For an unparalleled customer experience, a healthy inventory is important and for maintaining a good inventory, cash in torrents is needed. Zivame did the right thing to scout for funding early on. In its funding endeavor, Richa met Vani Kola, founder of IndoUS Venture Partners. “Vani showed tremendous alacrity. They took a decision and got back to us with a lot of confidence in our team ” says Richa, talking of the first meeting with Vani. What appealed to Richa was the swiftness with which Vani moved. She adds, “We met Vani and were able to close the deal very fast, which was very good. You don’t get to see VCs moving so fast.”
Richa explains how investors play a role in the company’s growth apart from just the money. In her opinion, investors open the window to the external world, which is evident when she says, “With IUVP coming on board, we get a sense of what’s happening outside. They know what the best practices are, they know what has been done and what hasn’t been done. So every time you ask whether this can be done or this cannot be done, there is someone to corroborate your view and this can be a value add that comes from IUVP in giving us a sense of the market landscape.”
This apart, Vani acts as an executive coach and a mentor. She is a tremendous strength and changes the perspective to their advantage. For example, she changed the “no questions asked exchange policy” to “no questions asked money back,” which lifted customer delight bountifully in line with Richa’s ambition of “when we plan to go two notches above the rest, simple suggestions like this one make a lot of difference to us.”
Why the name Zivame? Richa explains, “We didn’t want to put up a French name, as mostly all lingerie has a French connection with respect to the names. We wanted a name that will particularly resonate with the customer once the customer has possibly been exposed to the brand or has interacted with the brand. So, Ziva is a Hebrew word, which means radiance or splendor and ‘me’ is something that I’ve added so that it becomes ‘radiance me’. Also, it lends a premium hint to it without sounding too luxurious or too broad.”
So, what made Richa venture into the lingerie segment? She goes on to explain: “When I was with SAP, I got to work with a big conglomerate called Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret. Here, I was surprised to see that more than a quarter of their sales was coming through their online channel. We don’t think of lingerie as a category. It’s one of the most neglected parts of the wardrobe of the Indian woman and that’s where my interest spiked and I started doing a lot of consumer research. I went to the departmental stores to actually see what was happening. I also met all the brands to understand the entire landscape. What came out from all of this was the understanding that retailers were only stocking the sizes that moved fast because of the limitation of the shelf space and in lingerie the number and sizes are much more.” The funny part of the problem is that the manufacturers were manufacturing the sizes that sold occasionally, but the stores were not stocking that product and the women of those sizes have their needs unfulfilled. Taking a step further, Richa puts forth an argument as to what gave birth to her venture: “If you leave the top 10 cities, there was very less availability of good brands. So I started thinking how to solve the problem. And, then there was the thought of a distribution system that transcended the barrier of physical distribution. This is where I chose E-commerce as a channel to solve this problem. And therefore, lingerie and then Zivame, so it wasn’t really E-commerce that was my first choice, it was lingerie and identifying the gap in the market and addressing it. Internet is one of the most conducive channels and it maintains and respects your privacy because this category needs privacy. It has unlimited shelf space and it will reach out to pan India customers like no other channel can.”
What has clicked for Zivame is its approach to its product line and enabling the customer to choose the right fit. Richa explains, “Even after trying it out, 80% of the women still wear the wrong sized bra. It means the people are still not aware of what a right fit should look like. We have proprietary content on the site that educates women on what a right fit should look like. We have online product experts with whom you can chat too. Despite all this, if the customer does not like the product, we do a reverse pick up in all the regions where we have our logistics partners. Otherwise we let the customer send us the product back and we have a no questions asked or money back exchange kind of policy.”
You can talk to a customer executive on a whim when you purchase from Zivame, to clarify your doubts. Pointing out one example of how some women have taken to the offering, Richa says, “There is place called Malda in West Bengal. This customer has sent a PO number and ordered a 36FF and 36G bra, which means she is a full figure woman. The lady is ready to try out two products and return the size that doesn’t fit her, all for the sake of its availability. For this, she has already paid by her card. So I think, the business only needs more conviction and faith from the customer.”
