For Jagrati Shringi, taking all the decisions to trundle down the entrepreneurial path was synonymous to turning all the corners that led to roads less travelled. Digitising a shopping category that people were the most cautious about, Jagrati was simultaneously taking on a role in her company that naysayers were most wary of, as well. As the female founder and Chief Technology Officer of a jewellery e-commerce portal, she narrates the growth story not only of her brainchild, but of herself, escaping the quicksands of draconian ideologies and pessimistic expectations to make her mark as a woman and entrepreneur.
Jagrati grew up in the peaceful city of lakes, Bhopal, in a very conservative family, with “many more daughters than anyone wanted” - but her father ensured that she and her sister get the best of what he could afford. She went to NIT for engineering and then went for her MS to the University of Pittsburgh.
Her very first job was with C-DoT. "The fever at the company to create cutting-edge projects on threadbare budget was the perfect launch pad of my startup only journey,” Jagrati narrates. She later joined Laurel Networks, while she was still working on her MS at University of Pittsburgh.
"In the beginning of my career, I had to prove my mettle as a woman in the technology sector. Unfortunately, technology has been a male-dominant area across the world. I had to give my 200 percent to be considered equal to my male counterpart. The journey has been a roller-coaster ride with fortunately more ups and lesser downs but overall extremely enriching," she quips.
The idea for Voylla struck then itself, when she was living in the United States. When she and her husband Vishwas Shringi (Co-founder & CEO of Voylla) used to live in America, their friends there would ask them ever so often to bring ethnic jewelry as a souvenir from India. "We had difficulty looking for that kind of jewellery as it wasn't easily available everywhere and what was available wasn't the most skin-friendly. We realised a clear need to create a high quality, design-centric brand. Moving back to India became a life-altering decision for us and we brought our dream alive by launching Voylla Fashion Pvt Ltd to the world," she narrates. And she was to take on the role of Chief Technical Officer for the brand – which came with a two-fold struggle given that technology was always an old boys’ club.
The couple founded Voylla in May, 2012,and within a year-and-a-half, by October 2013, they were dispatching 1,000 orders a day. “Quality was a major concern, as there was no consistency in the local artisans’ jewellery and people had a notion that imitation jewellery would cause allergic reactions on the body. So we decided to put strict quality controls in place, and assembled a team of skilled craftsmen and talented designers,” Jagrati explains.
They opened up their first shop-in-shops by October 2014, and even tied up with Central, the (Nagpur) to increase their foothold. Exactly a year later, Kangana Ranaut added another jewel to Voylla’s crown, as their brand ambassador for an ad campaign, a move that registered a rather stellar hike in sales for them.
A challenge through it all was liquidity of cash. The team started with one room and three people; but managed to raise rounds of funding at just the right moment to consolidate their operations. Last October, they raised over $15 million from Peepul Capital. In a mere three months, they expanded to a 250-member team and also set their sights on building an offline empire. With the newly infused capital, they opened a flagship store in Delhi in December 2015, and around the same time launched their Android app. A year later, in January 2016, the IOS version was rolled out.
Voylla rolled out their second store in March 2016, at Mall of India, Noida, and a third in April 2016, at Delhi’s Kamlanagar. What followed is a sweep - by July, 2016, they had 38 stores across India including shop-in-shops, kiosks and EBOs, as well as a fledgling offline presence in Dubai.
This journey may have been glossed over by the glistening statistics, but hiding behind it is a woman who found herself working twice as hard for the recognition and results as her male counterparts. “The real problem is the fact that there are comparatively fewer women in the technology sector. It was challenging to fight these stereotypes head on. This got even more tedious as I was the business owner – so, my experience would define the journey for my company as well,” she recalls. Yet, she braved through the resistance to create a brand that is aggressively aiming to capture market share in both the online and offline space.
After hitting the UAE market, Voylla is now planning to take the number to 100 stores by the end of this financial year. The company is battling it out in an industry that is supposed to touch $90 billion in 2018. And the offline biggies are watching. In May, Titan group acquired majority stake in Tiger Global-backed online jewellery startup CaratLane. Meanwhile, BlueStone, which recently raked in a Series-D investment, is targeting a four-fold increase in revenues to touch Rs 1,000 crore by 2018. Being a niche market, experts believe that there is no space for more than three online players in this sector.
In a cutthroat space like this where who emerges on top is anybody’s guess, Jagrati swears by their constant focus on tech-powered innovation for day-to-day business decision-making and their customer centric approach to stay nimble.
As for the competition within, of doing justice to the various aspects of womanhood that one is expected to adhere to, Jagrati is calling the world out on its bluff. “The expectations on women are unreal - to cook gourmet meals, volunteer to take charge of your kids’ upbringing, education, have perfectly maintained homes, and look like divas and run triathlons, while you are at it! My priorities are crystal clear, and I refuse to let others dictate how I must spend my time,” concludes the czarina.