In conversation with Abhilasha Dafria for YourStory.in, Namrata Kothari, co-founder of InOnIt tells us how her e-commerce venture provides folks in Mumbai a free one-stop source to comprehensive city-specific information as well as regular updates on a curated list of merchants in the lifestyle space viz. shopping, restaurants, bars and clubs, spas and salon, art and culture, travel and professional services.Tell us a little about your background please.
Meghna Mittal (co-founder) and I both grew up in Mumbai and met in our freshman year of college at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Little did we know that once we had worked at investment banks in New York and returned back to Mumbai, we would be starting a venture together. After graduating in May 2006, we had both moved to New York – Meghna to work for Bear Stearns and me to work for Goldman Sachs. After a two year stint at Bear Stearns, Meghna returned to India to work for Pratham. I moved home a year later. We both met and decided that India was ripe with opportunities, be it in education, technology, media or finance. That is when we started InOnIt.
So in a nut-shell, what role does your venture play?
InOnIt plays a dual role, both that of an e-magazine/e-directory and also of an e-commerce site. We launched with this aim in April 2011. As part of our phase 2, which we are planning to unveil in November 2011, wherever possible, members have the ability to transact online and also avail any discounts or offers exclusive to InOnIt members. Currently, there is no website that provides members with this functionality i.e. both to search and discover new events and also to buy in to these wherever possible.
How did you come up with the business idea behind InOnIt?
We came to realize that the Indian online space was being flooded by websites offering deep discounts and daily deals, e-directories and e-magazines. But we found very little online that would help us get around our city and keep us updated with everything in the lifestyle space. We were used to having such resources in New York. Thus, was born the idea to have a comprehensive directory as well as an event update system where members can log on to find out general information about all lifestyle merchants in their city. Along the way, as we discovered new and upcoming brands across India, we decided to give our members the ability to purchase from them online itself, which brings us to part 2 – Shop.InOnIt.in, which is soon to be launched.
What were the initial hurdles you faced while setting up InOnIt?
The first hurdle was finding a web-developer who would understand what we were trying to provide and be able to implement and execute the website flawlessly. After consulting and meeting numerous developers who were recommended by friends and colleagues, we finally found the right person. The other major hurdle was convincing merchants to try the website, without the website being launched yet. We wanted to interact directly with merchants who ran lifestyle businesses or their PR firms. And we wanted to tie-up with them as early as possible so that when we launched the website, we would have a ton of information for our users. We conducted at least a hundred one-on-one meetings even before we launched to get our desired number of merchants on board.
How big is your team currently? Are you looking at hiring?
Our team currently comprises six of us – including writers, graphic designers and business developers. Web development for both, the information portal and the e-store has been outsourced to different companies. We are looking at hiring for a few key positions – A Digital Marketing Head, a Search Engine Optimization Expert and possibly an Online Store Manager.
How do you plan to expand?
We have built the website so that we can easily start expanding to other cities. The aim is to have a streamlined process in Mumbai which we can easily replicate in 2012 as we expand to other metropolitan cities in India.
Do have a team on ground that regularly helps in updating the information?
Research is done by staying in touch with our current merchants on an ongoing basis and having a team that is constantly combing the city for new events and merchants.
Do you also take feedback from customers who visit a place that you have listed out?
Yes, we are always asking for customers to give us their recommendations and feedback. After all, the product is built to serve them and this will only help us provide them with better content.
How does your revenue model work?
Ultimately, we aim for our curated list of merchants to avail of annual subscriptions to the website so that they may get admin access and update customers as and when they have something new and interesting at their location, be it a sale, a designer launch, a new menu, etc. We are also hoping to gain from revenues from our soon to be launched Online Shop.
How many unique visitors land on your site everyday?
We get between 400-600 unique visits a day, more than 18000 fans on facebook and our weekly newsletter goes out to a large audience base in Mumbai.
Did you fundraise to startup and are you looking at getting funded now?
Yes, we did have an angel investor when we started up. The funds have helped us to cover our running costs so far. We will be looking to fundraise as and when the need arises, as that will give us the ability to reach out to more users, build our team as well as constantly update our technology.
Are there other players in the market doing similar things? What is your differentiator?
There are a few other players that have also been launched with a view to keeping readers in Mumbai updated about events but there is no one who is playing the dual role of an e-store as well as an e-magazine. There are pure play ecommerce businesses like fashionandyou.com and snapdeal.com, and then online magazine models like mumbaiboss.com, and newsletter services like bpbweekend.com, but no one who is really combining these elements for members.
Can you share with us some interesting trends about the market that you are trying to capture?
You must already be aware of the smart phone usage explosion in the big cities. Almost everyone who falls under the young urban middle class bracket has the internet on their fingertips. Usage of Facebook and Twitter in India is growing exponentially. People are definitely looking to try new brands and new places and express their individuality. We are hoping to be a channel where they can find things that interest them and help them do so.
How do you see yourself making it bigger in this field?
We believe the right mix of organic growth as well as defining and reaching the right target audience through relevant marketing will be the key to making InOnIt bigger and better.
Check out InOnIt for further details.