Secret Angel is an interesting offline/online take on solving India's lingerie problem


I’m a strong advocate of the ecommerce movement from a customer perspective. Take verticals like lingerie; the ecommerce platform really has opened up this much tabooed space to the conservative homes of India, with the condition that these homes have a working internet connection and is adept at using plastic currency.

The reports suggest that India has close to 150 million broadband users and about a total of 350 million credit and debit card users. There isn’t data about the intersection of these two data points, but the point is, that there is a very small population in India that spends online.

And that, is the problem. Here’s a workaround for a social problem, but the tools required aren’t accessible to everyone. Poornima Vinaykumar, who had just come off running a fairly successful software services startup, felt this problem, when came to selling lingerie online. She says, “Ecommerce companies like Zivame have really helped women avoid the taboo of being judged while buying lingerie from your regular shops. Its impact is really felt in the tier 2 and tier 3 cities. But what about the ones that don’t have access to the internet? Wouldn’t they still face this problem?”

Poornima Vinaykumar

To tackle this problem, Poornima has started up Secret Angel, a venture that sells lingerie through a referral mechanism. This business model was inspired by the likes of Amway and Tupperware. However, she saw demerits in these models, as there was a learning curve which was required to understand how MLM system works and the fact that it was complicated. However, what these models did was to empower people with the ability to generate revenue. She says, “As an entrepreneur, I used to consult with AWAKE, and what I found there was that women weren’t ready enough to completely plunge into running a business for various reasons. The biggest one, of course, was the lack of capital. With this in mind, I always thought the concept of micro-entrepreneurship which Amway or Tupperware was powerful - it provided women with a step into entrepreneurship and it wasn’t as risky as full time entrepreneurship as well.”

The concept of Secret Angel is fairly straightforward. You’re can sign up with Secret Angel, and you’re given a catalogue with some sample material. You can refer the product to people you know, and if they’re interested, you call Secret Angel’s telesales team, who will deliver the product to their home. At the end of this, you get a cut of the sales. Poornima believes that such a model is particularly viable for lingerie, as a women are more comfortable talking to other women about this. In fact, her first experiment was at home, with her mother-in-law. She says, “It was challenging. I had to talk to her about this when my husband wasn’t at home and it was quite awkward. She used to hide the catalogue from everyone. But over the months, she’s more open about it and she finds it convenient.” Poornima further shared that the company is also building a web channel to cater for potential online buyers as well.

This is the trend which Poornima has seen over the past four months or so. There are over 40 registered Angels, within Karnataka. Poornima shared that the Secret Angels team haven’t pushed much to get Angels on board. She says, “Almost all of the sign ups have been through word of mouth and it’s growing quite rapidly. We have delivery units in Bangalore, Mysore and Belgaum, from where we have delivery boys who make sure that the product reaches our customers in the most discreet fashion. We have partnered with some of the industry’s best known brands, including the likes of Lovable.” Secret Angels maintains an inventory, added Poornima.

Poornima believes that the industry that she’s operating in is quite a unique one, and it is untapped as well. She believes 5 to 6 years of work in this space can result in a good exit for her as an entrepreneur. However, the business that she's in right now is not something that you'd expect from her, given that she was a software entrepreneur. The proverbial entrepreneurial itch, played its part in Poornima's life as well. She says, “Me and my friend started up when we were in college. The business was a great success – we were doing about 5 – 6 lakhs of business a month and we had served over 500 clients all around the world. I even went on to marry my friend, and we're happily married. But there was always the need to get my hands on something challenging. I heard how difficult retail was, and after a lot of research, I thought that was big enough problem to solve.”

Well, it's difficult to say where this business will go, but the reported early signs are encouraging. The challenge lies in scaling, and Poornima shared that they're looking to raise funds for it. If they raise the funds, it will be interesting to see how they go about scaling Secret Angel.

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