Guest: Sukhi Jutla
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to one more episode of the agile entrepreneurial podcast. And this is your host Ramesh Dontha. Today I'm very excited to bring an entrepreneur from United Kingdom. She's the founder of www.marketorders.net. She's a very sought-after international speaker, leader and qualified IBM blockchain developer winning numerous awards including Asian women of achievement, female entrepreneur of the year, and top 100 European digital pioneer by the financial times, no less and of course Google. In 2018 Sukhi made global headlines becoming the world's first number one bestselling blockchain app. Sukhi, I am so glad to have you on my podcast. Welcome.
Sukhi: Hello Ramesh and it's really, really great to be here and thank you for that wonderful warm introduction.
Ramesh: All right, Sukhi, so please, let's go ahead, please introduce yourself and then let's talk about your business. What is it?
Sukhi: Yeah, sure. So you know, you introduced me in a great way, but in my own words, I usually say I'm a bit of an accidental entrepreneur. I actually started my life as; I usually say a corporate cog. I sort of fell into that rabbit hole of doing a 9 to 5 job working for a very prestigious bank. And I was in banking for a number of years, but it was just something in my soul I think that always was quite creative and just very entrepreneurial. And over the course of the last 10 to 12 years, I’ve actually started a number of different businesses. Some didn't work how it, some had some you know some promise. But at the end of the day I think I was just trying to figure out what it is I wanted to do with my life. And today I'm the cofounder of market orders. And so I feel like I find what it is I'm supposed to be doing. I really enjoy being an entrepreneur and being a technology entrepreneur and marketing order today is a tech marketplace where we connect suppliers and retailers who want to buy and source gold and diamond jewelry products. And what we're doing is very disruptive, because it's a very traditional industry whereby most of the transactions when it comes to high value products like gold and diamond jewelry is still very much done in person because of that trusted element. But what we are doing is, I usually say it's like the Uber for gold and diamonds. We just, we are just a better way to help suppliers and the retailers to access the products that they need in a much more efficient manner.
Ramesh: Wow. So it's a high value business and you're using latest technology like a blockchain to disrupt the gateway. So when did you start market orders?
Sukhi: So market orders were started in the summer of 2016. So we are speaking in January 2020. So it's coming up to four years. And over the course of four years we have really iterated the business multiple times, which is why I'm really happy to be speaking to you because you're very much about, you know, the agile entrepreneur and I really do believe that your business is going to evolve and it's going to change so many different times until it gets to the customer. Because I really do believe as well that when you create a business, you really all co-creating with the person who's going to be using your product. So as much as you can sit there and create your business plan, you are going to have to be open and take feedback. So for example, when I created my first a pitch deck, a pitch deck is a document that you put together when you are raising investment or funds for your business. I was literally on version like 278 by the time I actually got my funding because every time, yeah, honestly Ramesh it's like I was pulling my hair out. Because every time you speak to somebody, they are going to ask you questions. And then you have to address those and add it into the deck. And the business that I'd started back in 2016, it has changed quite a lot and we are slightly different but a much more improved version. And it's all about learning. I don't think there's anything such as a failure. I prefer to call it feedback.
Ramesh: Yeah. So you learn from them. So just so that we put the right context, what was your original business model about? What did you think that you were starting in 2016?
Sukhi: Yeah, so we, myself and my co-founder, we wanted to be able to supply gold and diamond jewelry from the suppliers and then distribute it to the retail shop owners on the high street. So although we're an online business, our real customer are the jewelry owners who have a shop on the high street and what we were, our business model was we as market orders, we'd go to the supplier, patches the stock, bring it into the UK and then distribute it to the retailers and then take our commission. But when we did that, we just found that the process was a very inefficient, what was happening was we were taking the orders from the customers in the UK, then we would get onto a plane and go to Singapore where most of the suppliers are. By the time I spoke to my supplier, I placed the order, I wouldn't receive the order until three or four months later. And then, so bear in mind four months after I’ve spoken to my customer, I go back to him and I show him the products and he says to me, Sukhi I ordered these products four months ago and I don't want them anymore because they're not going to sell. So I was just left with a bag full of gold, which I had to melt down. And when you're melting gold jewelry, you are literally seeing your profit go down the drain. So myself and my co-founder, we said, this isn't a scalable or a viable model. I said, that's when we changed the business. And we decided that we would be an online marketplace where we allow the suppliers to upload their products and then we let the retailer go online directly and choose the products that they want. And another example Ramesh is we were taking the orders as they came in. And so again, I always feel like as much as you can prepare to swim, you really don't know the temperature of the water until you actually jump into the water.
Ramesh: Then only then you will know.
