As I walk through Andheri’s MTNL Lane in Mumbai, every so often crossing a structure with the words 'WOW Express' splashed across them in lively blues and greens. I get the sense that the tech-enabled logistics startup is a bastion in the making – not just physically in the area, but allegorically in the industry too. I enter a cushy, air-conditioned lounge-like space with bright green plants juxtaposed with elegant white desks, and walls with art that constantly remind the three dapper gentlemen who had built the space what they were, are and always should be about.
When asked about the wall and everything it was trying so earnestly to communicate, Sandeep Padoshi, one of the founders, goes on to elaborate upon their seven commandments that managed to make a company dealing with a seemingly commonplace service into one with a heart, soul, passion and vision.
“While other companies may be operations-driven, we choose to be HR-driven. We don’t call our employees delivery boys, but call them 'service marshals', which in itself is granting dignity to their profile,” says Sandeep.To value a company asset that manages customer queries and route optimisation alike, the startup invests in them through gestures like being the only logistics company which provides breakfast at branch. “We have experienced less than five percent of attrition and most of the people who started with us are still with us,”Sandeep adds. Indeed, WOW Express has one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry.
The company, the founders claim, lays utmost importance on delivery. “All these billion-dollar baby companies place all the emphasis on their website, the UI, the product range, and the experience online, without realising that the essence of online shopping is procurement of the product, that is, delivery. It is an equally important part of the process, if not more," explains Sandeep.
Grooming their staff is at the heart of their services."The delivery boys are the face of the company. We train our staff to be competent enough to represent our clients as well as our brand name and reputation, by teaching them to be well-spoken, well-mannered, trained to handle customer queries, and in many cases, even learn the product thoroughly so that they may address complaints, installations, returns as well as refunds," says Sandeep.
This commandment applies to the founders' attitude. From just two offices in Surat and Mumbai, the startup has now grown to over 20 across eight Indian cities, through constant innovation and intuition, which started even before WOW Express came about. All three founders – Sandeep Padoshi, Jayesh Kamat, both at 40, and MazharFaruqi at 45 years of age, had successful careers spanning 15 to 20 years each. But when the e-commerce wave hit, they weren't going to be left behind. Sandeep, who had been handling sales and distribution for various popular publications like Reader's Digest and Amar Chitra Katha, felt he knew the home-ordering consumer in and out, considering Reader's Digest had been following the cash-on-delivery model right from the start. He had corporate ties with Mazhar and Jayesh for seven years and knew them as veterans in the logistics space, thought he could certainly use their combined wealth of experience, to capture market share when only few competitors were in sight.
With more and more e-commerce websites shifting their operations from the part-inventory, part-marketplace model, to a fully marketplace one, the trio anticipated this new trend would create chaos in the logistics world,as delivery and courier companies found it increasingly difficult to aggregate orders from vendors across the country, and then deliver it to different locations. WOW Express created a first-mile pick-up network and claims to be the largest such mechanism in the country. It handles all of Rediff's first-mile pick-ups, and a third of Paytm's. "We greet our competitors at our first-mile centres every day, and harmoniously hand over our business to them," Sandeep jokes.WOW also offers last-mile delivery, reverse logistics and warehousing services.
5. "Thou shalt swear by your smartphone"
Sandeep strongly feels that technology is an enabler. Hiring people who own smartphones, the service marshals are to post updates in real time to ensure complete transparency. Failed attempts of delivery should be supported with evidence by the marshals: a photo of the doors of the customers.
Much in keeping with the new IoT wave, the team has equipped all their service marshals with scanners that can be strapped on to their hands, so that scanning details of consignments to be picked up happens accurately, automatically and in real time.
The company also attracted SCM Pro’s attention as the year’s ‘Most Innovative Logistics Company’, ironically for reverting to good old methods to right some wrongs on behalf of humanity—it gave marshals sports bicycles for deliveries, thus saving fuel and also helping its staff own the bikes. The company also does motocycle based deliveries.
6. "Thou shalt make all efforts to stay ahead of competition"
God is in the details, and the trio has made some small, albeit powerful, alterations in their deliverables to stay ahead of competition in this field that allows for little creativity. According to Sandeep,the Indian 3PL (third-party logistics provider) market is all set for a robust growth in the next four to five years. “I believe the industry will touch the figure of around Rs 48,000 crore by 2019. In this booming market, we are one of the best and promptest in the country for COD remittance, as we deliver payments within 48 hours to the clients. We also offer card on delivery service,” Sandeep says. Their main competitors are Delhivery, EcomExpress & GoJavas. Even the e-commerce arm of traditional companies can be considered as competition.
In six months, the company has not only gone from two branches to 20 in over eight cities, but is also delivering for Flipkart, Rediff, PayTm, Nykaa, Fashion and You, and Amazon. It deals with close to 15,000 parcels daily, with targets to reach Rs 120 crore shipments for fiscal 2017, revenues of Rs 1,000 crores by FY 20-21 and be amongst the top five logistics company in India within the next five years. Its business volumes have experienced a 50 percent growth month on month.
WOW Express raised a round of funding in July, from the promoters of ONIDA group, the Mansukhanifamily’s 'tamarind family trust'.
7. "Thou shall build a company with a soul"
“We don’t wish to just acquire business and show growth – we want to focus on our bottom line, which is making the delivery experience as enjoyable as the online shopping experience for the consumer – through satisfied staff that feel strongly about their duties, and who are provided the comfort and ease of state-of-the-art equipment, and made to feel like the most important cog of our machine,” says Mazhar.