50_Roberto and Andy Milk and Armenia Nercessian

Co-founders, Novica.com
Los Angeles - CA US

Thinking Locally, Acting Globally

The sons of a Peace Corps Volunteer, the Milks had a lifelong interest in artisans in developing countries. They teamed up with Roberto's mother-in-law, Armenia Nercessian, a UN human-rights officer, to create Novica.com, an online marketplace that sells the work of more than 10,000 craftspeople. On December 31, its employees gathered in each of the company's eight international offices to exchange gifts and toast another year of good fortune.

From their original entry:

Tell us what you do and the specific challenge you faced.

Five years ago Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira, co-founder and president of Novica.com, and Roberto Milk, co-founder and CEO of Novica.com, enthusiastically set out to "start a revolution." Working with family members around the world, they launched Novica.com, an online marketplace where artists and artisans in remote countries could display and sell their fine art, handcrafted gifts, home décor, and artisan crafted jewelry to customers worldwide. They simultaneously opened offices in countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America, each staffed and run by local art and technology experts who worked directly with thousands of artists and artisans to help them get their stories and their products on the Internet. Novica has distinguished itself by merging a strong business model with a humanitarian mission and a streamlined distribution network that eliminates multiple middlemen and their markups. Novica has revolutionized the historic retail model of purchasing from middlemen, in bulk, at cut rates. Novica's 'Golden Rule' rests at the heart of its operating principles: Artisans make more; customers pay less. In addition to fostering economic development, Novica actively promotes its artisans, securing international recognition for their talents. There's nothing like it!

What was your moment of truth?

The day we came up with the idea for Novica. Everyone said it couldn't be done: simultaneously establish offices in countries all over the world, pay artists more than they have ever made before, ship purchases directly to customers worldwide—from countries all over the world (with no U.S. warehousing), and design a patents-pending back-end system to handle all the complex logistics, international tracking, and tariffs and customs coding so customers could enjoy seamless, low cost, fast, and efficient shipping.

What were the results?

We did it! For five years now, Novica.com has served as the leading online world style marketplace, offering thousands of limited edition and one-of-a-kind gifts and home furnishings handmade in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Novica's impact group (artisans, family members, community members) has now surpassed 100,000 people worldwide. After five years in business, we'd survived the Internet shakedown with flying colors and are continuing to expand, reaching more loyal customers and excited artists each day.

What's your parting tip?

Do what you love, do it better and more creatively than it has ever been done before, and do it passionately, to help people. The world will "get it"—guaranteed!"

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