Sukhi: Yeah, absolutely. So again, when we were running the business, what I noticed was every time we were getting an order from a customer, I would place that order immediately with the supplier knowing that it's going to take four months to deliver. So I was very incentivized to make sure that orders were going out on time. However, what that meant was every time we sent an order, we were getting charged a flat rate fee for the transportation and the insurance costs because we are dealing with gold and diamonds. So what we, the change that we identified was rather than shipping the orders out, you know, on a daily basis. I also noticed that when the orders came in, the vast majority of the orders were very much around the same product type. So what, so what I decided and my co-founder as well, we downloaded all the orders and we noticed a pattern on a spreadsheet, and I noticed that day where certain orders that were coming in at the same time and they were the same product. So what we did was we decided to aggregate all the products which were by product type, aggregate the order into one large order and then ship one order to the supplier. So now that meant the supplier was not getting like 20 or 25 email alerts from me. He was getting one order from me, which showcased all the different orders within that because it was for the same product and we were only being charged one fee to ship the products back and forth. And so that's our example.
Ramesh: The business model as you were learning more and then you improve the efficiencies of your operations.
Sukhi: Oh absolutely. And this is what I mean Ramesh that it's very good to have a business plan but just know that, that plan is just a starting point and you really do have to listen to you what your customers are saying and what your suppliers are saying. Because for me, the reason I changed my model is because my suppliers were complaining to me and saying, Sukhi you keep on sending these orders, but I know it's for the same product, so I have to keep on putting on the same machine every day. Why not you just ship me, you know, you say you want a hundred pieces, I’ll just do a hundred-piece phase and that goes to the different customers. And then my customers on the other side was saying that you're taking too long for us to get the product, so I don't want to work with you. So this is a way I devised, which was a way more efficient way for us to be able to match supply and demand and logistically get the business going in a much more efficient manner.
Ramesh: Excellent. So Sukhi, I'm just continuing that line of thought. When did you actually switch your business to an online marketplace?
Sukhi: Yeah, great idea, a great question. And so I always say so market orders is actually a third iteration of this type of business. So I actually had a gold and diamond jewelry business and it was the same model. I was sourcing products from suppliers, bringing them into UK, but we were doing this in a very offline manner. So this was literally orders were coming into emails or WhatsApp or a text message. When the goods were arriving in the UK, my cofounder and myself would collect the products from the airport, get into our cars. He would drive up to Scotland, I would drive up to the, a different part of the country and we would try to ship the goods and then if they didn't sell, we'd come back down to the airport and then ship them back. So yeah, so we did this for a number of years. And so market orders, I say it's the Phoenix that arose from the ashes of the previous two companies and market orders was the iteration where we finally switched from going analog and you know, very unsophisticated manner, into going digital and online and with market orders I was really, really specific and particular with the fact that I wanted every part of the customer journey to be fully digitized because I could see how inefficient the entire industry was operating. And there's not many people who are doing what we're doing. There's this mindset in our industry that you have to touch the products, you have to feel the products before you buy them. So for my customer, you know, I give them a lot of credit. The customers that work with us, they took a leap of faith with us. They were very worried about placing large orders, you know, gold and diamond jewelry. And if it's being bought on a wholesale basis, you're talking about 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 pounds worth of products and our customers had a lot of faith in us that we would deliver exactly what we promised. So, you know, we don't have any issues about ordering something from Amazon. But if you're ordering 20,000 pounds worth of gold and it's 22 carat, what's the guarantee that you all going to get what you asked for? And you're not going to get some costume jewelry, you know, some rubbish. So I always say market orders is not selling gold and diamonds, we are trading on trust. Our customers come to us because they trust us and our suppliers come to us because they trust us and that we will get them the customers that they are you know, finding difficulty in reaching.
Ramesh: Excellent. Excellent Sukhi. So let's switch a little bit from how you built a business to Sukhi, you as a person and who became an accidental entrepreneur. Okay, let's actually talk about your career. What were you doing before you started the business?
Sukhi: Sure. So straight out of university, I did what every good Asian girl does, which is to get a good job, respected institution, and you're expected to be there and to collect your pension, so I was very lucky that I’ve got a very great a graduate job at one of the biggest American banks. It was fine for the first one or two weeks. I was very excited. I thought it was a new journey and I was working for an investment bank, so it was very exciting. But I literally, I always say within five days of starting my job, I knew that this was not the place for me. And I always believe that as human beings we are like flowers. You need to be in a right environment to really blossom and fulfill your potential because all of us have something really unique to offer. So I was in the banking world, but I knew within five days it wasn't the right environment for me. I didn't enjoy the work I did. It was very repetitive. I also didn't enjoy the environment. It was quite hostile. It was a place where people kind of jumped on top of each other to get these salaries. And it was very much driven about staying within the lines. And I felt you know, you can learn so much working in a corporate world, you know, so I have a lot of gratitude for that. But the downside in working for a very large organization is that there's not much scope to be creative and there's not much scope for you to voice your opinions. And I just felt that there were lots of inefficiencies, but people usually say just do it because it's been done like that for years and you know, you just get the job done. So I knew I wanted to do something different and that's when I started to actually create a number of side businesses over that time period. Unfortunately it took me...
