- An Opportunity Presents Itself
- Genesis of an Idea
- Our First Pilot
- Our Many Pivots
- Tasting Success
- Scaling for Hyper Growth
An Opportunity Presents Itself: Ola Play
Fynd.com is growing rapidly. We had recently surpassed our growth targets and onboarded over a million customers on the platform in under 6 weeks, when an opportunity presented itself. Ola announced its connected car platform and joined hands with Fynd as one of the early partners to launch shopping experiences in Ola Cabs. Since Fynd had access to a large pool of inventory from brand stores, the idea was to:
- help customers view what products were available in the stores/mall,
- book a visit and pick-up products from the store — all while the customers are taking a ride in an Ola to the mall.
Ola Play is a platform that allows 3rd party developers to build and publish their applications on the platform (much like Google Play & Apple App Store). Ola Play applications work on React and since we could not directly port our Android app, we built APIs (an extension of our core Fynd application services) which were then integrated by a React app developer for publishing our application on Ola Play. These APIs allowed external applications to access store inventory, view product details, price, create orders etc.
Over the next few months, we rolled out our pilot with Ola in two cities — Hyderabad and Bangalore. Although the program did not elicit much user response (the engagement was skewed towards Music & Video apps, and rightly so) — little did we know that this project would open up more growth avenues for us.
Genesis of an Idea: Open API
We had stopped marketing spends to acquire customers through traditional channels like Facebook, Google, Affiliate Marketing etc. and largely focused our efforts on growth initiatives like Referral Program due to better unit economics. Around this time, Farooq tasked the team to start thinking about new avenues for growing transactions without spending a single money on any form of marketing. This initiative stemmed from the fact that our largest cost was Customer Acquisition and we had to find a way to bring that down to get to positive Free Cash Flow.
We started looking for ways where someone else (aka Demand Channels) brought the customers and we could pass a certain margin of our commission to these channels for getting us an order. Some of the ideas we had at the time include:
- partnering with Affiliate Networks to divert traffic to Fynd.com
- building an influencer program
- integrating with platforms looking to monetise their high traffic by utilising the Open APIs we had already built for Ola Play
We were sceptical about scaling Affiliate Networks due to previous experiences of increased fraudulent transactions and leakages at the bottom of the funnel (cancellations, rejected deliveries etc.). Similarly, building an influencer program took a backseat because:
- the influencers would charge certain upfront fees
- and there was no way for us to quantify what kind of growth we could expect.
We knew integrating with platforms would take up a good amount of our engineering bandwidth but we were willing to make that investment to reap benefits of ongoing transactions and the advantage of not having to spend any marketing dollars to acquire new customers. Hence, we narrowed our scope and started targeting platforms which had significantly large daily/monthly active users but lacked monetisation mechanics, or were looking for supply avenues. In return, what we brought to the table was:
- One stop access to large supply: 300+ brands, 5000+ stores, 700K+ products. Our platform partners need not spend their effort and energy in negotiating and on-boarding brand partners anymore.
- Managed logistics & support: Fynd would take care of all the heavy lifting. From order processing and logistics to customer returns and refunds etc. All this would help our platform partners not worry about running day-to-day ecommerce operations.
Our First Pilot: Integrating with a Retailer Network
We had some early success in partnering with TheSmartShop — one of India’s largest Retailer network with some help from Harsh and an investor in the company.
For context, TheSmartShop is a platform which has a network of over 100,000+ retailers (or agents as they are popularly called) who use the platform to help Tier 3 and Tier 4 customers with money transfers & remittance, booking railway/air tickets etc. This was the time before Jio, where users in Tier 3 and 4 heavily relied (and interestingly still do) on such agents. These agents were in some sense a gateway to ecommerce for this population.
SmartShop wanted to experiment and introduce Fashion category for re-selling on their platform and found a perfect fit in integrating with Fynd’s Open APIs to get quick and easy access to all the supply.
Even though there was some initial traction in growth but the number of transactions were nowhere comparable to what an ecommerce marketplace usually drives. This made us realise that we would need a lot of such partners if we were to meaningfully scale this model.
We started scaling our outreach efforts with this framework in mind and reached out to companies across sectors to stitch a partnership. Some of them but not limited to include:
- Banks: ICICI Bank, Yes Bank, Citi Bank, HDFC Bank etc.
- High Traffic Utility & Engagement Platforms: Truecaller, Roposo, Tapzo etc.
- Online classifieds, News, & Shopping Platforms: Justdial, Nearbuy, Times Internet etc.
- Loyalty & Ecommerce Platforms: Myntra, Amazon, Ajio, eBay, Shopclues, Paytm Mall, Yepme, EasyRewards etc.
- Reseller Platforms: Meesho, SmartShop etc.
