Category Archives: Strategy

Indian FMCG Startups Are Coming

Over the past 5 years or so, consumer product startups have been slowly but steadily picking pace in India. While their scale might be significantly low in comparison with e-commerce, ride-sharing or food delivery startups, their seems to be a lot of action in the space.

India’s FMCG market is pegged to be around $185Bn. Traditionally, the large players in FMCG/CPG space have operated by owning a massive distribution pipe (Wholesalers, Distributors & Retailer), doing massively expensive marketing campaigns and selling commoditised products. All of this is starting to change.

That smaller startups are trying to disrupt incumbents extended to FMCG category is a natural after effect of the internet penetration and the subsequent second-order effects. Also, as shown below, the CPG brands globally are infamous for their lack of innovation.

R&D Spending in Consumer Goods Cos as compared to Tech Cos


Factors that favour growth of FMCG startups
: Include changes in status quo for:

  1. Innovation
  2. Production 
  3. Marketing
  4. Distribution

Given the rising discretionary spends and ability for internet to help micro target, upstart startups can now decide to make products not for a mass segment but for niche consumers subset. For ex: Instead of making Real or Tropicana Juices aimed at all and sundry, there can now be Raw Pressery or Paper Boat aimed at premium/niche segment of the market.

Since the target segment is a smaller niche, it fundamentally changes how companies approach Production, Marketing and Distribution. 

  1. Innovation (Loved by a few vs liked by a lot): Given a niche customer segment, a startup can focus on making a great product that their customers will really love over a good/slightly better than average product that a lot of people will be fine using. 
  2. Production (Lower Upfront Fixed Cost Requirements): Unlike earlier times, a startup can now think of starting small and launching few niche products with a reasonable manufacturing setup and invest in production as they grow.
  3. Marketing (Lower Variable Costs): A startup these days can get the wheels of marketing rolling but starting with ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram and others with a much smaller budget. Another aspect of marketing is the solid brand proposition that most niche CPG startups are able to drive due to their innovative offering.
  4. Distribution (Lower Upfront Fixed, and Variable Costs): Compared to earlier times of building a comprehensive retail supply chain across the state/country to store and deliver goods, a startup can get started with minimal inventory and deliver products directly to consumer (D2C) through their website/3rd party marketplaces and scale distribution spends as their traction grows.
Source: Dollar Shave Club/ Kantar Futures

VC activity in the space has been on rise with some focussed funds like DSG actively investing in startups. DSG has around a dozen investments in India including Chai Point and Raw Pressery. Consumer Goods startups have raised over $152 mn in 2018 (so far).

via Bloomberg Quint

via Economic Times

via Economic Times

The Bigger brands have also started making their moves in Indian Consumer Goods Startups. 

Bombay Shaving Company, Beardo got funded by Palmolive & Marico respectively 


Some other players that attracted investments from bigger players Happily Unmarried’s Ustra (Wipro Consumer Care) and Forest Essentials (Estée Lauder). The biggest player in the D2C category (not FMCG really) that has done exceedingly well in Lenskart.

With increasing GDP per capita, better penetration of high-speed internet, increasing transition towards e-commerce fuelled by significant VC funding and some M&A activity, the FMCG space is bound to grow and thrive. It’d be interesting to observe how various startups evolve and make great businesses.

On closing note, here’s the great introductory video by DollarShaveClub that set the ball rolling.

‘Commute Vehicle’ as a Platform

For a while, I’ve been thinking about a lens or a mental model to look at the opportunities possible while once a user is in a ride-sharing vehicle.

Given that millions are using ride-sharing services like Uber and Ola everyday to commute and that they are slightly better suited to being offered another product or service during their commute makes them apt for some interesting possibilities.

Let’s divide the commute into different segments based on distance covered.

1. Short –  Cabs, Bikes, Bicycles
2. Medium – Cabs, Bikes
3. Long – Cabs, Bus

Out of the commute options above, a couple make for a good fit to be ripe for some add-on opportunities. The contenders include

1. Cabs – Medium & Long Distance
2. Bus – Long Distance

When you think of a platform, the following image comes to mind

The underlying structure comprises of:

1. Users using a platform frequently.
2. Platform allowing 3rd parties (developers/companies etc) to offer products that users can access. 
3. Platform collecting rent for offering 3rd parties a connection to users.

Food Outlets in Delhi Metro Stations


Delhi Metro has had food outlets in its metro stations for a long time. Apart from Advertising on the metro train itself, this is one of the biggest sources of revenue from them.

