While Karishma “Kush” Chawla had entrepreneurial ambitions since childhood, it was a ticket to Coachella in 2018 that ultimately sparked her first startup.
“It was the year that Beyonce was headlining,” Chawla told Hypepotamus. “And a few months after her performance, Netflix came out with this documentary Homecoming. And as I was watching the documentary I just thought that it was such a huge cultural moment for her…everything she touched and wore, everything that was part of that set design, her costumes…those were things that I saw value in. I thought that if I had access to those things, I would love to own and treasure.”
That led the Georgia Tech grad into the world of auctions, an admittedly old-fashioned place for the sale of celebrity memorabilia.
“What I found essentially was that there were no auction houses that worked with modern icons. And I went to a few auctions and realized the demographic of the folks that were attending was much older. So I thought it was an opportunity and I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea.”
She ended up going to auction school in 2020 and joining the National Auctioneer Association before building out KIRPA, a new type of online auction house catering specifically to modern celebrities and their fans.
Taking On The Auction Space
There were three key components Chawla said she needed to make the platform work. Of course, there was the general understanding of how auctions work. But she also had to build a marketplace and website that was “culturally forward” and that resonated with a younger crowd, and she needed to get access to celebrities willing to auction off their treasured items.
That third part proved a bit more difficult at the start of COVID, but in 2022 she ended up leaving her management consulting job to built up KIRPA full-time.
The platform launched and has already attracted big names in hip hop, including DJ Drama, Twista, Cee Lo Green & Goodie Mob, EPMD, and Dead Prez, alongside art made to support non-profits like The Bob Marley Mixtape Collection.
And it is not just a marketplace to find autographed posters or CDs. The rapper Twista has his own diamond grillz and clothing from iconic performances up on the auction site.
A key differentiator is that KIRPA focuses on the story behind the artists and their memorabilia, be it details about what motivates a musician or what memories they have associated with an item.
Building Hype Around Collectibles
KIPRA is strategically focused on physical collectors items, which made the launch of the platform over the last year a bit more difficult, according to Chawla.
“I was fundraising during a time when NFTs had hit the mainstream. Because I was focusing on physical items, a lot of folks didn’t see the value in it because they felt that NFTs and digital products were the future. It was a hard sell,” Chawla explained. “Ultimately, we stuck true to our core and why we went on this journey.”
That focus paid off. Backing KIRPA’s early investor round is Atlanta-based Zane Ventures and a small group of friends and family.
Shila Nieves Burney, Zane Venture Fund’s managing partner, said she was drawn to invest in KIRPA because of Chawla’s “boldness” and the fact that she had a passion for innovating the auction space.
“We at Zane back founders and felt that Kush was a perfect fit with our other portfolio founders — founders who found a problem and felt they were uniquely qualified to solve it through technology. The company is still early and has traction, the market is wide open and ripe for disruption, Kush was smart to create something that I believe will change how we buy HipHop and other celebrity artifacts,” Burney told Hypepotamus.
Chawla is splitting her time between New York and Atlanta, two cities with deep hip hop and music scenes. Ultimately she sees KIRPA, which translates to blessings in Punjabi, as a platform to celebrate artists.
“We share artists’ stories and their history through these archives and and really uplift them while they’re alive,” she added.