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Yosha Gupta’s Heart for Art

2 years ago / by Bindu Gopal Rao
Yosha Gupta

Read more about how MeMeraki, a platform for Indian arts and artisans, helps keeps their work relevant and contemporary

When Yosha Gupta, CEO & founder of MeMeraki, had a luxury bag hand-painted by an Indian artisan several years ago, the queries she got about her ‘exclusive bag’ led her to start MeMeraki.

As a child, she watched how her family of entrepreneurs managed in Aligarh.

“I have seen my late father always work very hard,” she said. “He started a new business at the age of 60 and made a success of it. He instilled the values of hard work and good work ethics in me. My brother is a serial entrepreneur and has always pushed and inspired me.”

After spending her growing years in a small town, she studied in MGD Jaipur, completing her bachelor’s in economics from LSR, an MBA from MDI Gurgaon, a master’s in finance from HKUST in Hong Kong.

The itch to be an entrepreneur as well as the values of hard work and resilience were ingrained in her. So Gupta joined a startup very early on in her career 14 years ago when it wasn’t ‘cool’ to work in startups.

“I then moved to Hong Kong and lived there for the last 12 year,” she says. “I think the trigger for me to start was when I turned 30. I thought I have enough experience and the opportunity cost will keep on increasing, so I have to take the plunge. I finally quit and turned entrepreneur. My last startup was venture-funded and scaled to a million users, but I had to shut it down during demonetization in India. I learned a lot from that failure as well.”

She admits that art has always been a very big part of her life, whether it be in the performing arts, fine arts or the folk arts.

“I was always organizing Indian classical events in Hong Kong for the last 12 years that I lived there as part of a volunteer organization (SPIC MACAY), which was attended by thousands of art aficionados,” Gupta says. “Through this I developed a long-standing connection with all the artists. MeMeraki started quite serendipitously as a passion project because of this deep love for traditional art as a hand painted artisanal brand. The difference is that our artists were always the heroes of our brand, and hence our effort to shine the spotlight on them.”

She and her team completely pivoted the business model during the pandemic. The business struggled when it started, and the team saw that the artists they worked with were affected even more when their regular sources of income from selling paintings through exhibitions and tourism vanished.

“That is when we launched online art workshops with our artists,” Gupta says. “There has been no looking back since then. In the last 15 months, we have conducted over 500 workshops attended by more than 10,000 people across the world. This has created a completely new revenue stream for artists. While on the consumer side, more people have turned to creative pursuits more than ever before as we have all realized how essential creativity is to our wellbeing and for our very survival, these workshops have been a great way of building a thriving community of people who love the heritage arts and crafts and have become our biggest evangelists.”

The business is focused on master classes with authentic heritage artists and artisans. Considering that India has more than 3,000 heritage arts and crafts the team tries to enable to bring these arts online, and find new artists and artisans in different arts and crafts every month.

“We now work with over 150 artisans and artists, most of whom have been practicing these arts for generations,” says Gupta. “That is one of our criteria for selection. The stories and history passed across generations orally is what we want to capture through our work. How quickly we are able to train the artists in using technology like Zoom, cameras and lights, how well they are able work with us to select and create the workshops, how they engage with and teach participants during workshops, are the most important criteria to select the artists we work with.”

Gupta’s brother, who is also an entrepreneur, is her go-to person for all business and scaling advice. She says she also has a partner who is good at what he does, supports her work, and understands the time and effort needed to build a business that can create lasting value.
Gupta says that most times she does not feel like she is working when she is surrounded by art and artisans.

“I do like to be outdoors walking/hiking with my dog (a very active husky!) and I spend a lot of time reading,” she says. “I had gotten back to singing after 14 years with a band and in concerts in Hong Kong; unfortunately, I don’t have much time for it again now.”

Gupta says she finds daily inspiration in all the artists and artisans she works with, and that the commitment and creativity she sees around her pushes her to do better.

“One of our most inspiring artists is our 75-year-old artist, Shehzaad Ali Sheraniji, from Kishangarh, who still wakes up to start work at 5 a.m. and paints till 7 p.m. every day,”
Gupta says young women who want to be entrepreneurs must “create a network, invest in strong relationships and find champions who can amplify your voice, and then not forget to do the same for others.”

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