Janaki Srinivasan

Bansal Friends and the Flipkart Story

Story of Flipkart founders - Sachin bansal and Binny Bansal

The journey of an entrepreneur isn’t always easy. There are some who have to carry forward the legacy of their forefathers or those who start from a scratch and make it big. Call it destiny or luck, but even for that to happen, there is a price to be paid. You literally have to sweat it out to get there.

Meet Sachin and Binny Bansal, the duo behind India’s first e-commerce giant, Flipkart. No, they are not brothers as their surnames suggest. But what they shared was a dream which manifested into a revolution in the world of online shopping. In less than a decade, they created an indigenous online marketplace with a valuation of US$11 billion (as of November 2016), competing with giants like eBay and Amazon. Theirs is a story filled with inspiration, trials and tribulations; a story of two batch-mates, who later became friends and then colleagues. Together, they took the road less traveled and have left behind footprints for future generations to follow.

The Journey:

flipkart journey from Book e-store to largest E-commerse

Flipkart journey from online Book Store to one of the largest E-commerse

Flipkart started out as a Website that sold books. Over the years, it expanded to include over 70 product categories from electronics to stationery, home appliances to grooming needs. Starting with 5 employees, it now has 13,000 + employees, handles 5 million shipments/month approximately, has had 4 acquisitions and has introduced 5 payment options. What is it that that has made Flipkart win the heart of millions?

CEO Sachin Bansal explains that their aim was to achieve success in various categories while maintaining a USP of providing superior customer experience through variety, discounts and hassle-free shopping. When they started out they realized that the e-commerce market was immature and customers were not happy. That motivated them to bring change in the way customers shop. In the earlier days they used to literally deliver books and distribute their company pamphlets outside bookstores. Gradually things did take a turn in their favor.

Flipkart’s USP:

Sachin admits that they did face teething problems like most start-ups do. Building confidence among customers, maintaining a huge inventory were humongous challenges at the start. But they did manage and gradually traffic to the site started picking up. The total number of registered users (as of end-2016) is 100 million—not a small figure!

Even today when they are an established name, things are not always easy. To maintain quality while scaling business is no mean task.

flipkart first to start COD in India and it's own payment gateway

flipkart first to start COD in India and it has own payment gateway

Flipkart is the first company to introduce “cash-on-delivery” that most e-commerce companies now follow. They now have tie ups with every major book vendor and have their own payment gateway, the PayZippy. They have overcome several challenges to reach where they are. Because youngsters spend a lot of time on the Internet, they are confident of what the future holds for them.  For their efforts, they won the best entrepreneur award in 2012-2013. To know more about the inside story of their journey over the years, look up here.

The Rough Patch:

However, things are not as smooth sailing as it appears. 2016 saw Flipkart deal with a series of valuation markdowns by mutual funds, change in the top brass, high profile executive exits, downsizing, in the middle of a fierce battle with Amazon and Snapdeal for market leadership.

2017 has brought in further surprises from the company—first with Kalyan Krishnamurthy replacing Binny Bansal as the CEO and then with three top level executives (Saikiran Krishnamurthy, Head Ekart, Surojit Chatterjee, Senior VP Heading Product and Samardeep Subandh, Chief Marketing Officer) calling it quits a day after the new CEO took over.

E-commerce Space in India and Flipkart

E-commerce Space in India

Giants like Amazon India and Snapdeal are constantly trying their best to unseat Flipkart by coming up with similar or better products, services and use of technology for automation. Flipkart meanwhile is in no mood to give up.  It has set up its eyes on the next big vertical after electronics and apparel—furniture. Though there are initial hiccups, but a lot is in the pipeline. Moving into the furniture foray will bring it in direct competition with Urban Ladder and Pepper Fry. The story that will unfold then will be worth the wait.

The e-commerce space is ruthless and unless the players churn out fresh ideas on a daily basis, rivals quickly take over. If market shares slip, funding dries up gradually. So it is highly important to stay alert to survive and be in the race.

