With more than 1,000 designers, 15,000 users and over 4,000 orders per month, 10-month-old niche online marketplace LoveThisStuff aims to break even this year.
At the Bengaluru Comic Con in November 2016, Vatsala Kothari, 31, set up a stall with a few products – shoes, bags, and just five items related to Comic Con – under the label LoveThisStuff. In two days, they earned Rs 1.5 lakh.
LoveThisStuff was just two months old at the time. By July 2016, this Bengaluru based startup had become a known name as an online-only, pure-play marketplace for designers and boutique sellers in categories like fashion, décor and stationery among others.
The name itself came from customer responses.
“When I talked to consumers, they would say ‘OMG I love this stuff!’ So we wanted that name,” Vatsala recollects.
A team of 11 people, LoveThisStuff has about 1,000 designers from across the country, some from cities like Varanasi and Vadodara. The designers include a 61-year-old man who sells jute tote bags for hobby, and a 25-year-old who makes Rs 2 lakh per month through her business on LoveThisStuff.
LoveThisStuff has generated Rs 1.5 crore gross merchandise volume (GMV) in six months, and aims to break even by end of this year.
Originally from Mumbai, Vatsala is an engineering graduate. Entrepreneurship runs in her family – her mother is a serial entrepreneur and father has his own law firm. As a child, making recipe books and selling them to her father’s restaurateur friends was Vatsala’s hobby.
Vatsala was a school topper, dynamic in extra-curricular activities, and represented India at Walt Disney with 14 folk dancers.
“I had a lot of exposure; at the age of 13 years, I had already visited 13 countries,” she says.
Not interested in pursuing engineering, Vatsala first started up in 2010 with BeHappyGifts, a home-run business for personalised gifts. She got a lot of word-of-mouth publicity through exhibitions in Mumbai and Kolkata.
But it was too early for a business like that to grow in India. Internet users were not very comfortable shopping online. Even a tie-up with Snapdeal – which was like Groupon at the time – did not see any results.
“I did Valentine’s Day gifts and school merchandise. But I could not scale. I wanted to do MBA, so I joined Indian School of Business,” Vatsala says.
Joining ISB in 2013 was the turning point for Vatsala.
“I got the vision from there – meeting like-minded people influenced me. I wanted to work in a startup and joined as marketing manager at TaxiForSure. I was working directly with the founders. They groomed me; I was among the oldest members. At the time 60–70 percent bookings for TaxiForSure were happening on call. I was training the call centre as well as taking calls myself to understand the customer,” she says.
In 2014, Vatsala moved to Zivame. Two years later, she started work on LoveThisStuff.
LoveThisStuff wants to do for designers operating from home what Flipkart did for e-commerce to India.
The sellers listed on LoveThisStuff are not mass manufacturers. Some are trained designers from NIFT, some boutique owners (even from Haus Khas village), and some whose hobby turned into a business. About 90 percent of them are women.
“They have family commitments; but once they start selling on LoveThisStuff, they often end up hiring one more person and may be getting a small office. They take only limited business that they can handle,” Vatsala says.
LoveThisStuff, which helps sellers set up shop, takes a standard 15 percent commission.
“Even if the designers have their own website, attracting customers is harder and takes more investment. Also, although we don’t have a warehouse, we have tied up with logistics partners and the sellers are free to choose their own method,” Vatsala says.
LoveThisStuff is particular that all the items on their platform are genuine and does background checks to ensure this. “We speak to the sellers over phone, and find out about their manufacturing processes, and in some cases visit them too. In the case of fashion and jewellery, we ask them to share sketches,” Vatsala explains.
LoveThisStuff plans to launch an app soon.
US-based Etsy and Personalization Mall are the role models for LoveThisStuff. In India, Qtrove, Engrave, Kraftly and Tjori are operating in the same space, functioning as niche online marketplaces at a time when some behemoths are struggling to stay afloat.
Unlike platforms like Flipkart and Amazon, sellers get more freedom on LoveThisStuff when it comes to photography, policies and engagement content. They aren’t forced to do photography with white background, they are allowed to say no-exchange/return policy for personalised gifts, discounts are entirely their choice, and only prepaid transactions are permitted. However, returns/replacements are mandatory if the consumer receives a damaged product. All sellers get a sales dashboard as everything is automated.
From quirky ideas to religion elements, LoveThisStuff offers a wide variety without curating. “We leave it to the customer. Some products that we were sure would never sell have gone for unbelievable prices,” Vatsala says.
Personalised and home décor are the most popular of the 62 categories available on the website. Currently, 80 percent of their orders come from metro cities, with an average basket size of Rs 1,500.
Although marketing is mostly done digitally, LoveThisStuff has had quite some publicity from celebrities like Dia Mirza and Kim Sharma who share their purchases on their Instagram accounts.
Sellers get their own URL and promote it, producing organic traffic.
“Since the registration is free, sellers organically come and upload their products,” Vatsala says.
LoveThisStuff currently has more than 15,000 registered users and gets more than 4,000 orders per month. They send catalogues to every buyer, which Vatsala claims has seen 10 percent conversion.
“A lot of sellers are ready to pay a nominal fee for photography and content. We want to build these seller services too. We are in initial talks with micro-financing agencies because most of our sellers are not registered businesses. They will need money at some point to cater to bulk orders,” she says.
Vatsala believes their job is to make millionaires out of sellers.
LoveThisStuff is in no hurry to raise funding as a good amount of the seed funding the startup received from Growth Story is still in the bank.
Vatsala believes in growing steadily. “We can make profit tomorrow by selling just the top 20 items. But we want to be healthy; if that takes one more year or just six months we are okay with it,” she says.
LovethisStuff is targeting Rs 3 crore gross merchandise volume by the end of this fiscal year.
The urban youth has developed a taste for uniqueness in home décor, personalised stationery and quirky fashion over the last few years. Despite the competition, the rising disposable income of middle-class youth promises a bright future for LoveThisStuff.