How can traditional businesses find the right technology to disrupt their industry? What does it take to preserve a generation of ancient craftsman skills?
In this episode, we hear from Sam and Ruchika, co-founders of Ipse Ipsa Ipsum. They challenge themselves to adopt new technologies, reinvent themselves, and share their perspective on running a husband-wife business.
- Stand for something important: Sam and Ruchika decided to preserve a dying craftsman skill (2:26)
- Your unique business processes can become your strengths (4:24)
- Understand your problems well, to adopt technologies effectively (6:20)
- Advice for SMEs adopting technology (9:58)
- How a husband and wife can combine forces (10:48)
- Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses (13:51)
- Passion keeps you moving forward, Kindness helps you keep a balance (14:51)
- DISO - The Canoe at Paris Show Story (17:14)
- Don’t give up, even if it takes 5 or more years to get something right (18:38)
Sam: Passion is that is that sort of driving force you know, which doesn't allow you to quit. And I think kindness is that balance that you don't, run over everything and everyone, whilst you are passionately pursuing something.
We put on our boxing gloves every day. people are buying into stuff, which they've never seen. And when it comes in, sometimes they're really unhappy, you know sometimes they're saying, “why is it not perfect?” if you love your work, then all this is just noise yeah.
Constance: At Konigle, we're proud to help amazing entrepreneurs run great businesses we've learned that the greatest superpower a business owner can have to run a high performing business is doing things in spite of. i.e., in spite of great difficulties.
Hi, I'm Constance, and welcome to the Doing In Spite Of podcast, where we feature business owners and share their learnings.
For today's episode, we have our guests, Sam and Ruchika, co-founders of Ipse Ipsa ipsum. Sam is calling in from his workshop in India, and Ruchika from the Singapore showroom. How are you guys doing today?
Sam: Very good, thank you!
Constance: So you guys have not only created a great, unique business, in furniture, you've also managed to modernize an ancient practice of bone inlay. What made you decide to do this as part of your business?
Sam: we were in the furniture industry, and we were working for the last 20 years, and trying to produce furniture out of Asia. And we realized that there was a gap in the market where people were all enamored by the very modern Scandi style, very old ways of doing things. And we said, How can we make it relevant, i.e. how can it be used on a daily basis, and still, you know, preserve the old ways?
I just add an anecdote to this. I joined this business, which has been Sam's family business about 10 years ago. And one of the old craftsmen who had worked with Sam's grandfather came to our wedding. And then I asked him, so are your kids also going to be joining this? Will they be working with us? And he said, No, my grandson would rather work in the retail store, he doesn't want to learn this craft from me. And I told Sam that it's a dying art, and we need to do something to preserve it as well.
Constance: This is an incredible mission fuelling Ipse Ipsa Ipsum! What’s the impact felt on the community you worked with by your efforts to preserve this craft?
Sam: 70% of our workforce now is under 30. Which, maybe 10 years ago would have been unheard of, you know, because a lot of people didn't want to join the handmaking kind of business. But today a lot of people in the, you know, in, you know, they see how they're being celebrated, and respecting the old ways. So there's a big uptake,, for people to learn the ancient skills. If you’ve wanted people to do something, you need to make ‘making’ sexy again, as I always say.
Constance: Doing bespoke furniture, I can imagine customer journey is very important. It's a very high touch business. During COVID-19, I imagine it has made it more difficult for you to do this. How have you managed during this time and what has changed in your business?
Sam: You know we were largely reliant on doing trade shows around the world, where we would meet our clients. We've been trying to reach out to our customers with interesting storytelling, engagement with the community. We did a project where we said, Why don't we take around the community in Singapore, and then try and, you know, create some sort of opportunity for everyone. So we sourced this anti-microbial fabric, and we found a craftswoman in Singapore, who was specially abled, and we requested her to make tote bags and masks. And incidentally, at that time, there was an article in The Straits Times about artists being the number one non-essential job in Singapore. So we actually gave out an open call to non-essential in Singapore. And we invited them to come and actually paint on the tote bags and the facemasks about their challenges in the pandemic. This was an interesting way where, you know, sort of community comes together, and you create interesting opportunities for everyone through collaboration.