Keeping up with this idea, the latest from the Flipkart stable is the ‘Phonepe’ app for Android and iOS. This  is aimed at helping you shop/pay even without worrying about standing in long queues outside banks and ATMs bracing  demonetization. It is user friendly, safe, secure and  based on Unified Payment Interface  (UPI) platform that allows you to transfer money without a wallet balance, directly from the bank. For most details on this cool App, look up here.

As Flipkart inches towards its efforts to become India’s first $100 billion dollar company, despite executive exits and staff reductions, it has made great strides in performance.  It stands tall as a role model for new start-ups who wish to scale high from humble beginnings. Sachin and Binny keep stressing on the need to keep customers happy and attention to repeat purchase. With its transparent culture and an environment of trust theirs is truly a company that’ll continue to be in the game for good.

 

 

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Sridhar Vembu’s Zoho Corp without Venture Capital

How Sridhar Venbu made Zoho

Success with startups comes with creativity, effective marketing strategies and managerial skills, but without funding you stand no chance, or so we thought.

Meet Mr Sridhar Vembu, Founder & CEO of Zoho corp. who proves you wrong. A smart, confident, successful, IT veteran, Sridhar believes that startups in B2B business should not worry too much about funding but rather focus on the deliverables. He feels that the customers should be made to pay for the services that are provided to them. Sounds crazy…but not to Zoho which is advancing rapidly to reach $500 million in revenues. With over 1 lakh paying businesses and 18 million individual users, Zoho is comfortably placed and targets to sign up one million enterprises in 3 years.

What is special about Zoho?

Zoho is popular in the startup space as being a company that has started from a scratch sans external funding. What’s more remarkable is Zoho nurtures talent from rural India to build products for the global market, competing with giants like Google, Oracle and Salesforce. A graduate from IIT-Chennai and Princeton University, Sridhar founded Zoho Corp. in 1996 which is chiefly representative of 3 brands—Zoho, ManageEngine and WebNMS. Headquartered in California with branches in India, China, Singapore and Japan, they collectively offer SaaS (Software as a Service) products to companies all over the world.

Zoho Corp creates coders rather than hire them

Zoho Corp creates coders rather than hire them

What makes Zoho special is an in-house University that selects and trains talented students from government schools in Chennai and its neighboring cities. Training involves six month internship and the curriculum is updated on a regular basis to keep up with the latest technological developments. Most of them are then employed by Zoho. The idea is to create coders and engineers rather than hunt for them.

The Journey:

Journey of Zoho Corp founded by Sridhar Vembu

Journey of Zoho Corp

Sridhar’s journey from the beginning to where he stands now is dotted with tough times, particularly the 2001 financial meltdown. But rather than getting jolted, Sridhar used it to his advantage to reorganize his strategies and move the company in the right direction. At that time, they assisted companies with their sales and marketing, HR, finance, mails, IT and helpdesk with their products, concentrating on mid-level markets.

The financial meltdown saw many startups close down and this allowed Zoho to transition the core of their business to well established companies.  In 2008, a lot of businesses preferred to move into the cost-saving phase and experimented with Zoho products because they were able to deliver quality even at a lower cost. By 2009, the parent company (AdventNet) was renamed Zoho Corp. and things started looking up. Their numbers gradually started growing at an amazing speed with users spread across US, Europe, West Asia and Japan.

Zoho’s Strategy:

Sridhar proudly declares in his interviews that his company is a happy one where attrition is low. The office has a relaxed ambiance where everyone understands their responsibility and works towards it. Leaders sit with their team members and not in isolated cabins so that when everyone works together, there is a sense of purpose.

Sridhar also shuns the idea of over-marketing his products. Rather than that, many products in their suite offerings are given away free and this has generated more revenues for advanced versions. When you offer free software, people are tempted to discover your product more, Sridhar believes. Before introducing a product they discuss it several times over and go back to the drawing board to make alterations, if necessary. All this has attributed to the tremendous success of Zoho Corp. today. It boasts of handling 50 million tickets for about 20 million users across the globe. And Vembu is confident that a third of his customers will switch over to Zoho Desk, taking its success to an altogether new level.

Sridhar’s USP:

Sridhar Vembu - founder of Zoho Corp keep their employees happy.

