Interview: Online entrepreneur Réka Porst

Retail

From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: Réka Porst, an entrepreneur running online handcraft marketplace meska.hu won this year’s Women of Excellence Award from the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary. In an interview with BBJ, encourages women to be more self-confident.

BBJ: What does ‘meska’, the name of your website, mean?
Porst: It stands for the Hungarian abbreviation of “all products here are unique and self-made,” but that’s rather an ideology made up subsequently. We definitely wanted to refer to the Hungarian acronym SK, meaning “self-made, and use its phonetic version (“eská). The “m was added to make it sound nicer. Now we have so many users that a whole new verb, “to meska, has been coined, which describes any activity pursued via our portal.

Do you know who nominated you?
It was a glass artist marketing her goods via us. I found out only because she asked for a CV, so she had no choice, but to reveal her plan. We grew so close that she published a book on glass beads with my business partner.

Did victory catch you by surprise?
The nomination itself already had! The best thing about it is that I finally can point to the statue and tell my children: that is how mom’s work got recognized. They only see that I am on the phone or the computer. They need physical evidence. In a way, so do I, as it’s very hard to define what I do exactly.

What is so difficult about it?
I tend to joke that if I go on vacation nobody would notice. With my duties being too complex, I can’t really reallocate them and I need to work in a concentrated way so that everything continues to run smoothly in such periods as well. The same does not apply to my partner who deals with customer relationship, a concrete set of tasks. I connect everybody with each other in the business, I do marketing and I have the final word on site development issues.

In what way does user friendliness materialize?
We wanted to avoid having an ordinary web shop. We intended to create an ambience like you are in a mall window-shopping with no clear idea of what you want to buy. There are categories, yet they are designed to offer an almost endless number of search options. Content can be searched by applied technique such as woodcarving or if you like an artist’s style you can check their favorites and pick something from that pool of items.

That adds to the special atmosphere of the web site.
It is a world of its own, indeed! We try to engage our clients. The opening page features favorite products of a certain customer that changes every hour. Under our gift search menu, they also have the chance to put together their own selection of endorsed goods.

You have widened your business scope by launching sister sites.
Izporta.hu, which sells homemade food, got going in August. This grew out of a large demand, but we saw it fit on a separate interface. Another part of our portfolio is alkotokboltja.hu, which serves as a marketplace for handcraft material, accessories and related services. The latter accounts for about 30% of our turnover.

What do you think tipped the balance in favor of you in the award procedure?
I heard that the initial consideration was to favor candidates having companies with impressive business figures in terms of revenues and staff. When the jury came across my file they had to reevaluate their concept: Meska is a micro firm employing only seven or eight people. What mattered after all was the number of people our activity reaches out to, and the fact that we help so many make a living by providing a marketplace.

Women in Hungary need a lot more encouragement than in countries where gender equality has a higher profile. Is the situation improving here?
Self-confidence is what women are short of in our country. More of us should believe in the fact that gender cannot be a hurdle to accomplish goals. Women with kids have an especially hard time on the labor market. So this pushes them towards entrepreneurship. However, self-awareness plays a role here since running a business does not suit everyone.

It suits you undoubtedly; thats how you won the prize.
I love facing the unknown; it energizes me in my daily routine. I am honored by the award, but I somehow feel that those 3,600 handcraft artists represented on Meska should be in the spot light instead. They are the true achievers.

Réka Porst achieved her business breakthrough in 2008 by launching meska.hu, an online marketplace for handcrafted goods, together with friend and artist, Borbála Hídvégi. Prior to her own enterprise, she worked as a traffic engineer and project manager. She is also a qualified caver and leather handcraft specialist. Réka speaks Spanish and English and is raising three children.

– by Levente Hörömpöli-Tóth

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