Archive for February, 2012

LetsBuy plus Flipkart, the positive spin

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

FlipKart is acquiring But, there is way too much negativity and cynicism floating around. Let’s balance it out with some positive spin. The genesis of this post was this tweet:

People who have done it, never done it, have no plans of doing a startup, all together are calling a wolf in this deal.

This is the venture eco-system, this is how it is played. Companies are built, bought and sometimes brought down. Tejit, my previous startup went through two two (sic.) successive acquisitions in less than three years…and I’m still working. I am still below my quota of Fuck You money. Irrespective of what the end-game is, which seldom is a stalemate, the Silicon valley eco-system is built on two simple things:

  1. Every startup is a success
  2. No startup is a failure

This is exactly what needs to happen to India and this deal is one of the threads in arriving at that goal.

After the previous exits, I was able to raise my hand and fill a gap in the Indian startup ecosystem because of the startup experience. The shenanigans of doing one gave me enough confidence to do another one, though Morpheus was on the other side of the fence and helping people getting started.

The current consolidation of Flipkart buying Letsbuy, irrespective of the dilapidated state of the latter is a good thing. Why?

  1. It gives a necessary boost to the eco-system that bets can be paid off, when the vision is right but the markets are tough. If VCs are forced to write these deals off, it brings a black mark in their report card to their investors (LPs or Limited Partners). However, we as entrepreneurs need to keep the funding cycle alive and rotating every few years.
  2. Venture Capital is an between food chain of money flowing from people who have it. Why have a spock mark when you can avoid it? While getting a degree, it’s okay to get a summer (or suppli) as long as you come out in that 4 years. Some of the startups are like that failed exam but the venture eco-system allows for “exits”. Would you want the annotation of “suppli” in your degree? Nor do they.
  3. Entrepreneurs who did “okay” in the current startup become capable of taking even bolder bets. If the start-up simply fails, not that there are no learnings from the same, but parking an almost out of gas car securely is much better than leaving it in the middle of the road.
  4. For the uninitiated who do not understand the intricacies of the deals, it’s a positive story and brings more people to take the plunge and start their own venture.

Yes, it’s a good PR. Can be written in bold in the resume and can even make you a VC, irrespective of the nature of the exit. That’s how sweet these exits are.

Off-topic: The most worry-some part of the current cynicism is not just the angst against the deals but the so called keepers of the ecosystem advising entrepreneurs to keep away from investors and also advising them to bootstrap their startups to death. They are at total loss to understand that these are venture startups and not a “baniya ki dukaan.”

Product discovery, smaller retailers and Amazon’s entry into India

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Amazon took a totally orthogonal path with it’s entry into e-commerce in India. It has been speculated that they tried to buy Flipkart, been busy building a warehouse, instead launched as a gatekeeper to products with discovery and comparison site Junglee.

With the amount of money Flipkart, Makemytrip, Snapdeal, etc have been throwing in advertising it became a calling that the online commerce winner would be the one who brands it most and goes out and pops out it’s head on TV, print and other traditional media.

For an uniformed Indian getting onto the Internet for the first time and not knowing where to go and who to trust brings the gatekeeper’s role in the front. As Alok pointed out in his blog post, Google does a crappy job of product discovery. In the west, very few people buy via a search engine, instead they have their favorite e-commerce sites to go to. The Indian online audience is just getting onto the Internet with close to 100 million actives. For them the celebrated bookmarks of the west like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, etc. don’t exist. How does Junglee help where an average netizen going onto the Internet for the first time and traditional retailers who haven’t gone online with their inventory? Here’s what I think.

Curated sellers in a country where there are few laws protecting the buyers The Indian internet audience buying from over SEO-ed, fly by night operators is fraught with hole-in-the-pocket scenarios as the laws around protecting the customer’s interests are very weak. Try arguing for a bad charge on your credit card, or try following up with a merchant who shipped a bad product without return guarantees. Junglee’s opted-in curated sellers may provide at least some validation before making a buying decision.

Breathing room for small ‘I-have-not-raised-$100m-for-my-e-commerce-site’ retailers Not many Indian e-commerce players shall raise enough money beyond the top 5 who will have all the cash in the world to build a brand. With Junglee potentially building a brand, it becomes a front-gate to your online buying needs. Niche sites selling to the hobbyists have a shot in the arm. They don’t have to get lost into eBay’s marketplace where the product display looks like a badly done Web 1.0 page.

Opportunity for large offline businesses to go online with their inventory Every city has retailers with established supply-chain and delivery network, where they have been successfully delivering locally. With someone else taking care of the online presence, it becomes easier to increase the reach within the city by connecting to the local audience. These retailers who are not as big as the cross-country chains like Croma, Reliance Digital, etc. get to play together. The neighbourhood photography equipment-walla who has been successfully importing optics from Germany now stand next online with other giants. This is a huge gap–I’m sure Junglee is busy building tools for the same.

Finding a product on a shopping site and not a search engine Search engines fail at product discovery with peddling content around keyword arbitrage, affiliate marketing and SEO-ed to death sites pulling into the first few pages. A site focused exclusively on product discovery with pricing, recommendations has a better chance of giving what you want instead of a search result page infested with links, content and arbitrage.

Plotting the timeline, India’s B2C e-commerce is in 1997 whereas customers in the United States bought $142.5 billion worth of goods in 2011.