Unlike iOS/Android app stores where anyone can freely publish an app (subject to certain T&C), with it being a physical play one can’t just set up a shop on a metro station. In that sense, one can think of it as a ‘Managed or Curated Platform’. While anyone can apply for a shop via a Tender, the number of shops is constrained and can’t ever be as long tail as in the digital world.

Keeping the limitations of atoms aside and the fact that most of these commute services are structurally aggregators (Ola/Uber have homogeneous supply, decide which cab to be dispatched and more), thinking about the ‘Commute vehicle’ as a platform lets one imagine various possibilities. Let’s take a look at some options

  1. Advertising (Brand and Transaction Driven)
  2. Commerce (Physical and Digital)
  3. Entertainment (Audio, Video, Games)
  1. Advertising (Brand and Transaction Driven): This one is classic, using the platform for un-targeted/blanket brand campaigns or using the platform for targeted ads what could drive the user to a transaction.

    For ex: Sharing a promo code that enables a special discount to try a new app. (QR codes?)

    I feel there could be an interesting play to build a way to deliver targeted campaigns to users. Given the low scale, smaller/upcoming brands might find it more useful.

Cab Branding for Mobikwik

2. Commerce (Physical and Digital):

This is particularly interesting and under-explored (except for food joints in metro stations etc). Our impulse purchase behaviour, coupled with internet connectivity, convenience and instant gratification makes it powerful.

A few months back Uber tied up with Cargo to enable riders to buy snacks and confectionery. Apparently, Cargo helped drivers earn more than $100 extra per month and has shared over $1mn with its drivers since its launch

Snack Ordering Via Cargo


In terms of fitment, the light snacks and confectionery seems to be a great fit. Want a coke on your ride back from Airport or want to grab a quick chocolate on the evening ride back home? All seems, possible.

Apart from the food stuff, can the vehicle enable you to buy some digital stuff or physical stuff digitally? Could be the boring stuff that one doesn’t get time/wants to do during core hours

a) Ordering food or grocery while I’m on the way to home.
But then one might use mobile apps they already have on their phone, in which case the advertising can act as a nudge to make user transact on their phone itself . 

“Don’t feel like eating home food? Order your favourite cousin and have it delivered within 10 minutes of you reaching home (and get 10% off)”

b) Gifting, Getting Utility/Services work done could be some possibilities

3. Entertainment (Audio, Video, Games): 

This is another natural fit for a commuter. Passengers (and riders) have been listening to music, watching videos etc since forever and offering an extension of the same to the user while commuting is perfect.

Bhavish Announcing Launch of Ola Play


While, I’ve never used the other features (like car control and stuff) I can safely say, Ola Play launched in Nov 2016 is a great and useful innovation.

I’m not too sure on the current model for Ola Play but given its relevance for users and the good execution (network connectivity, hardware, ux etc) it can be a great way to offer more value to the customers.

Some possibilities around Live Streaming Events, Live Gaming, Podcasts, Trial Subscriptions for OTT, Short Length Media, Original Content etc would be very interesting to explore. 

There could be potentially a few more options { in-cab feet/back massage machines?:) } to leverage the 30mins-60mins+ commute time, internet connectivity, fewer distractions, other needs (hunger, killing time etc). 

It’d be interesting to see how various companies evolve their offerings in this space, would the ride-sharing companies act as an aggregator or have a platform play and which of them turn out to be well executed, scalable and profitable.

You don’t have a marketing/growth problem(YET)

Originally published on Medium

I often come across folks who are getting started with their startups. Many of them are looking for advice and their is one question that almost everyone of them asks without fail.

How can we scale up marketing for our startup?

Make Stuff That People Want


It’s like they’ve figured out everything else and the only thing that is to be solved for now is Growth. First time founders are particularly prone to this line of thinking.Typically in most such cases, there are a few things that seem to be working.

Some Traction

  • The site is getting a bit of traffic or their app is getting a few downloads.
  • A few users are signing up or leads are being generated.
  • There are a few active users.
  • Some revenue or repeat usage of the product.

To the founder’s credit, they’ve built a product and figured out some stuff in getting their product in front of the potential users. However, more often than not they end up jumping the gun in thinking that all the basic groundwork is done and all that remains is reaching to more people.

But incidentally, there’s more to it than meets the ‘optimistic founders’ eye. Let’s dig a little deeper.

A startup’s life comprises of multiple stages that need to be sequentially navigated.

Two Major Phases in a Startup’s Life

  1. Pre Product-Market Fit (Pre-PMF)
  2. Post Product-Market Fit (Post-PMF)

Understanding Product-Market Fit

In layman’s terms, achieving Product-Market Fit means

You’ve figured out a way to solve a problem that enough users care enough about (to pay enough for).

