Saturday, February 20, 2010


Continuing from Building a Company, Vishal says:

"There are so many things that can go wrong in a startup. We had no experience of running a business beyond being employees. One of our partners quit due to personal reasons and the remaining team had to regroup. It was disheartening but we were patient and worked on rebuilding momentum. But, then, our office neighbour was drilling a common wall and hit a water pipe which flooded our office. Most of the equipment including our servers were soaked in water. We rescued much of the office; and our website still runs on the salvaged servers! :).  Similarly, to create digital product catalogs, we made significant investment in getting expensive automated cameras and related gear just to realize that we did not need to spend so much on the hardware in the first place and a simple camera would work just fine with software processing.  Such is the startup life.

"We learned that things will not go smoothly and that you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. You can't have a specialist to do everything that you don't know how to do yourself. If you go in with that attitude, then you will get paralyzed because you will run into things that you don't know how to approach. More importantly, you will make mistakes, and you have to learn and try not making the same mistake again.

"We worked day and night to create the software infrastructure. We wanted to create an experience which would exceed customer expectations. Launching with an automobile store was one way to fund our growth as there was monetization associated with generating leads, while we continued building our retail software infrastructure. We launched the automobile store in October of 2007. Literally, in the first few days, we had interest from customers across India and we were totally unprepared to handle volumes. We were shocked to see that customers showed interest in purchasing new cars and bikes online in India. While there was offline customer follow-up required in closing a transaction, we had tied up with dealers and, in some cases, manufacturers across all major cities. To take a step towards closing the transaction online, we launched a gift voucher program for major car and bike brands that could be redeemed across any dealer location across India. 

"One of the hardest things about the Internet is that you don't see your customers. When you don't have a store to go to, you're trying to find ways to understand what they're experiencing. So we made everyone on the floor take customer calls. The day job for everyone was to do customer service and the night was spent fixing software to make customer experience better. I think attending customer calls during our early days was a blessing and our company culture to care and obsess on customer requirements grew from there. We started fixing hundreds of small but annoying things that made the customer experience better. We still continue the tradition of answering customer calls.

"While we worked very hard in early days, the income from leads and advertisement was not significant. The first problem was that customers who showed interest in purchasing were genuine but closing a transaction was not immediate (at a physical dealer location). The other problem was that customers who registered interest in vehicles almost never returned - people do not wake up and think of buying a vehicle everyday if you have recently purchased. That's when we started thinking of services tied to products and added a car rental section which started generating leads and additional revenue. We also started understanding buying patterns, analyzing information, and formed business decisions based upon this information. So that is where data warehousing and data mining and that sort of thing became very important to us, to help us build a strategy for our business. That is how we realized we needed to quickly build more online retail stores and develop a superb supply chain, because customers started asking us about music players for cars, navigation systems, bike helmets etc.

"There are a thousand little things that impact the customer, and we wanted to be at least 10 percent better than anybody else. I think that's exactly what we continue to do: stay focused on all the tiny little details that matter to customers."

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