Ravi Jay is the co-founder of myMzone, an online community-based project that gathers products from traditional markets in London. In our interview I spoke with Ravi about his journey into entrepreneurship, growing up, how the idea for myMzone came about and more.
Hi Ravi, how are you doing today?
Hello Joseph, I’m fine thanks. How are you today?
I’m great Ravi, thanks for asking. So tell me a bit about yourself growing up?
I grew up in Sunny Kerala, India where I was educated up to a Bachelor degree in Electronics. I got into Software and IT when I was selected from College by Infosys Technologies through their ‘Catch Them Young’ program. My life changed when got the opportunity to work with RBS in Hong Kong, Union Bank in Philippines, ABN AMRO Bank – it opened my eyes to see that I needed to have a more solid technical footing.
I moved to Sweden to do a Master in Artificial Intelligence where I got a chance to Head the IT department of Chalmers University. Senior management exposure at that time showed me that I needed to grasp management concepts at a deeper level. I moved to London to do MBA which is where I met with my Business Partner. What started as a Passion and curiosity driven University project has converted into myMzone and I am very excited by how it is going so far.
How did you get involved in Business and Technology?
I got involved with Technology at a very young age and my passion for gadgets and systems grew as the years went by. Even though I was confident of my abilities to lead teams and drive corporate strategy, to be honest, I was unaware of my business acumen until last year when I took a leap of faith and started myMzone.
How did you get the idea for myMzone?
Over the past year, I've nursed and nourished the idea of myMzone in my head. I was always fascinated by London and the local markets and I couldn't stop myself from falling in love with the markets' uniqueness and authenticity. I am an avid book-marker and I take pride in spotting talented designers and craftspeople. I always had to come back to take a second look at something we had seen in passing - imagine my horror when I could not find a merchant in the same spot I saw them last time!
So, I got together with my classmate (MBA) who is a serial entrepreneur and together, we started to specialise in bookmarking wares from designers and craftspeople based in London's local markets. Our passion and drive grew to such levels that our friends ask us for recommendations about where to buy a vintage dress or a tribal horn or a designer hat or a 1980's style retro lingerie or homemade English mustard and we used to tell them exactly where they could get them. It was enough for us to see the smiles on their faces or a smiley in their texts to understand that we had made someone's day.
Tell me more about myMzone, what are you guys trying to solve?
Among these ‘mini-fist-bump’ moments came those brain-crunchers when we were posed with practical questions based around:
1) Not being able to use credit/debit cards in markets
2) Not being able to carry things home because of airline baggage restrictions
3) Not being convenient to carry things across London because of previous late evening commitments
4) The market place closing too early or not being able to find the merchant
5) Quite simply, not living in London.
This is when the light bulb flicked ON. We realised that there is no single online portal that curated products from local markets. On the back of experience and rapport we created with our local merchants over the years, we attempted to gather them all in one place where you can shop from a variety of different designers and craftspeople and checkout in one easy interface. We went a step ahead and pioneered the ‘one-page-one-click-checkout’ for registered customers.
Now, we specialise in curating those wonderful things from local markets that make your heads turn. Also, we identified during our 6 month University MBA project that road traffic on markets were dwindling and that they were on a decline – so, our solution of giving an alternative source of income to market traders resonated with our target B2B customer.
How were the first initial months of starting up, what difficulties did you face?
From inception, we knew that we were going to be technology dependent and since we were the first online platform to bring together local markets in London, the challenges were around building a website that looked good, is user-friendly to customers and merchants who upload products. In addition, the concept of myMzone is new and travellers who visit the markets are unaware that they can access products online – so, we needed to get the word out and this is where we faced challenges financially.
In addition, with regards to having local merchants on board, the classic chicken and egg scenario holds where merchants do not sign up and actively participate in a new idea until they see results and without active participation, there cannot be results.
How have you been able to able to fund the business so far?
The company has been self-funded by the partners in the form of initial investments and profits from sales made.
Can you talk a little bit about the technology end of the business?
The concept of myMzone is fresh – this called for a fresh new insight into technology used and functionalities developed. To keep the technology cost base down and to build an effective, powerful search engine, open source technologies have been used throughout the website. In addition to using SmartyPHP at the core, HTML5, CSS3, jQuery is used to render the website smoothly. The blogging platform runs on Wordpress.
The highlight of the website is the single-click-single-page-checkout process. Take a look!
What was it about your project that drew interest from people?
Well, everyone we spoke to acknowledged the need of the website and encouraged the concept behind myMzone. Interest has been generated because there is no other online platform dedicated to products from local markets in London.
What's the biggest thing you've learned so far in launching the company?
We’ve learned that building technology and a website is easy when you compare establishing relationships with your B2B customers and sustaining these relationships. We quickly identified B2B relations are maintained in a different way from B2C relations. It sounds trivial but understanding this has made a massive impact in the way we are running the company now.
What's the biggest challenge you have at the moment?
Right now, we have reached a stable level where we have a functional website, continuous stream of visitors and healthy merchant engagement. Now, we have to take the business to a next level and we are now looking towards receiving an investment to fuel development of website and step up marketing efforts.
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
There have been several to be honest. myMzone was selected as one of the top 10 startups in the UK by National University Entrepreneur 2012; we got to meet Doug Richard and Emma Jones at the finals in British Business Embassy.
For me, personally, the story of a little girl called Brogan and her father who had a benefit besides shopping was a moving one. You can read about it here> https://mymzone.com/blog/a-girl-called-brogan/
What's the next big goal for you?
Our immediate target to involve 10 local markets in London and to engage 200 market traders.