Meet the entrepreneur who raised the highest seed fund and clocked Rs 160 Cr revenue in 3.5 years
Big fat Indian weddings are always associated with gold – lots of it, most of it intricate and heavy and usually worn for the rituals, and by the end of it, end up in bank lockers for safe-keeping. They are rarely used owing to the nature of the designs, the heavy work, and also taking the safety aspect into consideration.
Thankfully, trends are changing as more Indian women are opting for light jewellery in favour of heavy and traditionally designed ones.
Saroja Yeramilli, Founder and CEO of Melorra has over two decades experience in building consumer brands and is credited with launching household brands like Tanishq Jewellery in the US.
Saroja Yeramilli noticed this during a visit to a jewellery store. She overheard a woman in her twenties telling her mother that the designs available would only complement Indian attire like lehengas and cannot be worn with jeans or other western clothes.
“That's when it hit me that young women, the Gen Z and millennial population to be precise, do not find their choice of jewellery to wear on daily basis. The traditional jewellery industry is very good at designing for different weddings, but today, women are different from their grandmothers,” Saroja says.
This laid the foundation to launch her jewellery brand,in May 2016, with a clear target group and their needs in mind. The Bengaluru-based startup now claims to be the largest distributed jewellery company in India, having delivered to nearly 1,700 towns within three years.
It has delivered to 25 percent of all pin codes in India since April 2018. Notably, the brand has become appealing to every part of India including small-towns and villages, and also metro cities.
As a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand, “we are making gold fashionable. The same old gold which women love, we make it fashionable and contemporary for the times. That is the USP of Melorra,” Saroja tells HerStory.
According to the entrepreneur, the origin of the word Melorra can be found in Nordic anthology and Greek anthology where it means ‘forever young and beautiful’ and ‘golden apple’, respectively.
Business sans inventory
The entrepreneur notes that the Indian market is a key adopter of western fashion. Case in point, the success of international fast fashion brands like Zara and H&Min the country. However, she says that even when western fashion is reaching every part of the country, fine jewellery has taken a backseat and Melorra aims to fill this gap.
The startup sends fashion experts to the coveted Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks and prepares an exclusive report on global fashion trends for Autumn-Winter and Spring-Summer seasons. From this, it churns out fresh weekly collections of 300 designs every Friday, “treating fine jewellery as a true accessory.”
However, it also follows a unique business model without premade inventory. Users can choose from designs featured on the website and app and the startup begins manufacturing only once order is placed. This also allows the option for customisation and the product is usually delivered between nine and 12 days.
From necklaces to chains, bracelets, rings, earrings, and pendants, with precious and semi-precious gemstones, the lightweight jewellery are priced upto Rs 3 lakh. However, Saroja emphasises that the widest range of products are available under Rs 50,000.
During the nationwide lockdown earlier this year, to stem the spread of COVID-19, April and part of May proved to be a challenging time for Melorra as a non-essential ecommerce company. However, orders kept coming in and operations and logistics manufacturing resumed after May 17.
Funding and revenue
The startup has an impressive record of raising funds, beginning with a seed round of $5 million from venture capital Lightbox in January 2016, which Saroja says, is the highest amount raised at seed stage in India. This was followed by two internal rounds of fund raising from the venture capital company.
In October, Melorra announced the closure of $12 million funding from Lightbox, BlackSoil Capital and family offices of some of India’s biggest business houses, as part of its Series C round.
The seed fund paved the way for a comfortable start for the entrepreneur “to offer good market benchmark salaries unlike most startups and attract good talent.” The startup claims to have clocked a revenue run rate of Rs 160 crore in 3.5 years and recorded a year-on-year growth of 400 percent in FY 2019.
With 30 percent of its buyers aged 25 or below, she has no qualms in revealing that younger women of this generation are surely interested in gold jewellery. Saroja’s idea is clear: “If you offer them fashionable designs in gold, women don't have a problem.”
Clarity of thought
Speaking of the barriers in building a startup from scratch, she says, “It mostly has to do with fundraising, hiring people, building a culture, creating a competitive difference, and scaling up. These are the challenges any entrepreneur would face.”
However, she emphasises that a founder must have clarity of thought. “Investors know that they are not the ones running your business but only providing investment and support. One must be extremely confident and have clarity in their mission. They must prioritise customer relation and take feedback with humility,” she advises, adding that with these talents, investors will respect the entrepreneur, even if they do not shell out money
The brand’s success comes from Saroja’s experience of more than two decades in building consumer brands in India. An MBA graduate from Xavier Institute of Management (1989-1991), she has worked in the advertising wing of Ogilvy & Mather and Mudra Communications before joining Titan Industries Limited, Dell, and Kaya Clinic, in executive roles.
At Titan, Saroja moved to Tanishq Jewellery as sales and marketing head when it was struggling as a brand. She was part of the turnaround team that made the brand profitable. She had also launched Tanishq Jewellery in the US as well.
Now leading a team of 160 at Melorra, the entrepreneur hopes to venture into the global market soon.