You are currently browsing Anshoo Sharma’s articles.
[Published on YourStory.com]
This week Craftsvilla announced a Rs 110 Cr round led by Sequoia and supported by existing investors Lightspeed and Nexus and new investor Global Founders Capital. This is an important milestone for a company that has quietly been building out India’s largest marketplace for ethnic apparel and products.
In our view, Craftsvilla stands out from the majority of e-commerce companies for a few reasons:
– It has broken into the top-5 ecommerce companies in India by GMV scale
– Has grown 4x in scale in the last six months (and continues that trajectory)
– It turned the corner on cash flow breakeven while achieving such scale and growth
All this, on the $1.5M that the company cumulatively raised from Lightspeed and Nexus across its seed and Series-A rounds in 2011 and 2012. This performance is exceptional by all standards and is driven in essence by two key factors:
A. A fundamentally strong business model: Craftsvilla is going after the massive ($30B) market of ethnic apparel and products in India. This market is highly fragmented across a very large supplier base and thus needs a specialized vertical player to go after it. Since the supplier base is fragmented, it takes longer to build liquidity on the platform but once the critical mass of buyers and sellers are live on the platform, then the margins are attractive and entry barriers are very high. ETSY solved a similar problem for the US market and is currently valued at $2.8B post its recent IPO. Craftsvilla has gone through the hard part of getting the platform to scale and the quality of the current business is reflected in several metrics:
- Marketing spend has stayed below 10% of sales while revenue has grown 4x in last six months
- Organic sources contribute two-thirds of the total traffic
- An active seller base of 12K artisans who by themselves upload and manage an inventory base of 2M SKUs on the platform
- High fragmentation within the seller base: Median contribution of top-10 sellers to GMV is 1.5% and beyond top-10 no seller contributes more than 1% of sales.
B. Extraordinary perseverance and focus of the founders: There has been a frenzy of ecommerce funding in India. Instead of going down the path of driving GMV through discounting and at the cost of margins, Manoj and Monica went through the harder path of building the core of the business – bringing thousands of suppliers across the country on to the platform and helping them sell online. To continue to do this for multiple years while the industry was rewarding a capital led growth path needs strong founders with deep conviction. It is always helpful to look back at certain ‘forks in the road’ and learn from the experience. The team made a number of critical decisions with crystal clear conviction that, in hindsight, worked well for the company. These include the following:
- A clear commitment to being a marketplace vs. a retailer (or mix of the two)
- With this clarity, focused aggressively on aggregating sellers and building strong technology-led capabilities to on-board sellers and allow them to sell through the Craftsvilla platform
- Letting the diversity of supply drive demand instead of using a discount led approach
- Kept the team lean and fixed cost burden low: Manoj and Monica gave it everything they had and built a young and highly motivated team around them – a team of 15 people till a couple of months back! Conventional wisdom might have argued for a seasoned and pedigreed team that allows for accessing capital faster.
When Lightspeed, along with our partners at Nexus, made the seed investment in Craftsvilla back in 2011, we were struck by the founding team’s passion for, and understanding of, the market opportunity as well as more measurable factors such as market size, the potential for attractive unit economics and the scope to build a differentiated company that the horizontal e-commerce platforms would not be able to easily replicate. We also believed that this was a powerful opportunity to leverage the internet to unlock new markets within India and globally for artisans and vendors who, until then, were only able to serve their local customer base.
As the company looks forward, there remains much work to do – from iterating on product to building company leadership and replicating the platform in similar markets globally. They can do this with the very strong foundation of capital efficiency and product-market fit that has already been built. We are fortunate to be associated with the company and look forward to being a part of this journey with Manoj and Monica.
Also read Manoj’s post on how the Craftsvilla team created this magic.
India is seeing an explosion of smartphones’ installed base (chart below). This is leading to a burst in data consumption – Airtel’s mobile data consumption doubled in Q3, FY14 vs. Q3, FY13 and data revenue has become a quarter of the company’s total revenue. We are starting to get onto the early part of the S-curve in terms of mobile-data growth.
