There’s an e-commerce revolution on in India and it has the whole world watching… with some even participating in its unprecedented growth. According to an August 2014 Assocham-PwC study titled Evolution of e-commerce in India: Creating the bricks behind the clicks (quote from the study’s Foreword),
“Recent years have seen a remarkable transformation in the way India shops and trades. E-commerce has taken the world of retail by storm and captivated the imagination of an entire generation of entrepreneurs, with e-commerce ventures with various business and commercial models. The explosive growth in the last few years has already catapulted the biggest firms among these ventures past the billion-dollar territory. The sector has grown three times in four years to nearly 12.6 billion USD in 2013. Various industry estimates project that the sector will further growth five to seven times over the next four to five years.”
Based on this study, a Times of India news report (dated 28 December 2014) titled Average Indian to spend Rs 10,000 on e-commerce in 2015: Study presented a summary of a few top-line facts and figures on the e-commerce sector which are equally mind-blowing:
“The average annual spending of Indians on online purchases is expected to rise 67% to Rs 10,000 next year, according to a study. Currently, online shoppers spend around Rs 6,000 a year on average, said the Assocham-PwC study.
About 40 million consumers purchased something online this year and the number is expected to grow to 65 million by 2015 with better infrastructure in terms of logistics, broadband and internet-ready devices. The overall e-commerce industry, valued at $17 billion, has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate of about 35% each year, the study said, adding that it is expected to cross the $100 billion mark in five years.
In 2014, the sector attracted the attention of investors, including top global firms and leading Indian industry leaders like Azim Premji and Ratan Tata, said the study, adding that brands like Flipkart and Snapdeal are enjoying edge over global players like Amazon in the country. Online apparel sales continue to capture a greater share of India retail ecommerce as a category along with the computer and consumer electronics sector, fuelling the overall market growth.”
Ending with a quick look at the impact this growth has, and will have, on employment in the e-commerce sector in India:
“Currently, over 25,000 people are employed in e-retailing warehousing and logistics. It is estimated that there will be an additional employment of close to 1,00,000 people in these two functions alone by 2017-20, the study said.”
Exciting though it all is, it’s a lot of data to digest in one quick moment. So, we decided to explore the more subtle and subjective moments of this e-commerce revolution and talk to some of the entrepreneurs who have built their online retail brands which have fuelled this e-commerce sector in India.
One such entrepreneur is Suchi Mukherjee, CEO & Co Founder of LimeRoad.com – a niche e-commerce brand which focuses on (what seems to be) an ever-growing universe of empowered Indian women… while adding some “freshness and novelty” to it.
Congratulations on your second anniversary, Suchi. How did the idea for LimeRoad originate?
Sincere thanks for your wishes.
The idea of LimeRoad.com was born out of moment of utter frustration – I was reading a glossy magazine during those rare ‘me time’ moments after the birth of my second child in London. As I flipped the pages, I found a piece of jewellery I really liked, and just wanted to touch it and buy it. And of course I couldn’t. It was from some small store in Mumbai, and I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to get to it anytime soon.
I realized two things at that point:
One, there was no consumer technology play that made discovery of lovely products just easy and entertaining, just like reading a lovely magazine, just like flipping lovely photos in an album.
And two, there was also no place from which one could access the vast array of great products that were being manufactured and shipped out of India, one of the world’s largest manufacturing hubs.
That is how I was compelled to create something unique like LimeRoad.com two years back.
What qualities or characteristics bind the co-founders of LimeRoad together? Are these qualities/characteristics unique in any way? How critical are these qualities/characteristics in the success of online retail startups in India?
I along with Ankush Mehra, co-Founder & VP Supply Chain Operations and Prashant Malik, co-Founder & CTO joined hands to start LimeRoad two years ago; and there has been no looking back since then.
I wouldn’t say that there are some unusual/rare characteristics or skill sets that we possess. But I strongly believe that we share several similarities. Ankush knew India’s back end and I was fanatical about giving India a cutting edge front end and along with Prashant, after his successful stint at Facebook, we got together to work towards our quest for building something transformational.
How would you describe the LimeRoad story or journey so far? Can you tell us about LimeRoad’s biggest achievements – your moments of celebration?
It has been a phenomenal journey so far. At the very beginning, finding great people for the team: the combination of skill and real can-do was hard but we were lucky enough.
We have had a lot of memorable moments which can be cherished, which make us feel extremely proud and in turn, motivate us to outdo our own levels of performance.
Looking back, our second round of funding from Tiger Global is one of our most valuable and hard earned achievements. It was immensely encouraging for us to have our investors believe in us so strongly.
LimeRoad as a website is the only one to have 100% user generated content. This content is created by our scrapbooking community and is exclusive to LimeRoad. It makes me happy to share that we have over one million scrapbook looks every month from our users. This clearly shows the extent of user engagement we have been able to build up with our users and this is one of our greatest achievements.
Our endeavour is to provide unique products to our users for which the ecosystem may or may not be of vendors who are professionally geared for the back end. We partner with them and more than 60% of our vendors are exclusively on LimeRoad. We have vendors without having any offline presence doing exceptionally well with us. Our concept of vendor millionaires is a clear example of our vendors who have made the most of our platform and have become millionaires in less than 60 days.
