On November 10, 2019 blincventures.com team had the opportunity to witness the Seedstars Kathmandu finals at Hotel Shanker organized in partnership with Unlimited Ventures. Out of the 8 teams that presented, Offering Happiness stood out for us which eventually grabbed the winning title too.
The energy and optimism that Santosh Pandey, the founder of Offering Happiness, brought with him at the stage were both contagious and commendable that we couldn’t help but approach him to ask more about his business. It had an amazing social impact for sure but what awed us more was Santosh’s zeal and value for his clients’ emotions. After a few emails, we finally met the Offering Happiness duo- Santosh Pandey and Niraj Kafle, who again had won one of the winning titles at Seedstars Cambodia and will be competing in Switzerland for the same. Find out what we talked about here.
1. Let’s start with what Offering Happiness is and how was it conceptualized?
As a development studies student, we were engaged in a lot of projects with donor agencies such as the US Embassy and the UN. That’s actually where we met each other too. After a while, we felt like we’ve had enough of these projects; we felt like we needed to do something sustainable. That’s when we thought of starting a business that is different, creative, profitable and offers a solution. After a lot of ideation, the seven of us (yes, we started out with 4 co-founders and 3 core members) decided on becoming surprise planners or surprise gifts deliverers in 2016. We realized that a lot of people wanted to do something special for their loved ones but didn’t have the time so, thorough Offering Happiness, we could actually solve this problem that would add excitement in their relationships. With that, we collected an amount of less than 1 lakh to kickstart the business in February 2017 and registered the same year in May.
2. As a young company, is Offering Happiness still trying to break even or is it already making profits?
We’re generating a lot of revenue. The thing is we didn’t invest a lot to start the company. The market need was already there and we were able to cash on it. However, as co-founders, we never really paid ourselves for all the work we had done and have been doing in terms of marketing, brainstorming and executing ideas, networking and so on. Although it seems like we’re making a lot of profits, the thing is we haven’t accounted for all the expenses that would have incurred had we hired other people to do the tasks we’re currently doing without separate pay. We have more than 100 vendors who are making a lot of money. They take more than 1 lakh per month sometimes.
3. We all love it when we receive gifts or surprises from friends and families we haven’t connected within a long time. So, were Nepalese living abroad in your target market when you first started out? What comprises your customer segment?
Absolutely! Our primary focus is the Nepalese living abroad. However, we didn’t limit our marketing to them instead we created a buzz here in Kathmandu itself by making videos capturing candid reactions to surprises. The thing about emotions is that it’s a universal language and our videos that highlighted the immense happiness one feels after getting surprised made their way into everyone’s hearts, despite their geographic location. In fact, 60% of our customers are from Nepal itself and the rest outside Nepal. Additionally, we have a small market of foreigners living in Nepal who occasionally use our services.
To answer this question, we’d say our target market consists of anyone who loves celebration but doesn’t have the time and idea to plan and execute it.
4. What challenges did you face when you first start out?
We learned to swim after we jumped in the water!
Challenges are always there when you start something new. As for us, we both come from a science background and didn’t know much about business. Plus, this was our first startup. We had no mentors or guides to help us on the way. To top it, people mistook us for an event management company, balloon makers or tent providers, which some people still do. So, making ourselves accustomed to the business world and communicating that we experience curators were the biggest challenges.
5. You mentioned about not having a mentor while starting out. Did you guys not participate in business incubators or accelerators to access that network?
Honestly, we didn’t even know the concept of a startup then. Offering Happiness was a small business that we started without market research or a concrete business model. Consequently, we had a lot of ups and down the first year into operations. Some days we were getting a lot of tractions and the others were spent staring at walls.
Only after a year did we start seeking and getting access to mentors. We didn’t participate in any mentorship program or business incubators/accelerators but we competed in idea pitching competitions.
As mentioned earlier, we didn’t have a concrete business model so we didn’t know a thing about scalability. We thought we’d grow by opening up branches across the country and that was it. But competing in idea pitching allowed us to connect with mentors who helped us brainstorm and come up with a proper business model. We feel proud to say that now we’re clear about our vision although our business model has been and will keep evolving with time.
6. How many people are in your team?
We have 12 people working with us full time. Then we have more than 100 vendors comprising of balloon makers, musicians, photographers, sketch artists, car rentals, florists, balloon artists, DIY Craft makers and so on. We also have restaurants as partners who have grown along with us.
7. Do the vendors connect with you or do you have a dedicated team that is constantly on the lookout for these service providers?
Yes, we have a Planning and Development team that solely looks for vendors. You might have seen a lot of small businesses on Instagram like DIY craft makers and sketch artists who aren’t registered businesses but do so a hobby. So, we partner with them and help them cash in on their hobbies.
8. Can you share with us an incident that you fondly recall?
To tell you the truth, there are a lot of incidents that we fondly recall. Since our company is about expressing emotions and capturing them, we have seen people literally cry after getting surprised. There are people who surprise their 70, 80 years old grandparents who they haven’t met for the past 10-15 years and the joy that sparks on their faces makes us feel like we are doing something worthwhile. The feeling is just inexplicable.
9. As a startup, had there been a frustrating moment where you felt like this was too much? How did you cope with that feeling?
Well, we wouldn’t say we were frustrated but rather it was hectic at times. In June 2017 when we had just made an ad about a romantic dinner date at Around the Corner, we got so many queries that we weren’t able to cater to all. Then later in February, we had around 100+ orders all on the same day. The weakness on our part was that we didn’t have a proper system in place so we stayed up till 3 AM curating surprises, planning and contacting vendors. The next day, all 14 of us were in the field making sure everything went correctly since our business is dependent on the vendors’ professionalism and proper timing.
That’s about work but what bothers us time and again is about our future and career. We sometimes question if we should continue our studies or focus on the business.
Hope is what keeps us going. Sometimes we look at numbers and figures like the amount of traction we’ve been making, people we have been providing jobs to and appreciation of people to give ourselves that extra punch.
10. If it wasn’t Offering Happiness, what do you think you would’ve been doing?
Niraj: I’d definitely be in the startup field starting something else or continuing my studies abroad.
Santosh: It has to be either social activism and politics or working hard to get a further degree abroad.
11. What are you the proudest of in your life?
Santosh: When I look back at 5-10 years from now, I can see that I didn’t have the energy and optimism that I have right now. I’m extremely proud of myself to have come this far and have so much energy in me to learn.
Niraj: I think emotions are so beautiful and through our work, we have been able to bring out the best emotions in people- happiness. I’m proud of what my work is delivering and how we’re helping to build a culture of gifting that ultimately improves and adds a spark in relationships.
Interviewed and article by Yangzum Lama.