In a world dominated by Flipkart and Amazon, these niche ecommerce startups are setting themselves apart


Unique and unusual, these five startups catering to specialised segments show how standing out can help build scalable and profitable online marketplaces and stores. 

Ecommerce Goliaths Flipkart and Amazon may be battling it out to get the Indian online shopper’s attention, but smaller ecommerce players like Chumbak and Happily Unmarried are looking at whimsy ways to grab eyeballs as well. Today, there are several online stores and marketplaces that focus on the quirk, and unique products like bobbleheads, charms, cauldron mugs and several other memorabilia. 

Founded in 2009, quirky design company Chumbak has raised $28.9 million in funding and has the likes of Matrix Partners as its investor. Then there’s Happily Unmarried, a grooming products brand founded in 2003, which has raised over $8.3 million in funding. 

Shaving products provider Bombay Shaving Company recently raised funding from Colgate-Palmolive Asia Pacific Limited, a subsidiary of Colgate-Palmolive based in Hong Kong, and existing investors Fireside Ventures. Ahmedabad-based men's grooming products brand Beardo was recently acquired by FMCG giant Marico. 

Niche online fashion stores and marketplaces have found investor attention too. Two years ago, ethnic fashion and lifestyle brand Craftsvilla acquired PlaceofOrigin, a marketplace for ethnic foods. Curated mom-and-kids store  Hopscotch raised $11 million in January 2015, while women-focused online fashion store Limeroad raised $30 million in March 2015. Delhi-based Jaypore recently opened their offline store and focuses on specific niche Indian apparel and accessories. 

Then there is also Kashmir Box, which works with over 10,000 grassroot artisans, 200 growers and 135+ manufacturers and brands of the Valley. These startups prove that differentiated, scalable, and profitable online marketplaces can be built in India without spending billions of dollars. 

While these are the larger players in the sector, here are some interesting players in this space who are wooing customers with out-of-the-ordinary products:

 1. Tjori

Tjori was launched in 2013 as an online store to deliver Indian handicraft products to North America by Mansi Gupta, today the brand however caters to India as well. The idea was to directly reach the customers to get them exclusive hand-crafted products from Indian craftsmen, weavers and artisans at the best possible prices and great convenience. Tjori works on limited period sales model so that there will be an element of discovery every day and a limited time period for people to buy these items, which creates an urge to buy something before it is gone. India, contributes to 60 percent of Tjori's sales, and has presence in Europe and USA as well.

2. BigSmall 

BigSmall is a bootstrapped niche ecommerce gifting platform that lists only 250-300 products on its platform at a time. As of early this year, it claims to have seen organic growth of 150 percent, month on month. BigSmall, started by brothers Yatin and Aman Hans in April 2016, works with suppliers from India and around the world to source products for their online store. Having clocked 30,000 orders over the last six months, BigSmall is on a path of organic growth and aims to be a profitable business soon. Some of the fun products they sell are Harry Potter Cauldron mugs, Tipsy Glasses, and unique ashtrays, to name a few.

3. Qtrove 

Bengaluru-based Qtrove offers non-mass-produced products from small sellers in an attempt to free online shoppers from the “tyranny of choice”. Founded in 2016 by Vinamra Pandiya and Prashanth Nagarajan, the startup was launched with an anti-e-commerce strategy. In May, it raised Rs 350 crore from Springboard Ventures – Brand Capital, an investment arm of media house Times Group’s holding company Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL).

The founders want to build a marketplace where products, sellers, and customers are celebrated. Qtrove, which stands for curated trove, now offers about 5,000 products from 200 sellers across 40 categories. Their products range across, food and beverages like jams and sauces, bath and body care, fashion like bag made of recycled jeans, and home decor. 

4. Colorpur 

Bengaluru-based online lifestyle brand Colorpur lets artists and designers from across the world sell their artwork and designs in the form of products like mobile cases, coasters, trays, and boxes. Started in 2015 by Gaurav Garg, the bootstrapped Colorpur provides a platform to artists and designers across the globe. 

As of last year, it claimed to have over 300 designers from 10 different countries, 7,000 designs, and one million SKUs. The team claims to make a revenue of Rs 1 crore, of which Rs 2.65 lakh are disbursed in commissions.

5. Flintstop 

Founded in 2014 by Tejas.K , Mumbai-based Flintstop offers quirky, innovative, and unique products. Flintstop focuses on problem-solving products including a robot vacuum cleaner, running alarm clock and Zipper earphone. 

The team, which started off with 14 products, last year claimed to have over 280 products in multiple categories like home and kitchen, electronics, personal and healthcare, stationery, and others. 

Flinstop claims to get over 200 orders per day; this number goes up to about 800 orders per day during Flipkart’s Big Billion Days Sale


Updates from around the world