In 2005, Cathelijne Lania won the BiD Challenge for Safe Silver, a sustainable silver factory in Nepal. Since then, Safe Silver has grown and become A Beautiful Story, a jewelry company that combines stories of talented producers, craftsmen and craftswomen with great skills all around the world. Read more about her lessons learned and tips for entrepreneurs and investors.
BiD Network: Tell us a few words about your company A Beautiful Story.
Cathelijne Lania: A Beautiful Story travels the World and brings you products with great stories. Current focus is on jewelry from Nepal, but the ambition for the future is to broaden the scope with other products and countries and even other business concepts. Every piece of jewelry has a beautiful story behind it, in the way it was made, in the way the product is designed and in the way it has a meaning to the customer. We work with three producer groups in Nepal: Dambar’s Silverfactory (with which it all started) and two women groups. Products are sold in the Netherlands through retail (40 points of sale, target 2011 is 80 shops), via our online webshop and via B2B activities (customer loyalty programs, Christmas presents, etc.). Our aim is to make our people smile, make the people who make the jewelry and those who wear the jewelry happy!
BiD Network: What has happened since you participated in the BiD Challenge in 2005
Cathelijne Lania: The BiD Challenge in 2005 gave me the confidence to give up my job and become a full-time social entrepreneur. A lot has happened since then. The aim of Safe Silver’s business plan was to create a sustainable business for a silver factory in Nepal. Jewelry was first sold via direct sales approach (like Tupperware) throughout the Netherlands. Five years later, the company has developed a multi-channel sales strategy, with a primary focus on retail, but also targets consumers via online and B2B businesses. Our aim is to create as many jobs as possible in developing countries. Next to the silver factory we work with, two women from empowerment groups in Nepal and started activities in Bangladesh and Peru.
BiD Network: What did you achieve since you won the BiD Challenge
Cathelijne Lania: We developed a partnership with two producer groups in Nepal in 2006 and 2009 and we took the first step in Bangladesh in 2011. I won the contest for the best Social Entrepreneur in Amsterdam (www.zininzaken.nl) and a prize of 25.000 euros. Finally, we hired the first employee in 2008. With more professional people on board, we were able to grow faster!
BiD Network: If you could pass your experience on to other entrepreneurs or give a tip to an investor, what would you say?
Cathelijne Lania: Most important lesson: get a financial person on board as soon as possible (if it is not your own expertise). Especially in a business with a multi-channel approach, different types of customers, and many different products, it is very important to know exactly what you are doing, so you can measure, control and change direction if needed.
Then, think big! Enjoy the way and enjoy small steps but be ambitious, because it always takes longer than expected, at least in my case.
BiD Network: What are the next steps for A Beautiful Story?
Cathelijne Lania: At the moment, A Beautiful Story only sells jewelry but our ambition for the future is to make our brand an umbrella brand for several business concepts like Richard Branson’s Virgin. A logical step is to broaden our focus to other products like fashion accessories (bags, scarfs, etc.), but also home accessories. In addition to that, we have some innovative ideas, for example a chain of hotels in developing countries, where young people can work and learn as trainees, where every room will tell a beautiful local story. We currently hire 50 people in Nepal, our ambition in 10 years is to create work for at least 1000 people all over the world.
BiD Network: Have you been able to secure investment? If so, what have you been able to do with that investment?
Cathelijne Lania: I did not engage with external investors, until now, I have been able to finance internally the company’s growth. Winning an award also helped me a lot. In 2007, I won the Zin in Zaken award for social entrepreneurs in Amsterdam. The 25.000 euros prize allowed me to get an office space for 1.5 year, to register the A Beautiful Story brand as a trademark (EU protection for 10 years) and to build the webshop. Finally, I had several loans from family and friends to invest in product stocks. Half of it is already paid back.
Actually, if BiD Network members and followers want to help us in further investment, they can make a difference right now! A Beautiful Story has a new jewellery project in Dhaka, to help ex sex-workers to build a new future. We made it to the last round in the ASN Bank Wereldprijs competition. Please vote for us and help us win 10.000 euros for the project. It will only takes 1 minute of
BiD Network: What was the added value of BiD Network for your business?
Cathelijne Lania: “CONFIDENCE! Ending up in the final of the BiD Challenge convinced me that
my plan was promising enough to give up my job and start building a beautiful business!”
Last but not least, Cathelijne would like to offer a 20% discount on A Beautiful Story products to BiD Network members and followers. Just mention the following code at the end of your order: bidnetwork
Thanks Cathelijne, for this lovely idea!