Sridhar Vembu – founder of Zoho Corp keep their employees happy.

Sridhar’s story is a reminder that success comes to those who are willing to try and take risks without getting bogged down by circumstances. He has also made it evident that if you keep your employees happy, they put in their soul to create world class products. His thoughts are reflected on their blog page which declares that when you choose Zoho, you don’t just get the product, but their efforts towards constant and relentless customer satisfaction. For them software is not just a tool, but a craft and passion.

Rather than hurrying to launch a product, it is better to test and try to make sure there are no glitches. It is this persistence and endurance that makes Sridhar and Zoho stand out in a crowd. And Sridhar is confident that if all of these are in place, your product will speak for itself and you can soar high even without venture capital.

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5 General Rules of Running a Startup

There’s no handbook out there that lays out rigid guidelines on how to come up with or sustain your startup. It all begins with an instinct, followed by passion towards the idea which is then led by setting up other financial and physical requirements to sustain it. Depending on the success or failure, every startup has a different story and each thereby follows different rules to create breakthrough solutions. However, despite individual differences, there are some generic rules that all startups follow and vouch for. What are they?

Build a Stellar Team

Never compromise on the quality of the team. Hire talented, committed and passionate people because the idea in itself is nothing without those people who share the vision and contribute towards its success. Constantly seek for the right people who can fit into an organization and give life to your idea, even if you cannot afford them sometimes.  For that you may need to do some bit of extra networking. Mozilla, Barclays Capital, Gillette are some examples that made it big because they never compromised on the quality of their employees.

Know Your Competitors and Keep an Eye on Them

Always be on the lookout of what your competitors are up to. That will keep you on your toes to exceed beyond what is planned. Initial ideas often evolve into something much better and useful—always be open to change. That will help you stay ahead.

Keep your Customers Happy

Understand the pulse of the customer and deliver what you promise. That way they will spread the word about you that can help your business scale great heights. Use the Internet to network and market your products on a regular basis. That will make sure you don’t fade away from their memory and will help you sustain for a long time.

Spend Wisely

Even if you have the necessary funding to sustain your business, spend carefully. Remember you must focus your attention completely towards generating revenue. However, to achieve that don’t obsess over esoteric spreadsheets and spend more than required on networking. Spend to make a difference in the life of your customers rather than on swanky office spaces or facilities. 

Don’t give up!

Success doesn’t come overnight. It only comes over time with perseverance and focus.  If your business isn’t heading the way you intended it to, don’t get demoralized and give up. Try the SWOT analysis to identify your strengths and weaknesses to come up with strategies to help you rise. Rope in your entire team to come up with solutions.

Every startup has a different mantra for sustenance. But most successful ones would vouch for recruiting and building a team aligned to the company’s goal as the most crucial one. You must always have your eye on your mission and effectively communicate it to your team. Once you have these in place, your customer needs are automatically taken care of and if that it done, your startup clock will never stop ticking!

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SWOT Analysis for Startups: Why is it Crucial?

SWOT analysis for small businesses

If you are serious about your startup, you are not new to SWOT analysis. You understand that it’s crucial to unravel opportunities that can be exploited. At the same time, it underscores the weakness of your business, so you can be prepared in advance to face and eliminate possible threats. To put it in a nutshell, this simple tool, if used effectively helps you craft a strategy to stand out in the crowd and stay ahead of your competitors. To understand the basics of SWOT, look up here.

Why is SWOT analysis important?

  • SWOT analysis is very crucial for startups as it analyses the strength, weakness, opportunities and threats involved in a venture. It specifies an objective and identifies the internal and external factors that are favourable or otherwise to achieve that objective.
  • The results of the analysis are often presented in the form of a matrix of 4 columns for quick view and understanding. Strengths and weaknesses usually match listed opportunities and threats, though they must correlate as they are interlinked in some way. Billy Bauer, MD of Royce Leather noted that pairing external threats with internal weaknesses can put focus on the issues that need to be tackled on priority.
  • Entrepreneurs must constantly evaluate these factors and their effects on business. This can add value to the product, attract new customers and sustain the current ones, and extend services effectively for long.
  • Small businesses should take an extensive look at all internal resources and threats to map its future and SWOT helps achieve that in four straight steps. Once you have your analysis in front of you, you need to take a call whether it is more crucial to eliminate internal weakness or fix external threats to strengthen your business.

