The Gray Hair Speaketh

Advice that is largely Unsolicited..

Why I think same-day-delivery models of Ebay Now and Flipkart are unsustainable?

Ebay Now and few others in the US have launched same-day-delivery business models.

There have been fanciful launches of services in the past, and a launch is NOT the same as success.

So whether this works or not, the jury is still out.

Here’s a story on the ebay Now model in the US.

And I have seen the Peapods and the Webvans which struggled (not just with same day delivery but with the general business model that they took on) and failed. And I have a sense that these same-day-delivery models are also unlikely to win.

I hear that Flipkart is also gunning to start these in India, and I see challenges in the same.

Why do I say so?

Here are a few reasons:

  1. It cannot be economical. Earlier traditional models of delivery of such kinds, got challenged on economics, and gave up. Bundled, slightly longer delivery schedules to get some economies of scale (rather than deliver your one package, can deliver 4 in your area, once in 3 days?). So don’t know how this current trend can sustain.
  2. It is not scalable. You may end up needing warehouses at various locations, and then a network at each of these.
  3. You’re competing with the local kirana, local vegetable vendor, etc. who will deliver anyway.
  4. You’re spoiling the customer. Most times, he doesn’t need it same day anyway. To get your edge over your competitors, you’ll do this, after a while find it hard to sustain, then drop it. Customers will feel let down. Curse you for withdrawing.
  5. You’ll burn some money for the 6-12 months that you will attempt to do this. Customers are not going to pay a huge premium to get this. So all the local warehousing, and the set up of the network, and absorbing some of the cost to acquire a few fussy customers. Will all go waste. As withdraw it, you will, in time.

Meanwhile, it is an interesting story to get the buzz to happen..for ebay Now there, and soon for Flipkart, here..

July 30, 2013 Posted by | Business Model, Ecommerce, Retail | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Amazing Breed of Young Indian Entrepreneurs

Recently I attended StartUp Garage, just for a few hours, but I managed to interact with several young entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs.

This was not the first experience for me. I make it a point to connect with this breed, at various other startup events and mentoring opportunities, including Headstart’s StartUp Saturday, at the MentorEdge Rendezvous sessions, and TiE’s mentoring events, amongst others.

And almost always, I come back feeling very impressed. By the entrepreneurial energy in the first place. And sometimes, by the quality of business ventures that some of them are working on.

I think back to the many years back, when we graduated from engineering school. I do not remember a single classmate of mine, who went out, straight from college, to start a venture of his own. There were few who went and joined their family businesses. Which is an entirely different thing. But none that I remember, who started new ventures of their own, straight out of college.

Years later, many of my batchmates are today, running successful entrepreneurial ventures. But they all started after taking a few years experience, working in industry. Typically.

As against that, I am seeing just so many keen final year students (of engineering or management schools, typically) and students who have just passed out of college, who are all set to get into a business venture of theirs, I am amazed by it all!

That one has the dare at the early age, to chuck job offers, and venture out on one’s own.

To take on the challenges, not just of giving life to your idea, but also to take on other accompanying challenges of finance, team building, marketing, etc.

So irrespective of how good or viable these ideas are, that we have so many attempting to create their own businesses, it is truly impressive.

Coming the actual quality of the plans though, perhaps 1 out of 20, are good enough (by my assessment – and I could be wrong, of course!) to potentially become decent successes.

But that is not a bad ratio.

I was completely impressed for example, by this one entrepreneur, who had finished college few weeks back, and who demo-ed to me, a completely working and commercially viable, SaaS based video conferencing tool, with some excellent features. He may still have some challenges to get the UI improved, and of course, to figure out the pricing model and the marketing, but he has a full-fledged working prototype out there. Obviously made, even as he was a student in college.

Now that takes some doing.

And there are more like that.

I have this one other group of students, from another engineering college, who have set up an e-commerce venture, for selling text books. Again straight out of college. And a business model that I think, is extremely attractive, and can become very successful, if they can execute it right. They interact with me once in a while, and I am very bullish about this venture.

