Customization in Retail Fashion

Back in the year 2006, when I was working for eYantra (which is a firm specializing in brand merchandise for corporates and corporate gifting), the buzzword in the merchandising industry was customization.

If it was a good looking merchandise, then it’s value rose by nearly 30%-50% if you could customize it to the customers needs. That was the time we got into a narrow niche of branded merchandise. Everything from iPhones to t-shirts used to be branded by the target corporate’s brand logo (as defined by their marketing team’s brand logo guidelines).

The going was good, and soon we had acquired our series A round of funding. This obviously attracted other players and companies based completely on customization were formed – companies such as Myntra.com (whose ads you see even today). Needless to say that Myntra has grown beyond customization and is now almost a full blown e-commerce portal.

It’s been almost 6 years since and I had almost forgotten about the retail and fashion industry. That was until I came across this smart company – they specialize in providing woven labels with the text customized as per your needs. You can check this site out – look here. The thing is that woven labels is not a new idea, in fact they have been around in Britain (in Coventry) for more than a century now.

The cool thing about these labels, is that you can order any amount you want and have them customized right there on that site. There is almost zero manual intervention in the order placement process and that’s what makes a strong case for customization in the retail markets.

If this kind of technology and business processes were there in India, then it would have taken the branding and merchandising market by storm. In a developing economy wherein almost everything needs to be branded, having a custom made woven label takes the branding experience in retail merchandise to the next level. The good part about developing economies is that they have ready access to the developed markets to look at successful business models.

In fact this idea is so awesome, I won’t be surprised if I start seeing a Label Yourself outlet in India within a few years!

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CloneWars

Clone Wars

First came Best Buy.

People were happy, they got good deals, saved some money. Good … but meh! Perhaps their launch was before time. Avante Garde.

Then came Groupon.

A multi-billion dollar valuation, e-commerce 2.0 buzz, social media tongues wagging about. It was the next big thing since the Internet.

I guess over a period of time, folks soon realized that the business model was pretty simple really. Get bulk, negotiate with vendors and give back a small share back to the users. That was also the eYantra model. I hear its gotten its second round of funding as well.

Followed by a slew of Groupon clones … there are too many of them really to name a few. The unfortunate thing is that not one of them is willing to call themselves a Groupon mee-to. We are different is what they all say.

Everybody on this planet is unique, just like 7 billion other people.

If you thought that I would be writing another nerdy review of Star Wars, you are mistaken, Ser.

With Groupon clones sprouting everywhere on the Indian e-commerce scene, its going to be a war out there. The war is going to be played out in our inboxes, on our cellphones, on our social media pages and in our tweets. Our credit cards will be the trophies, each transaction a battle on who will get us the cheapest deal. If you thought that it would make me happy, its not.

All the discounts in the world are not worth the beauty of a spam free life. It’s been ages since I have seen an empty inbox, gotten no sms-es. The Clone Wars are on, and you are the next battle!

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Move on

I still remember that day in 2007. It was the 17th of September. It was evening and I was stuck at the airport, waiting for my delayed flight at Hyderabad; making one of the biggest decisions of my life.

I had been offered a meaty role in a start-up firm, and internally had decided to take the jump. However, the lizard brain was nagging me and urging me to not go ahead.

I made two phone calls. The first was to my parents, to let them know about the switch in my life. They accepted my decision and told me that I was going to rock :)

The second was to the only man approachable and who had operated in several organizations in that role. He was and is a role model; Thomas Sir. I had not spoken to him in the past three years, yet he immediately recognized me and asked me what he could do for me. I told him my background and told him that I was thinking about joining a start-up. Pat comes his reply, if you want to work in Cleartrip, I can see … all said and done, the amygdala was quitened.

At the end of the conversation, he told me one thing –

After this, there is no looking back

I did not fully understand the depth of this. I think after 3 years, I am getting it. After that jump from the corporate wagon, I don’t think I will be going back to a large corporate. Ever.

However I am only human and when I go through a rough patch in my life, I make the mistake of looking back to the day I made this jump. The moment I do this, I remember that one piece of advice … I move on.

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Futurebazaar

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In December 2006, we were working on an e-commerce portal aimed for the B2C segment. It was supposed to rival Amazon in terms of features, experience, technology … a very ambitious project. When doing market research for that project, we tried out many Indian e-commerce sites, actually shopped on some of them, and literally choose from the best of them the features we want to build. That was the first time I came across Futurebazaar. I bought a book, (Shantaram) from the site, the book was delivered in a week or so. I soon forgot about the site, little did I know that I was one of the first customers on the portal. Within a month or so, I got a mail from them saying so and also an invitation to their public media launch. Wow! My first media launch invitation!! Wheee!!

