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Posts Tagged ‘Venture Capital’

Food Chains- Consistency is the key.

January 6, 2013 1 comment

WAH JI WAH Delhi Graphic

I first ate at “Wah Ji Wah” about a year ago at their outlet in Sector 18 Noida. Since then I have seen the chain expanding by leaps and bounds. I recently ate at their outlet in Patiala and then at South Ex, New Delhi- although the dish I chose was exactly same I had at their Noida outlet, the taste, the tinge and the tenor of their “Soya Chaps” was different at all the three outlets.

Of late we have seen many such chains (Soya Express, Dosa Express etc) expanding their outreach footprint into many Indian cities. Frankly speaking, I have had lunch at Soya Express only once and that was not a very good experience and I have never tried Dosa Express. Now, take the case of Mc Donalds or Pizza Hut or KFC- when I walk into one of their outletss and order something, I already know what it will taste like. They might have localized their offerings in terms of taste and portion size, but within a country, I hardly feel any difference when I order a Farm Fresh Pizza from Dominoes in Delhi or in Chennai.

I really appreciate the efforts being put in by the Indian fast food/takeaway chains in offering their wares in multiple locations, but the key to achieve customer satisfaction is offer consistency in terms of taste and customer service. The customer should relate the eating experience to the brand and not the location. I should not be a customer of a particular outlet, I should be a customer of the brand.

[This post should not be considered a complaint against Wah Ji Wah or any other chain. This should be considered as an advice for all such startups and SMBs striving for expansion.]

Bus ticketing space gets hotter!

July 28, 2012 3 comments

When RedBus– an online portal to book bus tickets was launched in 2005, many thought it won’t be much successful. Who will buy a bus ticket online? They said. Last year RedBus sold 50 lakh tickets from its portal. Which essentially means 13,000 tickets sold per day! RedBus is also said to be looking for acquiring offline ticket booking companies in Singapore and Malaysia.

Last week, TicketGoose raised $4.5 Cr from angel investors. The details of the investors and stake diluted are not yet known but the company is valued right now at $7 million. I had never heard of TicketGoose until this news broke out. Now check this out, TicketGoose books 4000-5000 tickets a day- which by no means is a small achievement, given the fact that they started out in 2007. In ticket booking, they come next only to RedBus and claim to have the largest inventory (partner bus operators) among all the bus ticket booking sites.

There are not many players in theis segment as of now. But, with RedBus gaining traction and TicketGoose managing a decent angel investment and acquiring a good chunk of customer midspace, the segment is bound to get hotter and attract more investments. There is another company called AbhiBus- which is a very small player as compared to RedBus and TicketGoose.

 

 

 

Ghar Ka Khana – Home cooked food at your doorstep!


Last week I happened to learn about “Ghar Ka Khana” tiffin service in the City Beautiful- Chandigarh. I caught up with the founder (and owner) of Ghar Ka Khana service and was astomished to know that the venture is being run by a girl in her early twenties! Along with running her venture, she is also doing a day-job.

Here is interview with Gagandeep Kaur, the founder and owner of Ghar Ka Khana.

How did you get the idea to start Ghar Ka Khana?

Actually, I never had anything on my mind to start a business of my own. When I first relocated to Chandigarh for studeis, I was staying in a PG. There I experienced a lot of problems with food. I tried a few tiffin services as well, but all of them disappointed me. I thought over it and realized that there will be hundreds of people like me in Chandigarh facing similar problem with food. So, I made up my mind that if I got a chance, I will definitely start my own tiffin service which will provide delicious and healthy home cooked food.

What was the motive behind picking this name?

I wanted a name which should give a clear idea of what the service is about. There are lots of students in Chandigarh who stay in independent apartments and PGs and miss home cooked food. So I picked up this name- Ghar Ka Khana, which conveys what we deliver. Our current and prospective customers instantly connect to the name.

What type of clientele do you have right now?