This definition covers three core aspects important to any startup

  • Market — You might solve a problem for a handful users but are there ‘enough users’ that feel the pain/need for a solution?
  • Product — You might have come up with a solution but does it ‘really resonate’ with your users?
  • Monetisation — Your users might be using your product to solve a problem but are they willing to ‘pay reasonably’ for it(or is their a different way to monetise like Ads and such)?

While the above mentioned might seem obvious, I’ve seen more entrepreneurs mistake confusing getting a Pre-PMF with a Post-PMF 
(You might want to re-read the points in quotes above).

Amidst all the buzz around fundraising, press-coverage and exists, the urge to ‘grow fast and kill it’ is understandable. However, before worrying too much about the non-existent growth you absolutely need to understand if you’ve found a product-market fit.

Important: A vastly important point here as I’ve learned over the years is that Market > Product. “Which market to operate in” could be a great heuristic to work with. More on that in a later post.

Why is Product-Market Fit Important?

Product-Market Fit is the Holy Grail of Startups

Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing


Premature Scaling or spending effort and money on marketing a half-baked product to solve a half-thought through problem is potentially dangerous.

It requires a significantly harder push to market a product that claims to solve a problem most users don’t realise enough(they have) in a way that doesn’t make sense to them. By resolving to spray and pray marketing you might acquire some users, a few of which might translate into paying customers but more importantly, it will give you an illusion that you’ve figured out what people want.


It’s this precise illusion that’s the biggest problem. Most people who find themselves in this illusion end up adding more features into their product, continue their spray and pray efforts to acquire users, trying to raise funds and more often than not reach the woeful end of “Running out of money”.

Contrast this with a situation in which you’ve found Product-Market Fit. In which case, every single step mentioned above will seem like a breeze (ok, almost like a breeze).

Also, it’s worth noting that one important and often overlooked factor that seems to add up to the illusion of figuring out PMF is the founders psychology. While things begin with a sound footing, many a times the empathy to truly solve a customers problem and delivering a wow experience is quietly taken over by a personal insecurity and need for validation. Once in this zone, the founders tend to look and even gloat in any metric that confirms their illusion. So, being self-aware about your psychology is a must for course-correction.

What does Product-Market Fit look like?

Marc Andreessen on what PMF Looks Like


In essence,

Having a product-market fit means it’s much easier to convert users and retain them

Let’s refer to the user funnel to find more. Here’s what a typical user funnel for B2C/B2B startup looks like

User Funnel


Whether you have found a product-market fit drills down to two metrics really

  • Conversion Rate — 
    (No of engaged users/No of users) or (No of customers/No of leads)
  • Retention Rate — 
    (No of repeat users /No of engaged users) or (No of customers/No of repeat customers)

And out of these two also, I’d prioritise Retention over Conversion as it’s a definite indicator of PMF

Retention vs PMF


If these two metric are reasonably good, chances are you have attained PMF 
and can now focus on scaling growth. On the other hand, if these two metrics, especially the Retention Rate are in single or early double digits there’s a problem. It’s likely that you are yet to find a PMF and you need to go back to the drawing board and figure that out.

Let’s take an example of an app that lets you improve your health by connecting with you a nutritionists or fitness coaches. To check the PMF status we will have to look at the user funnel numbers.

Sample Funnel Data for a Health App


As visible from the data above, it looks like a case of Pre-PMF as both conversion rate and retention rate are weak, therefore they are better of trying to first find a PMF and then worry about growth.

PMF Discovery Tip: Go through your user data and see if there’s some segment of users that has significantly higher retention than others. This just might be the niche for which your offering makes perfect sense. Next, you can double down on sharpening your offerings further for them and then get to finding more such people

I’d like to conclude by saying that at an early state of your startup while you must continue to feed top of your funnel by acquiring some users (more data to analyse the better) but don’t be too eager to press the gas pedal on marketing or growth till you’ve figured out a set of users (around 100 for a B2C business) that truly love what you are doing.

Till the time you’ve found out those users, improve your product offering or consider targeting a smaller niche with your existing product.

Thanks to Sameer Guglani, Navneet Singh, Monica Jasuja, Aditya Sahay and Lakshay Pandey for their feedback.

Notes from “Zero To One” or Peter Thiel For Beginners

Two years after purchasing I finally decided to give “Zero to One” a read & totally loved it.

About four years back I came across Blakemaster’s notes from Theil’s Stanford class and was totally blown away. A lot of the content in the book is from these notes.

