It was an early morning ‘alone moment’ in January 2015,when contemplating the gap and exclusion the e-commerce wave had left a lot of people in that lead to the birth of iShippo. The crowd-sourced logistics and marketplace for homemade products came about after conversations with my wife, friends, colleagues and home-based business entrepreneurs in my apartment.
Around the same time I was also leading a transition at SourceN India Private Limited (a company I co-founded with Deepak Ramachandran and Ajay Ramachandran), which was undergoing a talent acquisition by HolidayIQ and Qwikcilver. We had an excellent mobile practice team and garnered expertise developing mobile apps for clients like Cleartrip, HolidayIQ, TravelMob, TaxiForSure etc.
The leap of faith for me was the shift from providing product development service for companies to creating a product ourselves. We had expertise in building mobile application for several well-known startups and corporations. But creating a product from scratch to take on a niche market required high level of clarity and commitment in terms of vision, expertise, strategy, alliance, execution, operation and a sense of challenging my own boundaries and comfort zone.
As with every startup, we at iShippo began from scratch. I had the support of Deepak Ramachandran, who is a co-founder and CTO, and a small team. We started hiring talent to fill in the necessary resource gaps.
There were other aspects of putting together a successful product that did not have knowledge of. We had to start testing the soundness of our vision, timing of launch, funding, marketing, promotion, branding and security. As an entrepreneur, I have fundamental working knowledge and execution expertise in many of these disciplines, but I am not an expert in everything. I knew that these things needed expert attention, observation and advice.
Getting it all right would be crucial to iShippo’s success. My research and planning provided me the confidence that we could put a good product in the hands of customers. However, valuable insights came from successful founders/entrepreneurs of other companies. Furthermore, the wisdom was serendipitous.
With iShippo in mind and urgency in spirit, I had to find out soon if what I had envisioned made business sense to other entrepreneurs.
So one afternoon I asked for an appointment with Prashant Prakash, of Accel Partners, to seek advice. He invited me over for a lunch meeting and I took the opportunity to explain iShippo. In retrospect, I realise how valuable the discussion proved to be in deciding on the best approach for the product and the metrics we should measure. He gave me a patient ear, understood the idea of a marketplace supported with crowd-sourced logistics and provided pointers on what would play a crucial role to the growth of the product.
On another occasion, I discussed certain legal aspects of our business with Mahesh Devaiah, MDT Partner, who introduced me to Uday Singh, CEO SIS Group. Uday scrutinised the soundness of the product, concurred and encouraged me to continue. He advised me on the security issues that might be involved while on-boarding parties into the marketplace ecosystem and provided advice on physical verification, authentication of identity. We have now integrated BetterPeople verification service for our sellers and shippers.
On funding, Raghunandan (Founder, TaxiForSure) explained how he funded his company with ‘convertible note’ and how convenient an instrument it was for startups looking for early stage funding and don’t wish to get into the hassle of valuation at the early stages.
We started incorporating advice from seasoned entrepreneurs and professionals into our product development.
As any startup, we had prepared our marketing and promotion plan for iShippo, including a go-to-market strategy that most startups use, like ad-networks, on-ground campaign and social media. A chance conversation with TravelMob founder Prashant Kirtane brought to light the effectiveness of balancing the demand and supply side of the marketplace ecosystem and to take small numbers, grow it organically and test the model before boiling the ocean with excess demand or supply and not meeting customer/seller expectation. He said that from his experience, excess demand or oversupply is a big deterrent for the mobile app ecosystem where users have little patience. With that in mind, we rejigged our go-to-market strategy and made #ChaiPeCharcha our first market outreach programme. (Why not? Especially since our company is named ‘Modee’ Software Research & Development Private Limited!)
Yet another priceless contribution came from Hari Nair, founder and CEO of HolidayIQ. In one of our meetings, he asked me two simple questions: What will your customers experience with iShippo and how will it be different compared to other platforms that exist or will exist in the future? How will you differentiate from the rest? While we both were left pondering and ideating, he finally suggested that the unique value proposition iShippo delivers to its customers is that all the handmade produce sold in the marketplace is ‘made with love’. We now use the #MadeWithLove as the qualifying criteria for produce being sold on our marketplace.
A meeting with Sahil Barua, founder of Delhivery, would provide me insight into the logistic challenges of connecting places like Northeast India. As a marketplace for handmade produce, that area is key, as the region produces great quality handmade products and has a thriving cottage industry. The zeal from Sahil, Santanu, Ayesha and the Delhivery team to provide logistic connectivity to the underserved Northeast is commendable. iShippo has partnered with Delhivery for our marketplace logistics.
One of my discussions with Osama Manzar, founder of Digital Empowerment Foundation, became a catalyst for iShippo to partner with Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs), which are community oriented platforms built to create information-empowered communities across India, to source, catalogue and sell products from rural artisans on the iShippo marketplace.
Mahesh Narayanan, Global Chief Operating Officer - Saavn, shared his wisdom on mobile ecosystem, ad-networks and ways to promote our mobile app.
These conversations and advice proved crucial and providential in shaping the path and future of iShippo. We are BETA testing iShippo, which will be launched soon.
About the author:
Karma is the Founder & CEO of iShippo: A marketplace for handmade/home-based business enabled by crowd sourced logistics. He is a serial entrepreneur with 20+ years of expertise in provide solutions for eGovernance, Mobile Innovation, BigData Analytics, Cloud Computing, Banking & Finance, Telecom & Hospitality.Owner of 9'INE (A Sikkimese Cuisine Restaurant) in Gangtok, Karma is also an avid soccer fan and a guitar player.