As any entrepreneur knows, sacrifices come with the territory of starting-up. Ditto is the case with Varun Yagain, founder of ecommerce pet care operation DogMyCats. In his case although the change was hard on his wife and four month old baby, it was perhaps toughest on his dog.
It was the presence of a pet in his home throughout his life that made Varun Yagain go down the path of pet care when he finally gave in to the urge of starting-up. And while his own dog has had to settle for less face time with his human, it is a miracle help for busy professionals who are doting pet owners themselves.
From completely funding his venture to delivering products door to door himself, Yagain is exhaustively involved in every aspect of his start-up. Read on to know more about DogMyCats, how Yagain hopes to meet a worthy co-founder one day and why starting-up, despite all the obvious risks and limitations, is always worth it.
Why and when did you decide to start up? Did you have to make any steep sacrifices for it?
Having worked at large corporations for seven years and then at other start-ups for four years, starting up on my own was a natural progression for me. During the big-company-employee days, I was very fortunate to have contributed to building fantastic technology solutions. But the yawning gap between the day’s work and the difference it makes to the world was something that used to bother me. That is why I decided to work for other start-ups. It was like going through a phase of so much learning that at end of which, one can only get restless in wanting to put it to use oneself. That is when, in March of 2014, DogMyCats came to fruition.
Exchanging all of my leisure for something that I enjoy more, caring about what I do without noticing that I am making a lot less money than I used to; these are but mere adjustments. The real sacrifices are being made by those closest to me – my wife and my 4-month old baby in having to see less of me and my dog having to make do with shorter walks!
Why did you venture into ecommerce with pet care? Were there any other ideas you considered before going ahead with this one?
With so much attention going to ecommerce, it was inevitable that it came up often on my mind. It started as a disagreement with the wide spread derision towards the inventory-led model. And this went contrary to better efficiencies as the first thing I learnt about ecommerce.
To find a niche but without having to create a market and where there are opportunities to add online services to differentiate from the horizontal ecommerce players - all these factors had to lead me to pet care. The fact that I have always shared my home with pets did have an influence. Due to an abysmally low share of online commerce in the overall growing pie, the alternative ideas on my list kept getting struck out early on.
How is DogMyCat different from other ecommerce websites selling pet care products? What gap does it aim to fill?
The proportion of pet households to all households makes it a niche category that isn’t catered to very well in terms of the choices demanded, especially with the increasing phenomenon of humanizing of pets. And the repetitive need to buy the regular needs- large bags of kibble or litter-makes convenience a very important and a hitherto missing factor. These are the two things that DogMyCats has its eyes set on – choice and convenience.
Pet care products fall into three categories: (a) essential-and-urgent like food & supplements; (b) essential-and-not-urgent like shampoos, leashes, bowls, at al and (c) the discretionary like toys & other accessories. Existing online businesses work very well with the latter two categories but lose out on efficiencies and convenience when it comes to the first category. Imagine shipping a bag of kibble or bentonite sand weighing 15kgs across the country and that is how others do it. Imagine having to wait for a week or more for it to be delivered and that is how long others take. Even if one takes the fulfilment models of the large horizontal market places, the unfavourable value-to-volume ratio is up against their present models. DogMyCats addresses all these by working more like the online grocery businesses. We deliver the same day on all orders placed before noon, relying on an in-house delivery team. We currently operate only in Bangalore and will be launching in two more cities by March 2015.
Since you started with DogMyCats in March 2014, what has the response been like?
The response has been a tremendous validation of the choices we made – with no month’s revenues growing less than 20% over the previous months. These are early days of course, but we have held on to this pace for over 7 months now and I see no reason for it to slow down any time soon. The convenience that we have been able to offer has meant that we share a good traction giving us an average basket size of 1650 rupees and with orders from repeat customers constituting 68% of our monthly revenues. And the service standards we have set has led to word-of-mouth marketing being the source of 73% of our new customers.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome in getting started with your venture? How did you deal with them?
The distribution and retailing in the pet care products forms an even smaller network than what was estimated. New entrants face the customary resistance and there aren’t too many alternative sourcing options if relations sour. Squeezing every bit of operational efficiency has allowed us to be patient and grow these relationships consistently. This has now lead us to a gradual acceptance.
The other big obstacle is that being a single-person founding team can potentially create crippling dependencies. The way we have overcome this is by creating clearly defined job functions for everyone involved and creating well-honed processes that stitch it all together; something we have been largely successful at.
What has been the biggest satisfaction of starting up? Any life lessons you would like to share?
While the independence of thought and action in starting-up will always be dreamt of but elusive, it is the chance at an honest self-evaluation that has been the most satisfying aspect. From school to corporate careers, we depend on others to tell us where we stand. As an entrepreneur, one just knows.
The life lesson I would like to share is that self-discovery is the only real source of life lessons. And starting-up offers an excellent opportunity at that.
How did you secure funding for DogMyCats?
DogMyCats is entirely self-funded as of now.
Who all are your core team comprised of? What is your working dynamic?
It will be a fine day when I meet a co-founder(s) who shares the goal of service and operational excellence while not necessarily on the ways to achieve it. For now, I form the single-person founding team. I am ably assisted by an operations manager and a delivery manager, between whom not one customer has been left dissatisfied.
I am a big believer in Paul Graham’s advice to start-ups - Do things that do not scale. I take it to mean that we must do things where scale is not a competitive advantage to begin with. I personally know 85% of the pet owners (and their pets) who are our customers and have personally made the first 300 deliveries. Without this, we could have never gathered as much operations data and customer insight as we did. This is what has led us to create efficient and autonomous processes – something that is all the more important till such time that the management team is bigger. With a sure footing like this, I am certain that scale will follow.
What does the future look like for DogMyCats?
By adding services, we intend to make the best of the fact that we are city-specific and that we are not a horizontal ecommerce player. Aquarium cleaning contracts to veterinary house calls, pet picnics, grooming et al are opportunities ahead of us that find a place in our medium term plans. Our immediate focus is to add more products to our portfolio and expansion to other cities and keep up our pace of growth for the next 15-18 months.
You can check out DogMyCats here
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