Sharing some things from the book that stood out for me

Zero To One:
For the uninitiated, loosely speaking creating new technologies/ways of doing things is “0 to 1” and just replicating what works/doing incremental improvements is “1 to N”.

In a world where technology creates an extreme leverage, it is much better to do “0 to 1” than “1 to N”. The “Zero to one” approach helps you in thinking bold and trying to solve bigger/non trivial problems. Successfully solving hard problems in most cases can lead to supersized returns.

Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Contrarian Thinking:
You get outsized returns for being right when the consensus is opposite to your thinking. The suggested way to get there is to
a) Think for yourself — Independent thinking over opposing the crowd (just to be contrarian)
b) Question what you know — Especially question what you know about the past and if you are not reacting mistakenly about the past

Secrets and Business:
Being contrarian in business is akin to uncovering a secret. Secrets(difficult to figure out) are different from Mysteries(impossible to figure out).

Great companies can be built on open but unsuspected secrets about how the world works.

Very few people take unorthodox ideas seriously today, and the mainstream sees that as a sign of progress.We have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.

You can’t find secrets without looking for them. Belief in secrets is an effective truth. The actual truth is that there are many more secrets left to find, but they will yield only to relentless searchers.

Great companies have secrets: specific reasons for success that other people don’t see.

Competition Is For Losers:

Competition and Capitalism are opposites.
Competition can make people hallucinate opportunities where none exist.

People tend to think competition is good but as per Thiel, competition is a destructive force and not a sign of value. When it comes to competitive environments, people tend to lose sight of what matters & focus on their rivals instead.

While competition might be good for consumers/supplies it definitely isn’t the best for the competing players. Monopoly businesses on the other hand (except when they purely act as rent collectors) by virtue of having higher margins/profits can afford to plan for long term and drive progress by innovation.

Who is likely to innovate more? Amazon/Google or say Lenovo/HP (PC space)

Making A Monopoly:

Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits

Every monopoly is unique, but they usually share some combination of the following characteristics:

a) Proprietary Technology
b) Network Effects
c) Economies of Scale
d) Branding

Brand, scale, network effects, and technology in some combination define a monopoly; but to get them to work, you need to choose your market carefully and expand deliberately. Proprietary Technology can lead to the strongest form of Monopoly while Brands are the weakest form of monopoly and only work well for long in a few cases such as Pepsi & Coke.

If your company can be summed up by its opposition to already existing firms, it can’t be completely new and it’s probably not going to become a monopoly (Think of a 10X better product/technology)

Running Startup as a Cult: While the popular answers to the question “What would the ideal company culture look like?” could include perks such as Foosball/TT tables, mac for everyone, open work hours etc Thiel calls them out for NOT being substance. What matters is

The opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people.

Some commandments from Thiel in this regard include
a) Hire people who are talented, but even more than that they should be excited about working specifically with you.
b) You’ll attract the employees you need if you can explain why your mission is compelling.
c) Everyone should have a shared understanding of the world and your company’s intended position in it.
d) Defining roles reduces conflict. Everyone is responsible about one thing and everyone else knows about that one thing.

A Framework For The Future: Thiel offers an interesting lens to look at the future.

An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future, but she has no idea what to do about it.
A definite pessimist believes the future can be known, but since it will be bleak, she must prepare for it.
To a definite optimist, the future will be better than the present if she plans and works to make it better.
To an indefinite optimist, the future will be better, but she doesn’t know how exactly, so she won’t make any specific plans. She expects to profit from the future but sees no reason to design it correctly.

We cannot take for granted that the future will be better, and that means we need to work to create it today.

Thanks to Saloni, Navneet for reading the drafts

Thoughts on Start-up Hiring

Hiring is undoubtedly one of the hardest part of doing a start-up.  Getting the right set of people to work for you is easier said than done and almost every start-up  founder is  in ‘always hiring’ mode.

Despite the fact that there are a lot of cool(and many funded/profitable) startups  run by some really smart folks with a vision, they are unable to attract/find the right kind of talent and end up with mediocre to bad hires.

leoniadas

Given the dynamic nature of a start-up the last thing founders want is to hire somebody who isn’t sharing the same vision, thinking on the same frequency(macro level) and walking the same path. Not only are bad hires bad for the roles they are hired for, they are terrible for the company culture in general and set the barrier low for other/potential hires and might just end up setting the company back instead of moving it forward.