Cumulative base of smartphones in India
(Source: Gartner, Industry)
Online transactions businesses like OTAs (MMT, Cleartrip, Yatra) are nearing 40% of their users on mobile and ecommerce companies (Flipkart, Snapdeal) are seeing 20-30% transactions from mobile. This trend will continue as smartphones will have deeper penetration than computers in India and for many people a smartphone will be their first and only connected device. Also being a personal device, a smartphone is more accessible than a computer even for users who have both.
This smartphone base will lead to creation of opportunities across sectors and an interesting one is in local businesses. Globally, Lightspeed has invested in companies like Sidecar (transportation), Grubhub (food), Styleseat (beauty stylist) which are betting on transferring demand generated online to local services fulfilled offline. We believe this trend will be led by mobile (smartphones) in India.
The current leader in connecting demand online to service providers offline in India is JustDial – mobile data traffic on JustDial is now more than 22% of total traffic, up from 12% in FY13 and 5% in FY12, and this will likely inflect more sharply with increasing smartphone penetration. Since JustDial is a horizontal and doesn’t provide a category specific experience it may be hard for JustDial to do more than generate leads for local businesses. JustDial is valued at around $1.8B and that points to an opportunity for vertical specific platforms that can provide a better value proposition to consumers and local businesses by leveraging smartphones.
The smartphone as a medium has the potential to provide a disruptive value proposition by taking an interested lead a few steps further and converting it into an informed and highly qualified potential customer (or even a transaction). Given access to rich content, fine location and direct calling at the moment of consumer need, a smartphone is uniquely positioned to provide a category specific experience that is not possible on a phone (non-smartphone) or a computer. We are already seeing this happen in verticals like transportation (Ola, Uber, TaxiForSure) and food (Zomato). More verticals where there is an unmet consumer need and an opportunity to leverage smartphone capabilities are healthcare, break-fix and education/vocation.
Entrepreneurs in this space need to keep the following elements in mind:
- Design the business to be mobile-first: Have a responsive mobile design or an app. The good news is that 90% of new smartphone sales in India are presently Android (unlikely to change anytime soon), so a majority of the market can be covered by focusing on Android.
- Create a consumer experience specialized for the category: Take users as close as possible to the offline transaction. For example, the difference between looking for a restaurant on Zomato vs JustDial is substantial. Another great experience is to see an Uber cab move towards oneself once one books it in their app.
- Create consumer side entry barriers: Once the platform has early traction, elements like an active community, crowd sourced reviews/information can help retain leadership. Pagalguy and Team-bhp are two strong Indian communities and have grown despite popular belief that Indians do not like to contribute user-generated content online.
- Provide incremental revenue opportunity to merchants: Local businesses in India are most excited to embrace technology if it helps acquire new customers (they are much slower in adopting technology to boost productivity). Instrument RoI measurement early on and make it a core part of the merchant pitch. For example, Zomato had very early on embraced cloud telephony to track calls generated from their website or mobile apps to show impact to their merchants; this continues to be a core part of their merchant offering.
- Have a mobile offering on the merchant side: It is very interesting to see how savvy even small merchants are about using apps like Whatsapp. Most merchants have (or will have) smartphones and are comfortable using them. Give them a mobile console to connect with your platform. For example, a lead management app for a real estate broker could be a great way to not only increase his productivity but also to get him to share his data with the platform. Unlike merchant interfaces in the West which are computer-centric, merchant interfaces in India need to be mobile-centric. Nowfloats is doing this.
- Entrench deeply inside merchants through technology: If businesses in the category are already using technology for their processes, then find a way to connect into their technology. This could be a massive differentiator on both consumer experience as well as the entry barrier. For example, one could plug into the CRM of a dentist, restaurant, play-school, builder, car-dealer etc. Bookmyshow is a great example of how plugging into the multiplexes helped create a great consumer and merchant experience.