What words and feelings or moods would you use to describe LimeRoad? What makes up the LimeRoad brand and ecosystem? Is there a social and cultural change – or, perhaps, a change in business outlook – in India that is helping you?
Our Brand ‘LimeRoad’ has its own story. Our goal was to create a digital-age equivalent of the 16th Century Grand Trunk Road, a highway that changed the face of trade in the Indian subcontinent by curating the best of Indian products across categories. Taking inspiration from the legendary G.T. Road is our LimeRoad with lime adding the element of freshness and novelty.
Also, this is a great time for anyone who is passionate about consumer internet in India. LimeRoad today has amazing product, thousands of vendors, engaged participation from the community and everything scrollable on a mobile interface. This is a great time, and we are building something that we believe is truly special and lasting.
Who are LimeRoad’s customers? How do you nurture these customers? What is unique about LimeRoad which attracts new customers to the LimeRoad brand and keeps existing customers excited?
LimeRoad is a social-commerce platform targeted at the intelligent woman of today, it has an incredible width of carefully selected retailers, enabling customers to discover the best of lifestyle products. We wish to reach out to every single woman in this country and convert her into a LimeRoad user.
We are focussed on building an amazing product. Money will flow if you have a good product and if you have a bad product – no matter what you do – money will not come. That is our core mantra. That is what I strongly believe makes LimeRoad unique.
We want our existing customers and new customers to be completely satisfied with the quality of product and services being offered and not on a makeshift premise of discounts.
My partners and I think that we are the back office at LimeRoad, our community is the front end and our team is the middle ground that merges both parties. Our focus is just to keep investing in the core platform and keep our consumers happy, and we believe returns will come.
Needless to say, the team that services LimeRoad’s customers and manages LimeRoad as an online retail brand and business must be very capable and competent. Can you tell us something about the broad composition of your team – say, in terms of structure and job roles/functions?
When I came back to India, I set up a tech team in Bangalore. I used to spend time in Bangalore and Delhi. Then I moved our entire tech from Bangalore to Delhi and everyone moved. That shows the kind of commitment our team has to LimeRoad. I unhesitatingly call my team at 4 o’clock in the morning. We internally have great rights plus great duties philosophy — and when you hire the best people, this mantra works very well.
Currently we have a strong team of 200+ that is completely passionate about LimeRoad and building a ‘hatke’ brand. From IIT-techies to NIFT-design geeks, you will find them all at our offices. We are a meritocratic company. People are hired for their skills and celebrated for their ideas. They are all multi-dimensional people who bring their personalities to work.
LimeRoad is a truly exceptional team that refuses to take short-cuts and instead focuses on finding scalable, long-term solutions to difficult problems. We have been deeply involved in architecting and building consumer products of significant scale at companies like Skype, eBay and Facebook and bring similar aspirations to LimeRoad, along with an understanding of what it takes.
Are there any specific qualities, skills and experience that you look for when you hire talent for LimeRoad?
People are our most critical asset and we almost always look for people with a real spike and with a strong can-do. Experience is secondary in a world where we are redefining the rules every day.
With many more online retail businesses in India today, retaining quality talent must be a challenge. Are there any people management strategies that LimeRoad practices successfully which you can share with us?
I would like to tell you that our workplace culture which is quite exceptional and we don’t follow strategies to retain our team members but we make sure that they get all the perks, benefits and comforts as per their liking.
LimeRoad is a super cool place to work because of the following reasons:
Meritocratic and Flat structure: CEO is always open to hear new ideas. Anyone from any department can speak to her about any new idea, better process, optimization of any current process, anytime of the day. In spite of proper structured departments, there is no hierarchy. Every week, CEO calls in 5 people for 1-on-1 discussions.
Flexible timings: There is an option of working from home, choosing alternate work timings etc to ensure that every employee gets time for personal matters.
Work hard Party harder culture: Celebrating every small occasion, even the completion of a successful work week. Every Friday evening all departments come together for a 10 minutes briefing on their key achievements during the week, which is followed by free flowing beer and Pizza treat for all.
Opportunity to work on cross functional project: Whenever a new idea is approved, an open invite is sent to all those who want to be part of the project. So a Quality control person can become a team member of a Vendor scaling process. This is a tremendous opportunity for all career conscious people to get diverse experience beyond the scope of their present roles.
As the Indian online retail business scene heats up, with many e-commerce brands targeting Net-savvy women as LimeRoad does, how do you see the next two years opening up for LimeRoad?
LimeRoad’s sole objective is to make the online shopping experience so delightful that it becomes the online destination for women, who like discovering gorgeous, ‘hatke’ products at affordable prices. Our goal, as I have mentioned earlier, is to reach out to every single woman in this country and convert her into a LimeRoad user.
I was recently talking to a little girl who lives outside of Ranchi, and she said she made 2,000 scrapbooks on LimeRoad. I called her and said we will do an event in Patna, why don’t you come over and talk to a few journalists? She said my mother won’t let me go to Patna. LimeRoad is my way of extending my personality and making my mark in the world.
That’s the kind of impact we are talking about with LimeRoad.
That’s a lovely thought. Thanks very much for the interview, Suchi.