Traits of BAD Start-up Hires

  1. Slow/Non learners  They are hardly interested in spending time and effort in learning how to do their jobs better
  2. Reactive –   They will only do (a % of) what their bosses tell them to do. They will never be proactive and do things on their own
  3. Micro – They will never be able to think beyond their immediate task list and think about the bigger picture, or even how what they are doing/can do can impact the company in general
  4. Laid Back – Nothing for them is an urgency. They will crawl while they are expected to fly. Most things that will annoy the hell out of founder/core team will not cause them an itch.

As an entrepreneur you must always be thinking about iterating the hiring process and make sure that even if you move to other bigger things, the people who take hiring calls must be on the exact wavelength as you and should not hire people just to fill roles. You MUST make sure that the person who is in charge of hiring should be A class her/himself and is always thinking on how to get incredible people on board and also how to make the workplace best suitable for brilliant people.

I’m particularly rigid about hiring great people and feel very strongly about it as I believe a bad hire can actually undermine the speed and efficiency of one(or more) good hires. Not only will they take up time, they will leave you with bad aftertaste which will last for a while, so it is best to hire people who will not just be at par with your expectations and company culture but are likely to take things to the next level.

vcs-pivot-too-some-thoughts-on-startup-hiring

Formula for a Great Hire

Great Start-up Hire =  Smart + Passionate + Committed to your cause

So you should evaluate your hires for these 3 parameters, the ways you choose could be different but it is critical to evaluate them on all these parameters. A fancy yet apt term for some such hires is “Entrepreneurial Lieutenants”. These guys are what I call “Mini-CEOs” who take complete ownership of their respective divisions and run the show mostly on their own. A major thing that I look for is “compliance”, it is very important to make sure that people start following what you tell them almost immediately. Anybody who doesn’t take this seriously won’t last for me.

Some of the ways which I use while hiring are

    1. Smart – Asking them a puzzle or two/Testing their problem solving skills by giving them a situation and asking for a solution/Asking them to do a mental calculation or something which involves logic and requires them to think on their feet.
    2. Passionate – Asking about what they do in their spare time, stuff which they are really into (Anything in which I can ask them anything or stuff about which they feel they’d know more than me) or stuff on which they have strong perspectives (design, visual, usability, scalability or just about anything in the relevant context). Passionate people are inherently curious to figure out how stuff works and how to improve thing around. Asking them to share if they have ever built something is another key question
    3. Committed – I’m particularly keen to learn why would anyone like to join your start-up. What do they really like so much about the small limited resource set up which not many people have heard about or has a certain amount of uncertainty or air of oblivion attached to it. Basically you’d like to find out if the person is really excited about what you are doing or they want to join you because your office is quite close to their home and they expect a job here won’t be as demanding as that in a corporate which is located at the other end of the town or something equally lame.I try to learn what is the real motivation. Some of the best reasons could be

      a) Love for product/service – It’s best to find someone who’s a happy customer and wants to spread your message
      b) Love for domain – Next best is to find someone who is passionate about the domain in which your start-up works. Someone who believes in better healthcare deep inside will come out with a lot of creativity and empathy for your customers
      c) Love for founding/core team – Someone who is in awe of the founders or core team and wants to work with them is another reason.

Another great thing about committed people is that they think “Long Term” which is a huge differentiator. The sheer fact that someone is thinking of spending the next 3-5 years (yes, it’s as long term as it gets in most startups) or more implies that they’ll be motivated enough not only to do their job well but also go out of the way to do things that’ll help the startup become better in various other aspects for which they might not be directly responsible/accountable just like we all do things for our family or friends where we are emotionally invested.

It is painful to see start-up’s not thinking about hiring hard enough and making sure the right hires are given all the freedom and autonomy to weave their own stories. I like how @tarunmatta puts it, if someone would to write a story on your start-up who do you think would be the key characters (except you) ?

If the answer is none or 1-2, you have a huge task at hand. You need people to build upon the vision and spread it along with you. These people are the ones who would be almost as sensitive or paranoid about the big and small things alike and would spend endless hours obsessing about problems your startup is trying to solve and how to come up with beautiful solutions.

I know enough founders who are brilliant but someone haven’t been able to manage to build a great middle level management (for the lack of a better/startupy word). You need driven people who will manage various aspects of the business and relieve you of your routine tasks so that you can solve higher order problems. They will also help in making sure your vision/company culture is embedded in the team at large. Do all you can to hire these folks

If you can get someone who is smart, passionate and committed to your cause, give them enough salary to keep money out of the table for now and next few years to come. Also, whenever possible offer them ESOPs. Incidentally I haven’t heard many start-up founders talk about ESOPs but I am a big believer is offering ESOPs to folks who you think would be instrumental in charting the course of your company. ESOPs in many cases will get you more loyalty than $$ which any other company could offer and with ESOPs (however small) the employee has another reason to push the envelope harder and make sure that the company makes it big for them to benefit.

