How Mason is using a no-code SaaS approach to help Tier II and III retailers run their online stores
When the pandemic hit India in 2020, digitisation pushed even the smallest of retailers and SMB entrepreneurs to go online. Although building an online store is easy with platforms like Wix, Shopify, Dukaan and Instagram, running it on a daily basis is a task in itself.
For a lot of new online stores, even some of the basics are not in place - out-of-stock products are not clearly marked out, price changes are not propagated to the store imagery, new product launches are often lost in the catalogue, best-selling products are not showcased for new shoppers to buy easily… the list is endless.
Bangalore-based SaaS startup Mason aims to solve this with its no-code store merchandising toolkit. The word “mason” refers to builders who use bricks to create beautifully designed buildings.
Launched amid the pandemic in May 2020 by ex-Myntra executives Kausambi Manjita and Barada Sahu,is a platform that resonates with making building blocks for online stores - sort of like a lego-kit for online retail storefronts.
“Access to technology should be made more equal for the retail sector to succeed in the online world. This especially became evident during COVID-19 in 2020, when millions of merchants had to suddenly shift their business model and not just sell, but run successful stores online,” Kausambi tells YourStory.
This is not the duo's first venture. In 2018, Kausambi and Barada started an umbrella company called Creative Sparks Inc. through which they initially built a video and banner automation platform called Kubric with customers such as Swiggy, Myntra, Big Basket, and others.
They had also raised seed capital for this product line from Subrata Mitra of Accel and Dev Khare of Lightspeed, along with angels Neeraj Arora, Jayant Kadambi, Mukesh Bansal, Shamik Sharma, and Anand Chandrasekaran.
“That was an enterprise SaaS product solving content scaling problems for large marketplaces. Since Mason was launched in May last year, and has seen wide adoption and growth, Kubric is now being closed down,” Kausambi says.
Business model and growth so far
Mason works on a freemium SaaS model. Stores can start off free, and then based on usage, pay only as much as they need to use Mason to run their store merchandising.
On the tech front, the engineering and data team is invested in building out micro-frontends, data platforms, a low-code excel-like scripting language for retail, predictive algorithms and models to enable automated merchandising workflows that can help any non-tech-savvy retailer run a successful online store.
Over the last 12 months, with a team size of less than 50, Mason has helped more than 8000 SMBs and entrepreneurs across India, APAC, the US and Canada to run a successful online store. All this without having to spend thousands of dollars on hard-to-use technology solutions, without having to learn programming, and without investing in expensive design services.
Solving challenges amid COVID-19
For both Kausambi and Barada, the biggest challenge was the decision to start a new product line focused on a completely new segment of users.
As COVID surged, both realised that even though they had already built a product that was used by large businesses, they felt a strong pull to help the mass of retail stores that decided to start selling online and were working hard to build a loyal, happy online customer base.
But the decision to completely pivot from enabling large companies to democratising technology for SMBs and entrepreneurs came with a few hard choices.
First of all, the earlier Kubric product was already generating revenue and used by well-known customers such as Myntra, Swiggy et al. Secondly, the entire team was just starting out 100 percent remote for the first time. And finally, they had already raised pre-seed/seed for Kubric.
“But with the support of our dedicated and dynamic team, the trust of our existing investors and advisors, and the championing of a few early customers who were very excited by the impact this change in direction can have on the world, this hard decision to pivot got a bit easier to take,” Kausambi says.
Competition and plans ahead
Most technology solutions that help retailers and brands run successful online stores are either tailored for enterprises or targeted at a wide number of non-store use cases also. Products such as Privy.com, Yotpo, and Loox are successful examples.
However, Mason is changing the way this sector is looked at by helping SMBs and entrepreneurs. Making Mason self-serve and focused on store-merchandising with no-code automation at a user’s fingertips are significant differentiators in this sector.
The startup is willing to further leverage the Bharat opportunity. The founders believe that omnichannel and online are no longer just an option for the retail industry in Bharat. But "we are lacking in technology adoption in this space".
“This is where Mason is looking to make strides, taking a ground-led approach and helping non-tech-savvy retailers be a part of the digital inclusion wave," she says.
Going forward, as ecommerce accelerates through 2021-22, vaccinations open up the economy, and more businesses want to start their online-stores, the challenge for the team is how to continue to keep Mason a simple, no-code toolkit while exposing more use cases, making data-backed decisions easy for any merchant to use without having to learn analytics, and layering auto-suggestions to ease decision making.
The main aim in 2021 is to drive adoption and ensure Mason is in the hands of 20,000 retail businesses by the end of this year. In the next three years, Kausambi and team hope to empower 100,000 SMBs and entrepreneurs globally to successfully run their online store with Mason.
“There are now 67 million retail businesses globally, with ecommerce now at nearly 14 percent of all retail. On an average, businesses spend anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 yearly to run their online store. This is a massively fragmented market with no easy tools that address this in-store opportunity, and we believe Mason is at the centre of this opportunity,” Kausambi says.