Ruchika: For us the retail part in Singapore has actually seen some improvement. People have some disposable income in terms of: they're not traveling anymore, or they want to spend more on their homes, because they've been stuck in there. I think also because we could get some of the things made, because we have access to the artisans. So we could try and get the things over in Singapore. So we have the end to end solution pretty much: from the maker, to the buyer. And that has helped us to at least deliver on the orders.
Constance: So in spite of what people say about traditional businesses and COVID19, you’ve managed to find new opportunities to thrive!
Ruchika: In some ways, yes!
Constance: Recessions can break businesses down, but choosing to stand for something important becomes a powerful differentiator that gives you resilience during difficult times. Sam and Ruchika’s decision to support fading craftsman skills enables them to create unique products, unique customer experiences, and a community of support that finds opportunities when the usual ways stop working.
Sam further describes how they bridge the old and the new in their products themselves.
Sam: We thought that if we want people to still consume, craft, we have to stop thinking of it as curio but really relevant stuff. For example, we made a straight sofa table, solid stainless steel and made a clover shape. Which is inspired by Peranakan tiles around Singapore. And the top is in hand-cut marble. But inside the marble, we've embedded a wireless charger.
Another piece we did was where we took an air quality sensor and a room temperature sensor and we embedded it into a mirror. The back of the mirror has a beautiful inlay, which was taken from the beaded bedspread at the Peranakan museum. When you turn the mirror around, you can actually get the air quality, and the room temperature.
Constance: A lot of businesses are looking to technology as a way out of the COVID19 recession, and that’s especially true for traditional businesses. This is a process you’ve both gone through, so could you share more about the approach and philosophy behind the technology you’ve adopted?
Sam: To be honest, we are so busy crafting the leg of a chair that we don't normally look beyond our product. But I got this opportunity to go to the NRF show in New York, which is about, you know, smart retail. There, you know, we were taken on a visit to Facebook and Apple and all these guys. And, you know, I realized that there was a lot happening. Then I started thinking, how can we apply this into our space?
Our idea was to solve problems, keeping the customer at the center of the service we’d like to provide them. We're like the slow food of the furniture business, you know. And everything takes so long, and you know, people get really pissed off at us. That, you know, “this has taken so long!”, “the colors’ not as green as our cottage should be”, “Can you send this piece of furniture to my home? I want to put it in my space and see how it looks, I'm not sure what that's going to look okay on.”
So we said, okay, you know, let's try and solve this problem of customization, through technology.
Ruchika: the question of: “how will this look in my space?”, and “what are the choices I have to customize?”
Sam: The VR was a very cumbersome technology. The AR was much cooler, you could do it on your phone, and, you know, you could actually check our 1368 options, on your phone of different furniture we have, and see which one really fits your style. You know, without actually having to transport cumbersome, large pieces.
Ruchika: So having a customizer, with 3d renderings, which allows to see a furniture in different finishes, and then to view it using augmented reality in their space, really gives them the conviction that: “Yes it will look good, Let me buy.”
Constance: Sam and Ruchika’s clear understanding of the problems faced in their business helped them narrow down what technology is likely to work. Their technology investment was outcome driven, and not simply adopting technology for the sake of it. Having this perspective is powerful for the business owner, especially when exploring industries very different from their own.
Ruchika: One example could be how we use Konigle for our team. The team that I would have, it could be part time sales people, or very aged sales people, or operations team. Which is a bit more towards manpower, or labor, and they're not-you know- they're not computer savvy. So to adopt inventory, or to take/make orders, invoices on the phone, has been easier for our team to adopt, rather than doing it on the computer.
Sam: Now all this data is coming through, how do we make sure, what's selling well? To understand your customer, and, you know, serve them. That's where we found Konigle and we thought that it was a great software, you know, very low barrier to adopt.