- Managing salesforce/productivity: If the monthly cost of non-founder sales team after initial training is 50% of the monthly revenue collected by them, it shows the inherent quality of the business. For example, Infoedge’s and JustDial’s people cost are ~35% and ~50% of their respective revenues (Source: respective public filings). For Infoedge and Justdial, people costs include corporate, technology and other staff so the ratio of salesforce cost to revenue is likely to be meaningfully lower. If this equation is working, then the next challenge is to recruit, train and retain at scale – most such businesses would need thousands of feet-on-street to reach scale (JustDial’s salesforce is around 4000 and Infoedge’s is more than 2000). There are interesting ways to juice salesforce productivity E.g. Justdial equips it’s salesforce with devices to enhance and track productivity and qualifies a sale over the phone before sending an feet-on-street agent.
A key challenge for businesses in this space is around the point above on balancing the cost of monetization vs. the revenue collected. While it is partially solvable through being a market leading brand for that category, strong execution and using some of the concepts outlined above, but a big part of this balance is also anchored in the category itself. It is important to be in a category where the customers are more valuable (because of ticket sizes, category margins, frequency of purchase, etc), in order to achieve this balance.
We would love to hear your thoughts around other ways in which the growing smartphone base can disrupt (or not?) demand generation for local businesses.
The technology world has become a little bit flatter over the last ten years; the US monopoly on producing technology startups with impact outcomes has been broken. We have all seen impact product companies coming out of Europe, Israel, and China over the past decade.
These startups are leveraging new platforms and customer behaviors that were non-existent ten years ago, including platforms such as app stores, SaaS app marketplaces, smartphones, tablets, content marketing channels, social media, and embedded payment options; and new user behaviors such as self-service on-boarding, bottoms-up technology adoption in SMBs/enterprises, use of open source technologies, and search as a primary way to find new applications/technologies.
We believe it is now the right time for Indian product startups to step up to the global plate, especially in mobile applications, developer tools/enabling technologies, and SaaS for SMBs. There are already several examples of such companies, including Browserstack, Freshdesk, Helpshift, InMobi, Kayako, Nimbuzz, Simplify360, Webengage, Wingify and Zoho.
Investing with this theme, we are excited to partner with Chandan and Vaibhav at Phone Warrior to take mobile communications to the next level. What Wikipedia did to encylopedias and Waze did to radio road traffic reports and paper maps, namely disrupting existing businesses with community, real-time and mobile, Phone Warrior is doing to plain old phone calls and messaging. Phone Warrior’s user growth, retention and engagement in countries around the world over the past six months gives us confidence that they are well on their way to finding product-market fit.
Phone Warrior (incubated at 91Springboard) is building a globally-relevant cloud-based platform to crowd-source mobile phone numbers and turbo-charge the value of this data through big data techniques, graph search and machine learning. Through this platform, Phone Warrior powers an essential set of services that has grown rapidly over the past year and could get onto every mobile device in the world across all forms of communication including phone calls, text messaging and over-the-top IP-based messaging. Their product is currently visible on mobile devices through services such as caller-ID, spam blocking and call-blocking.
There is much more to come that leverages this core platform. We look forward to exciting times ahead with the Phone Warrior team.
Post Authors: @dkhare and @anshoo
I think there is a lot of potential and hope, especially now, for founders to start online (only) services businesses. Indian consumers seem to be opening up to paying for online B2C services, where purchase and most fulfillment is online. This trend is a natural outcome of India’s increasing online population (>125M now) and familiarity with online as a channel (20M bought online in last 12 months, 7M of which were non-travel). Barring a few exceptions noted below, this space has historically been challenging but I hope to see that changing in future.
Successful examples of existing online services in India include matrimony (Shaadi and Bharat Matrimony) and also aggregators across categories like travel (rail, air, bus), movies and mobile phone recharge. While the aggregator segment has been more successful because of direct linkage to offline services, it is relatively less interesting (and more capital intensive) because of low absolute margin per transaction and dependence on offline delivery for scaling versus a service which is purely digital in nature.
Subject to a large potential paying consumer base being available, pure online services are fundamentally very attractive to entrepreneurs and investors because of:
- High capital efficiency (high gross margins).
- Become disproportionately valuable (given B2C/branded nature).
- Ability to grow quickly, since they are not constrained by offline buildout (not applicable everywhere).