Ramesh: Out of curiosity if you don't mind me asking, what was your very first business.
Sukhi: So my first business was actually the gold and diamond jewelry space. Yeah. Cause I was working in banking and my cofounder was also working in banking and he was a foreign exchange and commodities trader, so he came up with this incredible idea. And so that was the first iteration of our business.
Ramesh: What made you get into blockchain? You wrote one of, I think the [15:04 inaudible] books in blockchain, and then you're applying blockchain to diamond business. And that is definitely the most exciting technology area. So tell us about, how you got associated with blockchain.
Sukhi: Sure. So again, Ramesh, it was purely accidental, you know I wish I could say I planned it all. It was this perfect, but it was purely accidental. So as I mentioned, I was working in the banking world and I was in banking for over 12 years. You know, I didn't enjoy it, but I just kept doing it because you know, it's paying well. And what happened was whilst I was in the banking world, I kind of started to follow my curiosity. And around 2015 I started to become aware of Bitcoin. There was this white paper that was released by Satoshi Nakamoto. And I just, I just became a bit intrigued. So I took a few books out of the library and I came across this term called fintech and I didn't know what fintech was. Today it's quite a common word. And I just started to look into what fintech was and then I became aware that there were loads of companies up there who mish mashing finance and technology and allowing people who didn't have access to banks primarily in developing countries. And I just became really interested in how this technology was helping this huge layer of people in the world who just couldn't get access to funding. And I do believe that in order to really fulfill your life potential and get yourself out of poverty, I think every human being needs to have access to some sort of financial system whereby they can get credit or loans or some way to actually do a business. I mean, there are so many business owners in developing countries who are struggling because they just don't have a bank account. And I, you know, I'm exceptionally lucky that I am born in a place where I have access to bank accounts. It doesn't even cross my mind that some people don't have bank accounts because it's so normal for me.
Ramesh: And when thinking of not having a bank account, but there are million people who do not have any access to banks and financial institutions.
Sukhi: Yeah, totally. And so that's where I started to look into what fintech was and what Bitcoin was and what blockchain was. And it really got me excited because it was the first time that many people could now have access to something that's pretty vital. You know, the flow of payments. And that's when I started to do a lot of research and I started to go to a lot of networking events. I went to lots of meetups you know, meeting these you know, really funky programmers and they were telling me more about what this was. So it was just an interest and a curiosity, which I followed. And what I'd say Ramesh is when I was in the corporate world, there were many things that interested me, but I never sort of followed my passion. But I think it's so important that if there's something that gets your interest, you should follow that curiosity because you just don't know where it will lead. And so coming back to the blockchain element, so because I was now involved in this community, so I was doing all of this stuff after work and during the weekends and I came across this network and I was invited to contribute my thoughts on fintech in developing economies. And that's how I authored my first book called the fintech book. And then when I wrote that book, someone contacted me and said, could we work together to talk about how blockchain can be used by creative entrepreneurs and authors and musicians? And so my second book in blockchain came about that way. And then I was also writing my third book, which is called escape the cubicle. And that's more about how I left the corporate world to become an entrepreneur. And again, someone found me online, they were a Latvian publishing company and the CEO reached out to me and he said that they were devising a new form of publishing whereby they wanted to publish books using blockchain technology and would I be willing to help them and advise them? And so I said yes. And that's how I ended up becoming the first person in the world to have a book published using blockchain technology.
Ramesh: Very inspirational and follow your passion and you don't know where it will lead to. So it's fantastic.
Sukhi: Thank you. So yeah, just say yes, you just don't know where it's going to end up.
Ramesh: So now, switching back to the business, one of the thing that I am a strong believer in is something called agile entrepreneurship, right. Which is, you know, start now, keep learning, keep iterating and learn from your mistakes and keep building. I think from the predisposition that we had that you really followed agile, true to its form and especially in how you got your first customers. So can you talk a little bit about how you, different strategies that you used in getting your customers?
