How this woman entrepreneur grew her business 10x during the pandemic
In 2014, Meghna Saraogi launched StyleDotMe, an app that that lets users get instant fashion advice not just from friends and followers, but from experts around the world with instant polls and voting options.
Later, the startup launched MirrAR, which lets people virtually try on things via augmented reality (AR) on digital platforms of client brands, via iPads. Users can see themselves in different jewellery products on a larger screen, and can take pictures and share on social media as well.
The last three years have seen StyleDotMe grow its client base with enterprise clients such as ForeverMark in its kitty. It was also the experience partner at various global exhibitions now, including JCK Las Vegas, ForeverMark Forum, Inhorgenta Munich, and others.
Meghna says conversion rates for her clients saw a 160 percent increase and engagement rates went up 200 percent.
And then, COVID-19 happened.
The pandemic took a massive toll on businesses - layoffs, pay cuts, and the closing down of operations. As per a TiE-Delhi and Zinnov report, there was a dip in overall funding by 50 percent during the lockdown as compared to pre-COVID levels, around 40 percent of startups were negatively impacted, and 15 percent of Indian startups were forced to discontinue operations.
Moving out of the comfort zone
Like most businesses, StyleDotMe was also affected by the spread of COVID-19 in India.
“The initial phase was tough as businesses were in survival mode. However, we were also sure that we wouldn’t have any layoffs or resort to drastic salary deductions. This is when technology and e-retail took prominence and pushed startups to move out of their comfort zones.
“As we were already operating in the digital space, we helped jewellers open up their e-stores and were able to help them bring back a part of their businesses. In addition, we also helped enable contactless shopping inside retail stores and added a layer of surety to online purchases via our website solution,” Meghna says.
The founder called down physical settings of the sales team and started Zoom meetings with clients. She also introduced Saturday catchups to ensure each team member’s wellbeing.
During this period, the startup quickly moved to an all-digital approach, made investments in marketing activities, and ended up hiring more people to “ensure a quality product for our clients”.
While StyleDotMe was one of the few startups that had started building tech for a new age of consumerism and retail, Meghna says the pandemic worked as a catalyst, accelerating behavioural and process change.
“At this point in time, customers are seeking convenience at all levels. Digitisation took a long time coming and in a way was crucial for growth and development in the jewellery industry, a traditional industry by nature. COVID-19 sped up the process, given the urgency and need to stay at home, but still stay connected to people and needs. For us, it was absolutely crucial to provide an easy and comfortable virtual try-on facility to consumers to sell, when moving freely was not an option anymore.”
During this period, StyleDotMe grew its client base to 22 jewellers with a presence in 44 cities all over the world. It also expanded its team to 30 people.
Adopting new tech
The quick adaptability to an all-digital approach saw StyleDotMe successfully introduce real time markerless hand tracking and ear tracking.
Jewellers can now also enable virtual try-ons for rings and bracelets, and digitise their entire catalogue.
“An interesting feature we have recently introduced is the Gallery mode and Studio mode that lets you try jewellery on models/pictures (if you’re a male/you need to buy for a friend). The Studio mode lets you zoom into the intricacies of the design. Another interesting feature is the 3D & 360 rotation for rings, bracelets, and watches,” Meghna says.
The startup has introduced a free trial version of its product to show jewellers how AR can help their businesses grow.
StyleDotMe received a fresh infusion of funds this year - Rs 3.5 crore in a pre-Series A funding round led by Survam Partners, with participation from Bobby Kothari, Director, Jewelex India, as a strategic investor; and existing investor IAN (Indian Angel Network). However, Meghna declined to share current revenues.
She says her biggest achievement has been to help connect the jewellery industry with consumers outside the physical boundaries of stores, a phenomenon uncommon in the industry.
“In terms of wedding jewellery, we made the selection process as close to the in-store experience as possible. Instead of trying multiple designs inside the stores, especially when brides want contactless options, they can try everything online, head to the retail store and try on selected pieces. Or they could head to leading retail stores in the country where our in-store solution is helping brides people shop more fearlessly,” she says.
Meghna’s future plans include working with jewellers across the globe, helping boost their business in terms of conversions and engagement rates, and helping businesses move to a digital space to achieve rapid growth.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai