Note: This is not a post to glorify prostitution or to criticise the startup industry, but merely a collection of our experiences over the past years as 2 women founders at Winerist in London – Tatiana Livesey & Diana Isac.

Startup Britain reports that in 2015, 608,110 new companies were incorporated in the UK, a 25.6% increase over 3 years. Some of these are businesses that don’t get lured in by the ‘startup halo’. For those that do, there is a plethora of startup pitching events, conferences, competitions, government schemes, accelerators and incubators, often promising access to investors, speakers and for the starving kind (99.9% of startup founders) free pizza & beer.

As startups have become a commodity in today’s economy, everyone wants a piece and credit for their success. For outsiders, naturally, the challenge is in finding the unicorns. For startups, the challenge is to shine the brightest and attend every possible event, hassling and looking charming and smart. In the process investors get bored of seeing the same pitch over and over again and become desensitised. Startup founders on the other hand get distracted from clarity on the business, revenue generation and very often start following VANITY METRICS which generate no money and burn through limited marketing budgets.

Startup’ is just a glorified word for an SME (small medium enterprise).

Sexing your startup up won’t generate money; attending conferences, winning awards and having 200,000 followers on Twitter is not an indicator of success. That small coffee shop in your favourite seaside town is not a startup, has not raised money, generates 100 times more revenue than you do, has 70% repeat customers and zero followers on Facebook. It probably has a higher survival rate too because the business owners are focused on sales rather than presenting in front of a bored audience in startup capitals.

Here are our 10 personal reasons why you should stop taking part in beauty parades and spend more time building your business:

1. Too Many Startup Pitching Events — Please, MAKE THIS STOP

Startups attend hundreds of events in the hope of meeting ONE investor who will write ONE cheque on the spot. That person is also Elon Musk and he thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread (right!).

A quick search on Eventbrite results in 1,059 startup events in London alone. Thankfully not all events are on Eventbrite or you would need a month to sort through this.

Unfortunately most of these startup events are attended by the same people. Your ideal investor is not there either and the ones who are did not bring their cheque books. Very often the best of companies won’t be pitching at these events and the best of investors won’t be there either. You have to actively seek them out and fly to see them.

Do attend if someone you are after is really attending and ask for proper 1–1’s with the people that can help your business. Instead of startup events, you could focus on going where your customer or partners are. The Winerist team often attends wine tasting events where we can meet many prospective clients such as wineries and wine lovers (this part of the job is really hard;-).

2. Fundraising — SELL YOURSELF!

Fundraising involves a lot of schmoozing and selling ‘yourself’. Yes, ‘yourself’ and not the business because it is first about the founders and second about the idea.

Fundraising is also an emotionally draining process which can last 3–9 months. If your business is going through a hectic stage, be careful what your prioritise, especially if you are generating revenue.

Fundraising is like courtship.

Both parties shop around and there is no loyalty nor certainty. Be prepared for rejection. A lot. Keep ‘courting’ till you find the right match. Not every investor will be right for you and your startup won’t be right for everyone, so just move on quickly and never let the business out of sight. As Napoleon Hill said: “The best way to sell yourself to others is first to sell the others to yourself.”

Some fundraising setups could be compared to pimping’ (in the nicest way possible). Many fundraising angel and crowdfunding platforms work on a success fee basis, if they find an interested investor for you have to pay them a % fee (usually between 5%-10%). Don’t do multiple platforms, as the amount of time to prepare the funding materials, the video, the events is time consuming. Choose one that suits your business, where angel investors love your product / industry and could be your final customers.

Of course every business would benefit from an injection of capital but as a startup your #1 focus should be on building the business and break-even, so stay focused and don’t get distracted! If you are cash positive investors will come to you.

3. Startup Conferences — Business in the Dark Hours

Each and one of these has its merits but the format is usually (please forgive us) rather boring. Startups that recently completed Series A/B/C, some VCs, some tech journalists, some award chasers, some digital gurus and a lot of geeks showcasing their latest wearable technology. And very few women…

Everyone is looking for PR! In the background there are hundreds of other startups desperately trying to mingle and network with investors and pitch their business having paid £500 just to attend. You will probably end up sending hundreds of emails and tweets before the event hoping to get a meeting. But most business is done in the dark hours, so make sure you are on the guest list of the coveted conference after parties ready to party and down a few shots.