In the business context, SWOT analysis revolves around internal and external factors that need to be considered during strategic planning. What are these?

Internal Factors:

The first two letters of the acronym S (strength) and W (weaknesses) combine to form the internal factors which include, among others, the following:

  • Financial resources (funding, sources of income, investment)
  • Human resources (employees and target audience)
  • Physical resources (company’s location and facilities offered)
  • Trademarks, patents, copyright
  • Strong brand name, superior product and personnel
  • Good reputation among customers

External Factors:

  • Market trends (technological change that can make a product obsolete, shift in customer tastes/ unfulfilled customer needs)
  • Economic trends (financial trends at local, national and international level)
  • Relationship with suppliers/partners
  • Regulations (political, environmental and economic)
  • Age, preferences, gender, cultural needs of the target audience.

Once your SWOT analysis is in place, you need to come up with strategies and recommendations based on your findings. These should leverage your strengths and eliminate weaknesses/threats. While CEOs must be involved in the analysis, other team members can be roped in as well. That way, blind spots can be scraped off, which if left unnoticed can be detrimental to business. Prune long list of factors, prioritize them and make sure the options generated aid strategy formation. For better results, use them in conjunction with other strategy tools.

Look here for examples of SWOT analysis of real businesses to get ideas relevant to your business needs. They can help you spot ideas and get started.

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Is Your Startup Worth Investing In?

startup funding

Most investors receive an overwhelming number of pitches every day, though only a few get noticed. If you have to be one among those with a compelling pitch and wish to have investors come calling, then you must have a business idea that’s not just innovative, but viable as well.  What is it that makes your startup worth funding in?

When you come up with a new idea it is very critical to source startup funding to keep the business operating for the first few years. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds; it requires a lot of groundwork and convincing on your part to compel investors to fund your business venture. However, the good news is, there are several resources that help you track the right people, the right way.

Here are some tips to help you sail through this challenging task.

Lookup for Startup Launch Platforms and Angel Investors

These connect you to potential investors. You might also want to browse through crowdfunding sites that provide access to different kinds of investors who might be interested in your idea. Sometimes, it could be someone from the general public or an accredited investor whose business interests may be aligned to yours. You can find more details on these and more such sources here.

Know your Numbers

If you love to play with numbers and are particular about calculations, then calculate ROI to evaluate the profit derived from the investment. You might also want to access the NPV (Net Present Value) and IRR (Internal Rate of Return). These might be useful for those products with a long development lead time and whose returns vary every year. For details on how to calculate these, look up here.

Create an impressive Business Plan

This is crucial and must lay out clearly your business plans, target audience, and projected sales for the next couple of years. Make it look professional; you can browse through templates available online. You must be ready with answers to some obvious questions.

  • Is your idea useful enough to solve your customer’s problem and make their life easier?
  • If yes, do you have a specific solution and how is it better than what your competitor has to offer?
  • What is the size of the market that you are targeting?
  • How to you intend to make money and sustain the business?
  • How different are you from your competitor/s?
  • What are your marketing plans? Do you have a qualified team with requisite credentials and skills to handle their job well?
  • What kind of funding are you looking at? How much equity can you offer?
  • Do you have a projection charted out for the next 5 years in terms of revenue, expenditure, cash flow?
  • Do you have a plan for exit strategy—Merger/acquisition or public stock offering?

Hire an Expert 

If you don’t have prior experience, it makes sense to hire an experienced consultant. S/he can assist in convincing the investor for you.  Tell them how your startup is different as against your competitors. You could tell them about patents and differentiators that place you ahead of the competition.

Know your Basics Well

When you are reaching out to an investor over mail be careful to choose your words. It should not look like one of many messages you’ve sent out. Just as you need them, investors need you too. So, take the time to generate attention. You may hear a lot of “Nos”, but remember that’s part of the game to help you make corrections and move ahead.

