Never say die: Ex-Naval officer turned entrepreneur meets 300 investors before he gets $500,000 funding
Shayak Mazumdar tells me he closed a funding round of $650,000 this year. While the funding in itself is a milestone, the fact that the 32-year-old former naval officer met over 300 investors in India (both angel investors and VCs) before some international investors backed him is no less an achievement.
"While I invested $100,000 personally, and got $45,000 from my friends from INSEAD, the rest $500,000 came from international investors."
Shayak’s startup – Eunimart – is a cross-border ecommerce platform that he launched in May 2016 in Visakhapatnam.
Eunimart’s international investors were led by Agility Logistics; Serguei Netessine, the Vice Dean of Wharton; Olga Maslikhova, MD of Phystech Ventures (a deep-tech investment fund) from New York; Bayshore Venture Partners from Singapore; Ivan Shornikov, CEO of Raxel Telematics (one of the world's leading IoT companies) from Russia; and Jianggan Li, CEO of Momentum Works (a Chinese ecommerce company).
On his extensive quest for funding, Shayak says his naval training came in handy as it ingrained in him the ability to not give up.
“The basic difference that I found between investors in India and those in Singapore or the US is the risk appetite. In India, almost every time I approached an investor, they wanted to see a smaller idea or a less risky business. When I pitched to angel groups, they all rejected me stating that what I was trying to achieve would only be possible by the likes of Amazon… When I pitched internationally, I was immediately accepted for broadness of vision and uniqueness of idea.”
Shayak says his personal observation with meeting all the investors is that most only wanted to invest in small, easily doable ideas that could be exited fast.
(That, however, does not speak for the ecosystem as a whole as India has seen several investments in ideas that could only be called revolutionary when they came around.)
“Ivan wanted to bring his experience in AI so that we can get it done. Jianggan brought his massive cross-border ecommerce connections in China and South East Asia. Olga brought her mettle, connections and pragmatism while Serguei has been mentoring me for the last two years and continues to do so.”
“I learned we could do amazing things - we just don't know our strength."
And this strength is now being tested at Eunimart, through which Shayak is trying to give thousands of SMEs a cross-border platform to sell their products, and grow their reach and business.
Shayak left the Navy in 2012 to pursue an MBA from INSEAD. Post completion of his degree, there were several job offers on the table, but he decided to walk the entrepreneurial path.
"I decided to take up the job that was the riskiest because I stood to learn the most. That was at Rocket Internet, to build a cross-border ecommerce platform. They threw me in the middle of the ocean without a lifeboat - no funds, no people, not even an idea," says Shayak.
“I grew that to a big business and created my own thesis around cross-border ecommerce. I saw how it would impact manufacturers from emerging nations. So, I decided to create a better version and started Eunimart."
Eunimart has been working with over 600 merchants and manufactures in India for almost two years now, and 70 percent of its customers are small scale manufacturers from north and west India. They manufacture jewellery, handlooms, handicrafts, and ethnic fashion.
Most manufacturers don't know much about international markets or cross-border ecommerce and Eunimart helps them with creating their catalogues, and optimising content, pictures and pricing.
Eunimart uses data intelligence and AI to help merchants gain an advantage. It uses AI to give merchants an understanding of the market. Offerings include predictions how much each product will sell in each market, what should be the optimal pricing, how good are the images in the listing and how to improve them, improving the text content, how to improve SEO, and how much inventory to hold.
The 50-member is divided into account management, onboarding, logistics, marketing and payments and has a strong focus on market research. Shayak says the company has a research team and also hires interns from IITs to carry out market research in advanced fields. “Our data collection engines are integrated with several global data platforms as well to collect independent data from tens of platforms.”
The platform also includes predictions on competition and what they are doing, and how a merchant can improve their portfolio.
Shayak’s team is also working to use AI to predict supply chain automation to reduce returns and losses, and help with the marketing for each marketplace. He says that typically, supply chain and marketing are the two costs that SMEs do not optimise as they don't have the data to understand where to ship from, where to store, and what kind of returns solutions to use, or which marketing solutions will give the best returns.
"None of these solutions exist across marketplaces today. There are a few solutions that work only on Amazon because it gives you some of the solutions itself. We are the first to create a solution for cross-border," he says.
"We have several competitors across the world. There are several aggregators who focus on domestic markets because solving cross-border ecommerce requires understanding and creating solutions that are a lot more difficult.”
Shayak says cross-border aggregators can be divided into players who are focusing on serving SMEs or enterprises. They can also be classified as players who offer a full solution, or only a piece of it.
According to a report by Accenture, by 2020, over 2 billion e-shoppers, or 60 percent of target global population would be transacting 13.5 percent of the overall retail consumptions online at a market value of $3.4 trillion (Global B2C GMV, growing at CAGR of 13.5 percent from 2014 to 2020).
Players such as Payoneer or DHL offer only payments and logistics in particular. However, Eunimart brings these solutions on one platform to create an ecosystem that merchants will benefit from.
Other competitors include US-based ChannelAdvisor, which is the world’s oldest and largest aggregator and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and focuses on enterprises from the US, Europe, and China. Another large aggregator is Hong Kong-based E-Services Group which focuses on SMEs and enterprises and counts Alibaba as an investor. Other competitors include Tradebyte from Germany, Wearepentagon from the UK and Anchanto from Indonesia.
Time will tell how Eunimart shapes up, and how may countries it reaches out to, and the market share it commands. For now, it has a founder who says, "Never, ever, give up. That's the best lesson I learned. Navy training is very tough and rigorous. It demands everything out of you. Let me tell you that it's much harder than what you see in movies and hear in social circles,” he says with a laugh.