It's 2019 and we need our bags to be as advanced as our smartphones to meet our evolving needs. Kota-based Rohan Sharma and Nishant Sharma are firm believers that bags need to have more going for them than durability, looks, and basic functionality. “A good bag means meeting requirements of a fast-paced life, which most working people have these days,” says Rohan Sharma, Co-founder and CEO of Zepcross, which makes multi-functional backpacks.
So what should a smart bag boast of? Bluetooth sensors to protect the bag from theft, an auto retractable key-leash, magnetic detachable pockets, a 180-degree opening, and transformable space? “Yes, all this and more,” quips Rohan, adding that, typically, most waterproof bags tend to let water in at the zipper, but Zepcross ensures even the zips are waterproof.
Hitting the stores with their bags in December 2018, the startup is targeting ‘today’s Indians’ who seek more than “just a backpack”. The backpacks are priced between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3,500 and sold not only in India, but also exported to the Middle East and South America.
Chasing the 'Aha!' moment
Three years ago, when studying mechanical engineering at the Career Point University in Kota, Rohan, along with his friends, wanted to explore rooftop solar plants. But unsure of the market, or the demand, Rohan then thought of making utility products.
Being an adventure and design engineering enthusiast, Rohan loved backpacks and decided he wanted to take them to the next level. In 2016, “we experimented with solar backpacks where bags could become chargers for mobile devices, and we were successful. But, bags with solar plates did not find takers in the market, and the idea did not take off,” says Rohan.
The experiment, though, led to the observation that there was a huge gap between what a customer looks for in a backpack, and the options available. Armed with renewed confidence, Rohan, with batchmate Nishant, started Zepcross in November 2016 as a part-time business, but continued with their full-time jobs.
“We both share a passion for designing and manufacturing for utility-based products,” says Rohan, “And at Zepcross, we started doing research for understanding what a bag needs to have.”
More bag for your buck
For two years, Rohan and Nishant ran the company as a design studio for backpacks and manufacturing was outsourced. “We designed for many clients in India and abroad as a white label maker,” says Rohan.
The duo designed backpacks with more than 21 features, and in May 2018, the two co-founders decided to quit their jobs and focus solely on their bags and take them to market.
“Our designs comprise features that are first in the segment, like customisable and expandable spaces, Bluetooth sensors, magnetic pockets, etc,” claims Rohan.
The company started retailing only in December last year, and has since then sold 20,000 pieces. The company now retails across 30 outlets in Rajasthan, and plans to open its first brand store in Kota.
Zepcross competes with biggies like American Tourister, Skybag, and Wildcraft, to name a few. “The segment has shifted from being only luggage carrying, to being a fashion quotient and style statement which gives us a vast opportunity to offer something different from current options,” says Rohan.
Giving back to Kota
Rohan and Nishant chose to start up in Kota, not only because it fit their business requirement, but also because the founders wanted to give back to their hometown by creating employment. To that end, Zepcross has a staff of 35 people at present, and will increase as the startup expands.
“Also, as we are considered to be the knowledge city of Rajasthan, and we wanted to offer a platform to local talent. Strategically, Kota is in middle of the Delhi-Mumbai route, and well connected by major cities via road and rail network,” he says.
Funding and expansion plans
The bootstrapped startup secured an initial seed funding of Rs 70 lakh in December last year from a private VC firm, and later became part of the Rajasthan government’s accelerator iStart, which provided a sustenance allowance of Rs 1.20 lakh to Zepcross.
The company has a small manufacturing setup in Kota and makes 2,000 units a day. It is now looking to take it to 20,000 units a day by the end of this year. “We are hiring more skilled labourers, and training the unskilled ones to increase our innovative range,” says Rohan. It also plans to increase exports.
Zepcross also plans to expand its distribution channel pan India and is targeting to have 100 retail partner outlets and stores by 2022-end. “We will also start selling the bags on ecommerce platforms,” says Rohan.
The startup generated a revenue of about Rs 30 lakh over the last two years, and is now looking at a turnover of Rs 1.2 crore for the period between November 2018 and May 2019.
Rohan adds that Zepcross also plans to enter fashion and apparel space with the launch of activewear soon.