Indeed, these are excellent times, for India’s economy, and this level of confidence and dare, amongst the youth, can only help propel the growth rates. I am very happy about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country now. And I am happy to have occasional run-ins with these smart youngsters, and also happy to share the occasional gray hair wisdom with them 🙂

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup, Technology | , , , , | 5 Comments

Rediff.com does it again: wants to ape the next new shiny thing.. !

Why do they do this??

I have said this before and I say it again.

Because I have seen this before and I see this YET AGAIN!

Rediff.com always wants to be LIKE someone else.

And mostly like the best new thing that has happened out there, and is already established and famous.

And THEN, Rediff.com will come with its version of the same thing!

I have seen ALL of these transformations at Rediff.com:

1. Early on, they went and replicated virtually, the complete Yahoo.com look. Directory and news and email and everything. They wanted to be India’s Yahoo…

2. Ebay became big and Rediff invested in their own auction business, an Ebay look alike.  Rediff wanted to be India’s Ebay then..

3. The Rediff.com interface was clustered like Yahoo’s or Indiatimes’. And then Google came along and showed what a clean, uncluttered interface can be like. And yes, we saw Rediff turning over into a clean and simple interface. No matter the fact that, where Google was fundamentally ONE big thing, viz. search, and it could offer that in a clean and simple screen, Rediff in fact, was a portal. And a portal needs to show more of its links and cater to users with different kinds of needs.

But then, Rediff wanted to be a Google that time!

4. Then came Facebook time. And after Facebook had probably gone past 300 mn user base or so, and was already the default, Rediff came up with their look-alike social network. Again Rediff now wanted to be a Facebook..

Once more, too little, too late.

5. And now they have done it one more time. In the space of daily deals and group buying, where perhaps, there are 32 players already, and the big daddy of the world, Groupon having come into India too, Rediff now wants people to do their deals on Rediff.

So Rediff now wants to be a Groupon!!

More than anything else, I feel sad.

Rediff.com really had a great opportunity, it was first off the blocks in India, it had a great start, it got the Nasdaq IPO (that’s the only reason its been able to hang on, by the way – the cash in the bank!) in time. It could have been India’s most prolific and default dot com address.

And yet, it chose to be a Yahoo, an Ebay, an Amazon, a Google, a Facebook and now a Groupon..

It NEVER tried to be a Rediff.com of its own!!

What do you think? Any alternate views??

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Business Model, Ecommerce, Social Networking | , , | 2 Comments

Group Buying: Thoughts About The Business Model

What is your reaction when you see a physical product offered at an unbelievable low price??

Like a two-wheeler at 50% of its price? Or a TV at 40% of its selling price? Or even gold – at 30% discount??!

My own first reaction (tampered as it is by standard thought process on gross margins available, etc.) is that it cannot happen! Or that maybe it’s a scam. It is not the real thing. It is second-hand. It is fake gold, etc. etc. etc.

And then you look deeper. And get a bigger understanding of the process.

Every advertiser is looking for that eternal ROI. How many crores spent on making the VW Vento ad speak to Times of India readers? How many increased walk-ins to the showrooms? How many cars sold?

And calculations of that kind!

So when a group buying company suggests to you that:

–          you spend money on expensive advertising (hoarding, print, TV etc.)?

–          you want to drive footfalls and sales

–          what if that is assured to you anway

–          and you cut to the chase

So that, essentially is the model for group buying!

Divert the money out of advertising.

Put the same budget in offering exciting discounts.

Use the group buying vehicle to reach the customers who want your product.

There.. the ROI is in for the budget allocated.

But.. is it really that simple?

If its not that new mousetrap, but rather the unbelievably cheap mousetrap, there are good chances that you’d have a queue outside your door, and you can sell as much as you want.