Here are a few examples below in categories where we are anecdotaly seeing early growth in new online consumer services:
- Education: Online higher education, Online certification and Test prep (very nascent) are showing that consumers are willing to pay and consume online.
- Jobs: Linkedin’s Premium Membership, ABC’s Head Honchos and Naukri’s premium services are showing early signs of monetizing through consumers.
- Apps: Evernote, Apple iTunes/App store and Google Play are monetizing on an Indian user base – this could be a massive trend given the rate at which smartphones and mobile data users are growing.
- Financial Services: Previously, the web was used primarily for lead generation. Now, certain types of insurance (Auto, Life, Travel) that are delivered end-to-end online are gaining traction.
- Auto: Classifieds for used cars
It is still early days for these trends – but I hope that the growth continues. If you know of other online categories or businesses which are getting traction, I would love to learn about them – please add to the comments section below.
PS: While mobile operator value-added services (MVAS) is a great example of online services, in my opinion, these services have not really been B2C. As a result, I am not including MVAS in the list above. My list also does not include businesses which collect revenue from offline vendors (e.g. Zomato) or have large offline delivery responsibility (e.g. goods ecommerce).
[Published in Yourstory.in]
There are two levels to this question:
a) Is there value in vernacular content?
b) Is there value in online vernacular content?
(My thoughts below the image)
a) The first one is a clear YES, which wasn’t the case a few years back. In 2007, English publication readers constituted 10% of total print media readership, but garnered 60% of the total print ad-pie. Today, English still constitutes 10% of readers, but its share of the ad-pie has come down to 40%. In the same period Hindi grew from 20% to 30% of the ad-pie. To put things in perspective, the print-ad pie is ~$1B today, so Hindi print alone is at $300M of ad-revenue and growing at 17-18% annually. More data in a recent article in FE.
According to media buyers’ estimates, during 2007-09, the ad rate commanded by English newspapers was roughly 10x that of non-English dailies. This rate has contracted to about 8x and is further expected to come down to 5x or 4x in the next three years.
b) Value in online vernacular content is not showing in terms of monetization yet. Online advertising is gaining traction but it is mostly English today. However, it is encouraging that vernacular is building up readership – Dainik Bhaskar recently announced 200M monthly pageviews. Advertising spend on any media tends to inflect after reach (readership) crosses a threshold, and the signs for online vernacular are in the right direction.
Thus the answer to the question in the title of this post is “Yes, it seems so”, but it won’t be clear for some more time. Of course, when the answer is obvious to everyone, the opportunity no longer exists.
Takeaways for entrepreneurs:
– There is an opportunity in vernacular: Online vernacular readership is increasing and will increase faster as internet and mobile-data access continue to penetrate deeper beyond the English-speaking population.
– Monetization will take longer: Be prepared to keep a lid on the costs while the market shapes up. Good news is that the online ad-ecosystem is in place for English and given will bring $$$ to vernacular if there is an arbitrage opportunity in pricing.
– Local plays an important role in vernacular: 60%+ of ad-revenues in vernacular-print come from regional sources (regional fmcg brands, education institutes, local government, etc). The content too has a very local taste – print publications customize their content every 25 kms to fit into local dialects and preferences. So keep localization in mind in terms of content and as well as monetization.
– Think mobile: With cost of devices and access continuously falling, mobile might be the primary channel for accessing vernacular content in India, unlike English.
– Define your space: Large offline publications will always be faster and cost efficient in building content. You need to define your space but still be meaningful to a large enough population.
– Think out of the box, especially if you are looking to raise venture funds. Content production is a linear businesses. Can there be a platform play where the effort/cost of building content is not directly proportional to content monetization?
– Finally, keep an eye on vernacular even if you run an online transaction business (like ecommerce). If vernacular audience is valuable to an advertiser (online or offline), it is likely valuable to you as well, so don’t close your doors on them by having an English-only website. The “access” value proposition of ecommerce is also more suited to the non-metros of India, which constitute ~50% of the orders today.
Please add your thoughts in the comments section.
[Published in Medianama]
Ecommerce in India has gone through a cold spell, but there is hope for warmer days ahead. There appears to now be a clear focus on contribution margin and sustainability versus the previous race to buy topline. As Bejul explained in his post, customer lifetime value is a metric that Lightspeed believes is critical to measure and optimize.
