The Brick and Mortar of Shaping an Indian Unicorn
From running an e-learning company, Brainvisa Technologies, to now forming the largest babycare and mother care company in India, Supam Maheshwari has survived multiple economic and funding bubbles in his tenure of entrepreneurship.
FirstCry (BrainBees Solutions Pvt. Ltd) bought the franchise division of Mahindra Retail Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd, which owns online babycare business, BabyOye, for a whooping Rs.362 crore in a cash and stock deal in October. Supam, who was one of the few retail entrepreneurs running a business during the disastrous dotcom bubble, in 1999-2000, spoke to Entrepreneur India on what his rollercoaster journey has taught him about entrepreneurship.
Transition from enterprise domain to B2C space
“My confidence as an entrepreneur of taking more risks is one thing that has over time evolved and increased. As entrepreneur, I think it’s important to take gut calls and that has become more and more strengthened over time. Secondly, I have learnt about building culture and hiring and retaining great people, which is super critical in building a large organization and sustaining it.
Third, the ability to create a large vision and creating goals around it has become very natural to me now. Ultimately taking people along with you, as an individual you can do very little,” the IIM Ahmedabad graduate said.
Cash is super precious!
Supam said that the dotcom bubble has been a reinforcement of his personal thinking process. “Cash is very, very precious and I am super fussy about cash being spent. Sometimes you’ll find me micro-managing things because I just want to set that culture in the company. You should plan your airline booking so much in advance so that you can try and control excessive cost that you have to pay. When people around see me they also imbibe the same practices!” he said. Supam, whose company, FirstCry, is based out of Pune and not the traditional start-up hotspots, said that capital is always available for good business models and teams, though the price may vary.
“My ability to raise capital overtime has increased because I believe in these things,” he adds. Supam had the toiling task of reworking his business model during the dotcom bubble from a B2C testprep model, which he believes was ahead of its time back then, to an enterprise model.
BabyOye – Striking the right deal
Supam narrated as to how he met Prakash Wakankar, Chief Executive Officer of Mahindra Retail, at a cafe in Bangalore, before sealing the most talked about deal in the start-up ecosystem, this year. “From the strategy perspective it made sense because in terms of scale you are able to build very quickly once you tie-up with the second largest player in the country. Their business model was 95 per cent offline and we believed that omni-channel way, is the way to do business. And in that context, this consolidation helps to build a very dominant force. It will help accelerate our paths to profitability and that was one of the main drivers to make this happen,” Supam said.
Thinking of brick and mortar stores very early in business
While e-commerce platforms are now embarking on the idea of having offline as well as online stores, Supam was quick on understanding the need of real stores. “It was very clear from the very beginning that our vision was to build an omnichannel company, back in 2010 itself. We studied the data around that time and even now most of the developed countries still have offline stores,” he said .
Supam believes that it will be a very longish process for a pure online company to make money in India and if you are omni-channel you will make money much faster. “In today’s time, when you have multiple networked devices and you still want to have an offline perspective, India will be a laggard from a variety of perspectives. Hence by this belief, even after 5 years, 85 per cent of the Indian market will still remain offline,” Supamsaid.
The Unicorn Tag
Supam aims to continue to grow organically, post this acquisition while working on fixing a few things in the business that has been acquired and also looking at some more acquisitions in this space. Supam does not enjoy getting tagged as a unicorn but rather enjoys his entrepreneurial day-today tasks.
“Whether we become unicorns or not, it does not matter in life. Being called a unicorn is not a driver of any sort, rather building the right business model, principles and values is what that really drives you!” he added. FirstCry is backed by some of the most prominent investors which include SAIF Partners, IDG Ventures and Vertex Ventures.
(This article was first published in the December issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)