Our conversations with these platforms gave us a sense that there was demand for what we had to offer. Specifically, from ecommerce platforms who were keen on getting access to the fresh season store merchandise which they did not have.
Our Many Pivots: Finding the Right Product (and Framework) Market Fit
Between late 2017 and mid 2018, we had some more setbacks. Our platform integration with Yes Bank for their ecommerce arm on Yes Pay never saw the light of day due to change in strategic priorities of the bank. We saw some scale in transactions after partnering with Meesho. However, we had to shut down the program after a few months as the margins offered by our brand partners did not make economic sense to Meesho resellers.
We had pinned our hopes on the integration with Jabong for its luxury platform. From the time we went live, just in a few months, the project saw a natural death amidst structural changes and shifting priorities between Jabong and its parent company, Myntra. This was a time when frustration within the team was at an all time high. We were putting in efforts but not seeing significant results. This made us question whether the investment & effort vs output made any business sense. Thankfully for us the belief and determination to figure things out kept us going through these tough times.
After some retrospection, we realised that we were doing it wrong. The problem with working alongside large platforms was:
- Mindset: Selling goods was not their core focus. It was a trial and error experiment. Many platforms naturally pivoted to advertisements as a core revenue channel later.
- Long Sales/Alliance cycles: Decision-making at large organisations tends to move slowly. We found ourselves spending far more time convincing them.
- Slow development cycles and constant change in organisation priorities.
We regrouped and decided to channel our engineering and partnership efforts to focus on projects that gave us a bang for our buck. This meant we focus only on partnerships where the core focus is ecommerce as a business, and an assurance that the project will not be scrapped. Naturally, we narrowed down to two options:
- Integrate with Marketplaces: We decided to only work with top 3–4 marketplaces in India. Our proposition was to give them access to store inventory which they were not able to tap into due to the complexity involved in integrating with various POS systems.
- Integrate/Build Omnichannel Websites: All our existing brand partners, up until this point — were only selling products from their warehouse on their websites. These inventory silos created inefficiencies in Supply Chain and left them with a lot of deadstock that remained unsold at the stores. This eventually led to liquidation by heavy discounting on Marketplaces and their own sites. Fynd brought in the expertise to connect their store inventory to the website as well as the operational expertise in managing logistics. This allowed brands to focus on what matters — get more sales while the rest was taken care of by Fynd.
Tasting Success: India’s First Omnichannel Powered Brand Website
With renewed focus on what we wanted to do, we restructured our Sales & Business Development team to only focus on brand partners and help them on their omnichannel journey through their own ecommerce website. Brands would no longer would have to be dependent on Fynd or Tata Cliq to get more sales for their stores.
In August 2018, we launched India’s first Omnichannel website for Being Human. Customer orders were fulfilled from 30+ Being Human stores and the brand leveraged this infrastructure to deliver products on same or next day to customers. To our delight, over the next few months the website scaled upwards of 20K orders contributing to over 15–18% sales for some of their stores.
By all means this was our first large success story and reinforced the belief that we were on the right path. Over the next couple of years we have gone on to power omnichannel experiences for more than 50 such brand websites like Bath & Body Works, Aldo etc. Today, brand websites contribute ~35% of our Open API business.
Scaling for Hyper Growth: Partnerships with India’s Leading Marketplaces
While we were working on building Omnichannel websites, we had also been in talks with Amazon, Myntra, Flipkart, Tata Cliq etc. among others for over a year to figure out ways in which we could work together.
While principally each of these marketplaces were onboard, we had some initial difficulty in integrating with them. This was largely because these marketplace systems were built as monoliths and primarily around the concept of 1 Seller, 1 Location construct. The roots of this architecture dates back to initial days of ecommerce in the country when the Marketplaces themselves used to buy products from retailers and sell on their platform. By virtue of this architecture, their systems were not capable of handling omnichannel use cases like Smart Order Reassignment, Pickup and Drop from Stores etc.
Even though we had been in talks with Myntra for over a year, our first major breakthrough came at a point when they acquired Pretr to boost their omnichannel capabilities and also overcome the system integration capabilities. We subsequently went on to integrate with Amazon Prime, Flipkart Assured, and Tata Cliq. We became the first company in the Indian retail industry to offer true Omnichannel integrations on all leading marketplaces.
It is this early mover advantage combined with a solid platform foundation that was laid years ago which has helped us scale this program from virtually nothing to more than 100 brands in a short span of 1 year. Today, these marketplaces contribute ~65% of our Open API business and help drive more than 20% of store sales for our partner brands.
Putting it all Together
If this journey has taught us anything, it is to have faith in our ideas, trust our team, and be at it by giving more than our 100%. And the results will take care of themselves.
Interested in Working with Us? Visit us at omnifynd.com to get a demo from our experts.
Thanks to Kritika Singhania and Rinky Elsa Mathew.