Changing The Lives Of Artisans - Roberto Milk of Novica

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In this world of mass-produced items and fashion, here is Novica, an impact marketplace dedicated to showcasing unique home decor, jewelry, clothing, and gifts handmade by some of the most skilled artisans all over the world. Founded in 1999 by Roberto Milk, his then-girlfriend and now-wife, and his mother-in-law, Novica empowers artisans by keeping their tradition and culture alive.

Inspired by Robert’s childhood where he loved watching National Geographic and got to travel and see the arts and crafts made by artisans in the places he visited, Novica was created. And eventually, companies like National Geographic themselves, the World Bank, and Scripps Ventures saw the positive impact of what Novica were doing and decided to fund them. Despite industry experts telling them they wouldn’t be successful, they managed to prove those people wrong.

Fast forward to the present, Roberto shares the many challenges they faced working as a dot-com startup at a time when e-commerce wasn’t even a thing yet and how they overcame those and managed to rake in $111 million dollars in sales purely for their artisans. Roberto shares that they owe the success of Novica to the fact that they are, first and foremost, artisan-focused and customer-focused. Ultimately, there are many takeaways from this interview with Roberto.

Roberto’s key lessons and quotes from this episode were:

  • “The whole import/export for artisans is broken. It doesn't work. We have to reinvent it.” (17:48)
  • “This is a mission-driven company at the very root. Artisans can charge more. Customers pay less. We cut out all the middlemen.” (18:16)
  • “We're just thinking about customer first, like how do we provide an amazing experience for the customer and yet make it amazing for the artisan?” (24:11)
  • “We want the artisan to feel like a king or queen.” (28:13)
  • “Happy artisans, happy customers, and spreading global happiness” (29:24)
  • “The purer the business, the less friction, the less touch, the better.” (41:11)
  • “There is so much of a reduction in individual culture, language, traditions… part of the role that we want to play is keeping those traditions alive around the world, celebrating the master women and men that make these items, the time-honored techniques.” (48:49)

In this episode, we also talked about:

  • How Novica was created (3:40)
  • The partnership with National Geographic (12:03)
  • Choosing the right business model for Novica (16:19)
  • Lessons learned in 20+ years of being in business (19:45)
  • How Novica remains mission-driven yet profitable (30:12)
  • Artisans are in control (35:47)
  • Novica as a family business (44:05)
  • The world in 10 years if Novica succeeds in their mission (47:06)
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