Sukhi: Yeah, absolutely Ramesh. So I think as a business owner and an entrepreneur you are very constrained in terms of time and your resources. So you really want to make sure that you're utilizing them in the best way. And I think today sometimes it's too easy to go for a very wide approach and you think that you can just approach anyone and everyone will be your customer. But your superpower as an entrepreneur is the ability to go niche. And it feels still a very small business. You can afford to actually reach out to those one by one. So what I did was my business model is I am connecting suppliers who are, because of the nature of my business, my suppliers are based outside of London, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Malaysia. But I made a conscious choice that I was going to get those products from those countries and supply them only to the UK market. So the UK is, you know, it's a big country, not as big as a USA, but it's still a relatively big. So I knew that I needed to prove my business model, so I decided to target a particular area in London where I live. I wanted to test this model and see if I could actually get those customers. So what I did in order to find my customers is first of all, who is your customer? So I knew very clearly, I am targeting a business owner who owns a retail jewelry shop on the high street. So very specifically, I'm not going online, I'm going to bricks and mortar shop. So in London, in the UK, every company has to register with the government and when you register with the government you get a specific registration code and you can look that up on the government's database to verify if the business is a legitimate business. And this is pretty much open source data that anyone can access. So what I did was I went onto the website, it's called www.companieshouse.gov.uk and I basically downloaded their data and when I downloaded, you can download all the in-company information, put it into a spreadsheet, and then every company has a particular code and that particular code tells you what the business does. So I looked up my relevant business code and my business code was retailer of gold and jewelry done in products. So now from this big database, I now was filtering down to that particular target group. And then what I did was, because I had the addresses of those companies, I filtered down to the retail shops in the particular area I wanted to target. And I deliberately targeted a 10-mile radius from where I was based. So from thousands of names, I now came down to a hundred potential customers and from those 100 potential customers, I picked the top 50. And then I went, I got into my car, me and my co-founder visited those 50 customers over the course of the week. We pitched them our business and we asked them to place orders. And that's how I got my first 50 customers. And to this day, they are still my customers.
Ramesh: Fantastic story. So basically you're telling us you know a story about you don't have to wait months and years to get your first paying customers and if you have, you combine the technology in a very unique way to niche down to the right customers that you wanted, but you combine that with actually physical activity, you know, hitting stuff online contacting what you wanted to establish a relationship. So that's a very unique way. You combine technology and then again you establish relationships. But you know, you were able to do it within a week.
Sukhi: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, Ramesh coming back to the relationships you said, I think sometimes as entrepreneurs, especially in today's online world, we kind of forget that businesses are still very much about relationships, which is human to human. And sometimes there is a temptation to sit behind our laptops and just send emails to customers. But it really does make a huge difference if you actually go and speak to your customers. And I think it's, if you can try and talk to them and see them in person because those first 50 customers, you know, the way we pitched our business to the first customer, by the time we got to the 50th customer, the way we pitched to them was completely different because we were literally taking the feedback. And then if customer number 26 said to me, Oh, but I don't understand how this commission works. By the time we went to customer number 41 we were able to tell him, okay, this is how the commission’s work, and this is, you know, and it was just so much clearer.
Ramesh: You are learning, you're iterating and that's fantastic. That's again, a very agile way of doing business. So I'm very inspired by your story. So as we begin to wrap up this podcast and video cast first thing is where can people reach you? Just if you want to give out the website names or contact information.
Sukhi: Sure. Thank you, Ramesh, for the opportunity. So please go to www.marketorders.net where you can find out a lot more about what we're doing. We've got loads of press coverage and some articles that tell you what we do, and you can check out our products. You can also contact me personally. I'm on all social media, so I'm on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I'm quite active on LinkedIn, so if you message me, I will most likely message back. So do come along, say hello and you know, maybe just share what you met from our session today and if you have any questions, please do, let me know how I can help you.
Ramesh: Fantastic. Okay. So just to summarize the discussion, Sukhi she was in banking and then she always wanted to not always wanted to, she became an accidental entrepreneur because she wasn't happy with what she was doing, and she really wanted to measure her life by what she does personally. And then she started this with a co-founder, this diamond and jewelry business. And once she figured out that whatever business model that she had wasn't working. She switched to an online the market model and she use technology and then she used blockchain, the latest technologies, which was her passion and build this www.marketorders.net into a very agile in our business. So Sukhi, thank you very much for sharing your story and thank you for coming on this podcast.
Sukhi: Thank you for sharing this space with me Ramesh. It's been really great to chat to you and yeah, best of luck. I think the agile entrepreneur is the way to go. So thank you so much.
Ramesh: Thank you everybody. So you can catch up on all these podcasts on www.rameshdontha.com/podcast and of course you can go to iTunes, Spotify, whatever your premium player is, and then you can get this podcast as well as of course the video cast as well. Alright.