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Common attributes of a good e-Commerce portal from a buyer perspective are- a cool design, smooth navigation, product advisor (find not search), product presentation (description, photo etc.), relevant product cross-sells, easy check out, safe/easy payment gateways, prompt customer support over email/chat/phone and many more.
I am happy to feature Mr. Rahul Sethi, one of the role models of Indian e-Commerce industry. He is the CEO & Co-Founder at ladyblush.com – India’s first only women website. Many thanks to Rahul for sharing his thoughts with the community over this online interview! Here are the excerpts of the interview.
Pawan: Tell us briefly about Ladyblush.com & its key differentiators?
Rahul: LadyBlush.com is India’s 1st Women only Shopping Website. We are building this as a marketplace wherein we partner with vendors specializing in women merchandise, from across India. Currently we have close to 200 vendors providing us with a catalogue size of more than 12000 SKUs.
The differentiation for LadyBlush emerges from its positioning – which is ‘For Women’. LadyBlush key differentiators are:
The differentiations of LadyBlush strengthen its positioning and its positioning strengthens its differentiation.
Pawan: How is the demand pattern on your portal? Which categories are getting good response from Indian female buyers?
Rahul: We have seen consistent demand across all categories on LadyBlush.com; which include western and traditional wear, intimate wear, home décor, Art Jewellery, Cosmetics.
Some of our top sellers include – nightwear, western dresses, sarees, salwar suits & art jewellery.
Pawan: How many cities is ladyblush.com active in? How is the response from tier II & tier III cities?
Rahul: Currently we cover about 8000 pin-codes across India; which is about 95% of reach of ‘all organized logistics players in India put together’. This covers about 85% of Indian ecommerce population.
Our response from Tier II & Tier III is far more than what we had anticipated considering our focus is women and women from smaller towns are perceived to be less outwardly and less open to emerging concepts like ecommerce. And it is not men who are shopping for women but women themselves.
Pawan: What are your marketing strategies for reaching out to your target audience? How do you ensure repeat sales?
Rahul: Currently we are overly relying on word of mouth as our biggest channel to drive traffic to the website. Apart from this we have done few partnerships with banks, credit card companies and other consumer companies with emphasis on women users.
Direct marketing and base management is one of our key focus areas and it ensures relevant communication basis the classification of the user, resulting in healthy relationship and good repeat ratio.
The other key focus driver for traffic and transactions on our website is the catalogue which is constantly growing and getting richer by the day.
To top it all, it is our relentless customer obsession to ensure great buying experience resulting in getting buyers back and also recommending among friends.
Pawan: Are you looking to raise funds considering the future growth & how do you plan to utilize those? How do you see investors interest level in such online start-ups who are niche in offerings?
Rahul: Yes, we are looking to raise capital, though our fund requirement for this business is very different from a typical ecommerce set-up where it requires millions of dollars to succeed. This is because we don’t look at our business as an extension to Retail but a ‘Technology Facilitation Play’ in Consumer Retail Space. LadyBlush.com is a marketplace (no inventory) model hence we have zero investments in inventory; that reduces capital requirement. Being a niche player provides us with a lot of leverage & efficiency in our communication & marketing hence again reducing our capital requirement.
In terms of investor interest – ecommerce as an industry has been getting a cold shoulder over last 1 year from the investor community. Can be attributed to the following –
Though I clearly believe that ecommerce is the most efficient way to go retail in this country and highly scalable and profitable ventures would be created in vertical and niche spaces in the Indian market. And it is only a matter of time when we will see renewed interest of investors towards this medium.
Pawan: As per a recent survey by e-Business India, we found customer service is the most preferred component of e-Commerce strategy. Your views on this?
Rahul: In a socially connected world of today – poor customer orientation is not an option at all. In eCommerce, we need to move from great customer service to great customer experience – which encompasses the entire transaction, right from when the customer first reaches the website to when she/he receives the product ordered. Customer service is not just one department’s responsibility, it involves the entire organization.