Richa’s family was happy with the idea of her becoming an entrepreneur hailing from BITS, Pilani and NMIMS but they “thought that it was a passing fad,” to quote Richa. When asked what Richa does, they would just answer “she is in retail” without explaining further, because lingerie is not discussed openly and is still an intimate detail of a woman’s life not open to public discussion. After seeing good press, Zivame has found ambassadors in Richa’s relatives as well.
Richa quickly dismisses the talk of a “woman entrepreneur” by saying, “I don’t think there is a difference between a man or a woman entrepreneur. The challenges and the advantages are all the same. What I would possibly add here, is that, being a woman entrepreneur in lingerie as a category, it’s very easy to relate with the product. The learning curve is way higher. From understanding what the market needs, to how to position the product, what kind of assortment we need to build, to talk convincingly to the brand partners, to the external world, I think that has been an advantage.”
Zivame has also taken off, thanks to its business positioning and team members. Richa says with a lot of pride that “I have got a very good team that ensures things happen in the best possible way. So, Zivame’s success is mainly because of the team. The second part of it is our understanding of the consumer buying behavior. It is because of this reason that we have seen women coming back. We have close to 18,000 SKUs on the site and 20 brands. Also we have introduced something like A to G cups that was absent in the Indian market. We have introduced International brands like WonderBra, and we have seen people coming back and buying them.”
Zivame gathers insights through an in-house analytics tool that helps them understand what customers are buying, why they are buying it, and what products they want. Richa explains: “Also every order has a story. We also keep a track of whether the loyalty has increased or not. How much are they buying when they come back to our site? Every business tracks consumer behavior in this manner. All our customer care executives are women, and women love talking, so when a woman customer and the customer representative meet over the phone, they talk a lot, and this is something that gives us a direct and clear feedback. At such a moment, women get candid and share great stories of their lives as well. A lot of women interact with us on our website too and we get to know about their problems, or dissatisfaction with their sizes. And, we try to address these issues, either through products, through services or through consultation. And that’s how we evolve our product offering also.”
Zivame has made a difference in understanding women’s needs. Sensing that women are hesitant to elaborate on their problems in an over-the-counter transaction, Zivame provides all possible support to help the woman discuss their problems. Although women form the major customer base, Richa says, “I would not want to deny the fact that men are ‘healthy’ shoppers for lingerie” adding that Victoria’s Secret was specifically added for men to get lingerie for their wives and girlfriends. B-school experience comes in handy to pick up a great attitude, gives an ability to multitask and understand problems from all facets. Richa doesn’t buy the opinion that there aren’t many women starting up. She dismisses the talk saying, “A lot of women are doing startups, it’s just that we don’t hear of them.”
Talking of challenges, Richa feels they are the usual ones with all E-commerce sites. This apart, “payment gateway troubles and logistics issues are very typical problems that all e-commerce players face”
Zivame is currently a 100-member team. Talking of growth, Richa agrees that, “such growth certainly introduces a bit of chaos, but, having worked at SAP before, I am a big fan of ERP and the processes. We are one of the youngest companies to have gotten an ERP system. Our ERP went live last week. The idea is to get very good processes in place.”
Richa ends with a story of how her conception of women in India underwent a drastic change. “Our packaging, unlike other E-commerce companies, is in very plain cardboard boxes. So, we are a company that cannot put external branding. Also we get requests from women who want the size of the packet to be very small, so that they can receive the package anywhere they wish and just put it inside their handbags. Also, when we launched WonderBra I had thought that more orders would come from the top 10 cities as people in those places are more aware of the brands, but I was so surprised to see orders coming from places like Solapur, Bokaro, where I would not even think that people possibly know about WonderBra. I have seen women from interior regions of Bihar ordering a body suit which costs Rs. 4000. We have also seen consumers come back and shop for lingerie every month!”
Richa’s story is one of the rare entrepreneurial success stories in India. To set up a business in an industry as personal as lingerie and disrupt it, is a commendable feat. She will succeed in inspiring many more women to take up the entrepreneurial route.