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Curation in the eCommerce segment often results in a profitable outcome. And once Vinamra Pandiya reflected over the chaos of customization, Qtrove came into existence.
Entrepreneur India got in touch with Vinamra Pandiya, CEO and founder of Qtrove to probe into his experiences as an entrepreneur.
Please tell me about your work experience and how your educational background supported it.
I’m an IIT-BHU alumnus and I started my career in software development at Infosys in the summer of 2004.Since then, I have been an entrepreneur for more than a decade now. I started arguably India’s first Internet Kitchen and food ordering portal in 2006 and ran it for 3 years.
Post that, I joined a fledgling startup TastyKhana as its COO and board member and was instrumental in popularizing a new industry of food-tech and hyper-local deliveries much before these terms became popular. Post TastyKhana’s acquisition by FoodPanda), I was instrumental in starting FoodPanda’s national delivery operations in 10 cities and then I quit to look for my next challenge.
What was the path you chose to be an entrepreneur? Was entrepreneurship really your career vision?
During my 4th year at the IIT campus in 2003, I was drawn towards business quizzing and that is how I started researching and reading about various business personalities and slowly I was drawn to this magical world of business and its talismans. Our college placement season kicked-off with Infosys.
I sat for their exam and cleared it. I just needed a Launchpad to kick-start my career and Infosys (& NRN) was just that brand. I learnt a lot during my two years stint at Infosys, but by mid of 2006, the wind of entrepreneurship was blowing too strongly for me to not notice. After spending months in dilemma, I started my first business in 2006 along with my childhood friend. It was a balmy September night in 2006, which marked my first day being my own boss and it has been a decade since then that I haven’t looked back.
Please share the story behind the conceptualization of your startup brand.
Post TastyKhana’s acquisition by FoodPanda and subsequently exiting FoodPanda in June 2016, I was planning to do something in curated food space with backward integration and had already started working on an idea of curated snacks, but this idea got further crystallized and broadened in scope to include other categories as well after discussing it with my investors which made perfect sense.
Then I met my co-founder Prashanth who was AVP at Grofers and we hit it off from Day one. He handles sales, HR and Operations, and I take care of product, marketing and finance. I have had the good fortune of being a pioneer in food tech industry and I now feel that current online shopping experience needs to change and we at Qtrove want to be that change agent and catalyst.
How did the name of your startup come up? Please share with us the story behind it.
Our (Myself and my co-founder Prashanth N) business is exhibiting and selling curated products from handpicked vendors across the country and we had debated, agreed and then disagreed on several names as somehow those names weren’t clicking. Finally, Prashanth’s wife came to the rescue and she suggested Qtrove and it instantly ticked all the right boxes. It means Curated (Q) trove, which translates to a carefully selected store of unique products and this is what we stand for.
How have your consumers responded to your product/service? Any particular story or comment you remember?
We are overwhelmed by the positive feedback we are receiving from our sellers and customers. In a short span of two months since launch, Qtrove will have 1000+ products on its website in more than 50+ categories by end of August. We are creating a seller community page on Qtrove which talks about the startup inspiration of our vendors, them in action while making products, personalized product photos and a video. This approach to showcase them has really helped us standout amongst the clutter. Personalization and an ability to empathize with them have together also added to our appeal in the seller network. We believe if our sellers are happy with us, orders will take care of themselves.
Consumers have given positive feedback about our offerings and we see a good repeat order rate as well. In addition to this, they are contributing to the marketplace through seller suggestions. We are working to ensure we meet consumers’ expectations and add value to the time they spend on Qtrove. Our Google, Facebook and product reviews indicate our products are by and large liked by them.
We put personalised thank you cards with every order from our partner sellers and one customer recently tweeted about it. Other customer placed a bulk order of more than 10k without even meeting us face to face and it was his first online paid order. Such stories not only inspire us, but also give us an added responsibility never witnessed before.
What is your source of inspiration which keeps you moving ahead?
In my first business, I have seen triumphant highs and excruciating lows, which made me a lot wiser and mature(I started my first business at the age of 25). Most of the times, things were so bad that I was about to back-off, but family support made me continue my journey. First business experience made me realise that there is a world of difference between planning and reality, which helped me a lot while scaling TastyKhana. I’m now more confident about my abilities and more practical.
Which was the last startup that made you think, “This made my life a bit easier”?
There are no free lunches in life. You have to pay a price for everything. One of the advantages of being an entrepreneur is that you have more flexibility and control over your life but as they say ‘with great power, comes greater responsibilities.’ I feel entrepreneurship is not everyone’s cup of tea. Challenges change shapes and forms at different stages of business, so life doesn’t become easier, but yes, becomes more structured and as you scale up, your priorities and your role changes. When TastyKhana got acquired by FoodPanda, I felt our hard work and perseverance of 7 years had paid off.
What are few of the tips you would give to beginners who intend to enter Indian startup ecosystem?
Follow your heart, not what is in fashion. Reduce your ego to zero. Love for money should always be there. Don’t be over-attached to your business; take a practical call if things aren’t going your way. When I started, word ‘Entrepreneur’ wasn’t much heard and there wasn’t any ecosystem to speak of. Nowadays, conditions and support systems are better for entrepreneurship to bloom, so choose your pick and be wise. The best time to start is NOW. Take some corporate experience before starting up.
What has been the role of your family in your success story?
I took maximum risk when I started my first business along with my school friend by taking personal loan. I faced the worst of scenario from choosing a wrong investor to money mismanagement to working with relatives. But my family, and my wife (then girlfriend) stood like a rock during my tumultuous times. Such support is very much required as Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey and I was fortunate to have that support system.
Who has been your mentor in your entrepreneurial journey? What has been your biggest learning from the mentor(s)?
One thing I lacked in my first business was a good mentor who can give unbiased advise and work towards the success of the company without personal prejudice. We found a good mentor in our angel investor at TastyKhana. I believe a good mentor never tries to force decisions, but gives you different perspectives to a problem. A good mentor also teaches you the value for money. Unlike today’s heady days of immediate funding, TastyKhana was bootstrapped for four years before we received international funding from Delivery Hero GmBH and we were fortunate that we were inculcated good business values as great companies are built during downturns.
What’s your business mantra to stay ahead in the market?
Scale is overrated. Work on creating sustainable business. For a marketplace business like us, it is important to focus on seller network and create a set of early adopters through seller product and delivery experience. Once the base is ready, then do things that scale to go to the next level. You shouldn’t lose money on a unit level at any point in time.
What is the biggest challenge which you faced while running your business? How did you face it?
The Biggest challenge we face is getting quality resources with a startup mindset. Being an early stage startup, convincing sellers for online paid orders is also a challenge but I feel this is a work in progress.