Building a Profitable Marketplace for Personalized Jewelry

Tell us about yourself and what you're working on.

I'm Vivek Krishna — a developer turned entrepreneur. I was working for a startup called General Sentiment, based out of New York, before I moved to India to do my own startup.

AuGrav designs and makes personalized jewelry. We can incorporate any of your personal attributes like your name, photos, voice, fingerprints, etc, and make anything from wedding rings to figurines. Based on the design request, we send the 3D model to the customer and, on approval, the product gets 3D printed and then casted to gold, silver, or diamond jewelry.

In ancient times, kings and queens used to have personal jewelers who'd design the jewelry exclusively based on the recipient's looks and trends. We want to be that personalized jeweler for everyone and democratize personalization. We believe everyone should wear personalized jewelry, as it has more meaning, sentiment, and love attached to it.

Though we sound like a jewelry company, we have to invest our time equally on technology and marketing.

How'd you get started with AuGrav?

I was raised in Coimbatore, a city located in Southern India with a very entrepreneurial culture. It's also very famous for gold jewelry manufacturing. Given this background, I felt I had a natural advantage and decided to do a startup in this space.

I had little knowledge in this industry at first, so I started off selling plain gold jewelry online under the brand name, but I soon realized that unless we had a unique value proposition it would be difficult to compete with the local jewelers. In India, there is a jewelry store easily available in a 2 mile radius almost anywhere in the country. If we were to compete here, we had to be different.

At the time we saw a lot of jewelry companies going online, but they had little online marketing experience. Given our lack of sales and high amount of competition, we pivoted into a marketplace helping other jewelers list and market their products on our platform, like Amazon for jewelry. However, this required heavy capital investment, and we did not succeed in raising capital.

One fine day, when Sachin Tendulkar (a very famous cricketer/celebrity in India) retired, there were a lot of gold and silver coins being sold with his face on them. We thought, "Why not do this for our customers and make everyone a celebrity?" That's how we introduced the personalized gold/silver coins. We didn't know how this product would perform, so we didn't spend much time marketing it, and only managed to make a few sales here and there at first.

After a few months or so, however, we started getting inquiries from all over India to make these kinds of products. In one instance we received an email from an ex-customer to make a gold coin for his sister's wedding, and he also mentioned that such a product was not available in any of the jewelry stores that he'd contacted. This got us thinking.

We immediately coded up a one page website, and the next day we launched — "Au"– gold, and "Grav"– to make, to engrave. We used the website to help market the gold coins, and this turned out to be huge hit. Then we started adding one product after another that fit into the "personalization" philosophy, and here we are today.

How'd you find the time and funding to do all this?

Time was very difficult to manage during the initial days. I was consulting with my old company before I launched, pivoted, and then re-launched AuGrav. I'm very grateful to my ex-boss Mark Fasciano, who allowed me to try this out when I was working with him.

How have you reached customers and grown AuGrav's business?

Initially we marketed using Facebook. We also got featured on YourStory, the Indian equivalent of TechCrunch in the US. This gave us good mileage, like the CTO of Flipkart tweeting about the unique product that we had, etc.

After we realized that PR was working out for us, we invested a lot of time in getting organic PR. In fact, one such hack was that we got the 1% free Twitter data, profiled the users' info to identify journalists, bloggers, etc., and then told them about AuGrav and asked them to write about us. (This was all automated!)

We also learned a lot from customers. We built a tool to capture user queries and started introducing products that the customer wanted. For example, we'd never heard of the "cartouche" pendant — a personalized Egyptian pendant — which should definitely have been listed on our website. We realized this when a user searched for it on our site.

Another thing that helped was focusing on SEO and keywords. We invested time in understanding and segmenting our potential customers, and we targeted them with niche keywords. The content we created drove a lot of traffic, and we managed to convert that into sales.