Recommended Read – The Mechanics of Mafia (Peter Theiel’s Startup Class Notes by Blake Masters)

So, what do you think about ‘Start-up’ Hiring?

 

The Rise of the Indian Online Marketplace

If you are part of/related to the Indian e-commerce scene in any manner or read desi start-up blogs, chances are you might be familiar with the concept of Marketplace.

A “Marketplace” connects buyers and sellers who otherwise have trouble finding each other.

Marketplace(think eBay), is simply a model which has multiple sellers providing various goods/services through a platform. In the context of this discussion, an e-commerce website instead of sourcing and fulfilling the orders just manages the listing of products and passes on the order details to the sellers who then handles them.

Recently, India’s biggest online retailer (Flipkart) made their first move as a part of shift towards the marketplace set up.

To start with, Flipkart has on-board 50 sellers that will sell books, media, and consumer electronics.

Other Indian online retailers on scaled up marketplace model are Snapdeal(which recently raised $ 50 mn from ebay and others), Tradus, Infibeam and Shopclues. Let’s understand how the marketplace model and inventory led model compare in execution

The key components of an e-commerce set up are

  1. Customer Acquisition
  2. Catalog
  3. Technology (Customer facing/related and backend)
  4. Inventory
  5. Fulfillment (Sourcing, Packaging and Delivery)
  6. Payment Processing
  7. Customer Service/Support

Setting everything up for a rookie is quite demanding (capital and effort wise) and will take months to get off the ground, however to signup as a seller on a marketplace and/or opening a shop using SaaS based ecommerce store building platforms like Zepo, Buildabazaar or Martjack is a quickie. So for a newbie it makes perfect sense to open up their own shop (SaaS) and list on various marketplaces as a seller

Based on one’s expertise and priorities there are various ways of building the e-commerce store set up. For eg: while someone will prefer to control the last mile delivery experience, someone would rather let logistics companies take care of that.

The most common model is mix of Inventory led and Marketplace both (think Amazon). Here’s how it works

  1. Inventory Led – Short Tail (Fast moving, Commodity products, Easy to warehouse for ex: best selling books/movies/pendrives etc)
  2. Marketplace – Long Tail (Slow moving, Niche products, Difficult to warehouse for ex: medical books published in hindi/very old foreign language films/Furniture etc)

While it might not very clear from the examples but Inventory led model makes sense for products which aren’t perishable(both utility and demand/vogue), are easily available offline too and move fast enough while the Marketplace model makes sense for products which one doesn’t know exist or even if one knows they don’t have any clue on how to stock them, how to source them etc.

Customer Acquisition,Technology,Payment Processing and Customer Support are done by the e-commerce company.

Here’s how various models are implemented in some of the biggest Indian e-commerce companies.

break_up

A couple questions come to the the curious mind.

  1. Why sudden rush towards Marketplace all across?
  2. Is Marketplace the future of e-commerce in India?

1. Why sudden rush towards Marketplace all across?

The answer to that question (from what I’ve heard) lies in the deep VC pockets. With the Govt of India dillydallying around the FDI regulations for e-commerce, apparently Marketplace is the only way to get external funding needed to sustain the business.

Also, it could be because the bigger e-commerce companies have figured out that

a) they can’t possibly go that strong on increasing the  quality/quantity of the catalog on their own
b) they ran sick and tired of doing everything on their own.

To get a sense, compare how Flipkart was managing these functions in it’s previous avatar and compare it to say Snapdeal

 

break_up1

2. Is that the future of e-commerce in India?

On doing some rough calculations based on the information available Flipkart, Infibeam, Snapdeal, Jabong, Bookadda and Homeshop together would be doing around 1,15,000 orders a day (Flipkart and Snapdeal contributing about 60-70 %).

There are a lot more sites (ending with kart and otherwise) who just might be doing another (20-30,000 transactions or more a day)

As per my guesstimate all independent smaller e-commerce websites and platform powered online shops selling long tail products would be doing not more than 5-10,000 orders a day.These numbers could be significantly different from the mark for all we know but based on these numbers before marketplace became the buzzword, top 5-6 established players were doing about 90,000-95,000 orders a day in total while the others in long tail were about 5-10% of their size.

The balance has started to shift towards the marketplace model transactions. For now their share could be 10-15% of the overall e-commerce transactions.  Going forward we’ll a lot more smaller businesses and niche startups coming online and by 2013 end their share could be upwards of 20-25%(going by the fact that between Flipkart and Snapdeal they are the biggest online retailers).

