Within 18 months of going full-time, BigSmall, a bootstrapped niche gifting platform, claims to have seen an organic growth of 150 percent, month-on-month.
Horizontal ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Alibaba, Flipkart, and others have the ability to offer customers an ‘almost unlimited variety’ of products, thanks to millions of sellers on their platform. But this can lead to ‘analysis paralysis’, where consumers, who are spoilt for choice, get more confused and are unable to decide what to buy.
This opens up the market for niche ecommerce players to offer customers a selected range of goods that they believe are unique and of great quality. Delhi-based BigSmall is one such startup that lists only 250-300 products on its platform at a time. Talking to YourStory, Aman Hans, Co-founder of BigSmall, explained,
Each product on our website is basically content for us. So, we keep refreshing it.
BigSmall was started by the brother duo Yatin Hans and Aman Hans in April 2016 as a passion project. At that time, the brothers were working in the marketing space at different companies. Yatin, a marketing graduate from Esade Business School, has worked at companies such as Reebok India, Ogilvy, and 91springboard. Aman, on the other hand, is a computer science engineer and has worked at startups — Leh Leh Sports, Festivalas, and 91mobiles.
The bothers were keen on exploring the online shopping space and after three months of studying the sector, they decided to start up. With an initial investment of Rs 30,000 each, the duo got a ‘bare minimum catalogue’ of products ready for their unique gifting platform — BigSmall.
Was the name BigSmall inspired by Micromax?” I asked Aman over a phone call. Aman laughed and explained, “No. Our goal is to provide small, unique gifts that bring big happiness...Hence the name.
Aman explained that one of their goals was to change the perception that gifting is a grueling or tiring process — rather it can be done with ease and can bring a smile to the person receiving the gift. To facilitate that, BigSmall sources products across different categories for different personality types. Aman added,
A person should ideally be able to associate a product on our platform with someone they know in real life who could benefit from the product.
After six months of launching BigSmall and seeing some market validation, the duo decided to quit their jobs and start up full-time. At the time, they just had one employee — an operations manager. Thereafter, they started doing things in a more process-driven manner, shifted their ecommerce platform to Shopify, and got better shipping partners.
Fast forward to 2018, BigSmall now has an 11-member team and claims that business has grown 250 percent each quarter and is en route to clock Rs 5 crore in annual revenue in FY 2017-18. Aman added that 80 percent of their revenue is through the web platform while the other 15 percent is through corporate orders, and the remaining five percent is through offline channels.
BigSmall works with suppliers from around the world and also from India to source products for their ‘online gift shop’. Aman explained that they have built relationships with suppliers and manufacturers from in India and countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and also the US and the UK. But they list only 250-300 products at a time. He said,
Unless you know what you want to buy, one would ideally not want to spend more than three to four minutes on an ecommerce platform.
BigSmall’s current customer base mainly consists of youth across most metro cities across India, with disposable incomes. The startup has mainly novelty gifting products and also niche essential products that the public may not know actually exist. Aman commented that they have mainly relied on referrals and social media marketing to build their brand and generate orders.
Aman explained that SEO is difficult for them at a product level because people don’t even know that such product exists, and hence will not likely search for it.
So, the team has been working on SEO for the past six months on a broader category level focussing on keywords such as unique, fun, quirky gifts.
Aman added that Facebook as a platform has worked well for them in terms of engagement and they have an active community of people. He added, “Paid as well as organic posts on Fb and Instagram do well for us.”
With time, the team has also been able to build up additional processes to predict how a product will do and have managed the inventory accordingly. Aman remarked that it is now a rare case for them — wherein there is a big surge for a product and it goes out of stock.
Aman also stressed that their aim is to provide an overall end-to-end experience, from buying to opening the package, rather than focussing on just the order volumes. He said,
We don’t need an occasion to celebrate gifting. A gift can be for oneself or others... We call our products ‘happy gift bombs’. We put up a bow on every order to give customers the feeling that it is a gift, even if they have not requested for gift wrapping.
Another way that BigSmall differentiates the last mile experience is how it handles deliveries. The team noticed that on average customers order 2.25 to 2.5 products per order. So, they began stacking products together and sending them out as one package with a bow rather than shipping them separately like most other ecommerce platforms do.
Apart from some capital raised from friends and family to process some large corporate orders, Aman said that BigSmall hasn’t raised external capital and is not looking to do so in the near future.
Given their focus, niche ecommerce platforms have been able to thrive by creating a fan base and offering unique products at above market prices. Horizontal ecommerce, on the other hand, has mostly become about price wars. Some of the interesting players in niche ecommerce in India include NotSoShabby, that focusses on lifestyle and home decor products; PropShop24, a gifting platform; DesireDesire that focuses on phone accessories and fashion; and Sick Pluto, which focusses on fashion and lifestyle.
Talking about BigSmall’s 2018 plans, Aman shared,
One sector we want to get more into (in 2018) is corporate gifting. We did events with Google and Uber last year. But haven’t outright gone out pitching for deals.
The other goals are to build more one-on-one connections with customers and suppliers. Having clocked 30,000 orders over the last six months, BigSmall aims to grow organically and be a profitable business soon. Aman believes that niche ecommerce too could get saturated in some time and noted that during the last few months, repeat customer rate had been close to 40 percent.
(The company had earlier told YourStory that it had serviced 125,000 orders over the last six months. However, it later clarified that it has serviced 30,000 orders over the period.)