We have a strong focus on the customer experience and not one day goes by without us making a change to some process / policy or web setting that aims to deliver a better customer experience. We have a very efficient business model that allows us to make these investments while staying competitive in our pricing. Also, we plan to grow at a pace at which we can properly manage the entire customer experience. Over the coming months we will be investing in technology, web site usability research and assisted buying among other things to ensure customers have a seamless buying experience, and one that is informative and enjoyable.
Pawan: How has your experience been with Indian e-business industry over last 13 years and what is your advice to the existing/upcoming online ventures?
Rahul: It has been very enriching experience over last 13 years to be associated in creating some of the top consumer retail brands in the country. 6 years of my tenure at Baazee.com at the start of my career was like an institution to me, where I got exposed to the entire lifecycle of an organization and it laid a solid foundation for my career. Post that, every role of mine has taught me something new and given me different perspectives; resulting in better hold on the subject.
Last 1 year as an entrepreneur has been a complete roller coaster journey where I got to use all my knowledge & experience gained through my corporate career over last 13 years. And this journey is still young & I am enjoying it to the fullest…
Few points for the newbie entrepreneurs:
About Rahul Sethi
Rahul Sethi earned his MBA degree from University of Bombay in 1999 and did an Executive Management Program at Harvards Business School in Year 2010 (as part of Naspers). He has a Rich and Diverse work experience of 13 years with Start-ups in the Internet ecommerce space. Since last 1 year he has been involved in his own entrepreneurial venture LadyBlush.com where he is a co-Founder, Investor and CEO.
Major highlights of his career –
* As President Ecommerce with Ibibo Web Pvt Ltd – A Naspers Group Company (July 2009 to Sept 2011); He launched Tradus India and in short span; Tradus is reckoned among the top ecommerce websites in the country. He was also responsible for TradusADS – hyper local classifieds website which later merged into olx.in (Naspers bought over majority stake in OLX in 2011)
* He was a core part of Baazee.com team (April 2000 to Jan 2006) and worked in various roles of Category Management and later in Marketing at eBay India (eBay bought over baazee in Jun’04). He was instrumental in building the Categories – ‘Consumer Electronics, Cameras & Mobiles’ for Baazee.com which contribute for more than 50% of revenues for the company. With eBay India; as Internet Marketing Manager; he set up ‘Online Affiliate marketing’ program for the website.
* As Head of Marketing – Futurebazaar.com, (Jan 2006 – Jan 2008) he was instrumental in taking the company among the top 3 ecommerce shopping sites in the country; in less than a year of launch.
Pennyful.in is a revolutionary patent-pending cashback program designed specifically to cater to the Indian market. This offer cashback to shoppers on all transactions made through Pennyful online and offline. I am happy to feature Mr. Ravitej Yadalam, CEO at Pennyful over this interview. Thank you to Ravitej for making his time for this interview!
Here are the excerpts of the interview-
Pawan: Tell us about Pennyful.in &it’s eureka moment?
Ravitej: E-commerce as a concept inspired me at a very young age. I got my first experience with e-commerce while I was a student and when I graduated the immense potential of e-commerce was very clear to me. I saw tremendous opportunity in the space with possibilities to be creative, think out-of-the-box and the possibilities of working with the most innovative of business models.
I founded Pennyful.com an online cash back shopping program for the American E-commerce market in 2010. On Pennyful.com we currently have over 2500 partners across the US and over 30million products showcased through the platform.
Pennyful.in was incepted with the success of Pennyful.com in late 2011. Pennyful.in is an online cashback program targeting the Indian Retailer and Consumer. With partners in a wide array of verticals like Travel, Consumer Electronics, Pennyful.in offers the Indian shopper, cashback on online shopping. We currently have 100+ partner merchants featured on our platform.
Pawan: How Pennyful.in is different from other online deal/discount portals?
Ravitej: Pennyful is a platform for cashback rewards and is fundamentally very different from a deal/discount portal. Our key differentiator is that we offer real cashback to shoppers.