Constance: We’ll be back with Sam and Ruchika, after a word from Konigle
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Sam and Ruchika also share some tips for figuring out how technology can best be adopted for any business.
Sam: The first thing is understand, you know, “where you can apply technology to solve a problem”. Number two is also, you know, look at technology, which is scalable, so that you don't have to keep going back to the drawing board. Keep yourself abreast with what's happening in the world, and don't be looking only at your competition. Try and learn from, you know, the companies, which are really disrupting no matter in whatever space they are.
Ruchika: What he's referring to a scalable is also having bite sized progression. So if something can be done in small packets, and then you keep moving along, that's an easier adoption compared to biting into a very big chunk.
Constance: 15% of Konigle’s Customer base today are husband, wife, co-founder businesses. So as husband and wife, you're both partners in work and in life. How did you both come together to make Ipse Ipsa Ipsum, and what are the pros and cons of such a partnership?
Sam: You can go first.
Ruchika: So that's the first rule. I think ladies first and the wife wins always!
Ruchika: I think for us, we got together to do this because we had a common denominator that we wanted to create something out of Asia, and which is rooted in heritage, which touches human lives. So with those common values, it was easier to embark on this journey to create a brand. We've also clearly defined our roles in the business. Luckily, Sam and I have very different skill sets. If someone was flying the kite, I think Sam would be soaring flying high in the sky, and I'm the one who's grounding it.
Sam: I can think of, you know, whenever I want to create something super crazy, she will always say no. I bought an old canoe, and 10 years ago, maybe 10 years ago when we were on holiday. And I actually got it back with me in a truck to the arts and crafts center. And she just couldn't get over the fact that we've gone ahead and bought a canoe, an old battered canoe, which was abandoned!
Ruchika: And now that he had bought it, I was like “what is the functional aspect you can do with this”?? So imagine this very big dragon boat canoe in wood, where you have seats where people can sit. We converted those into metal plates, where you can put food and drinks. It became a good seller.
Sam: You know, she's not telling you that, but we did sell 25 canoes after that.
Constance: Wait, really?
Ruchika: Yes, somehow it was quite popular!
Sam: I must say you know it’s early days, and we're giving it all we've got to be honest. And I'm sure other sort of husband-wife businesses can resonate with what we are feeling.
Constance: People often say work and home is a careful juggling act, but most people usually try to split work and home as cleanly as possible. What has been your experience with this?
Ruchika: I think usually people say that let's divide, work and home, or let's draw the boundaries, I would say the reverse. To a large extent, as co-founders in a business and a husband-wife team, we've had to integrate our family into the work. My kids often thought when we would be in the arts and crafts center working on new product development: So my three year old would say, “I've got my crayons, mama, papa is doing his craft, and I'll do mine.” And that way, we didn't have to be away from them, but they could be part of our every day.
Constance: That’s amazing. It’s also a good opportunity for your children to understand and appreciate your work. And at the same time spend good time together. So what advice would you give other businesses who run husband and wife cofounder ventures?
Sam: Identify your skill set, you know, don't try and do everything. Let each one take the piece they’re strong at.
Ruchika: As an entrepreneur, when you're working together, when you have a small team, just focus on your strengths, really. Forget about working on your weaknesses. That's for the school, or academia. Be the best at what you're good at.
Constance: Timothy Ferriss, author of the 4 hour work week, once said, quote: “The superheroes you have in your mind (idols, icons, titans, billionaires, etc.) are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths.” Being able to identify, and double-down on strengths to achieve success is a counterintuitive, but powerful superpower for the business owner.
Constance: For Ipse Ipsa Ipsum, what is the one core, non-negotiable value in spite of anything that comes your way in the business?
I would say not one, I would say two. Passion is that is that sort of driving force in home, which doesn't allow you to, to quit. And I think kindness is that balance that you don't, you know, run over everything and everyone, whilst you are passionately pursuing something. If you're able to empower people, with their dreams and you know, make their dreams your dreams... Only then, can they buy into your dreams of making a great organization.