Since our product is unique, most of our customers show their jewelry off to their fellow mates, which nets us more inquiries and sales. Since jewlery isn't something you use once and dispose of, people usually wear our jewelry for years, so every customer we have is a strong potential marketing engine.

What's the story behind your revenue?

We've been growing steadily quarter over quarter, and we're now close to $15k USD per month in revenue.

About 75% of our revenue comes from consumers and the other 25% comes from business customers (who re-sell our products). Businesses tend to come to us because of the level of high level of customization that we offer them. We design the required products in 3D and share a model to the customer before it becomes an actual product — most businesses do not have this kind of expertise. Overall, 20% of jewelry sales in India are customized, and we want to be a big player in this market.

As for expenses, we don't own any of the machinery for manufacturing jewelry and 3D printing. We work with lots of local artisans with decades of jewelry-making experience and small companies that own 3D printers and machinery to make jewelry. Our margins vary from product to product, but are typically between 10% and 40%, and average around 25%.

Can you elaborate on your model of working with artisans?

You need to have a huge level of trust with the artisans. We've been building a very good rapport with artisans by giving them regular orders and sharing healthy margins compared to what's being offered in the market. As a result, they're willing to work with us and give us good quality products.

We consciously chose not to invest in our own machinery or equipment, as it's a solved problem, and there are plenty available in this location to do the work. The idea is crowd-sourced manufacturing.

The problem that we're solving is (1) efficiently utilize the local artisans, (2) help customers buy the exact jewelry that they need, and (3) help jewelry retail businesses in converting the 20% customized orders.

This has always been a problem, and the only way we're doing it differently is that we're using technology to scale things up and build a brand.

What are your goals for the future?

We wish to become everyone's personalized jeweler. This is not an easy job, because of the amount of logistics and work involved. But with the right vision and the crowdsourced manufacturing plan that we're following, we believe this is possible.

We're researching augmented reality to allow customers to try on our customized jewelry before they purchase it. We're also working on figuring out a niche use-case for embedding a chip inside jewelry. Finally, we're researching AI tools that will create 3D models based on 2D photographs. For example, you give us a couple ring images on our software will use them to instantly design the ring and add personalized features (like your name). This will drastically reduce manufacturing times.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Since I was a developer, I had to learn a lot about the marketing part. I made all the rookie mistakes that are to be avoided. For example, I spent a lot of money just for the logo when releasing our first version, and we took 6 months to launch the initial product. By comparison, after pivoting we hardly took 6 hours to launch the first version of the new product.

If I were to start again, I would spend more time learning about the market, coming up with short sprints and milestones, and iterating fast on my assumptions. Basically I'd have a plan to execute multiple ideas, prioritize them, and test to see which works, at which point I'd put in the time and energy to make it the next big thing.

What do you think your biggest advantages have been?

The location and the network that I had along with the tech experience helped me move faster. The other biggest thing was that we adapted to things quickly, partly because we are a young company.

We also take customer care very seriously. We reply to each and every message from our customers at any cost, with the utmost care and patience. I believe this is very important for a high value purchase like jewelry.

What advice would you share with aspiring indie hackers?

When I started AuGrav I wanted to raise money fast and grow fast. Now I believe it's better we didn't go through that process. Maybe AuGrav wouldn't have come into existence if we'd taken that route. Certainly we wouldn't have attempted the kinds of hacks that we did if we'd been funded.

However, that doesn't mean we're not looking to raise funds. Now that we know the answers to most of the unknowns and are a much stable business, any infusion of funds will only grow this business. The timing has to be right.

There was a point at which the sales and growth become enough keep the business running and show that it was viable.

Where can we learn more?

You can learn more about us at the website. Also, do check out our press section.

Also, I wrote an article on Your Story about how difficult it is to create a startup in this sector. The mortality rate here is much higher because of the nature of the product and the kinds of expectations from customers.

You can also leave a comment below, and I'll try to get back to you!

Vivek Krishna , Creator of AuGrav

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