I have got a chance to meet with the founders of an Ecommerce Web startup company Flipkart. FlipKart is an online book store primarily serving Indian consumers.
I am one of the very first consumers and I have ordered over a dozen books in the last two months from FlipKart. I am really impressed with the way they ship the books so fast and at no cost.
Flipkart was Started in 2007 by Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, both alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Flipkart is an Indian e-commerce company based on Bangalore, Karnataka.
Initially Flipkart used word of mouth marketing to popularise their company. A few months later, the company sold its first book on flipkart.com John Woods’ Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. Flipkart is among the top 20 Indian Web sites and has been credited with being India’s largest online bookseller with over 11 million titles on offer.
Flipkart store started with selling books and in 2010 branched out to selling CDs, DVDs, mobile, phones and accessories, cameras, computers, computer accessories and peripherals, and in 2011 Pens & stationery, other electronic items such as home appliances, kitchen appliances, personal care gadgets, health care products etc. Further in 2012, Flipkart added A.C, Air coolers, School supplies, Office supplies, Art Supplies & life style products to its product portfolio.
Flipkart offers multiple payment methods like credit card, debit card, net banking, e-gift voucher and Cash on Delivery. The cash-on-delivery model adopted by Flipkart has proven to be of great significance since the credit card and net banking penetration is very low in India.
From a two member embryonic idea to a 4,500-member company, the Flipkart story is not just about stupendous success and mind numbing numbers. Much more than that, it’s about redefining customer experience and breaking online shopping inertia.
Following is the interview I have done over email with Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal who is founders.
When was flipkart.com founded?
Flipkart.com was founded on 5th Sept 2007. The website was launched on 15th Oct 2007.
Could you tell me about founders?
Sachin Bansal (26) and myself, Binny Bansal (25), started flipkart.com. We are computer science graduates from IIT Delhi from the 2005 batch. Sachin worked at Techspan for 6 months and then at Amazon India for one and half year. I worked at Sarnoff India for one and half year and then at Amazon India. We quit our jobs in September 2007 to begin our startup journey.
How many days it took to launch the service?
It took us about a month and a half to start a basic working website with 50,000 titles. We have now grown our catalog to over 1 Lakh available titles.
Whats the total team size?
Primarily, there is only Sachin and myself. We also manage a small team which takes care of our back-end operations. and cureently we have 4500 member team size.
What made you to start something on your own?
We started flipkart.com because we ourselves felt the need for a good online book store. one this time E-commerce sector is startup in India so we believe that we can make a difference here for online shopping. We wanted to create something which has a long lasting value and which we can be proud of. Also at this point in our life we can devote our entire time and energy to flipkart which is very important for any startup.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced while launching the service?
One major challenge was to get tie-ups with the major book vendors as we did not have an off line book store. We have somehow managed to persuade them and now most of the vendors are supporting us. and second major challenge was to get the approval for the credit card payment gateway. We did not want to use CCAvenue as their interface is really confusing. So we had to convince Axis Bank for the payment gateway and that was not easy given the fact that we are a self funded startup and we do not have an offline presence.
What are your future plans for flipkart? Do you want to go beyond books and offer other products as well?
Currently we are completely focussed on books. We want to be number one in books first, get a big customer base and then look at the possibilities of offering other products.
Could you give me an idea about the market size for online book stores in India?
Market size for online book shopping in India is expected to be between Rs. 20-25 crore for 2007-2008. Market size of whole of book industry in India is estimated at 4000 crores and is growing at a very quick pace.
How are you marketing the service?
Marketing on a small budget is very difficult. A large part of our marketing is built into our low prices. We believe that if we keep prices low and keep the customer happy we can generate a lot of positive word of mouth which has much better ROI than spending that money on regular marketing techniques.
But, we do have to reach out to people somehow and hence we are experimenting with pay per click online advertising. We are also going to start a marketing campaign in Bangalore targeted at people working in IT companies. The current goal is to reach as many enthusiastic online book shoppers as possible.
How are you building trust? How can a first time visitor trust your service?
We have clearly defined and listed our shipping and return policies on the website. Also, we think free shipping adds a lot to the trust factor. We also have a page on which we address the issue of secure online payments.
All this coupled with an interface that quick, clean and user friendly, and the positive reviews on the web from our early adopters builds trust for our service.
Do you have any off-line presence?
We do not have an off-line presence and we do not plan to have one in the future either.
What is flipkart’s USP compared to other online book stores in India?
Flipkart.com USP is simplicity, convenience and customer service. We have made searching and browsing for books as simple as possible. And there are a lot of features lined up for the future which would help you in selecting books based on your interests.
And one of our major goals is to maintain very high standards for customer support. The lack of customer service is one of the major reasons for the slow E-commerce growth in India. We want to change this perception and get people to embrace E-commerce due to the many benefits it provides.
If possible can you share some statistics till date?(books sold and number of visitors, etc)
We can’t share exact statistics at this point but we are growing at the speed that we had expected when we first started out and we also met the goal that we had set for the first 3-4 months.
Finally, what are your suggestions for wanna be entrepreneurs in India?
Take the plunge. The timing could not be better. And very importantly do not go at it alone. Have at least one co-founder.
It was a real pleasure interacting with FlipKart founders and I wish them all the luck. Being part of a founding team in a start-up is one of the very exciting and challenging jobs I can think of.