular worldwide, but why aren’t such sites popular in Nepal?” Back in 2012, this question led Nikita Acharya, a 19 year old student of Business Administration, and Kiran Timsina, a 21 year old student of Computer Information Systems, to open Urban Girl. When they first started Urban Girl, there were hardly any e-commerce sites in Nepal. The sites that were there- like thamel.com and muncha.com, were geared more towards Nepalis living abroad who wanted to send gifts to people living in Nepal. But Urban Girl wanted to do something different, their target customers were people living in Nepal.
Ideas do not always pan out how you imagined, and this dynamic duo stumbled across this harsh truth early on in their venture. “We approached many local vendors regarding selling their products in our site, but they did not understand the concept of an online store” shared Nikita Acharya. According to Kiran Timsina the local vendors were happy with the way things were and “did not see the need to sell their products online.” Instead of spending more time trying to convince the vendors they went to ‘Plan B’. They brought inventory for Urban Girl with the money they had-RS.20, 000 (€ 160), and started selling accessories that they procured themselves. What they earned, they reinvested in the business. “For about one and half years it was just the two of us, we would do everything even the deliveries” revealed Nikita. But as their customers grew they decided to expand from just selling accessories to a variety of different products including customized cakes.
“We noticed that our customers were using our site to send gifts for special occasions or to their loved ones. Since cakes are suitable for every occasion,we decided that we should also include it” Nikita explained. They initially partnered up with local bakeries for this new endeavour, but this partnership “lacked a match between the local vendors and Urban Girl’s services regarding delivery and the standard of the cake.” This made it clear to them that they could not depend on others and they “either had to quit with UG Cakes or open a bakery” revealed Nikita. So, on 2016 Urban Girl established their own bakery. “This was when we slowly shifted to manufacturing the products that we sell” added Kiran. For things that they could not manufacture themselves like the cups, they buy the items from local vendors. Right now Urban Girl is selling seven customizable products- cakes, chocolates, clothing ( t-shirt, hoodies, caps) cupcakes, cups, name accessories and pillows.
Urban Girl makes it a point to try and create positive impact. To counteract the brain drain in Nepal they make it a point to employ youth; in fact all of their 31 employees are youths, and they directly and indirectly employ more than 500 youths in total. Furthermore, Urban Girl also includes products made from marginalized and ostracized groups. For example, in 2015 the earthquake left many widowed in Sindhupalchowk. To support the widows and help them earn a livelihood, Urban Girl sold some of the items that the widows had made.
Urban Girl had to struggle to get a foothold in the market when they first launched, but by five years they have more than fifty-thousand customers. However, the co-founders- Nikita and Kiran plan on making Urban Girl even bigger and becoming the “largest e-commerce gift platform in Nepal.” Currently, the most popular item is their customized cake, and as a part of their expansion plans they are planning of opening cloud bakeries in different parts of Kathmandu and later Nepal to expand their market reach. Nikita and Kiran hope to be able to achieve their dreams through the Rockstart Impact program.
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