Raising money at conferences can be costly and counterproductive. Be very smart about which conferences you want to attend and who you want to meet. We learned that it can be wiser to spend this time with your customers learning what they need and drive sales accordingly. Single out the 10 people you want to spend time with and take them out for a drink rather than following them with the rest of the herd at the conference.

4. Women & Startups — Expect the Unexpected

This is a really controversial one. We are not going to go burning our bras in Trafalgar Square, but let’s face it: it’s still tough for women in startups. A 2014 study by MIT, Harvard and Wharton universities, found that men are 60 per cent more likely to get funding than women, other things being equal.

Many industry players are very much aware that women are under-funded and under-represented in the startup world. How many times have you been to events with all male representatives on the panel? OR on the opposite side an all female panel or all female pitching events? This is not helping gender parity, but it only divides women and men even more. Women entrepreneurs should pitch alongside men because they deserve to, not because they are women. In true honesty, we often got meetings and pitching opportunities just because we are women, and there is a huge PR benefit to help women. Was it time well spent? Probably not.

Startups founded by women are also often regarded as lifestyle businesses, build to work around school drop offs and pick ups. Someone we met across the pond once said, it has to work around yoga classes and manicure appointments. The guy was an idiot. But he is also a well known investor who said this in a speech at a recognised higher education institution attended by women who were patronised for the nth time unnecessarily.

Being women means you don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

Marriage, pregnancies and children still raise subconscious questions in many investors’ heads. How are you going to juggle it all? Women are very much aware of these judgemental thoughts, so we work even harder than anyone else just to PROVE YOU WRONG. New research shows that startups with female executives are more likely to succeed.

In our case we are a mother / soon-to-be-mother and have been exceptionally lucky in that our current investors have been quite aware of the fact that we as women, have a biological clock.

5. Hiring — Kissing Frogs

Hiring is similar to fundraising — long, emotional and again you have to SELL YOURSELF and the company too.

With the large number of startups and VC money pumped into them, the best of employees are very picky — they expect market salaries, equity, a swanky office, with a ping pong table and beer on tap all day.

So if you didn’t just raise a massive $$$ Series A/B/C round you are not totally screwed, it just means you may not get the best of people and it will take longer. It’s tough to attract talent when you cannot pay them a decent cash salary. Yes, equity is good but who wants to work for free? Living in London and other startup havens is expensive.

Again it involves a lot networking to find such candidates and hope that you just hit it off and they will come and work tomorrow for you for free. DREAM ON! Expect to kiss a lot of frogs on the way…And even if you are lucky to get a CTO with the little resources your startup has, can you guarantee his loyalty?

6. Mentor Backlash

So your startup has some traction and you managed to find mentors who think will bring value to your startup. It’s very important to get mentors from your industry as they have more experience and knowledge on the sector. In mentors look for skills that your business needs whether that is tech, online marketing, PR etc. They are all very valuable but be CAREFUL!

The more mentors, the more you are likely to suffer from ‘mentor backlash’. Each of them has an opinion on what the company should focus on, KPIs, business model. In the beginning, you listen and try to make sense of it all.

More feedback is not necessarily better.

You are officially suffering from mentor fatigue. Go back to the board room with your team, clients and listen to your instinct again. You know your business best. Your clients can tell you how to make that business work better.

7. Product Market / Fit

This one is important. It’s more important to focus on your customers than your investors. Someone once rightly said: “$1 from a customer is worth $10 from an investor.

Another favourite quote by Pete Drucker is:

“The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it sells.”

Start with the problem you are solving and the value proposition. Get your early adopters. Speak to your customers and listen to what they are saying. Don’t tell them you are a startup — consumers don’t understand that, focus on your product, achievements and media coverage. Then keep working relentlessly on the product, and finding the right product market / fit. Repeat.

And even if you get there you may still not have the double digits that VCs are looking for, but at least you are revenue generating and making your customers happy. That’s great news when most startups around you are generating zero revenues and burning 100k per month. No matter what traction, no money coming in = bad news.

8. Startup Training — It’s All About the Execution

Similar to a courtesan you would receive years of preparation in literature, dance and etiquette before allowed to make your first public appearance, but you still learn most things on the job. In the startup world same rules apply.Let us be clear: your previous job, whether banker or NASA astronaut will not give you by default the skills you need to run your own company.Even if you are a PowerPoint genius. They will certainly set the foundation of diligence and working hard but it’s your hunger and ability to adapt in the moment that will help your business.