On our platform we do not talk about discounts or deals, Pennyful offers cashback rewards to customers who shop through our site. The platform allows us to reward customers for their shopping at any of our partner stores with Cashback, in the form of real money. This cashback gets credited into their Pennyful Accounts until the time that they wish to redeem it.
So we pay a shopper for coming through pennyful.in and shopping at any of our partner stores. Effectively we are giving the shopper money, for a few extra clicks!
We act as a medium where shoppers are able to get additional savings without any hidden conditions and clauses. We let the customer redeem this reward through a cheque or bank transfer.
Pawan: Having experienced the US market, how do you see the adaptability of Cash Back Shopping by Indian online consumers? How Indian market is different from US market?
Ravitej: The concept of cashback has existed in the US for decades and there is a very good understanding of the benefits to shoppers as well as merchant partners. Since the market is aware of the concept and there is a very good level of acceptance of the same, it eliminated the challenge of creating awareness.
In the Indian context, with an emerging e-commerce industry we see a lack of awareness for the concept of cashback. We can also not shun away completely the matter of trust which is still somewhat an issue with online shopping among Indian shoppers. In terms of adaptability with our concept, we have seen a tremendous response.
The level of acceptance of new concepts in the growing e-commerce space is seeing some traction although slowly.
Pawan: Could you provide us some statistics, how many cities is pennyful.in active in (number of users point of view)? How many users have signed up & at what rate it is growing?
Ravitej: We see Pennyful customers coming from all parts of India. We are seeing a lot of traffic from major metros such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. We have since November 2011 seen a 150% growth in user signups month on month.
Pawan: What is your marketing mix and retention strategy? How do you ensure repeat sales?
Ravitej: We are very active in Social Media and channels like search and email marketing have worked well for us. Along with these organic traffic from search engines accounts for a significant part of our traffic and sales.
We are in the business of giving out cheques to shoppers which entices them to come back. The experience is designed to be hassle-free and simple for the shopper, which is also a contributing factor to the high repeat buying behavior.
Pawan: What are the expansion plans of Pennyful? Are you be rolling out to other countries in near future?
Ravitej:There is great opportunity for us to grow given the emergent e-commerce market in India. We are looking to expand in terms of the sectors we work in and the brands we work with significantly over the next few months. We are in the process of exploring new geographies at Pennyful.
We are also constantly innovating to make a customer’s shopping experience more enjoyable with Pennyful and will continue to add new exciting features to the platform.
Pawan: Is Pennyful looking to raise fund – if yes, share some strategies on your pitch for fund raising?
Ravitej:There are several different areas we are exploring in this quarter, the results of which will determine the kind of funding we may require. We will have clarity on this in the coming months.
Hello Readers, I’m delighted to feature Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan, Founder & Mentor, CARMa Venture Services over this online interview. A TED Speaker and author of “Entrepedia”, Nandini was kind enough to share her thoughts with our community. Here are the excerpts of the interview-
Pawan: Please tell us about the CARMa Venture Services and its value proposition to entrepreneurs?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: At CARMa (www.carmaconnect.in) we mentor entrepreneurs. CARMa is an acronym for Creating Access to Resources and Markets. We believe that these are the two biggest pain points for all entrepreneurs and CARMa was founded to bridge this gap. In my previous company ‘Startups” I mentored mostly startups and less than 5% of the 500 odd companies that I mentored were mature enterprises. That was probably because I mentored absolutely free and since I teach entrepreneurship in several biz schools across the world, most entrepreneurs who approached me for mentoring were in the concept stage. .
CARMa however is different in that we are the only company perhaps in the world whose product is mentoring. Our revenues come from mentoring fee, subscription for our online entrepreneurship course and from buying conversations online with our mentors. At CARMa out of the 200 odd mentees that we have, about 30% are startups, 40% mature enterprises and 30% are family businesses. Mentoring is an excellent risk mitigation strategy and more and more entrepreneurs are beginning to realize its value. Our products are:
Pawan: What is your view on Indian e-Commerce ventures & its growth potential?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: It’s a huge & emerging market. We at CARMa are mentoring more than 40 e-commerce ventures. If you do it right I think you are sitting on a huge opportunity.