Students and working professionals comprise of a major chunk of our customers. Presently we serve students living in their own rented apartments or PGs and offices. Our corporate customers include banks, IT companies and coaching centers. Our clientele includes ICICI bank, HDFC bank and JUSTdial besides many others.

How you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

We differentiate from our competition in many ways.

The essence of our venture is ‘relationship’. To start with we offer our new customers free trials. Once they are satisfied with our service, they can opt for the regular delivery.

We have a strict check on quality of ingredients we use. We make sure we sustain the standards we have set for quality in every single delivery.  A customer will never forget a single bad service even it happens once in 100 deliveries. So the hallmark of our service is good food, delivered hot and on time- every single time the customer orders. I personally buy all the ingredients and supervise the preparation of food.

We lay a lot of stress on hygiene. The tiffin comes in hygienically packed disposable containers.

How do you market your venture? Till now, its word of mouth. ‘Delivering what we promise’ is our marketing tool. It has been working fine till now!

What are your plans for the future? We are currently delivering 200+ tiffins a day. We are aiming to increase this number to 500+ very soon. From tiffin service, we are planning to move into organizing small office parties and outsourcing of office cafeterias. We do not have a timeline for it right now, but yes, I have it on my to-do list and will accomplish it in next couple of years.

Any message you want to to share with young entrepreneurs? From my personal experience I would only say that everything seems difficult before you attempt it. If you work hard enough, everything falls in place. Dream on, dream big and work hard to transform your dreams into reality.

What happened to LetsBuy? Being choked to death by new parents!

May 21, 2012 1 comment

A few weeks ago, when Flipkart acquired LetsBuy (for a rumored amount of $25 million), there was a lot of speculation on what might be the future for the two.  I had also put forward my two cents in an earlier blog post  on where the online retail space is heading to. Flipkart management, in various statements had mentioned that LetsBuy will keep functioning as a separate entity.  But, as things are folding out, it seems that LetsBuy as a brand will not exist anymore.

There have been reports that all the warehouses of LetsBuy, except the one at Delhi, have been closed. There are also reports that 250 odd staff of LetsBuy at Gurgaon will be laid off.

So what actually happened?

One can only guess, and here is what I think what could have happened. I have three strong reasons which would have made the management think of shutting down LetsBuy

First, both the companies Flipkart and LetsBuy had same set of investors- Tiger Global and Accel Partners. Flipkart, which had majority of its revenues coming from the sale of books and smaller electronic items, had been expanding its scope of operations. Although LetsBuy had a wider range of products to sell, the scale was much smaller than Flipkart. Of late, it had been struggling to raise capital from investors. It made sense for the current investors to mediate and help Flipkart take over Lets Buy than infuse m0re funds into Lets Buy and increase competition for Flipkart.

Second, both Flipkart and Lets Buy had operations in major cities. It did not make sense for the management to keep a parallel set of operations for both the entities. The set of cities in which the Lets Buy warehouses have been shut down already have warehouses of Flipkart.

Third, having a separate brand for selling similar items again doesn’t make sense. Also note, LetsBuy’s prices for consumer electronics were slightly lesser than those published by Flipkart. Although LetsBuy does have some brand recall in the mind of consumers, but Flipkart is a much recognized brand. Thus, killing LetsBuy makes all the more sense than keeping it.

All said and done, what was hailed as a marriage of convenience for Flipkart and LetsBuy, did not turn out so. There is more than what meets the eye. The guys front ending Flipkart (Sachin and Binny Bansal) are just the show and mouth piece of bigger players controlling the show- the investors.

Lost Ideas- Need to give them life.


A couple of days back, I was talking to a PhD student from IIT Delhi. She is doing research on the use of piezoelectric materials to trace micro-cracks in buildings and then assess if these micro cracks can pose danger to the structure of the building over next few years or decades. I liked the idea. I asked her what she wants to do in future. She said, she will complete her doctorate and start teaching in some University. And, what about the ‘micro-cracks’ idea? Ah! that’s just to write a good thesis and complete her doctorate- to get a teaching position at some ‘good’ university. So, you mean to say the idea will die?