A couple of factors to speed this up would be

  1. More platforms like Buildabazaar and Zepo
  2. Better payment gateway/cash collection mechanisms (Ghar pay etc)
  3. Better logistics (for end to end fulfillment)
  4. Third party SaaS services for other components like (Catalog, Warehousing, Customer Support)
  5. Some VC investment in 1-2 marketplace companies

The sooner we get to see the above mentioned things rolling the faster we’ll get to the long tail moving online. At some time in the  mid term future(5-7 years) the demand for long tail items (Niche/scarcely available/custom made) products could become comparable if not more than the demand for short tail products.

So the marketplace model and independent shops powered by various sites are here to stay and the current biggies like Flipkart, or maybe Snapdeal will evolve into a mix of (Short tail – Inventory led – Self Fulfilled and Long tail – marketplace – Logistics company) models.

Your thoughts?

Get Big Fast or Get Better Slow?

Get Big Fast, a phrase most commonly attributed to Amazon Phenomenon of acquiring significant market share in your category in very little time but growing extremely fast. The numbers in cases such as these don’t grow linearly but exponentially. The Get Big Fast philosophy requires extreme focus on scaling operations, hiring, aggressive marketing and short product cycles. The targets set for the growth might look unreasonably high to some but that’s the only way this works, Get Big Fast and become the leader in your category before anyone else so that now your Scale also works as a Differentiator.

The other or rather opposite approach that most businesses wittingly or unwittingly end up with is what I call Get Better Slow. This happens in most startups. They have reasonable growth targets and work on a moderate or slow pace to achieve them. Part of the reason is lack of clarity or conviction about the end goal and part is the lack of firepower among other things. Interestingly the Get Better Slow option is the default for most startups and many a times without the founders realizing they approach this with the perspective of doing more groundwork, thinking deep, organic growth and what not.

While I don’t mean to say that a startup growing slowly would stay like that forever but what I really mean is that unless the founders and team consciously choose to set and attain unreasonably high growth targets, their chances of staying in the business as a significant player are quite less. To give you some context, for someone doubling the revenue in six months might be great but for someone doubling revenue in 2 months is the desperate need and unless the need is desperate, ones chances of getting there are a bit less.

Also, in many cases Get Big Fast Vs Get Better Slow turns into Growth Vs Revenue. While one startup might keep focus on revenue/monetization, the other might just do the opposite to make sure that monetization doesn’t distract them from growth. It’s actually one of most crucial decisions for a startup, a HUGE BET which in most cases doesn’t pay off well.

The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to like the Get Big Fast philosophy which involves stretching out to the hilt, tons of small and big experiments and very short learning cycles. On the contrary the Get Better Slow philosophy which appears to be grounded on the thought of making a sustainable, quality/customer centric business actually hurts the startups more because of the comparatively slower iteration cycles which in most cases lead to losing traction or a considerable part of the market to competitors who manage to Get Big Fast, which effectively means that tough you think you are doing a great job for your customers but your customer set is so small that it doesn’t change much in the bigger scheme of things

Get Better Slow:  Get Big Fast:: Passion: Obsession

What do you think?

Amazon’s Junglee.com joins the Indian E-commerce Party

 

A couple days back I read this article on Medianama which shared that Amazon will soon go live  in India as a marketplace with Junglee.com, but a tweet  today morning  announcing that Junglee.com is live caught me by surprise.

Amazon, of course was expected to test waters in India this year but the whole junglee.com gig is away from most people’s anticipation of how it will all unwrap.

Amazon for the records is the the biggest global e-retail/e-tail giant which posted $17.43bn in revenues in last quarter of 2011 (35% more than the revenue for same quarter in 2010). The company net sales were up 37% compared with 2010.

Amazon is India

There was a lot of speculation particularly for the last six months about Amazon’s entry to India. Amazon as countless sources have shared, already have development centers in India and had started looking for talent for their fulfillment capabilities.  As per the current regulations Amazon is not allowed to open an online Multi-brand retail store, and can not make FDI  in India except for a single brand retail business, thus Junglee.

Amazon’s Junglee

Here’s how Amazon describes it

“Junglee is an online shopping service by Amazon which enables customers to find and discover products from online and offline retailers in India and from Amazon.com. Junglee organizes massive selection and multiple buying options from hundreds of sellers, and leverages Amazon’s proven technologies and millions of customer reviews to help customers make smart purchase decisions.”

For the uninitiated Junglee is like a Huge Brochure which lists  millions of products from thousands of vendors. You choose the product that you want to buy and then go the vendor site or call them to order as explained here



Here’s a look at one of the category(Books) page

 

Just one book, also I am not sure why am I being shown featured jeans when I categorically chose books.  Bugs.