You will also quickly realise that once you decide on your big idea, the execution is not such a no brainer as you thought in the beginning.

Guy Kawasaki put it well:

“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.”

9. Let’s Talk Money

When it comes to money, the courtesans are up a level. As a startup founder, you get paid nothing or very little no matter how good you are and don’t live in mansions with beautifully manicured gardens.

Even if you are lucky to raise some funding you will never be able to pay yourself a market salary, because investors don’t believe you should and we don’t think you should unless you are generating a LOT of revenues.

10. EXIT is a Dirty word. OR NOT.

Like any courtesan you want out. With some money behind you, preferably off to do something that has nothing to do with your current occupation! That’s the problem with building startups and not businesses for life.

Although using the word ‘exit’ aka selling the business is in theory frowned upon. EVERYONE in the startup industry thinks about it. VCs, investors, startups, accelerators. They all think of how to sell this to the best bidder, for the largest amount of capital, with as little impact and risk to investors, VCs and parties involved. Frankly, it’s the founders who get penalised in the process. That’s why most exits are for an ‘undisclosed’ amount. Founders will often walk away with little money and little sense of satisfaction with the exception of a handful of exceptions. Most of these founders don’t look back and go to work for established companies. A small percentage set up companies again.

From our experience those entrepreneurs who build businesses and not startups are the ones reaping the benefits and enjoying the ride. If you like raising money, selling yourself, you are probably better off working for a financial institution. Or someone famously said, a charity.

So dear startup founders — beware of these pitfalls and don’t become the byproduct of someone else’s freak show. It’s time we make entrepreneurship about ourselves and less about others…Wishing you the very best, Tatiana Livesey & Diana Isac

The road to success is often a windy path.


Thread Shred

“If it cannot be sold, it should be repaired, rebuilt and reused.”
We all try our best to not waste and pollute the nature as far as possible. Isn’t it?
At the house of handmade hope we try our best too. Afterall we are the people for and of environment. The minimal wastage is our second priority, first is ofcourse keeping our customers happy! 🙂

Often when a paper bag is made, for the handles we use Jute threads. Different bags. Different handles. Different sizes. Different lengths.
When we cut threads for our bags, some piece of it always remains unused(wasted) in that process of making which we collect and tie up to the tin box. We have made our very own coil of ‘thread shred’ ! All the pieces of threads (small and big) are tied up to it and further used during the packaging of the products. It’s a fun and efficient way to utilise the resources!

Everything is expended at its best! We truly believe in wasting less and producing more. It’s more for our personal satisfaction than for society, we try our best to not fill up our dustbins with those heaps of threads or paper!

Once bitten Twice shy!

“It’s not done until it ships” – Steve Job.
It was just few days’ back this inspirational quote was on our spotlight. And now we have our very own extended version of this i.e. –
“It’s not done until it is delivered to the customer”
Mistakes are important too. You do it better.
So it happened with us last week with one of our orders from South India. Instead of a week it was delivered on 22nd day. We are obviously apologetic about the blunder caused but it was difficult to track the location of delivery by Courier Company we chose.

There was lot of tension created because of the particular order; it took us numerous calls for the follow up and to tranquilize our customer. He was disappointed initially but he understood as he knew the place he stayed was bit far for the local Courier Company to figure out easily.

From this mistake, we learnt our important lesson, after this little disappointed, the gain was- the understanding of the operation of these courier companies and choosing our courier service carefully. And instead of one, it will be easier if we there is a division of these couriers to be delivered to the places for an easy access and on time delivery.

So this was our recent story at the house of handmade hope!

Make a notebook from a paper bag

bLOGInternet is one of the most beautiful things if you decide to use in the right way. We found this amazing blog which takes the paper bags we make and the paper bags all of you use to the completely next level.

We are thinking of adding this as an add on in all our paper bags. Let us know what do you think about it.



Materials: brown bag, scissors, white office paper, thread (embroidery or book binding), awl (or safety pin), watercolors to decorate, ruler

Step 1: Take 5 pieces of white office paper.
Step 2: Rip it in half with a ruler.
Step 3: Fold those in half.
Step 4: Cut out a piece of brown paper bag to fit the exact shape of the folded paper.


Step 5: Fit the office paper in the brown bag.
Step 6: Measure 5 holes evenly across the middle crease of the paper.
Step 7: Poke it with an awl or safety pin.
Step 8: Thread a needle and start binding by entering from the inside to outside of the middle hole. Leave about 2″ extra in the inside cover. There’s a larger picture below to show you more details of the pattern of the threading.