The ecosystem is a key enabler of sustainability for an industry. For example, it is unviable for all ecommerce players to build end-to-end logistics and payments/wallet capabilities internally. Certain ecosystem trends are emerging which may help ecommerce businesses become more viable over time:
Capabilities of logistics service providers aren’t static
Logistics is where rubber meets the road, and ecommerce glamour meets the offline reality filled with dust, sweat and lost/wrong/delayed shipments. Some ecommerce specialist players now provide:
- End-to-end ecommerce solutions, including inward, racking, picking, packing, shipping and collection.
- Transparency into logistics company’s processes through APIs, which can reduce returns (and costs) and bring predictability.
- Variable warehousing bills (per order shipped) that help manage costs at lower scale, and a projection for reduction in per unit cost with increasing scale of the ecommerce business.
There are several new and old companies worth calling out:
- Dedicated ecommerce divisions within traditional players like Bluedart, Aramex, etc
- New ecommerce logistics specialists such as Delhivery, Holisol and Chhotu. These companies and teams tend to be more hungry, innovative and nimble than their traditional counterparts but are still building their capabilities. Also interesting is Mudita for bulk inter city shipments.
Payment gateways/aggregators are trying to address pain points
Payment gateway failure horror stories are common, with failure rates as high as 35%. This continues to be a lost opportunity, and a very expensive one, as it costs up to Rs 1,000 to get the customer to that point. Here are a few improvements/innovations that are coming up:
- Wrapper technologies that work with multiple banks to minimize probability of transaction failure.
- Deep analytics and visibility into customer’s intent to buy: For example, ecommerce companies can track a list of failed transactions (with customer and cart details) so that their teams can follow-up and close offline.
- PCI/DSS compliant widgets which simplify the payment experience for consumers.
- Capability to handle payments originated over mobile web.
There are traditional names like Billdesk, CC Avenues, EBS, who are incrementally adding value but the new teams that are coming up quickly are Citrus and PayU, in addition to GharPay which collects cash from consumers’ doorsteps when no physical delivery of goods is involved (e.g. tickets, collection in advance of shipping).
The industry is maturing
Some of the more recent trends I see are:
No-poach agreements: After the initial land grab in the OTA space, Yatra, Makemytrip, Cleartrip got into such arrangements. Leading ecommerce players are now discussing these. It is good from a talent pool perspective too, as people apply themselves to fix hard problems versus moving to the next job.
CoD Blacklist: CoD is a key part of Indian ecommerce. However, high CoD return rates (upto 25% in some categories) cause operational challenges and working capital burden. Some players are discussing creating an industry wide CoD customer blacklist – this can drive significant efficiency for ecommerce / logistics companies and a better experience for genuine customers.
Trust from OEMs/Brands: Brands/OEMs are putting more trust into ecommerce now. Eighteen months back ecommerce was not strategically important to brands/OEMs, but brands are now launching their own ecommerce platforms, and/or have a clear strategy for ecommerce as a channel. Senior executives with years of core category experience are now excited about ecommerce and are considering opportunities in this retail format.
These trends are still in their infancy but if they continue the situation will be very different a few years from now. The key question is to what extent and in what time frame will these developments move the needle in making ecommerce sustainable.
Some thoughts for ecommerce entrepreneurs
My thoughts for entrepreneurs building ecommerce companies are to:
- Assess if you can derive value out of any of these services / trends: For example, compare if your current logistics / payment provider (in-house or outsourced) is competitive with the changing environment or revisit if you can bring in top talent from the domain into your team.
- Step forward to support the ones you find relevant: For example, you would take risk when you test a new partner in your order flow (logistics or payment), or when you commit to not hiring from competition, but these partnerships can pay off very meaningfully in the long run.
- If you are a new startup, identify and focus on your core competence: Logistics and payments contribute significantly to direct costs but they are only necessary and not sufficient for success. So unless you plan to differentiate on these, leverage the ecosystem.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to add more names / trends / thoughts in the comments section.