Mukesh Bansal on Moving beyond the Pandemic and Making business future fit
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Though the world is talking about the new normal, things are far from normal. We are all in an abnormal world for a while as nobody ever thought or imagined the current Covid crisis and is trying to adjust, adapt and come out stronger. Mukesh Bansal has always been known for his large vision, somebody who is just not married to perception itself. With Bansal’s experience coming from being a serial entrepreneur, while working across startups ranging from both the valley and India, he has not only seen difficult times and understood how to come out of it but also knows when to change course and act upon it. After meeting the entrepreneur in 2011 just after he pivoted Myntra from personalization to fashion this time I met him virtually to understand if a pivot is in place for his health and fitness initiative Curefit. The entrepreneur and author shares the road ahead for the months and years to come.
B for Bansal
While all the three Bansals were popular at Myntra-Flipkart, the third Bansal became popular for his time scheduling, prioritizing fitness and leading growth. Mukesh Bansal who spent 10 years in the Silicon Valley after his graduation from IIT Kanpur came back to India in 2007 to start Myntra. In the US for almost 10 years he worked for lot of different start-ups but was always clear that at some point in time he would start on his own. Myntra at that point was into personalization of t-shirts, mugs, key-chains, etc. via a tech enabled platform. As the idea was narrowed down to gifting business this led Mukesh to think that this can’t be scaled up. Talking about the pivot which Myntra went through from personalization in fashion in 2010, Bansal reminisces, “During one of my visits to a mall during a weekday afternoon I realized that there is nobody in the mall but every store in the mall is about fashion and lifestyle. And so many inventories are being kept there without any customer inside. And that’s where the first insight came that if the entire inventory is available online people can buy from wherever they are. And brands can see lot more sales.” Following up on that insight it led to a full pivot of Myntra into a fashion lifestyle retail brand which was a big move in the journey of the startup. As they say the rest is history. After selling Myntra to Flipkart in 2014, Bansal exited in 2016 from Flipkart to live the entrepreneurial life once again.
Anyone who has seen Bansal at close quarters would know that he is someone passionate about health and fitness. Talking about converting his passion into business, he says, “Even during my Myntra-Flipkart days a healthier lifestyle was a big part of what I used to do so a thought was always there at the back of my mind. When I moved on from Flipkart, I looked at few different industries including health and fitness and came to realize that it’s not only something I am passionate about but it’s also a very large market and consumer awareness for health and fitness is increasing significantly. From opportunity points of view also it sounded like we can build a large business and positively impact lives of many people.” Founded in 2016 by Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, Curefit addresses preventive healthcare through a combination of engagement, coaching and delivery using a mix of online and offline channels. Curefit caters to living a healthy life through three critical dimensions Eatfit, Mindfit and Cultfit. While Cultfit focuses on physical strength and fitness; Eatfit is for healthy and nutritive food, while Mindfit is for mental wellbeing and Care.fit is for integrated medical and lifestyle care. Talking about the current crisis and going by the saying that never let a crisis go to waste, Bansal says, “In the situation of a crisis there are lot of challenges that you have to deal with which involves short term pain but also there are hidden opportunities. The silver lining is something you can spot. Lot of new possibilities can emerge and that’s how we are approaching it.” Though their offline business including the gyms and cloud kitchens have taken a major hit, the awareness for health and fitness has gone through the roof. The company went ahead to launch its digital health offerings in April is year. As per Bansal, the platform has seen massive growth in the last three months and the team is geared up with a big roadmap ahead. Currently, they offer a variety of workout options to people at home whether it’s a large group or a small group or individual requiring one-on-one training. The enhanced offerings include different workout formats, on mental health, meditation, therapy, telemedicine, which has seen significant jump in these times for basic consultations and prescriptions at home, according to Bansal. With this their global expansion also saw a big leap. Sharing the same Bansal says, “Digital has no boundaries where you can have the same offering in any geography. Once we started to see good digital traction in India, in June we also launched our offerings in the US.” Though the expansion is still in its beta stage where the team is studying the market on what kind of offerings people like there but Bansal is confident that in the coming months he will look to double down the international expansion. “For us, digital is the massive new opportunity that has come up and we are quite well poised to do well in that area,” adds Bansal. For offline – the company is just waiting for the new situation and doing what they can to stay relevant and be ready and even open up and operate the gyms and cloud kitchens as and when the authorities enable. Though the cloud kitchens running at reduced volumes have not seen much traction because most offices are shut which were a big source of demand for the company.
