Anup Manandhar had always dreamed of doing something of his own. Though many of his contemporary friends have settled abroad, he decided to live in Nepal. He had family pressure to go abroad to earn his livelihood when he was young but still he stick to his decision to do something in Nepal.
He started his professional career at Hastakala Utpadak Sangh from 2002. During his four and half years tenure, he got an opportunity to visit Denmark for on-the-job training. He was very impressed with felt shoes and became curious how such shoes were made. After understanding the process of making felt shoes, he made his mind to start the same in Nepal by mixing the technologies.
In 2006, in support of a Danish partner, they started making felt shoes. After working together for eight years, he separated to create his own brand and identity. In 2014, his schools mates and 2 other friends collaborated to form Comfort Felt and Crafts Pvt. Ltd. which is located at Kirtipur Municipality.
The beginning is always a struggle. Four of them didn’t have adequate capital and had few saving. They leased the open land and made shelter of bamboo and zinc sheets. They started small. Though registered capital was 25 lakh, they slowly started investing as much as one can. They purchased different machines, keys for making shoes and paid basic salary to the staffs.
They were able to secure loan of 5 lakhs without collateral, given on the basis of credibility of Anup’s professional background which later increased to 10 lakhs and this gave them the boost to run their company in large scale.
When they started the business, there was no domestic market for the felt shoes. Though they did not have customer and market in Nepal, they exported their products through other companies and they really needed to struggle a lot to get fair price for their products. The buyer tried to buy in lesser amount than their invested amount. So, their objective then was to sustain the company and be able to pay the workers rather than gaining profit. Slowly their production as well as market sales kept increasing.
They continued producing and also approached big export companies. They branded the products for the quality and they helped the Comfort products with marketing. At the beginning, they sold their products in very low profit margin and it was just enough to sustain the company. Slowly the demand of the products kept increasing due to quality. Finally they were able to increase the price of the products as there was demand. However, foreign investors and/or buyers were not yet ready to pay them their desired price for the product.
Customers used to inquire about the products through internet but still there was no substantial purchase made. It all changed for good when a UK based customer got connected to them through facebook and he was very impressed with their working style. He asked for the samples and the first time they exported directly through him.
There is no satisfactory market in Nepal for felt shoes. It is handmade and has high cost and it is not affordable for the common Nepalese. These felt shoes are indoor wears and there are cheaper Chinese indoor shoes, so there is no market in Nepal. There is no scope in domestic market. Foreigners have affinity to handmade products and these shoes are especially for cold weather.
Currently there are 100 workers in the company and they are planning to hire and reach 200 workers.
At the beginning, most of the people start the career under someone. One should not limit their skill and qualities. Rather, identify, hone and capitalize their skills. If you have confidence that you can do yourself, then you should just start. It gives self-satisfaction about doing something of your own.
Anup Manandhar feels glad he started the company and in his 15-16 years of experience, what made him proud is about the employment opportunities created through the company. They are helping others to earn their livelihood. He mentioned that being entrepreneur is pleasant as well as full of struggle.
“Being entrepreneur is pleasure and pain.”
About the unemployment and brain-drain, he thinks it’s very unfortunate for Nepal to lose productive youths capacity to build the country. He mentioned that scarcity brings opportunity to do something. If someone has skill, then such skill needs to be capitalized. If we can do something in Nepal then we can live with respect. No matter how much we do in abroad, we cannot create fame. If you create employment to at least 50 people only, then there is name and fame. If we can get respect with some small work, why not do in Nepal. We should not seek the result instantly. We should have patience and also give efforts accordingly.
Sharing his views about the important considerations for opening any venture, patience to wait for results is foremost thing to consider. Next is the consistency of the efforts despite the failures and take failures as lesson and third is team spirit. Team coordination, understanding and co-operation among management and production team is important for the success of the business.
Local government should encourage the small scale and cottage industries by providing loans in low interest rate. Many entrepreneurs due to lack of capital cannot grow their business and help in infrastructure such as electricity. Subsidizing tax for entrepreneurs can encourage the small entrepreneurs.
Major lessons to take away from his entrepreneurial journey is, willingness to do something, build your skills and capitalize them and have patience to wait for the results.