Here’s a sample product page(for Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist)


Amazon apparently relies of it’s own site for Metadata (Product Description for ex) which in some cases can be really screwed up like for the book ‘I Too Had A Love Story’

The product description is picked from http://www.amazon.com/I-Too-Had-Love-Story/dp/8188575704 and is as far from the actual book description as it can be http://www.dialabook.in/books/i-too-had-a-love-story_1_12247.html

Scrolling down further is the review section. Most part of this section comes directly from Amazon.com



List of Sellers

 

Junglee.com for now has about 5 sellers for Books which includes names that probably feature towards the middle(and bottom) spots of a list of top 10 online booksellers in India. Almost everything from the list except Flipkart and Infibeam can be expected to list here.

Using Junglee as a Seller: Win Some, Lose Some

 

Junglee let’s online and offline retailers to list themselves and their catalogues for free and without any ongoing commission.

 

What it means for suppliers (especially small time indies) is that they get a chance to  drive traffic and sales from Junglee’s visitors and will convert some customers to direct. Over a period of time as in an online marketplace set up their ratings and reviews will determine how they fare in the long run.

The picture however isn’t all rosy. For established players like Indiaplaza (unless there is some non-compete or alliance agreement) registering on Junglee will give them a temporary boost in terms of both traffic and eventually sales but once Junglee starts running it will break its shackles and given them a run for their money by listing Amazon.in as the default/first choice as a buyer. Once that happens the customers will make the switch to Amazon (in place of a retailer they found a few months back) with the blink of an eye.

(http://services.amazon.in has more details on how to set up ads on Junglee.com)

Using Junglee as a Customer: All Profit No Loss

Junglee.com is another (but branded) shiny object for the scores of people who spend hours daily on the interwebs tweeting or facebooking. They know have one more place to spend time and compare prices. It will be helpful in finding alternative vendors for particular categories and helpful in finding product categories that have been literally out of the online sphere, stuff like Pet Supplies.

Within a span of months you’ll find dozens of people selling Pet Supplies and the likes on Junglee. What this means is that consumers won’t have to wait for their favorite e-commerce site to add some category or a stand alone/vertical service around the category to launch.

What’s up with Amazon?: Junglee is the shortest(and smartest) possible path

To begin their tryst with India  Amazon is trying to be the front end(influencer) of the purchase funnel in stead of starting being a back end service provider. It wants Indians to log on to Junglee.com to begin their shopping journey (they can or cannot decide to buy from Amazon) but eventually they’ll make it their in house offers compelling enough to get a huge chunk of the pie.

Here’s how it could unfold for Amazon. Junglee is essentially the market place of Amazon.com abstracted and launched a special business for legal and other reasons.  In Amazon.com’s marketplace lot of vendors put their goods on sale and do most of the fulfillment too. Amazon however displays their products and collects the payment from customers (Think Ebay).

What Works Good For Amazon

  1. Junglee will create an incoming line for new retailers to tie-up. Retailers will flock and list products instead of the company finding them using direct/in-direct modes of advertising or marketing.
  2. User Data: Millions of people could potentially sign up and start using Junglee to discover new products and vendors. All the user and their shopping history details are now available for scrutiny
  3. All Junglee’s set up  can eventually be replicated for Amazon.in’s market place feature
  4. A sense of how business works. Deeper/Closer look at how the things work
  5. Later they’ll start people for accepting payments and maybe coordinating deliveries (Customers buy a third party product from Junglee and Junglee home delivers a product which the third party retailer had in their office and sent to Amazon’s fulfillment center once they get an order). They stand to earn 2-10% commission depending on the product category and services they offer
  6. Use all the Seller info to tie-up directly for Amazon.in
  7. Based on user preferences start offering competitive prices and eventually *produce* them domestically

Having said all of that, Junglee is an interesting piece in the Indian e-commerce puzzle and it will definitely have an impact on the existing market leaders. Most Indians from what I understand would give an arm(or probably) a leg to switch to another cheaper vendor especially if it has Made in America tag on it.

What do you think?

The Best of Web: 1/1/2012

Here are some of the links that I found worth sharing

  1. Mark Suster on should startups focus on profitability or not
  2. Joel Spolksy’s Strategy Letter I: Ben and Jerry’s vs. Amazon
  3. Jason Zimba on understanding exponential growth
  4. Jason Freedman on Obliterating Startup Depression (H/T @dipankarsarkar)
  5. via TheGuardian UK Humans have the need to read