The Odd Men Out

The Odd Men Out
Image credit: Entrepreneur India

Four stories of perseverance trending in the Entrepreneur community this month that might inspire you for your next big idea.

“I used to hand out pamphlets in markets”

I was happy with my high flying job at the management consulting firm, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Mumbai but there was an itching in me to create a larger scale impact. So I along with my friend from IIT Kanpur who was working BCG in the US quit it in April 2014 to start a company in India which we thought was the next big thing but after when eight months we had to shut it down.

After that even as another member joined us, it only became so evident to us that finding good, trusted and verified local services was a huge challenge for people in India which have remained in the ‘yellow pages’ era even today. So we started UrbanClap taking lessons from our previous business. We went out in the field to convince professionals for hours sitting in their offices. To get customers, we went to every single mall and market. I remember we were once at Galleria market in Gurugram where one of my seniors from IIT Kanpur was surprised seeing me handing out pamphlets.

Pamphlets, however, didn’t work. Later we came across Facebook groups for e.g. there was a group called Gurgaon Moms wherein we saw mothers were looking for salon therapists, yoga trainers etc. So I applied to that group with my wife’s login details and messaged them that you can get these services online at UrbanClap. Since these messages went to their mailboxes directly for which Facebook charged Rs 22 per message and for these mothers I was just a random Facebook user suggesting them to use UrbanClap rather than UrbanClap itself, it led to 100 per cent conversion.

“I wasn’t able to create an impact”

We realized that the opportunity in eyewear was quite surprising which no one attempted to solve. At Watchkart or Bagskart, we were a specialized portal for watches and bags and hence we could provide you more options even as Jabong, Myntra or Flipkart were also selling the same products. Beyond that it was difficult for us to understand what value we could offer customers instead of competing with other players on prices and offers.

I wanted to do something different that can create an impact and I didn’t see that happening with Watchkart and Bagskart. When it comes to Jewelskart, consumers were still buying poor quality products from non-branded players despite businesses like CaratLane and BlueStone. There was no promise on quality even in terms of the price that customers were paying. The only category where we were able to see the much larger opportunity for us was eyewear.

However, what looks large, you realize that your customers don’t look at it that when you go out in the market. In eyewear, I saw people seeing it that way. We were always worried about it as we didn’t have any backup. It was a difficult decision to enter into eyewear however we gradually saw value coming out it. It took us two years to hit 100-specs mark a day and another two years to reach the 2,000 mark. Right now we are the largest brand in eyewear, shipping close to 5,000 specs a day. We have around 150 stores offline, all franchised.

“Long distance public transport has always been insufficient”

We launched in India in January 2015. In India, the long distance public transport has always been insufficient as trains and inter-city buses get too crowded and uncomfortable, hence there is a big opportunity in India for long distance ride sharing. This is to compliment the public transport in India.

Given the volume of people who travel across cities, there is not enough private transport available, if we think from the perspective of replacing the public transport. Many people don’t always have the option to travel last minute long distance journeys. They always wait for around two weeks to get the ticket. BlaBlaCar comes as a better alternative if you want to travel last minute.

In terms of value proposition for car owner, long distance sharing means saving significant money on fuel, toll and other costs. Also, it becomes a social experience for the car owner and hence the travel time feels lot shorter. For co-traveller more than just last minute and a great social experience, the door-to-door cost of travel comes down significantly vis-a-vis paying for a cab to railway station, train ticket cost and then from the destination railway station to the actual destination via cab. This is a new space being created in India. Though intercity taxis have always existed but they have always been relatively expensive.

“It started out of my passion, became a business out of its impact”

Byju Raveendran started with what he loved the most - teaching, and then went on to create Byju’s, one of the leading edtech startups today. His love for teaching has today helped him garner 3.5 million students on his company’s learning app, which was launched in 2015. Raveendran started by taking coaching classes for candidates appearing for competitive examinations like GRE, CAT and others. Soon his classrooms got converted to auditoriums and then stadiums and then eventually ended up being conducted in different cities. “It’s difficult to answer why I started. It started out of my passion but it became a business out of its impact,” says Raveendran.

The education-technology start-up has scooped funding from Sequoia Capital, Belgium-based Sofina Capital, T.V. Mohandas Pai, and Dr. Ranjan Pai of Aarin Capital. “Raising money is a function of having a great profitable business model. We are already profitable as we have been able to acquire students who come on to our annual subscription model and renewal rate is also very high.

When going to the market, it is always important to have multiple products to have better marketing strength. If you have ten products to be launched in the market, it can bring down your cost of customer acquisition by one-tenth. We have enough products in our portfolio, from fourth till 12th grade that helps us keep that acquisition cost very low,” adds Raveendran.

This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (September 2016 Issue).