Being a digital first company has absolutely helped them as they were one of the fastest to pivot and launch the digital offerings. As per Bansal, it became possible because they have been investing in the technology platform since last four years. “All of our customer interactions were through the app even in the offline world. They will buy online, book classes online, manage their health statistics on the app so we had tones of content already on the app for fitness, mediation etc. Our telemedicine offering was also there. It was a matter of repackaging and enhancing it a bit and changing the app orientation to be digital first but lot of the building blocks were already there. That certainly helped us to move very fast and pivot,” recalls Bansal.
No past situation is probably comparable to the current crisis though Bansal surely has some words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs. As per him, “If you look at the 2008 financial crisis the situation was quite bad. From entrepreneurial point of view most of the funding dried up for two years and Myntra had to survive at that time. Again in 2013 from economy point of view it was a bad year. There was lot of negative news around India. Rupee dropped to an all time low. In 2016, entire internet ecosystem went through a massive churn. There were lots of questions about the company’s profitability and viability. So every 3-4 years you tend to see some kind of difficult situation. Triggers may be different but it’s something one has to expect. So little bit of past experience helps but one has to think on their feet and develop a new playbook as you go along and try to be as flexible and nimble as possible.” Curefit raised its last round just three months ago in March led by Temasek. Since it was a fairly sizable round Bansal is confident of being well funded for next three years.
A For Author
Apart from fitness Bansal’s other major interest is in reading. He generally follows themes while reading a variety of books on the topic he is focusing on at that particular moment. If his theme is India he would pick up everything starting from ‘Freedom at Midnight’ to ‘India After Gandhi’ and so on. Though tables turned some time back, as he decided to author a book. After dedicating 18 months to writing, Bansal came out with his book titled ‘No Limits’ this year in January. On turning an author he says, “It’s a topic in which I have been interested for so long. I have been studying about performance optimization, learning techniques for myself since long. I thought the book would be a good way to share everything which I have learned in an easily available format for anyone interested in reading about performance optimization.” The book talks about lots of hacks but one of the core ideas of the book is that productivity comes on top of good health. Talking about what he is reading in the current pandemic period Bansal refers to a lot of business leaders about how they think and referring their journeys. Sharing his reading list Bansal says, “I am reading Trailblazer by Marc Beinoff. And before that I read Shoe Dog: A Memoir by The Creator of Nike.” History, non-fiction, biographies and self-help books are some of his favorite genres. That well describes his work from home playbook as a seasoned guru.
1997: Bansal finished BTech in computer science from IIT-Kanpur
2007: Mukesh Bansal founded Myntra
2014: Flipkart acquired Myntra
2016: He Co-founded Curefit with Ankit Nagori
2019: The company expanded to Dubai
2020: The company expanded to US
- current number of subscribers- 500,000 active users
- Countries operational in - India and USA
- total amount of funding received- $400mn
- total number of centres- 211
- Age of Mukesh Bansal - 44
An entrepreneur’s playbook to survive the crisis
- Save retail cost - To optimize costs offline, the company is going back to landlords and revisiting rents.
- No to Marketing for offline - not doing any kind of marketing for offline business saves a lot of money.
- Resource Rationalization: With a lot of contract staff the company was working with they are right now not continuing with them. They are also doing some staff reductions in some pockets.
- Have enough fuel to fly: by taking cost cutting measures the company making sure that the amount of money offline business is bleeding is manageable and they have enough runway.
- Live through it - The most important thing in this crisis is to see this through not panic. Not take any rash decisions. Lead growth wherever possible and go for it but wherever not live with the revised scale.
(This article was first published in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)