Do not just be a seller, be a brand.
“You cannot just open a website and expect people to flood in. If you really want to succeed, you have to create traffic.”
-CEO of Walmart
Ecommerce provides a diverse range of opportunities, from marketing to generating more sales to even creating your very own website for optimization and utilization. It does not only help in succeeding and making sales but has also increasingly taken over the offline marketplace in the last few years. In tough times of Covid-19, where none of us have an option but to stay at home, eCommerce has become even more relevant since the need of the customers to sustain themselves without going out into the market place has rapidly increased.
Seeing this as an opportunity for the budding entrepreneurs, Headstart recently held a webinar on eCommerce and invited renowned speakers with years of experience and expertise in the online world to share with the audience. The aim was to hear their journey and the challenges they faced, hoping that the startups will take away key learnings and put them into practical use.
We had with us The Founder of Beardo, Ashutosh Valani as the first speaker of the event. With a Masters in International Business from Brunel University, his journey has not been easy.
It all started when he was living in London and his struggle of buying household groceries was fulfilled through ordering online and having the products delivered to his doorstep. At that time, it was nothing less than magic and it was back then when he realized that E-commerce business is soon going to be the next big player. With this in mind, he started Aaj ki Item where he and his team sold products at half a price. The problems back then were quite a few. Firstly, there was a lack of trust of customers on online platforms. Secondly, since only 20% of people even had credit cards, plastic money was out of the question.
The year 2011 bought with itself the increased acceptance of online shopping. Aaj ki Item was transformed from an independent website into one of the biggest merchants. The venture started importing and trading online, slowly realizing the potential of the online marketplace. Since Mr. Ashutosh predicted that in the next 2 decades offline market will be taken over by the online market, he decided to get into a business that would last.
It was 2014 and there were no products for male grooming – India was a virgin market in this sector. This information led to the start of Beardo. Deciding a category/product had to be a wise decision in order to get to the core of men’s grooming. The biggest challenge was the lack of consumer acceptance and understanding. Even though the digital world today has made it a lot easier, double the efforts had to be put in back then in order to understand consumer behavior and culture.
Fund Raising was another task. Beardo was on a Venture Capitalist roll, so much so that Mr. Ashutosh was literally pitching while sleep talking! Since there was no data to back the facts up, Beardo was based on gut feeling and all the VCs thought that the market for this kind of business was extremely risky.
However, Beardo finally changed the game by eventually overachieving 2 to 3 times more than what they had predicted on paper. Today, he plans to take his venture both online and offline, expanding to international markets.
Since every business has different categories, the E-commerce business does too. It is important to break it down and utilize it accordingly.
- Own Portal – Bringing people to your own website and showing them what you stand for.
- Ecommerce Platform– Other relevant sites like Myntra, Flipkart, Amazon, etc.
- Social Media Platforms– They are the most important since they drive the customers to the last 2 categories.
The key to success is simple – customer acquisition. Be sure of what you want to sell since it is the top 5-10 products that drive 80% of your business. Attain success by gathering data and regularly monitoring analytics. Open yourself to the datas of the world and make sure to be extra-vigilant.
Today, Beardo has more to do with content than products. The motto has always been to break the taboo of “men do not cry” and communicate their feelings to the world. What sets them apart is that while others sell products, they sell culture. Strong communication, Understanding, clarity, language, and patience to hear feedback is what they do differently.
Suraj Vazirani, with more than 10 years of experience in the industry was the second speaker of the event. His experience in branding goes a long way; from selling 20 units a day to 10,000 a day! He is not only the founder of The Beauty Co but also started the Maniac Store and Don’t Scratch Your Head (DSYH) which was later acquired. He always wanted his business to become the next Flipkart of India – an aspiration every budding entrepreneur in those times had!
Initially, The Beauty Co had the manpower, expertise, logistics but was lacking in making sufficient profits. This created a spark in Mr. Suraj, making him wonder where he was going wrong. He decided to take a pivot and partner with Beardo – one of the best decisions of his life. Even after pivoting, he was not satisfied. He wanted to do something more; bring about an impact.
He and his team did thorough research and data collection, in an attempt to figure out the category they should get into. The answer was simple – Beauty and Personal care. However, they did not want to repeat the products that were already out in the world, they wanted to set themselves apart. Charcoal Teeth Whitening Powder and Dry Coffee Scrubs were some of the first products after which they finally decided to launch their business.