The conversation went on to discuss other areas of research which her fellow researchers are working on. I confess, some of the ideas were just brilliant. But, where do they end- a handful of ‘papers’ published in some journals- which no one, beyond the research oriented faculty of universities read. Then I thought about the business ideas- many or them having won awards at various B-school competitions, which my classmates in MBA used to have. This not only the case of a doctorate student at IIT Delhi or at one B-school, this happens at hundreds of other institutions and forums. Hundreds of brilliant of ideas just fade away and die. Not even a fraction of them get commercialized and never benefit the society. The Lost Ideas.

I thought over this demise of brilliant ideas and propose to have a data base called ‘Idea Junction’- a drop box for ideas. Where anyone can submit his/her idea. The database will be accessible to others who have the resources and the will to start a new venture but are looking for ideas or an investor who has capital looking for investing in smart ideas. This ‘entrepreneur needs and entrepreneur’ can give life to ideas slated to die. A lot of students just drop their business ideas for the lack of ‘company’ and support. This approach of  ‘investor needs an idea’ and ‘an idea looking for adoption’ can  turn around and nurture the abandoned ideas.

As a next step, I propose to create an ecosystem around the ideas taken up for adoption so that they can be nurtured into business ventures and helped to grow. This would require a number of other ingredients (technical team, office space etc.) besides the capital. The next step of the approach will be ‘Coll-eTent’- Collaborative Entrepreneurship, where multiple parties can pitch in with their resources to create some thing big!

I just have some vague ideas around this right now. I am working on the details and will try to create a first cut model before testing it in a prototype form.

This attempt is based on collaborative effort, so, if anyone is willing to help me in this attempt- he/she is most welcome to join in!

AllSchoolStuff.com- Buy your school supplies online.

March 27, 2012 6 comments

About a week back, a Gurgaon based start up AllSchoolStuff.com  raised angel funding from a consortium of angels. Although I was not much interested in checking out on the size of investment, the name of the start up- All School Stuff, caught my attention.

AllSchoolStuff is the first online retailer of school supplies in India. This retail venture has been founded by Manoj Chandra, a senior retail professional, who was last heading the marketing portfolio for Bata India, the largest retailer of footwear in India and the leader in the school shoes market and Ankur Garg, an IIT graduate with over a decade of experience in ecommerce technologies.

The venture aims not only at students and parents but also at teachers and schools to meet the need of high quality, branded school supplies. AllSchoolStuff.com provides a one stop shop solution to Students & their Parents looking for school text books, stationery, note books, art & craft materials, school bags, water bottles, school uniform, school shoes, sports items, music instruments, science projects, exam guides, fancy dress costumes, science kits and other such educational products to meet all their School needs. The schools can also use the bulk buying feature of the site to source supplies for their students and teachers.

Given the fact that the educational supplies market is of $5 billion size and is growing at a rate of 20% per annum, the opportunity for the start-up is huge. Also, there is almost no competition in this niche space as of now. But, one of the concerns I see here is that it might take 24 to 48 hours for the delivery of the product. This service might be good for the planned purchase but not for the day to day, ad hoc requirements of students.

Nevertheless, the venture has a good potential and being the first mover in the space, a very good chance to succeed.

Pause and Rethink- Pivot your startup.


Groupon, the most popular deals site, was launched in November 2008. Starting with a $1 million seed funding, it quickly reached a billion dollar valuation. But, the company did not start as we see it today. It started as a campaign website called “The Point” (http://www.thepoint.com/). The Point lets one start a campaign asking people to give money or do something together, but only once a “tipping point” is achieved. Soon, the founders realized that they were not going anywhere with this venture. The idea itself was very vague and did not have a specific market segment or set of customers in mind. But, the founder- Andrew Mason realized, that one of the features of The Point was that it gave ‘bargaining power’ to the group of people. This clicked the idea for his next venture- The Groupon. The site started by providing coupons for deals on different products and services. To get the vendors agree to the discounts, the Mason team used the ‘tipping point’ feature of The Point. The founders slowed down on The Point and launched Groupon- and in the process scripting the billion dollar success story.