But the questions then, are:

  1. Did you advertise only to reach those few buyers who would walk-in or purchase? If that was your intention, then some means of targeted direct marketing / telemarketing would have been better options, than mass media advertising, right?
  2. Your purpose of advertising was to also reach those were not going to walk-in today or purchase in the near future. People who may still register your brand somewhere in their heads, and think about you, as and when they get to a point of purchasing your product category. Or to create a general brand hype / visibility etc. Just cutting to the chase and getting those 40 walk-ins, gives you ROI, but does it give you that visibility at all?
  3. Will the buyer perceive that maybe your product is actually worth 50% of your selling price, and the rest of your normal mark up, is your huge profit. And which you should not be earning, really? Could that actually cause more harm than good, in the long run?
  4. Also where do you create your market for tomorrow? If you have not pushed the brand out as much, and have resorted largely to the short cut, discount driven, group buying options, the rest of the world has not been impacted by your brand. And you have left tomorrow’s market open for your competitor to lap up?!

At a time when brand managers are pushed to deliver ROI and a group buying option appears to get them there, there will be temptation to pick it up. And sell at less than cost, by explaining the difference to the marketing budget account. But I wonder if this is sustainable in the long run.

So is all group buying bad for brands? Certainly not.

Where you have perishable inventory, group buying is a beauty. Airline seats, hotel room nights, even food products approaching ‘best by’ dates. Better sold at cheap than not sold at all. And good for the buyers too. Perfect win-win.

Or for categories like services. Where each new service customer is not draining away real cost, but only utilizing the excess capacity that is anyway, idle. Theatre seats, saloon chairs, gym memberships are the examples I refer here.

What I have concern about, are physical product areas, where attempts are made to sell cheaper than cost price – by a lot – and which can over time, potentially do more harm than good, to the concerned brands.

What do you think? Love to read alternate opinions on this.. please comment below!

October 12, 2010 Posted by | Ecommerce | , , , , , | 14 Comments

What does it take to run a successful digital business in India?

This was the topic given to me, by the organizers at the Shailesh J Mehta School of Management, I I T Mumbai. Originally meant to be a panel discussion (would have been a very interesting one, I bet), it was later converted to a talk by me.

Even as I was preparing my thoughts for this subject, I posted the question on my Facebook page to ask my friends, what they reckoned, does it take to succeed in a digital business in India. And I got responses that included the need for velocity, passion, doggedness, understanding local nuances and culture, etc.

Which were all right, in their own way.

But I guess all of those factors, and many more, are relevant for just about any business, and not particularly digital businesses. So focusing specifically on digital businesses, and for India in particular, I put some thoughts together.

It was important to appreciate key words here, viz.

Success – not about winning a business plan competition or getting angel funds or even VC funds. Success, for this context, was about generating a sizeable business, making money (as against burning money), creating a brand, perhaps an IPO, etc.

Digital – every business nowadays has some digital component. So we are not referring to those. We are also not referring to creating applications for deployment on the digital space. Since creating applications is a software business, whether for online space or otherwise. So digital in this context, was about close to pure-play digital businesses, typically online types like e-commerce, services on a digital platform, portals, and the like.

India – for me, meant that the operations are based here. But that is not to stop serving a global market.

With that context, and focusing more on the business side and less on the technology side, this is what I put together (note that bullets are cryptic, as there was talk that supported these; so, not sure if all of the points get across – no, don’t have the time right now, to elaborate the points!):


Would love to have your views on the subject. Please share in the comments below.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup, Technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EasyOrganicProducts.com – Online Store for Organic Products

Priyanka Baya asked me to do a reivew of EasyOrganicProducts.com.

Easy Organic Products

Easy Organic Products

Category: B2C -> E-commerce -> Organic Products

What does it do?
EasyOrganicProducts.com is a regular online store selling a wide range of Organic products.

What more?
Shipping is from Singapore. Default currency is also SGD. However products are offered to be shipped all over the world. There is a store delivery mentioned, but I could not locate any reference to a store address.

My quick two cents:
The store probably runs okay because of the product range and a working operation. However there is ample room for improvement. The store comes out looking quite amateurish in all respects, by normal e-commerce standards. Simply getting best e-commerce practises in place, and combing the site to fix the various errors, will lead to significant improvement.

Wisdom Nuggets in more details:
1. On the home page, the fonts and layout is all over the place. Using too many bold tags, and also a lot of ampersand signs “&” is a quick indication of an amateurish effort. Add to that, the vast open spaces in the center whereas the left and right columns run longer. Obviously opportunities have been lost to position then, some large sized images of best sellers.

