Entrepreneur creates a platform for local artisans

credited by Oon Yeoh – June8, 2019

The boss of CRAFT LA

FOR a finance major, a job in banking would seem like the logical career path to take and that’s exactly what Paul Chan did. But less than a year into the job, he got disillusioned with the nine-to-five lifestyle and sought to do something different.

Noticing that his artisan friends were struggling to get their products sold, he saw an opportunity and decided to create a platform to help them market and sell their handiwork. An online craftwork learning portal ensued and today Craft La is both a market place for local crafts as well as a platform for people to learn arts and crafts.

WAS IT EASY DECIDING TO GIVE UP A CAREER IN FINANCE FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP?

It was the hardest decision that I’ve made in my life because I had so many things to worry about but mainly whether I would make enough to get by. But seeing my artisan friends – so talented and so passionate about their work – inspired me to do this. I felt I could do something to help them market their products.

WHY DID YOU CALL YOUR PORTAL CRAFT LA?

“La” is a very Malaysian phrase. It’s friendly, universal, and an authentic form of expression among Malaysians. Since our portal is for Malaysian crafts, I figured “CRAFT La”!

THERE ARE INTERNATIONAL PLATFORMS LIKE ETSY WHICH ARE POPULAR FOR SELLING ART AND CRAFT PRODUCTS. WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF HAVING A LOCAL ONE?

The main point-of-difference is, of course, localisation, which sets us apart from our major competitors who are mostly based in the US. Not only do we understand local sensibilities, we’re able to reduce shipping lead time and offer lower courier fees precisely because we’re local.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN STARTING UP A BUSINESS LIKE THIS?

I’d say it’s educating the target market and getting Malaysians to appreciate local arts and crafts. We don’t believe that it’s enough to just display products for sale. We have to offer more context and more story. So, we created behind-the-scenes content that showcased how much effort goes into making these products.

THAT’S A FORM OF CONTENT MARKETING! DOES IT WORK?

Behind-the-scene content is a very effective marketing tool for our platform. As the handmade market is a niche one, most customers aren’t aware of the amount of effort that our artisans have to put in order to finish just one handicraft item. We want to cultivate an appreciation among our consumers towards the unique products made by our artisans.

HOW IMPORTANT IS SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR BUSINESS?

Social media is at the core of our business. In the past, you’d need to generate a large sum of capital and secure a physical storefront to start a retail business. Your target market would also be limited to where your business is physically based.

Now, in the digital era, your products or services can be marketed everywhere at the press of a button. Since our target audience mainly consists of young adults, we engage them through social media and digital marketing.

WAS IT A CHALLENGE TO GET ARTISANS ONTO YOUR PLATFORM?

I started by getting artisans I personally knew to get on board. Then slowly through word of mouth, we started getting more. I had to gain their trust and let them know that this platform was truly about helping them.

IS IT TRUE THAT ARTISTS ARE GENERALLY NOT GOOD AT MARKETING?

As most artisans tend to place more focus on the artistic and creative aspects of their work, they may lack the time to focus on things like marketing and customer service. Many also lack the expertise to make sound business decisions. The majority of them are solo-preneurs, that is, one-person shows. So, they’re not so good at doing business.

Through our collaboration, we’re able to provide solutions as well as shed light on certain blind spots, such as how to combine technology with arts and crafts to promote their products.

Local artisans teaching and conducting offline workshops.
TELL US ABOUT CRAFT LA EDUCATION. HOW DID THIS IDEA COME ABOUT?

Some artisans we collaborated with enjoy teaching and conducting offline workshops more than even selling products. So, we launched a series of offline workshops in July last year and the response was tremendous.

For one of our workshops, priced at nearly RM300, we thought maybe 10 people would show up, if we were lucky. In the end, 15 people showed up. So, there is demand for such tutorials.

But offline workshops are limited by time, venue and participation. They’re also not cheap. We figured to reach more people, we needed to do something online.

So, we launched Craft La Education, the integration of creative education with digital technology. By publishing creative workshops online, crafts lovers are able to learn anytime, anywhere, at a much cheaper price.

Recording an online hand-knit tutorial.
DO YOU HELP THE ARTISTS WITH THE SCRIPT AND PRODUCING THE VIDEO?

Yes, we do. Our team communicates with the artisans to get a detailed understanding of what should go into their online workshops. Then, we assist them with creating syllabuses and preparing the scripts accordingly.

After that, our head of production will come up with a plan to shoot and produce the video. We typically partner with a small-scale production company, which helps us with the production.

WHAT’S YOUR BUSINESS MODEL FOR CRAFT LA AND CRAFT LA EDUCATION?

For Craft La, we charge a certain percentage on every successful transaction. For Craft La Education, we employ a revenue-sharing business model for online workshop sales.

YOU STARTED OUT WITH RETAIL VIA CRAFT LA BUT LATER WENT ON TO CREATE ONLINE TUTORIALS VIA CRAFT LA EDUCATION. DO YOU SEE THE LATTER OVERTAKING THE FORMER IN THE LONG RUN?

Not really. Both have potentially big markets and they complement each other. For example, upon completing an online workshop, students can go directly to the CRAFT La store to purchase craft supplies at special rates from our artisans. Or some people may buy some product and decide they want to learn how to make them.

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