Financing was the next challenge. According to him, gone are the days when you are just funded by the idea and the expertise that you have; gone are the days when you just pitch your business idea and get money. He resorted to borrowing money from his friends/family and his Mega Gala Launch finally head started The Beauty Co.
Building and scaling are two factors startups need to be careful about. It is important to be careful with cash flow since you cannot keep limitlessly spending. In other words, be sure about where you want to put your money, be safe and secure at all times.
Advertising is a major part of an online business. The social media trends and buying patterns are slowly changing and the mindset of the millennial is going through a drastic transformation. With the digital revolution, you can reach many more consumers today than ever before.
Finally, the key to success is to build a perfect team that trusts as well as understands you. You are the pilot and if they have full confidence in you, your business will fly. You need to be responsible and capable enough when times get tough. The kind of feelings that you need to incorporate into your team is that they know – come what may, you are going to be right by their side.
Moving on to our next speaker, Anish Nagpal, with about 10 years of experience in the eCommerce industry has excelled in brand design, packaging, and communication.
Initially, he and his partner realized that eCommerce back then was based on deals/offer basis. They chose the lifestyle domain and with no prior experience jumped into it, hoping to crack it. However, they soon started facing challenges related to cash flow, marketplace support, and acquiring customers.
After thorough research, it was brought to attention that there have been drastic changes over the few years and the entire Indian ecosystem has undergone changes. There has been a change in trends and plastic money is majorly taking over. Since Mr. Nagpal wanted to build something that could go Global, this resulted in the birth of Rey Naturals – their Minimum Viable Product was a range of Oils, varying from lavender to peppermint.
The problem with Rey Naturals was that it was too early for India. The types of oils were not in demand by the customers and so they could not scale fast enough. As a solution, they decided to shift to a pure customer psyche and promote in a way that showcases how it will be of benefit to the customers.
Brands are not built overnight and without mistakes, there are no learnings. You may be able to control wisely planned resources but not mistakes. Here are a few tips for startups to take calculated decisions:
- Have the best sourcing of funds available.
- Focus on the consumer psyche, do not sell just because it is being sold by most of the competitors.
- Go with a limited set of products, start small, and understand the inventory cycle of the business.
- Build trust amongst customers – be approachable and focus on feedback and customer reviews.
- Quality is important – customers are concerned about the money they pay and expect 2 times the quality in return.
With customer satisfaction as his top priority, Mr. Nagpal continues to reach heights. Today, amidst the pandemic, the sales have in fact doubled. There are new customers and since no one travels to the physical marketplace, they are even ready to pay a premium price for the products! In his words, the focus for startups should primarily lie on brand building, acceptance, and timing.
Dr. Harmitsingh Sikh, the founder of Food Memories was our last speaker for the day. With his focus always being on administration and management, he decided to gather a pool of regional food specialty vendors from all across. He traveled to more than 70 cities just to give its customers the best of what India has ever produced.
The whole idea was to get food delivered at the customer’s doorstep globally. According to research, there was a huge market opportunity and so he commenced his venture, trying to solve this niche market problem. Currently, he has over 50 vendors and 250 products. His reach is in about 14,000 cities in India and 95 outside India.
Building trust in vendor relationships and bringing them additional power was at the top of their priority list. Since the regional market is about 70% unorganized, it opens a lot of opportunities. Food Memories took advantage of that and got its vendors, new customers who were not a part of their existing customer base – it was a win-win composition. This is exactly what sets them apart from their competitors like Swiggy or Zomato. It not only offers special food dishes that may not be available in the city but also adds customers that were never there.
After a few years, it seemed like the right time to promote online through a physical entity. Earlier, the delivery system was not efficient and there was no control over quality and inventory. Brainstorming and analyzing these challenges led to the start of the first physical outlet of the business venture. The idea was to get easier access, a positive demand, and increase effectiveness during festivals.
Acceptability, quality, and brand loyalty are the three factors that according to Mr. Singh are the most essential in the world of eCommerce.
To put it all into perspective and summarise, while all of them come from diverse industries, they have one thing in common – immense experience in the field of eCommerce. Their detailed insights not only motivated startups to prosper in the digital world but also to focus on customer acquisition. So, get into the digital world and be ready to make mistakes since that’s what brings you closer to success!
Volunteer, Headstart Gurgaon