2. Speaking of best sellers, in that list, there is repeat mention of Gift Vouchers. It is clear that this list comes out of a database, and there isn’t an easy manual fix to it. A customer would like to know that Gift Vouchers are popular, you are wasting an opportunity by listing 3 denominations of Gift Vouchers as best sellers, on your home page.

3. The testimonial link from the home page goes to an inside page where there is only one testimonial. Looks embarrassing.

4. Product images can be improved. There could be larger sized ones, multiple views and in some cases, videos too. All of these are quite par for the course, these days.

5. The SEO effort is not present. Almost all pages return the same page titles, for example. For a small e-commerce site, this can make a big difference to the overall sales.

6. Links don’t work right once you are in the wholesale area of the site.

To repeat, due to the interesting product range, the site probably does decent sales. However, clearly there is huge room for improvement and it can scale newer heights, if it can fix many trivial misses.

At this time, the site looks like a good “organic growth” (pardon the pun!) business, but does not show the potential to become a huge winner, which it has potential to become.

GRAY SCALE RATING: 1.5 / 5.0

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March 17, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup | , , , , | 2 Comments

EveningFlavors.com – for your wining, dining and partying needs

Akash Shrivastava sent me a request to review his startup, EveningFlavors.com.

EveningFlavors.com

EveningFlavors.com

What is it about?

EveningFlavors.com is a directory of restaurants, pubs, party places, longe bars, etc.  It gives good details of these places, and offers reservations, reviews and promotions as well.

What more?

Specific searches are offered for restaurants (you can search on basis of location, type of cuisine and budget), pubs (area) and parties (date). There is room for users to add their own reviews. Several promotions run as hot deals, and could spell good value to the users. At this time, Bangalore properties are well populated and other cities’ data must be getting ready. The data appears to be quite comprehensive as far as the heads of information go. User reviews would become the driving force of the site, and in time, these should also build up.

The layout is neat, with easy navigation and pre-emptive linking.

Other Observations:

The site clearly has the right ideas and the right structure. It is looking at the user needs clearly, and site layout, content, navigation are all focused towards the user’s needs. There are some Google Adsense ads that are visible, but in a non-interfering way. So these might be used only for purpose of creating some supplemental income, and they do not seem to be the main revenue line. In a venture like this, lot of revenue opportunities can be created, so Adsense may only be a marginal income.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. When you remove the frills and the laces, you see this business as a niche segment yellow pages. For the wining, dining and partying vertical. In that respect, the competition for EveningFlavors could come from the likes of Sulekha.com, JustDial.com and others in that space. Sure, EveningFlavors will portray itself as a specialist and offer value addition, including table reservations, party event information, etc. But over time, it will need to build clear brand equity in the space, to generate usage volumes, and thereby have a lock-in, into the segment. Both for users, as well as for the “merchants” , viz. the restaurateurs etc.

2. One of the key revenue drivers for businesses of this type is advertising income from the merchants. JustDial, Sulekha and other specialists have created large sales netorks on the ground, and who are creating sign-ins and advertising income. I am not sure where EveningFlavors stands on this, but they will need to have their field sales teams too. There, the challenge is that since yellow pages companies are working on any and every vertical, their sales costs can be kept lower, as salemen’s visit location can cover large number of calls. Whereas, with niche vertical of EveningFlavors, their unit cost of sales could be higher. Also whenever they add new cities, they will also need to shore up a field sales team, for that city. And only to nurture a single niche vertical, as against multi-vertical yellow pages’ companies.

3. A value proposition to users will be in getting good information, regularly updated. Maybe information about the menu offered (scanned copy of the menus of the restaurants would be wonderful), table locations (”near window”, etc.), the day’s specials, etc. would be useful. Also regular updation of details, will be a good way to get a lockin, on the users. However in implementing these strategies, they will not get pro-active cooperation from the restaurants. Due to various reasons, including not being very excited by the medium, not getting adequate results on the investment, etc. And yet, for EveningFlavors, giving good quality information is the one big way to lockin the users. Then, EveningFlavors has no choice but to update its information. And for which purpose, they will need to take the onus of collecting this data on a regular basis, from the restaurants!!