And I’d say passion is something that is not negotiable. You know, we put on our boxing gloves every day. people are buying into stuff, which they've never seen. And when it comes in, sometimes they're unhappy, you know sometimes they're saying, “why is it not perfect?” There’s so many things!
So, you know if you love your work, then all this is just noise yeah. If you’re thinking that “ahh I just need a job”, then I think this is not for you.
Ruchika: I think it sounds like not to give up. But it's also just remembering why we are doing it and trying to find the solution. So that's something I would say, Sam and I kind of do that a lot and also expect and get our team to have that attitude. So it may not be exactly: “this is what you need to do” or “this is the skill set”. But ask yourself: why are we doing this?
Sam: We had a girl come into the store, and her mom was half Peranakan. She said, “Look, it's my mom's 60th birthday, I want to give her something meaningful.” And she went back and she came back with a soup spoon which her mother fed her as a child. And she said, “Can you take the colors of the soup spoon and put it at the back of the mirror, as my mom’s 60th birthday gift?” This is where we find like you know, common everyday objects, put together with heart and with care, can be quite interesting for people. We worked furiously to get it done. It's almost like, the series we've been doing since the pandemic started on ‘happy furniture’. If it makes you happy, if it ignites an emotion, if it gives you some good memories back, our purpose served, my job is done.
Constance: We believe that Doing In Spite of is the greatest human superpower. What enables you to do things in spite of, and how has it impacted your entrepreneurship journey?
Sam: Yeah, okay. I can share with you this uh, the canoe we were talking about. We went to a Paris show, and we took this canoe, which was clad inside with sort of, stainless steel. We also made two silver oars. And then we had this client, I think she was, like one of our Arab clients, and she had come shopping for her palace in her private jet to Paris. And she was like, “I really liked the sample, I'm going to take it away with me”. And then she said, “Yeah, but by the way, can you deliver it to my plane?” And of course, you know, yeah, so we were like, “yeah, but how do you do that?” And then she's like, “Yeah, I don't know, if you guys want to sell it, you know, I'm going to leave in a few hours. The exhibition is going to be over, you know. Here’s the money, but you've got to deliver it to the hanger.”
Constance: How did it happen, you guys put it- you tried to wheel it to her plane in hours?
Sam: Yeah so we had to find a forklift. And we had to then find a reach truck. And then we had to...yeah. It took us I think-we finished at 2am that night, but we managed to pull it through.
Constance: I hear this story a lot in the handicraft space where: you guys work on a project and then after a while, you realize that your passion started or something's not right, and you scrap it. And you go back to the drawing board. Has that ever happened to you guys?
Ruchika: Oh all the time.
Sam: Well you just move on right? I mean, we don’t think its...Its part of routine really. There are ideas we've been working on for the last five years.
Sam: And we're still pursuing them. Yeah-I don't think we are, we are the ones to give up.
Ruchika: We don’t work like traditional designers where we try to come up with 5 or 6 [ideas]. We really try to keep it-you know what the consumer wants, what's on trend. So when it comes to our new launches, it is done with the idea: we have to create several new, then just see what sticks.
The other aspect of this is the price or the value by it. Sometimes, you may have a great idea, and it's a great design, but it will still not sell. Or, you have a great design, but somebody else can copy you really fast. So there's so many angles to it.
I guess we don't even sit and pause about it, Constance. Because at some point, we were getting copied so much. And we still do. So we stopped looking at that and just saying: “we got to keep doing or keep making or keep working in spite of!”
Constance: Thank you, Sam Ruchika for coming on today. You've shared some really amazing insights about what you guys do and the challenges faced in this niche industry. I’ll see you guys around!
Ruchika: Hope to see you soon too! Thank you very much.
Constance: To know more about Sam and Ruchika, check out this episode’s page on doinginspiteof.com, where we’ve shared their social media links, and a couple pictures from the canoe product story they shared today.
That’s all for now, see you guys in the next episode! Take care.