Over 450 entrepreneurs (and a few investors) and I attended YourStory.in’s E-Sparks event on eCommerce yesterday. The energy, enthusiasm and passion for building the next big company in the eCommerce space was absolutely infectious. While there was more than a fair share of “flipkart envy”, both for their scale, and speed of their growth, most entrepreneurs were extremely optimistic about their company’s ability to raise funds and show fast growth.The first thing that struck me was the thirst for specifics and details, with over 30+ questions fired at Aakash’s panel session with an all star cast of entrepreneurs, investors and technologists. Also interesting was the distinct skew of questions towards operational aspects of running an eCommerce business (How much should my marketing spend be – please give me a breakup of organic traffic vs. paid traffic, OR How much inventory should I hold – please give me a breakup of consignment vs. in house OR What does it cost to start an eCommerce venture in India?). My own bias indicated most people would be more concerned about the storefront, but surprisingly many who were running eCommerce businesses in the audience correctly figured out that the website is the easiest part. Shailendra’s discussion on eCommerce in China and the comparables to India were enlightening to practically everyone I spoke with.
My second takeaway was from Mekin’s (flipkart) wonderfully open and honest discussion on their story, growth, and challenges they are looking to tackle. What struck me the most was the mix of grudging admiration at their focus on “wow” service and execution and the tingle of jealously at their scale and ambition. More than 5 entrepreneurs I spoke with claimed they will be the “flipkart of their category”. From Mekin’s presentation, I was struck by the unassuming maturity and the willingness to share enough specifics that gave many in the audience sufficient information to chew on for days and weeks. As many mentioned on the sidelines, the lack of sharing of both learning and knowledge (in the pretext of company secret) from many of the other eCommerce providers is both a deterrent to the industry overall and a waste of resources and money to learn what they know already.
My third takeaway was from judging the 12 startups that made the final cut of hottest startups in eCommerce. I observed that most (except one) of the companies selected did not deliver a physical product –they were all either solution providers or companies that provided digital delivery – tickets, gift cards, cab booking etc. This was in sharp contrast to the informal poll I had with the audience on the sidelines, where nearly 50% of folks were delivering goods using courier services. What I do know is that most of these companies (that ship a physical product) will quickly realize that the delivery problems (which Mekin mentioned) will be the biggest challenge on-route to delighting customers and many will rework their model with tweaks to ensure quicker gratification for customers.