4. Mobile integration (can’t see if its done or yet to happen) is almost mandatory. Another interesting feature that could be added, along with a mobile integration, is to enable restaurants and pubs to put short term, live promotions, e.g. “Happy Hours for the next two hours” etc. On the other side, users can enable their own opt-ins when they require (like when they are planning for an evening out), and also specify area and cuisine type if you wish, and they could get SMSes from corresponding live promotions that have been put by the merchants. This could also spell additional revenue for EveningFlavors, as a higher lead generation commission.

5. Likewise, Social Media integration is nearly mandatory. To have a loyal users group on Facebook, or to tweet promotions to loyal follower lists, will be a must-have integration to the proposition of EveningFlavors.

6. The business proposition is per se, not a rocket science. One has heard of and seen others working on similar models. The winning brand will then be, not necessarily someone with better technical capabilities, but a team that “breathes” the business better. A team that understands the pains of users, as they plan their wining, dining and partying needs. If EveningFlavors is that team, then they will execute the tasks better, and could emerge the winners, after all.

7. Speaking of branding then, also brings up the fact that to differentiate in the market place, there will be some specific brand building effort required. Some of it could mean money spend, and some could be just clinching smart deals with partners, hotels, taxi services, travel guides, college campuses, credit card companies, etc. One or the other way, users should come across the EveningFlavors brand frequently, so that ultimately, they choose to make it a habit.

8. Again, from the point of view that there are others pursuing similar strategies, it is also essential for EveningFlavors to add many cities as quickly as possible. They need to become a national brand for this service at the earliest, and occupy the slot, and keep servicing it, with excellent offerings for the users. Otherwise, someone else will take the slot, or it will become a fragmented market, helping no one brand.

9. Community and Reviews are going to be very critical. I would urge the management of EveningFlavors to take up community building and getting more and more user reviews, as a top priority. If traction is got on those fronts, there is no reason why EveningFlavors cannot become to the wining and dining space, what TripAdvisor is to the travel space!

10. A useful win-win-win proposition can be to issue exclusive promotions or discount codes (on SMS or emails) from EveningFlavors to users. When users take these to restaurants, the restaurant validates the value of their presence on EveningFlavors. Also for EveningFlavors, besides the validation for its paying clients, namely the restaurants, leads generated like these could be negotiated for higher commissions. And finally, for the user, a promotion / discount is always good, and she will be glad to have got it from EveningFlavors, generating user loyalty.

There are at least two other ideas that I can share, and which would both work with the current EveningFlavors infrastructure, but which would be extensions to the current business. I can share these with the founders, in case they are interested, but I will not put them up on an open forum here.

Other than that, I can conclude that EveningFlavors is sitting on an excellent idea with tremendous potential, and if they can execute it quickly and well, they could be a very exciting and profitable business.

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March 5, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Hospitality, Social Networking, Startup | , , | Leave a comment

MyArtPlot.com – A Social, Commercial and Professional Art Network

Minh Nguyen connected with me on LinkedIn and shared this website MyArtPlot.com, which he is involved with.

myartplot_ss1Minh informed that the project started out originally as a business plan competition at Brown College, and which after funding, got converted to a proper business that we see now. In fact, the official beta of the site is now hardly one month old, although the site has been in preparation for longer.

What is it about?

MyArtPlot.com is bringing together Artists, Crafters and Supporters. Artists are the main “members”. Artists get space for themselves, referred to as their “plot”, and where they are able to do a lot of things. Showcase their works, give updates, statuses, etc.

myartplot_ss2

The art works are also on offer for sale.

In addition to artists, MyArtPlot is also open to buyers, who can come and purchase art works, offered by the various artists. In fact, there is a separate direct access to all the items on sale, and a buyer does not need to look up individual art plots, if she does not want to:

myartplot_ss3Broad Observations:

The site has good positioning and can become a destination for art lovers. There is clear potential for this network to zero into a perfect social network for the community concerned. And since it has factored in commerce along with, it makes for a great win-win opportunity.