This is not a one off instance where the original idea did not work as it was expected to. While launching a venture, majority of the times the things do not go as expected. Even if the entrepreneur has a detailed business plan, there are still many factors that he would have missed. There are chances that by the time the venture is launched, the economic conditions change, there are better and cheaper technologies in the market place or the customer demands have changed drastically. With all these factors working against it, the going might get tough for the venture. When the going gets tough, work on course correction or what is called “Pivoting” in the world of start-ups.

Course correction or pivoting is very important not only for the success of the venture but in many cases for the survival as well. Pivoting might in the form of a small change in the price of the product to a change in the features of the product or even to the extent of change the product altogether. In the extreme case, the founders might want to cut the losses, shut shop and go back to the drawing board again and redraw the plans.

If the venture is not working as you expected it to, you might want to pause and have a re-look. Most start-ups have limited amount of money for operations. There are four major ways in which one can try to pivot the startup.

Zoom-In Pivot: Many a times what was earlier considered a single feature of the product can actually become a whole new product in itself. Thus, what was actually a small part of the whole offering takes the center stage and changes the whole dynamics around the offering. This was the case with Flickr. The photo sharing application was a small feature of the massive multi player online game, Game Neverending, which the team was developing. The photo sharing feature appealed so much that it was developed into a whole new offering- Flickr. The online game was dropped mid way.

Zoom-Out Pivot: Sometimes the product does not sell because there are no supporting services or products around the offering. This situation calls for zooming out and providing the whole package with some other products or services complementing the original offering. Thus what was originally the whole product might become a small part of the bigger offering.

Customer Focus Pivot: The product offered by the venture might be attracting customers but the customer segment might be different from the original vision of the venture. This means, the offering is solving a real problem but the customer segment is different. Thus the offering has to be tweaked/ optimized for the new segment to shift the focus to the new customer segment.

At other times, the customer segment might remain the same, but the needs of the customers change. The product then needs to be changed according to the changed needs of the customers.

Technology Driven Pivot: Sometimes the startup discovers a new way to achieve the same solution by using a completely different technology. This type of pivot is of advantage when the new technology can provide price and/or performance advantage over the existing process.

It is not mandatory for a startup to pivot to become successful. But, if one is facing challenges in the venture, he might think of stopping, pivoting and starting again. Pivoting should not be mistaken for failure of the startup, its reinventing the venture by part or all over again. Even the startups that do not need to pivot must always keep scrutinizing their operations to check what is working and what is not and why something is working while the other is not. Pivoting works best when done in the early stages of the startup and done fast. The older the business gets the harder and costlier it is to pivot. The whole idea is to enhance the effects of what is working and minimize the effects of what is not.

Letsbuy sell-off and Zansaar investment- Where are we heading to?

March 9, 2012 4 comments

About two weeks ago, the start-up world woke up to the $25 million acquisition of letsbuy.com by flipkart. A week back we had the news of Zansaar securing a $6 million investment from Accel Partners and Tiger Global. The e-retail world in India is abuzz with lots of hectic activity, so much so, it is confusing the consumer on who is offering what?

The news of letsbuy being on the block was in the air since last few months. First time I heard it, I was told they are looking for a $80-85 valuation. But, when the deal was struck, it was pinned at $25 million. Why such a drastic difference in ‘asking’ and ‘getting’ dollar value? Of late, the has been a lot of start ups coming up in the e-commerce and the deals space. As sources put it, letsbuy.com was finding it hard to raise additional capital and hence the sale. The fact that both letsbuy.com and Flipkart had common investors made it easier for the deal to go through. With the acquisition, Flipkart, which has not been able to shed the ‘bookseller’ tag will have a wider range or products to sell.