All that is needed to make your business idea worthy of investment is smart planning, effective delivery and a professional attitude. At the end of the day, it’s all about how passionate you are about your new venture and how well you put it across. It’s not always lengthy presentations or statistics that make the cut, rather it’s the uniqueness of the idea combined with your effective communication that will decide the outcome.

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All You Need to Know About Marketing Techniques for Startups

marketing for startups

Startup Marketing is different from traditional marketing due to a number of reasons (to know more on why read here). Therefore, this calls for a leaner and smarter management of marketing techniques for startups. You may have worked hard to build a product, but you must invest equally in acquiring customers; something that most startups don’t pay much attention to. Marketing is the strongest pillar which decides whether a startup will stand the test of time or get blown away even before getting stable.

Let’s take a look at some  marketing techniques for startups that are sure to guide you on the road to success.

Focus on Marketing Techniques  for  startups:

Every startup is unique. To reach product/market fit and acquire the right traction is tough because well-entrenched companies have the resources to dominate traditional channels and to break through them is daunting. Startups are bootstrapped for resources to make their customers know that they have a better solution for a critical problem.

Here are some tested and tried  marketing techniques for startups that will certainly deliver results:

  1. Startups must alter the rules of the traditional channels to grow meaningfully. They have to think out of the box, dig deep to churn out new ideas, and test them to win customers.
  2. Always keep two marketing strategies in mind:
  • Build a product that’s worth recommending. If a single user recommends two new users, half your work is done. This is how Dropbox, Snapchat, Mailbox acquired millions of users.
  • Align your growth plans with channels that your customers turn to, to know about your product.
  1. If you have more visitors to your page who are not converting into customers, ask yourself, ‘why’. Get their feedback via Survey Monkey, feedback forms or catch up with them on skype or Intercom to know what’s holding them back.
  2. Don’t start by targeting the mass market. Try to appeal the early adopters. They, in turn, will spread the word about you and convince others to try your product.
  3. Don’t spend too much time on what or how. Rather, tell your customers why you do what you do. That’s Apple’s strategy which makes their iPads, MacBooks, iPods most sought after.
  4. Use page-promoted posts in Facebook targeting people in the news feed as these ads have the highest click-through.
  5. If your product solves a critical issue that people search for, you must feature in Google Adwords. For this, you can bid to appear on Websites related to certain keywords.
  6. Remarketing techniques encourage your users to come back to you. When someone visits your page, a cookie is dropped on their computer. When they move on to other sites, your ads appear there that encourage them to navigate back to your page.
  7. If you have a compelling video, you can roll that out as a promo on major video networks such as YouTube,4od etc.

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Plan well and execute them flawlessly, no matter how small it is. Create a blog and use SEO to get noticed. The secret to successful startup marketing is a combination of several tactics, because the ultimate aim is to keep an eye on the shifting trends to connect companies and markets in a meaningful way. Before you start off, make sure you have everything ready to stay on top of things.

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5 Reasons Why a Business Model is an (In)dispensable Tool for Success

Business Model

The construction of a business model is intricately linked to the creation of a business strategy. A successful model determines the way a company sells its products and elucidates how it creates and delivers value to its customers. This makes it an indispensable key which determines how long a company will survive in a competitive market.

Peter Drucker described it as an answer to the following questions: Who is your customer, what does he value, and how do you deliver that value at an appropriate cost?

To know more about various types of business models, you can read here.

Executives must understand how a business model works for their organization to survive. The economic slowdown in the developed world is forcing companies to modify their business models to a large extent. Moreover, innovation in technology is reshaping industries and transforming the way companies create and capture value through business models. For instance, Kodak had to change its business model from film sales and printing to digital printing centers.

Why do you need a business model?

When managers set up and follow a business model, every initiative or  decision is taken keeping a close eye on profits. If it fails, you need to re-examine your model. For instance, when Euro Disney opened its theme park in Paris in 1992, it borrowed from the model that worked perfectly for the US. They assumed that Europeans, like Americans, would spend the same amount of time and money per visit on food, rides and shopping for souvenirs. However, this proved wrong and finally the key elements of the original business model were tweaked to suit the European set up. Gradually, things started looking up.