In a lot of ways then, the model points to quite an ideal social network, which can be really effective, during the times of existing social networks struggling to find monetization models!

The “plot” offered to artists is quite complete. Lots of features possible, leaving it to the artists to promote themselves as best as they can and want to.

Few other things that Minh conveyed to me:

– That outside of the bet, they have 3000 members at this time, but where they wish to take it, is 100K by summer and 500K by Dec of this year
– That, having provided the artists with the various tools, they would like and expect the artists to do their own promotions mainly,
– That he sees mutiple opportunities to generate revenues, but he expects that once the usage increases, those things will come into place on their own.

Wisdom Nuggets:

Since the site is not very old, some of what I may say now, might be a work-in-progress, and should fall in place soon. But still, I will point it out anyway, just in case, its escaped Minh’s and others’ attentions.

1. The site obviously needs SEO to happen. Something simple like page titles are absent at this time. This needs to get in place quickly.

2. It is one thing to say that the promotion has to be done by the individual artists. However MyArtPlot.com must also do its part in the promotion aspect. In fact, I see the site as similar to a mall, where lot of stores are pitching their tents. While the stores have to promote themselves, the mall ALSO has a duty to perform, to get word out, and generate the footfalls. So MyArtPlot must try and drive traffic into the site.

3. Minh informed me that commission on the sale of products, was one out of several revenue sources for MyArtPlot. That may of course be fine, for MyArtPlot. But the fact is that, if there are sales, then the interest of the artists will sustain. And that being the case, if MyArtPlot also aligns itself to this goal, then the goals of the artist and those of MyArtPlot will be aligned. And nothing can drive the company to greater heights, other than such total goal alignment amongst the main stakeholders.

4. How will the site go from 3000 to 100,000 in a few months? If this is the main metric being chased, it is essential also to, constantly monitor and set targets and have a clear accountability for the same!

5. I am okay with a fundamental idea of ‘you build a good product, and users will come, and if they come is large numbers, then advertising also follows’. However on the web it is dangerous to let things be, assuming they will take this natural course. We are seeing a lot of excellent products (Twitter, Facebook, for example) with excellent user traction, but struggling for monetization. So taking the revenue side for granted may not be the wisest thing to do.

6. Minh also informs that there are mutiple revenue opportunities that they perceive as possible. Which is great. The biggest danger then, in such cases, for a startup, are that one keeps looking at the ‘next revenue source’ to make up the deficit. If there are 5 revenue sources, there must be a study done, to estimate potential revenue numbers for each of those 5, and then set targets on that basis. And have each of those numbers chased, irrespective of how the other numbers are running. That is the only way to shirk off possible complacency on the revenues front. This is especially true when you have a great product. There is a tendency amongst the founders to fall in love with the product, at the cost of not addressing the revenue challenge enough. There needs to be a good balance between the product and the core objective of any commercial entity, viz. to make money!!

All in all, I believe that MyArtPlot.com is a great opportunity, has immense potential, and executed well from hereon, it can become a very interesting niche play, and make good money for it’s stakeholders.

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February 28, 2009 Posted by | Arts, Ecommerce, Social Networking, Startup | , , | Leave a comment

InkFruit.com – Design your own T-shirt

Kashyap Dalal presented the story of InkFruit.com, at the Startup Saturday event.

InkFruit.com

InkFruit.com

What is it about?

Inkfruit.com enables the design community, or even amateur designers, to design their own T-shirt designs and submit. Based on user votes on the designs submitted, the best ones are chosen as winners. The designers win prizes, and the designs also become available to inkfruit.com to make into T-shirts and sell via their website.

What more?

The site is really about “design”. The main pitch is to get good designs on T-shirts. All logistics are managed by the company. Printing of T-shirts is done with high quality screen printing or by transfer printing process. This is to ensure good quality and longer life of the printed T-shirt. The business of about 1.5 years old, has reached a healthy run rate of Rs. 2 crores gross merchandise sales annually, and there is significant room for growth, considering the T-shirts market.

New initiatives include affiliate marketing options, selling it via offline stores and also branching into other custom design products.

