Creating a brand that is being globally exported, Todays Telegram has been able to cross oceans in a short amount of time.
--BY ANUTARA SHAKYA
It is often wondered whether entrepreneurship is a quality that is in-born, whether it is a hereditary skill that is passed down through the genes or whether it is something that is developed as a result of dedication and hard work. For Arsalan Akhter, it is all three. Coming from a family running United Tanneries, a leather company exporting buffalo and goat leather for over two decades from Eastern Nepal, Akhter’s entrepreneurial journey naturally began as a result of starting a leather end-product called Todays Telegram, a brand which was recently launched with a small vintage outlet in Pulchowk.
The idea for Todays Telegram struck Akhter while he was travelling to Rajasthan and happened to see vintage Rajasthani bags being exported to different parts of the world by a dealer. The very young startup was then opened in April 2017 as a revenue model for another one of Akhter’s passions, writing. “I have a passion for writing and wanted to portray it, but I knew that it would need a revenue generating model so I thought, why not convert the leather that is already available into an end-product?” says Akhter.
With a team of 5-7 people for execution and around 40 people that work behind the scenes to produce the goods, Todays Telegram has been able to tap into Kathmandu’s premium leather goods market, with all that is made in Nepal from scratch.
Todays Telegram sells leather goods such as bags, duffle bags, bean bags and even leather punching bags as well as similar products made from hemp. But the shop’s best sellers are the ToTe Lap Tables, a portable, cushiony pillow attached to a small table top that can be comfortably perched on a lap and be used as a writing desk or a laptop table. Akhter often likes to include unique taglines and his writings on the designs of the Lap Tables. By opening up Todays Telegram, Akhter has been able to mix his two passions together to create unique products that are becoming in the market.
So far, within the few months of operation, Todays Telegram has been able to sell around 600 individual products as well as export to numerous countries including the US and New Zealand. His customers include a diverse range from 20 something year olds to 60 year olds. Almost all of the designs of the leather bags are unisex hence it appeals to all.
But the popularity hasn’t been gained easily for Todays Telegram. An official store was opened only after numerous pre-launches were done in fairs and exhibitions to test the product and get the customer’s direct feedback. “The pre-launch had been going on for almost two years until we decided it was time we set up a shop. Initially we wanted to see how the market responds to our product.” says Akhter. The pre-launches also helped them to develop a close relationship with their customers and create PR. Through such strategies, the company has also been able to sell products to a US Senator and various celebrities.
During their prelaunch, Todays Telegram was even able to get export orders to New Zealand. By using the hashtag #FromtheHimalayas as their tagline, Todays Telegram is taking their brand globally as a product that comes from Nepal which helps when exporting to countries like the USA where economically weak countries like Nepal have been offered duty-free export.
As with any startup, Todays Telegram has had to face many hurdles. There were issues while making the capital injection. While the pre-launch events did help to connect with loyal customers, the pricing of their products has become a major stumbling block. “Leather products are expensive so not many people go for it. The market is just now starting to mature and become aware about this fact. So it is difficult to find the target market,” says Akhter.
Another challenge that Akhter mentions is the need to maintain the quality of the product. Since the products fall into the high-end category, maintaining the quality is a must which, according to Akhter, is a task that can only be overcome if there is consistency in the number of orders.
Akhter and his team are coming up with new designs and ideas. Also engaged in the designing process of the leather goods, Akhter is planning various themed series of Lap Tables and bags. Currently, he has been collaborating with Open Space Nepal to create a series of special products for Dashain.
For Todays Telegram, Akhter has an entire plan set out eventually leading to opening up an outlet in New York within the next couple of years. But this isn’t just baseless dreaming. He has created step by step goals to help realise his dream. By the end of 2017, he plans to open up another outlet at one of the prime shopping districts of Kathmandu. After which he plans to open up another shop in India by 2018. While at the same time, Akhter is also planning to sell his brand on Amazon.com in the US and in India which will help the brand to penetrate the international market online. He is also looking to deal with wholesalers so that he can send bulk orders which will help him increase the visibility of his product. “We are a very small proportion to what the global market needs,” he explains
Akhter justifies his dream about opening a store in New York by saying, “Since USA has allowed duty free import of Nepali goods into their country this has resulted in a big bonus point for us. I think other Nepali products should also tap into this opportunity.” “And we have an advantage with leather since leather is popular all around the world,” he adds.
As a man with many passions, Akhter is also a national-level cricket player. Transitioning from a writer and a cricketer into an entrepreneur hasn’t been plain sailing and Akhter admits, at times, it has also been very frustrating. But despite it all, Arsalan Akhter has been able to give birth to a new brand of premium Nepali lifestyle goods are that already in demand in the international market.