Therefore, it is highly imperative to have a model as a starting point– a spreadsheet with detailed analysis of every major item that you can pull apart, every sub-component that you can test and try. In brief, a business model is absolutely mandatory.

What does a successful model do?

A successful model:

  1. Allows companies to tie their marketplace insights to economics. In short you can assume people’s reaction/response to your business. It can be tested like any scientific theory and revised when necessary.
  2. Offers a unique value promise that is hard to replicate.
  3. Is capable of generating huge profits.  Competitors cannot easily copy the models due to their low cost structure and meaningful benefits.
  4. Sets up new platforms of growth. Gradually the stocks of the company’s key assets grow and over time expands its value creation.
  5. Can weaken or destroy new entrants.  At times even rivals with different models can partner with each other for value creation.

Business model is not synonymous with strategy, though both are often used interchangeably. To explain it in simple terms, if business model is the car, strategy is how to design and build it—both inter-related but completely different.

A good business model allows all employees to align themselves around the value of the company and work towards the larger goal. In this sense, it is a powerful tool steering the company towards success.

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When Is It The Right Time To Launch a Startup – A Beginner’s Guide

Startup Launch

There may be tons of literature on how to launch a startup, to-do checklists, how to raise funds and marketing techniques, but no one will tell you when exactly is the right time to launch your own startup. Actually, there is no ‘right’ time for the go-ahead but yes, some things have to be in place when you seriously plan to launch your startup. Andrew Weinreich, an entrepreneur in NYC and founder of 7 companies, elaborates on 4 steps that you need to carefully think about before you decide to quit your current job to begin a new career at your own startup— a strong idea, enough funds, business plan, and cash flow projections. (Details can be found here).

Ultimately there’s only so much planning that you can do. At one point, you have to set the ball rolling. Here are some tips on timing to get you started:

Don’t wait forever:

If you have an idea and have done your homework well, talked to a bunch of potential customers, don’t wait for too long. But yes, this does not mean that you can go ahead with a subpar product or a mediocre company. When you feel you have information enough, it’s time to move ahead with the launch in an informed way. As Matt Lerner, the CEO of All Star Deals, puts it, “If you have an idea for an App, do it now. Throw it up online…Worry about quality later…”

Set a Launch Date:

Setting a launch puts you on a leash and forces you to focus on the task at hand. We’re all human and no matter the level of motivation, you are likely to enter a tangent that you can’t help but explore. A solid date on your calendar will deter such urges and make things happen faster.

This date should be decided on the basis of the amount of work that needs to be done keeping mind your capacity for executing these tasks with a buffer period.

It’s best to launch with MVP. Don’t over do it.

Release your MVP and let your customers lead you to the next step:

You don’t know your users, so it’s not safe to guess what they want/like. Rather, release something and let them give you  feedback. Launching early makes you know if something major’s not working and you can fix it. Dropbox learnt it the hard way– before launching, the co-founders used 0-budget hacks, yet they had to put something in their customer’s hands to generate traction. 

Generate some buzz:

Go ahead with some soft launches, promos, beta testing to generate some buzz and get some exposure. Timing will never be perfect for anything and the same holds true for the launch of startups too. Get the word out, and try to get people guessing.

Get the word out, and try to get people guessing. There is nothing like a little anticipation. Also, this lets you test how your competitors perceive you. Use this initial publicity to answer some key questions.

Look for the obvious signs:

If money is coming your way, whether revenue from a soft launch or money from a pre-sale,  don’t wait for a ‘good day for launch’. Anthony Sohoo of Dot and Bo says that when people started handing over their credit card details, they knew that the time was perfect for a launch.

Feross Aboukhadjeh took 3 hours to build YouTube instant, inspired by the launch of Google Instant. Overnight, the app generated tens of thousands of views and Ferros became a celebrity. Based on this, Christopher Beam, journalist, New Your Mag wrote, “You’ll never grasp what aspects of your site need more work and require adjustment until you actually put it in front of people. No amount of preparation will be able to act as a substitute for the learning you’ll glean from an actual launch.”

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