Competitive pressures do exist with few good, well established offline brands, and other personalized T-shirt offers online.

Other Observations:

Inkfruit is not necessarily printing on the fly, once orders are received. In fact, they print and keep a small lot of each T-shirt design ready. When a product is offered on sale, it is already ready duly printed. The large inventory exposure however, is only in the plain T-shirts.

In recent days, they have had foreign designers also put their designs on the site, and as a consequence of these being featured on the site, some sales of such T-shirts are also trickling in from foreign customers. Retail level orders are shipped from India, to execute these orders, by Inkfruit.

Wisdom Nuggets:

1. As I see the proposed growth paths of offline retail, new products, affiliates, etc., I have a specific question to pose. What is the real business? Are you about T-shirts, about all designer products, about distribution, about online retail, etc.? Based on that, the suitable growth steps need to be taken. If enough thought is not given to this fact, there is a risk of creating a lot of activities, but which do not necessarily add up to cohesive value creation.

2. The e-commerce market in India has not really grown to seriously large numbers. While e-commerce is theoretically assumed to be a lower costing option for retail, it is only so after crossing a certain minimum level of volumes. Until that happens, the economies of purchase are nowhere compared to offline players. And also the additional cost burdens of cross-border shipments (as against in-store local sales) such as shipping costs, taxation like sales tax, octroi, etc. make the proposition not very attractive economically. Designer T-shirts fall into a clear niche segment of business. Even if designer stationery or other similar products are added, these are still not high volume sales products. How does the business scale up in revenues rapidly?

3. Offline business opens up a different challenge. In reality, it is almost a different business. Or of course, its a different channel of distribution – whichever way one sees it. Undoubtedly though, the challenges are of a very different nature. From extending credit, from inventory replinishments, from returns of sales, sharing a healthy commission, etc., there are a set of issues that come up. Doe Inkfruit really want to go that way? And if it does, then that offline sales initiative should be taken with all vigour, and in fact, in that case, the online sales will become trivial compared to the offline one!

4. New products bring a different set of challenges. From the production aspects, to begin with. There is a clear repeatable process of printing T-shirts, and there is, numbers wise, a reasonably predictable market. And also if there is inventory stuck up, if a sale is done periodically, at lower cost, the T-shirts may move off. But say, there is a designer calendar, or a designer pen set, or something like that, even at low cost, it may not move at times. Then, inventory management and dead stocks may open up newer challenges. Put another way, if T-shirts are doing say, business worth 100, would you add 10 new products and take business to 120, or focus on pushing T-shirt sales and take it to 110, if not 120? Also what is the right size when expansion of products should be attempted? When T-shirts have reached a fairly mature market size.

5. There is an opportunity worth exploring, which Inkfruit has just accidentally touched. Which is of delivering the T-shirts to customers outside India. In a designer T-shirt, there is a cost of design. Which in western countries, might equate to a number even higher than the cost of the shirt itself. Indian amateur designers will be cheaper. Further the T-shirts itself come cheap from sources like Tirupur, which are anyway, one of the manufacturing hubs for global supplies. Finally the other overheads of business are also cheaper in India. If these are appreciated and Inkfruit chooses to thrust itself full blast into the international space, it could well generate far higher growth rates than what it gets from Indian market. Yes, the logitics cost and its challenge will need to be factored in. There are ways to work on those. But this could well be a useful and highly productive move for Inkfruit.

    In conclusion, while a top line of Rs. 2 crores looks interesting, since it is a semi-trading, semi-manufacturing, plus service (retail + CRM etc.) business, it may not be leaving enough room at the bottom line. To make serious money from the venture, the top line needs to go to at least Rs. 10 crores level or so. That means, selling 5 times the number of T-shirts, on an average, from what they are doing now. How confident is InkFruit of getting there in the next 2-3 years at most? And after doing that also, the business will be Rs. 10 crores, which for a trading or retail business, still looks small. There is a clear need to examine the business model at that base level, and see what they need to do, to expand and grow very rapidly from this point.

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    February 22, 2009 Posted by | Ecommerce, Startup | , , , , | 4 Comments