The VCs have already burnt their fingers in funding the deals based start-ups. Both the demand and the buy sides of the deals space were over rated. Today, I wee most of the deals sites selling nothing more than dinner, spa and massage coupons. The next best bet for investors is the e-commerce space. But, have a look around and you will find many websites selling similar products- hardly we see any differentiation. Least to say, the space is already overcrowded. Recently there was the case of taggle.com which started as a deals site, pivoted once and became a e-commerce site and finally shut down due to what the promoters said was ‘hypercompetition’ in the e-commerce arena.

Whats the future?

As I see it, although the Indian e-commerce sector has a lot of potential, you cannot have a lot pf websites selling the same stuff. Its not  as in the case of physical outlets where proximity to the customer is an important factor. In online retail, each of the portal is at same distance- just a click away. Here is what I see happening in future:

1. After a few years, there will be a handful of mega-online-retailers (with/without offline stores). This will be achieved at the cost of either shut down or acquisition of other e-retailers. These are the likes of Flipkart, Letsbuy and e-bay. A lot will depend on the spectrum of choice offered and efficiency in handling customer dissatisfaction.

2. Along with these mega-online-retailers, there will be a few dozen ‘specialized’ retailers selling high end or niche products but with a much smaller catalog. Freecultr is one example of the high end players. Chumbak is an example of niche products player.

3. There will be another set of ‘specialized’ retailers selling only one category of products e.g. accessories for gadgets.

4. I am not very sure if one-category-sites e.g. bagskart.com– selling bags, lenskart.com– selling sun shades and glasses will be able to survive the mega-e-retailers. They will have to shut shop.

5. Group deals websites will become history as the e-retailers will incorporate simiral of not same discounts into the price (guided by the sales volumes).

The above five points are just the over view of the e-retail world dynamics in India today. There are much more details to these five points. I would like to detail each one of these pointers, whenever I get time. Till then, enjoy the rain of offers and offerings around you!

accelerato.rs- The accelerator aggregator

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

The Unified Seed Accelerator Application Form, or just the accelerato.rs  is a platform for startups to apply to various accelerator programs and track the status of the application at a single place. The platform is funded by the Kauffman Foundation and powered by TechStars.

The startups can fill a single unified form to apply to various accelerator programs. If there are some custom questions to be answered for  a particular program, they can be answered separately.

Various startup accelerator programs across geographies and sectors have signed up for the platform. Accelerators can register for the application platform by mailing them at network@techstars.com.

MuSigma- The wonder kid of Analytics, raises $108 million.

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

In one of the biggest Private Equity deals for a startup in India, Mu Sigma closed a $108 million investment round lead by General Atlantic.  Earlier in April 2011, Sequoia Capital had invested $25 million, now has $50 million invested in Mu Sigma.

The pattern in which General Atlantic invests in companies (generally it picks up 15-20%), the investment puts the total valuation of the Mu Sigma at about $500 million.

Mu Sigma, started by Dhiraj Rajaram in the year 2004, is in the business of Analytics and Decision Support. The company is touted as the wonder kid of the emerging market of business analytics and research and helps organizations solve high-impact business problems/decisions.  It provides business intelligence, econometric tools and predictive modelling services to help clients such as Microsoft and Dell take major business decisions ranging from new product launches to decoding customer reaction.

Mu Sigma employs 1,500 in Bangalore, Chicago (where it is based) and a few other cities in the US.  The company has grown rapidly since its founding in 2004, in fact, its 2008-2010 revenue growth of 886 percent earned Mu Sigma a spot in the Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies.

The best part here is that Mu Sigma is already profitable and will use the capital to expand its operations and reach in the sunrise market of business analytics.

Company website: http://www.mu-sigma.com/