I look at the site now, almost 40 months later, and I can see how well they have evolved. No more the tacky-looking nested menus, distinct spaces which map onto their physical presences, interesting sales promotions (Lucky Wheel thingy), only products which they stock in their physical stores, support offered through their physical stores, etc. The way they have evolved their business from being a pure play online shop to a click and brick model is to be applauded.

Kudos to you Futurebazaar!!

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Learnings from start-ups

j0387194During my brief stint with eYantra, our foundation team did some cool stuff. We also made more than our fair share of blunders. I am just putting it down in one place, so that oth ers can benefit from our experience. On reflecting back, I am glad this happened because it was an eye opener in more senses than one. It was also a stint which significantly boosted my confidence.

I worked there for a span of two years, and had to come back to Mumbai because of personal reasons. What happened after that I only came to know through small and infrequent chats with the employees there. Enough to realize that I need to share this with everyone to benefit from the collective’s insights.

The Do’s

  • Have high levels of energy. It’s your baby, only you can make it happen and no one else. If this requires sacrificing lazy Saturdays and Sundays, then so be it.
  • Your core team can make the difference between a failed idea and a successful venture. Their group dynamics is very important for your venture to succeed.
  • Weekly meetings to keep everyone upto par on different tracks. I think this becomes more important with increasing members in the team.
  • Show a sense of direction, and be integral to your vision. If you falter, your team looses faith in you. Soul searching (if any) should be done with as small a team as possible.
  • When in doubt, discuss. Come to a common agreement with the team to move ahead.
  • Be starkly honest to the first set of your employees. Treat them like family. If you are a product oriented firm, then your product development team is to be treated with the utmost respect.
  • Get some market traction before your product is ready. That way you will already have a ready buyer for the product.
  • (appended) Find differentiators and expound them in the market
  • (appended) Believe in your idea. If you don’t believe in it, then no one else will

The Dont’s

  • In an e-commerce setup, all the divisions are important. One cannot run without the other. Treat them likewise.
  • Under-commit but don’t over-commit. Your reputation is at stake e.g. if you promise someone biryani and deliver daal then it won’t be appreciated, but the other way round, you will have a satisfied customer
  • Don’t expect your employee to show the same amount of commitment that you have. You have equity, they don’t.
  • Confounding your employees with that variable performance bonus … it’s more of a disabler (suggestions welcome here). (amended) If you still want to have that variable, then have complete transparency in how it is calculated, and give your employees a chance to perform by including it in the next round of appraisal.

The list will be re-visited upon and your comments will be integrated into this. Thanks in advance.

Manish Saini writes –

Don’t reduce the pay of your urrent employees in the pretext of the variable, rather introduce as a part of your next round of appraisal.

Ranjith Boyanapalli writes –

DOs would be to “find a valid differentiator” and have your “goto market strategy well in place”.

Mayur Pathak writes –

Every idea needs its own time and grooming. It is important to be persistent enough. Take suggestions though, but dont rely on them. Dont give up just because you lost patience or because some one said so. Come to the office every morning thinking this is going to be the best day ever.

don’t reduce the pay of your urrent employees in the pretext of the variable, rather introduce as a part of your next round of appraisal

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Relieving

image This week I hope to be relieved of all my duties. After a mammoth 3 months of notice period, it feels like the light at the end of the tunnel. I guess I can take up to a month of living without any responsibilities. But that’s the future, lets just focus on getting relieved on time, yeah?

Fingers crossed.

PS – The next time I put my John Hancock on any acceptance letter, I will make a note of checking the notice period. The last 3 months were a bitch.

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Silly-kaun Valley!

We recently shifted to a new office. The eTail team has grown so fast over the past two years, that it became imperative for our division to shift to a new office. The postal address boasts of an impressive area – Banjara Hills Road No. 12. I say impressive, since it is by far the most expensive area to live in .. with showrooms and plush restaurants all over the place. Little wonder why the top management decided to shift here, aside from the fact that the office was the only Vastu-compliant office readily available at that time.

The office seems good, but sadly lacks in all the aspects of infrastructure … no Class A internet provided here, public transport to a minimum, cellular networks barely reach here, this place is good for one thing … seclusion. Lack of network reach here makes for highly boring times … I did not know how much chattering I do on my cellphone until I came here.

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