Pawan: How do you see venture capitalists’ (VC) interest in Indian e-Commerce ventures?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: There are a few who fund e-Commerce ventures. The trick is to find the right guy who will also be a strategic mentor to the start-up. The thing do is articulate a business plan which demonstrates to the investor that your business is capable of several rounds of capital absorption. In e-commerce space, a lot of investment goes into technology and customer acquisition. You need to be able to show that your business is scalable, that you have a sturdy innovation pipeline, and you can offer meaningful exit to the investors.
Pawan: When is right time to get funds/valuation (at which stage)?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: The best time to look for raising money is when you don’t need it! If you try to look for funds when you’re desperate, you will sell your stake for peanuts.. Recently a young mentee of ours sold 45% stake for INR 75 lakh! We tried really hard to dissuade him, but he had been in business for close to two years and was desperate for cash. So he went with the decision. The ground reality is nobody funds an e-commerce start-up at proto development stage (to fund your web portal etc.) The best tiem is when you have acquired paying customers. Get an investor who can be a strategic investor, can help you grow your business.
Pawan: Based on your experience what would you suggest to Indian e-Commerce startups? What are the key considerations entrepreneurs should keep in mind while starting up an e-Commerce venture?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: Here are a few things -
Pawan: After talking to few small Indian e-Commerce players I felt operating capital is the single most challenge, what is your take?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: Plan better, spend frugally, estimate resources correctly.. Normally entrepreneurs go to the market and run out of funds because of bad planning. No VC is going to fund at this stage when there are no paying customers..
Find yourself a mentor who can make you address some critical questions such as : What is my product? What is the pain point it addresses? What are the gaps in the market that my competitors have not been able to address?? How do I differentiate? What are my resource requirements ? Am I factoring my working capital requirements for at-least minimum next 12 months? What portion of my work can be outsourced? Can I do a revenue sharing with my outsourced partners in the initial stages? How am I planning for my inflows & cash outflows?
Pawan: Will big Indian e-Commerce players eat the minnows?
Nandini Vaidyanathan: Do not forget that all big players like Snapdeal, Flipkart etc., were once upon a time small. Niche players will continue to be niche; I don’t see any predatory activities happening there. If you are robust no-one can shake you. Get the monetization model right – that’s the KEY.
About “NANDINI VAIDYANATHAN”
She’s a traveling teacher who teaches entrepreneurship in several ivy -league business schools around the world. From being just a word in the dictionary six years ago, it has now consumed her whole being.
Her moment of epiphany happened four years ago when she realized that in India not too many people became entrepreneurs simply because they didn’t know how. So she founded her company Startups to mentor entrepreneurs (forstartups.blogspot.com). Up until now; she has mentored over 700 entrepreneurs across domains, across geographies and growth phases, Twenty years in the corporate sector, in MNC’s on all inhabited continents, have given her enough reason to say, been there, done that.
Startups has also been involved in mentoring women, at the bottom of pyramid, to become opportunity enterprises creating surplus and generating enormous value. Startups has mentored over 6500 women in economics as plural as Afghanistan, countries in South and East Africa and India.
In mid 2010, she founded CARMa (Creating Access to Resources & Markets), (www.carmaconnect.in) with a lofty ambition: to change the karma of entrepreneurs in India. CARMa mentors startups, mature enterprises and family businesses. The mentoring encompasses getting organizations investment ready, creating business excellence and shortening the learning cycle of entrepreneurs in India.
She writes a regular monthly column for the magazine, Entrepreneur. It delights her no end that it is from smaller towns that aspiring and practicing entrepreneurs reach out to her after reading it.
She is a TED speaker.
She is also the author of the book ‘Entrepedia’- A step by step guide to becoming an entrepreneur in India. This book is a guide book for start-up entrepreneurs in India and has sold over a million copies.
She lives in Bangalore (although she travels 300 days a year!).