When searching the LinkedIn profile of Mr. Amun Thapa, we found that his vision is for industries and companies to better the lives of millions of people. When the words ‘Entrepreneurship’ and ‘Startup’ were new in Nepal, Mr. Amun Thapa was one of the few entrepreneurs who dared to initiate e-commerce startups and other entrepreneurial ventures. Mr. Amun Thapa is the founder and CEO of Nepal’s growing E-commerce startup, Sastodeal, co-founder of Khalisisi, co-founder of Anthropose.com and Irish Pub Lazimpat. He has also been involved in many entrepreneurial ventures such as Sasto Book, Chhahari Production.
Let’s dig up more about his entrepreneurial journey and him as a personality who never fails to inspire the youth to initiate change in Nepal. Excerpts:
How would Mr. Amun Thapa introduce to someone who doesn’t know about him completely?
To begin with, I am a learner. I prefer learning more than entrepreneurial outcomes. I love the learning process. To introduce myself, I am wearing different hats in different circumstances. Sometimes, I am an entrepreneur, sometimes I am a good husband to my wife, sometimes I am a good son to my mother and at the same time, my role is someone as an advocate for different things for this country. In a nutshell, my introduction may vary at different stages when introducing me to friends, businesses, and other verticals. I try to build up the startup ecosystem trying to come out with new ideas. But to someone who doesn’t know about me, I will introduce myself as a top learner.
What do you think about the value of formal education in pursuit of entrepreneurship, especially these days? How did it help you to translate your fundamental arguments, learned in the lectures to your entrepreneurial field now?
In terms of my education, I completed my BBA in Consumer Psychology and Marketing. When I returned back from the USA, my plan was to pursue an MBA degree but due to some reasons, I couldn’t do it. Certifications are required in terms of applying for a job but certificates are not everything. Learning shouldn’t be limited to the classroom, one should think out of the box as well. What I found really disturbing in Nepal is that students go to college and study and they feel that they have fulfilled their duty. Students going to college think that going to college is their duty and they have spare time to do internships and enroll in learning opportunities enhancing their skills but most of the students don’t practice this. They are really unaware of time management and grabbing the opportunities to learn. So, when it comes to education, this is what I find really surprising.
In this world of the internet, the world’s top advocates, entrepreneurs, professors are involved in writing blogs, articles and posting informational videos on the internet which are easily accessible to the general people. But 99% of people don’t read those but rather they waste their extra hours being engaged in other activities. To understand the outer world, one needs to stay updated about it. One has to know about the incidents, business methodologies of outer countries. The need for formal education depends on its agenda. But if learning is the principle, then certifications are required. You should also learn out of the classroom.
What are your comparative and contractual views upon Nepal’s entrepreneurial ecosystem today and the time when you started Sastodeal?
I started a lot of startups during the years 2011 and 2015. When I came back to Nepal, my friends and my family expected me to join banks or INGOs but I was willing to start something on my own. The word ‘Entrepreneurship’ was very new in Nepal back then in 2011 but now the table has turned around in 2021. Now, in the current scenario, everybody wants to do something on their own. When I used to give guest lectures in colleges 6,7 years back, if the students were asked if they wanted to be entrepreneurs, most of their answers would be ‘No’. But now, almost 99% of the students when asked the same question prefer ‘YES’.
Back then, there was no inclination towards investment in startups and interest of matter to join as an employee. There was always a competition between Joining a bank vs Joining a startup. Now, many support mechanisms have been evolved such as the Nepal Government providing grants to the government. In the tenure of 10 years, everything has changed. There were just a handful of startups 10 years before but now we can see the table has turned around differently.
Entrepreneurship has been glamorized nowadays. There are several challenges that young and aspiring entrepreneurs might face in the business world right now. What are your suggestions to them in the prospects of Nepal and the outside world too?
In my view, in the last 30 years, there is a trend of ‘Industry Capture’ by the big industrialists in Nepal regarding the distribution system, network, banks, entry for new businesses, and more. And it has been aroused as a challenge for newcomers to enter into that arena and compete with them.
For instance, Waiwai has a strong distribution network from Sagarmatha to the mini villages of Nepal. And to create such a product and compete with it is really a difficult thing now. But the internet is something that’s new in the context of Nepal and is not captured by most industrialists. The Internet is so powerful in today’s world and any entrepreneur can use it to their advantage.
For instance, let’s take the example of D2C. Now we don’t need to rely on any distribution network or agency to do any promotion. You can directly reach customers, promote your product to the customers and directly distribute to the customers at their doorstep. Now anyone can promote their specific business online. Networking is easy now with the help of the internet.
What is the vision of Sastodeal and what distinguishes it from other E-commerces? Where can we see Sastodeal in 5 years down the line?
When I first started Sastodeal, technically, it was the first E-commerce platform in Nepal. There were other Ecommerce gifting platforms as well. Sastodeal was a new concept in Nepal at those times when we first started. When I used to deliver at their doorstep, they used to offer me cold drinks, tea as the concept of delivery at the doorstep was really new at those times. From the beginning, or we can say in the DNA of Sastodeal, we were assured that we are not just here to do business but we are here to create an entire industry which we started 10 years back.