Step 9: I hope these drawings make sense below. The dotted lines mean the thread goes on the outside of the book and the solid lines show from the inside. The numbers indicate the sequence.
Step 10: When you get back to one, cut it off leaving about 2″ and then tie the first thread to the end thread.


To add some flourish, add some drawings or watercolor. I decided to add small lines of colors with watercolors.




See the original post here

Big Bag.

The new development at Handmade  Hope includes the new affordable standardized sized paper bags made after the keen observation of the requirements of our dear customers. We aren’t close for customization; once in a while interesting project is still our passion. But making of bags with particular size is much feasible.

Talking about interesting project, recently we made the paper bags for one of the prestigious museum of our city and country, The Maharaja Fatehsingh Gaekwad museum which is also known for its display of the paintings by various European and Indian artists including Raja Ravi Varma, who was famous for his paintings related to Hindu mythology.  Also, the museum has collection of sculptures and work of art collected by Maharaja Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad.  To carry these paintings and souvenirs from the museum, the paper bags were made of the size of the art piece. They didn’t want their customers to carry the art work wrapped in news paper or plastic anymore.  Thus, it was an interesting challenge to make paper 23 x 30 inches long. We successfully made the big bag for them which was really liked and appreciated by all. It was all smiles at the end.

Big Museum Bag
Rushabh Gandhi, founder of Handmade Hope with the first bag of the lot. 

But as regular product, we have decided to go with the standardized size for the bags. It is easier for our employers to work on it and learn. So it’s our step towards our people to put down little difficulty off their shoulders.

Little changes.

10.30 am.

Yet another busy weekday at the office of Handmade hope with steaming chai on my table.

So it was an interesting beginning when the first call of the day came through on our Handmade Hope no., it was a man talking with lots of background noise of the vehicles honking. I assumed he was calling standing somewhere in the traffic. So, he wanted to order paper bags obviously. I asked him what kind of bag were he looking for and the purpose etc… to which he replied he wanted paper bags for his business, he said he has his shop at Roapura (Vadodara) and asked if we can visit him. I agreed and took down the address and his name, Raj Kamal.

It’s the normal human psychology to assume certain kind of image of the person on the phone by the way he/she sounds. I had an instinct while talking to him that he possibly may buy the paper bags. I have learned this thing recently where whenever we are taking orders for the bags, I make sure to talk to the buyer personally and tell them the story behind the handmade hope so that they feel connected to the product as much as we are. And so far it has worked wonders. Same plan I had in my mind when I headed to meet the man who called from Roapura.

As I reached the area, I started looking at the lane of the big stores on the street. I assumed it must have been one of the shopkeepers from somewhere here surely. I called him again to get directions. He asked me to come to nearby famous samosa wala and the next to him was his shop.

As I reached there, I was surprised to see that he was one of the street side vendors with a small shop of undergarments by the road side, HEMLATA HOISERY. wpid-img-20151005-wa0023.jpg

It was much surprising as I expected some air conditioned shop. But his was a small shop of arm’s length with a marble separating him and his customers. I was standing on foot path, which was on other side of his shop and he was talking to me from inside. So he started giving his introduction and his needs of the bags. I showed him few samples which would go with his products. And we started discussing the price and quantity and surprisingly he agreed to the price. I was quite amazed when he told me his reasons to replace plastic bags by paper bags and the story of his shop, it had been his family business from a long time- his grandfather, father and now him, they have been into this business since last three generations.

Also he said he had two children studying engineering and dentistry at the reputed colleges of the city who always insisted and suggested him to go Eco-friendly since the commencement of swach bharat campaign.  Not to discourage him or anything, I told him he was right but it should fit his situation as well, because paper bags are not really cheap.

He said he had to, no other option and was firm about using the paper bags only, also he was very much aware of the fact that the bags which are used in the market as ‘cloth bags’ are not really cloth bags but polypropylene bags made of plastics.

It was impressing.

After this, we discussed the order and it was finalized. We had our new customer.

He had two reasons to use the paper bags- first, he was educated enough to understand the harmful effects of plastic. And another he said was,“it was funny plastic bags which company had provided, who would want to walk around the streets with a bag having a naked man with just underwear on it?”  wpid-img-20151005-wa0022.jpg