Behind the Scenes with the All Woman Team of Kunayah [Interview]

Q. Tell us about Kunayah. 

Kunayah is one-of-a-kind startup in Pakistan. We have seen marketplaces emerging lately like Daraaz and Kaymu, but there is none that exclusively caters to handmade products. It is true that a handful of crafters have joined one of those e-commerce spots.

But what are the odds of people buying an expensive handmade item when there are tried-and-tested options available to choose from? The target audience is diluted in general marketplaces and handmade items are not getting the attention they deserve.

We envisioned a place for crafters and handmade lovers where they could buy everything under one roof. The artists can shop for supplies, create their products and sell it, all in one place.

Kunayah is like a bazaar that has every handmade item imaginable, customized for the Pakistani market

And for buyers, it is like a bazaar that has every handmade item imaginable. You go filling up your cart and then you checkout once This is the kind of place we want to build— exclusively for Pakistani crafters to promote their art locally and internationally. We want the artists to laser-focus on creation process while we advertise for them.

And especially after Facebook changed its algorithm, it is getting difficult for artists to market their products and increase their follower-ship. We want to take crafters out of their Facebook pages and put them up on front.

For buyers, when they Google their query for a handmade item, we want a website from Pakistan to show up on the first page instead of irrelevant results that you usually get.

Q. How did it all start? Was the startup incubated or was it a garage based operation?

In December 2014, IBA hosted DICE-INVENT 2014, a nationwide innovation and entrepreneurship exhibition and mega event. We decided to take our business model on that platform to gauge public perception of the startup and to seek counsel from experts in the field. They were all of the opinion that the startup has great potential and if we continue to carry it through, it will have a positive impact on the local industry.

And in our brief time at the mega event, we received great mentorship and even had interested investors contacting us. We ended up third place in the said exhibition where universities from all over Pakistan participated. So, in short— the response has been overwhelming.

Q. Tell us about the team behind Kunayah and what each of you do.

We are three co-founders— Sana Ashraf, Saadia Humayun and Aniqua Ali. 

Sana is an artist herself and has the crafting expertise so she knows the ins and outs of the trade and is intimately aware of problems that both the artists and buyers have to face when it comes to handmade crafts. She put forth the idea that we bring our skill set to the table and start something that might facilitate the crafts community which remains largely unappreciated and unrecognised in this country.

Saadia handles the technical details. She has previous work experience with start-ups where she worked as a blogger, content strategist and graphic artist with different people on a contract. So that is her domain and she knows the expenses we will be facing online and offline. She is managing the website and all peripherals related to it.

Aniqua is our marketing strategist. She has connections in the artisans sphere and is responsible for approaching people to join the marketplace. She manages the social networks and communicates with crafters.

Also, we all are bio-medical engineers in the making, currently in our final year at NED University. This comes as a surprise for most people, that of all the problems we could have chosen to address, it was Arts and Crafts— which brings me to the next question.

Q. How do you deal with customized orders?

We have integrated a custom order flexibility on all eligible items. If you want a card in different shades and colors or perhaps a different message from the one that is shown, you can just type your preferences on the product description popup, add it to cart and submit your order. Your item will arrive as you imagined it to be.

To get something made from scratch, we have integrated a forum on our web with a separate channel for each crafter. Buyers only have to login from their Facebook accounts and start posting about exactly what they want and the concerned artist will respond back. This way, there is a dynamic interaction between buyers and sellers that will add value to the community.

So we are definitely excited about the numerous ways this could reshape our existent craft ecosystem.


Q. How has the response been so far?

We started our venture in mid October 2014, and we are greatly motivated by the response we received. Over 11 crafters joined us in some one-and-a-half month and more are signing up and in the process of data migration. We made a few sales in the beta stage of our business launch and we are learning and improving everyday as we get feedback from people all around (from our overseas customers as well).

Q. How are you marketing your startup?

We are currently marketing ourselves through Facebook ads and Google Adwords is next on the map once a few plans in the pipeline have been executed. As for the crafters, we also approach them personally to invite them to join us. Crafters’ Expo and Indie Crafts are some of the festivals that happen every year. We plan to take those as opportunities to have a one-to-one talk with artisans who are serious about expanding their businesses.

Q. All women founder teams are rare in Pakistan. How hard or easy is it for women to get into the tech industry in Pakistan and how has the general reception has been?

When we stepped on the stage to accept our DICE-INVENT prize, the chief guest and sponsors were surprised that we were an all-women team. People are still coming to terms with the fact that females and computers can go together. But that was all. The general reception has been welcoming so far.

There were a few eyebrows raised when we mentioned that we pulled off the site and promotional marketing material by ourselves without the need to hire external technical support. In fact, a gentleman who has a startup based in UK, even dropped by to brainstorm on electronic payment services with us, and did not underrate us by default. We have received a few requests for partnerships from people that are interested in crowd-sourcing.

Q. What are the payment options for customers on Kunayah?

Currently, we are not integrating a credit card system on our web. Reason being, there are no fixed prices for custom orders or shipping that depends on weight in most cases. Default prices are listed and if need be, an adjusted invoice is shared over email with customers and orders are dispatched after payment has been made through bank transfer or easypaisa. For international customers, it is via Payoneer master card or Western Union.

Q. What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Aniqua: We’re still new to this whole idea of entrepreneurship and everyday we learn something new. For all the young entrepreneurs out there, I would say that do your homework before planning to startup any business; exploit your available resources. If you’re still a student you can join entrepreneurship socities at your college or simply browse through the internet to get help and ideas.We’re the facebook generation so using facebook to build online business relationships is a good idea, and a cost effective way of advertising.

Secondly, surround yourself with an awesome team that has the necessary skills because you’re going to need them to overcome hurdles and obstacles that come along with starting any business and besides it’s impossible to handle everything alone! You should also consider having  one technical geek on board.

But the most important thing is to stay committed and sincere! Majority of start up fail because their founders get bored, get discouraged or get busy with other things. Just do what you love and stick to your ideas because that will resonate in your work.

Saadia: I would like to pass on something that a CEO of a multinational organization mentioned once and it hit home. There are just four things that a Muslim entrepreneur really need:

  1. Shura (consultation)
  2. Istikhara (Divine guidance)
  3. Determination
  4. Trust in a Higher Power

If your checklist is complete, then dive right in. Be passionate, be fair and be consistent.

Sana: Step out of the comfort zone.

Q. What can we expect from Kunayah in the future?

We have a long way to go. Some plans in the pipeline:

  • DIY craft tutorial blog by Pakistani artisans: a platform where people would share tips and tricks and troubleshoot problems related to craft projects
  • An application for our marketplace
  • More crafters (of course; the more the merrier)
  • An efficient logistics system to provide delivery at low rates all over Pakistan

You can visit Kunayah here

  • Syed Talal is the first marketplace for crafts in Pakistan that was launched in 2013 & then it was Dastkari.Pk that was launched in November 2013 which partners with The Crafters Expo.

  • I guess the writer himself didn’t research well on this topic before writing this post. How can this be the first crafts marketplace store when it was registered in 2014 whereas is operating since 2013 which is Pakistan’s first Marketplace for Crafters and than its Dastkari.Pk which was the winner of [email protected] Launchpad 2014 June as reported by Propakistani itself.

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