In these 10 years, the penetration in retail in the e-commerce sector is less than 3% so we have a long way to go in terms of penetration and awareness as well. E-commerce business doesn’t mean only Kathmandu city as every product is within the reach in the valley. Ecommerce should be in reach in each and every village where there are no shops dedicated to any brands. There are many people who have aspirations to use several products, great finances but have no easy access to several products. The vision of Sastodeal has always been to push Nepal and its economic prospects into the digital ecosystem.
Once companies like Sastodeal become successful, many people who aspire to do something in their own country, create an example of fortune that going abroad is not only an option but starting and working in your own country also matters. In terms of speaking about the specifications of the country, we all feel proud of Mt. Everest, the birthplace of Buddha but if we can create such businesses and tell the world that we are from the country from which such businesses exist, it will be really a great matter of pride. And that’s our great vision and E-commerce is a vehicle.
There should be a real-time balance between HR and commercial aspects within the organization. As a founder/CEO, do you really make time for employee well-being in coordination with the HR department?
Yes, definitely. In fact, Sastodeal has done a lot of work in terms of HR. Sastodeal is the first company to introduce the policy of Menstrual Leave where women staff can stay at home and work remotely. We brought such paid leave policies back in 2016. Three years back, we also formulated the policy of Community Leave where staff can go and serve their community. We also set the Eshop for our employees as a part of the employee stock option. Basically, we have done lots of work regarding the HR of the company considering their energy, age, and work apart from only monetary compensations.
From the beginning, the HR function is one of the functions that has been handled by me. It is one of the departments that I give super-priority to. We leverage a lot of analytics in HR. Without observing the analytics, monitoring the efficiencies, just surveying has been the outdated mechanism. I generally prefer the OKR- Objective and Key results approach which is very employee-friendly, initiative-driven and outcome-driven. If initiatives are made along with the appraisal, then performance can be better.
We have an open culture here. Although there is a proper hierarchy in our company, anyone can come to me and ask me for queries, suggestions, grievances, and feedback. Decision-making is really quick and prompt due to local level management. We are a fast-moving company with 1000% of growth in terms of business and we believe overtime is not only an option to complete the work but manage the time within the time boundary of the work.
What does it feel like to be surrounded by strong and empowered women in your family? What is the equation like?
To be honest, I am really fortunate to be with them. My mother, Lily, is the most hard-working person I have ever seen in my life. Now, she is still running the organization for the last 30 years. She has been playing multiple roles as well in the Women's Commission. She has single-handedly changed four big laws of government. Looking at her legacy works, she is the source of power and energy for me. She has now been working on the construction of the 1st Women’s Park at Tokha. In fact, she thinks very big and she works very hard to achieve it. Seeing her, I feel I still have a long way to go on my journey. On a personal note, I could have prioritized myself as a businessman, company, and profits but I think of her DNA, I always put Nepal first, and then industry, society, and industry outcomes.
Talking about Ayushi, she thinks too much differently. Likewise, Khalisisi was the great vision that she saw and worked hard on it. I feel really amazing to be surrounded by women with great energy and vision. There is always competition at my house in a sense. Because everyone is talking big and executing big. The atmosphere of my home is always energetic. I am very much inspired by these two women in my life.
We saw through your LinkedIn profile that you are actively engaged in CNIYEF? Can you tell more about this new platform and your role in this organization?
CNIYEF is the youth wing of CNI, Confederation of Nepalese Industries. Mr. Vishnu Agrawal is the president of CNI. Actually, it is an exclusive kind of institution. Most of us are industry leaders and we have just a limited number of members. Our main objectives are learning, meeting new people, networking with different individuals who have done extraordinary things in life such as ambassadors, entrepreneurs, and great industry leaders like Binod Chaudhary, Upendra Mahato. We also interact with government officials and many such great personalities.
The main objective of this organization is to learn through networking. Now we are planning to introduce a chapter of CNIYEF in each province.
Consistency is one of the major traits of successful entrepreneurs. What’s your say about this?
Exactly. I find 3 traits that enable a consistent personality. The first one is discipline. In the last 5 years, I have set my morning habits in a scheduled manner such as waking up, reading books, and working out. If you utilize your morning well, then your day will move accordingly. I have a calendar-structured plan and I manage time very properly. Time management is a major driving factor for a consistent personality.
If you try to be someone else for a time, that will be lost in no time. So, your character also determines your personality. If you have your own character, it’s easy to execute it. Lots of entrepreneurs have dual characters- one in their workplace and one at their homes, with colleagues. I feel life is not a trade-off. You have to be ‘YOU’. You are recognized and noticed because of who you are.
The third trait that I believe one should have is vision. If you don’t know where you’re going, you cannot become consistent in what you're doing. You should be able to measure your growth, directions of your path. You should have a long-term vision in order to succeed and thrive.
What advice have you received so far?
One piece of advice that has changed my negative mindset to positive from my investor- VC that I appreciate and get inspired enough. He is also the founder/chairman of Dolma Impact Investing. Back then in 2018, when Alibaba sprouted, we were really concerned about changing the strategies, fundamentals, and many more. But he said, “There are many ways to win.” The daily sales of Alibaba are 10% more than the GDP of Nepal and we were considering our competition but that one piece of advice from my investor changed my worrisome mindset into a hopeful strategy and we initiated our work.
This is one of the far better pieces of advice that I have received so far.