A first-hand account of what really goes in a startup— ‘One-year journey from start to startup’
April 24, 2016, we mark one year since we started out Quifers – a technology logistics firm that provides a comprehensive solution comprising of technology, analytics and operations for businesses to manage their logistics. We are already clocking close to Rs 1 crore in revenue per month (powering about 9,300 deliveries on daily basis), and are on our way to breaking even within a span of seven months. But trust me, nothing about this is as rosy as it sounds.
We felt that we should share this adventurous journey; lest, someone is thinking of starting up or has started up with any idea, this account might help you in some way or other. Or else, it could be a good read to understand what happens when you start with an idea and are scaling up. After all, we ourselves are passionate beings who value collaborative spirit a lot.
Let me start with the story about this journey.
We are a bunch of techies, product freaks, and business specialists who resigned from our jobs to give an idea a try.
But before that let me give you a brief about what we do. (Read Quifers' startup story.) Managing operations and logistics has always been a pain and coupled with a huge wastage it’s easily something that affects a company’s bottom line. Standing at the intersection of technology, analytics and logistics, we are focusing on building products that makes it possible for businesses to manage their pickups/deliveries/distribution with convenience and competitiveness.
Related read: Logistics to be the game changer for e-commerce in 2016
Our smart algorithms, savvy mobile apps, and a simple dashboard help business save on resource, time and cost by efficiently planning, managing and reconciling the deliveries. Additionally, it’s creating a revolution by solving problems plaguing whole industry (like managing returns with deliveries, maintaining address consistency for end deliveries, reducing delivery re-attempts; to name a few). We cater to businesses as big as leading e-commerce and courier delivery firms, the FMCG and Retail biggies to numerous startups who want to fully outsource their logistics to us and to conventional small businesses.
However, that’s not how we started. We looked more something like this:
Yes! We started out with the concept of providing on-demand commercial vehicle to people who want to move their household goods. So how did this turn into that!
Qufiers for Enterprise
April 2015 — Being a staunch believer in lean, we designed a very simple and naive site that propelled the idea saying “Book a mini truck” on landing page and linked our emails to the order form placed on the site. We went live on April 24, 2015. Of course, a lot of planning and research was done prior to that, but this marked the starting of our journey.
May 8, we received our first order. It took us good 10 minutes to digest that yes, we actually received a real order. I remember calling up my friend to break the news (well, back then it was really a news for us).
We called back the customer, arranged for a mini-truck, and had have the goods moved.
After few days, one of the customer’s friend called us to book an order. That’s how we used to exhibit a customer testimonial.
We next started targeting Facebook groups that were similar to “House-for-rent in Mumbai”. Though it was close to spamming but this worked, and we started getting traction of about five to six orders a week. Google sheets really came in handy to manage these orders. I think the humanity seriously owes Google a lot.
With no place to stay, we were initially putting up in our ex-college (NITIE, Mumbai) unofficially and the hostel room was our workplace. But then the security did come to know about us and we were flanged out. Thankfully, we had booked a small (8x8 ft.) shop near the college in a chawl, which became our office and shelter to sleep.
By July, we were getting a decent traction. That’s when we thought of moving into the B2B space. We started barging into offices, hubs, and warehouses in the industrial areas in and around Mumbai. Talking to people sitting in those hubs exposed us to the huge gap in this space. There was hardly any level of standardisation in terms of service level or commercials, and add to it the daily headache of managing and reconciling countless number of vendors.
Realising this to be a good opportunity, we extended the model to SMEs, retailers, and corporates. We also took our first step towards product by building an android-based mobile app for vehicle drivers and a back-end system to manage the incoming orders.
August 2015, we saw hiring of our first few employees to manage the increasing operations, tackling threats from local unions, deploying a minimal product to manage the incoming orders and most important of them all — converting of an enterprise client. Why was this critical? — This would later lead us to expanding our solution scope to last mile planning and operations, which would form a base to our current product.
By September, we closed our seed investment round and raised a total of Rs 2 crore from IAN and Smile Group. With funding came the set of legal compliances that needed to be cleared. Interacting with the legal professionals’ day in and out and going through countless number of legal documents, you realise that you can easily qualify the legal language as your third language.
The on-demand space was hot and it was this time, when we experienced the demand curve in real. We saw battle for market share warming up with players dominating different pockets of Mumbai. We kept activating different areas through our on-ground sales team and that’s what our competition did. It was quite like playing a game of chess not on a chess board, but rather on the actual streets of Mumbai.
Soon, the game transcended from a market dominance to a price competition. Everybody was betting on volumes that would get generated due to lower price, which in turn would hold the economies. Gradually, the market did find an equilibrium. This is what happened
The 8x8 office suddenly started seeing our team growing, and we moved into a bigger and better (actual) office space. We started forming a kick-ass team, though it meant taking a whole load of pains to on-board right set of people (we had to go around 31 candidates to hire a single developer). Though media has done a lot to promote the startup culture in India, but apprehensions in people joining an early-stage firm was pretty evident.
When a Technology Lead has to explain, “Dude! I had to first convince my wife, then my parents, then my wife’s parents for the startup and you just can’t convince your father” to a one-year experience candidate throwing tantrums on joining us, you do feel such undercurrents.
Moving on, we zeroed on a technology stack and started building our product to manage the internal processes. However, the festive rush during October and November came hard on us and back then, our operations team was literally struggling to keep pace with the market demands. The office seemed more like a trading market where people were just shouting over the phones, handling the drivers that kept on increasing daily throughout the Dussehra — Diwali period.
Although we had the initial system ready, the product development could hardly keep up with the increasing demand during that time. Seeing this, we realised that the current technology stack (MEAN) would take us much longer to sustain our process flow and we switched to a simpler stack, which required considerable lesser development efforts, discarding whatever we’d built. Though it was a tough decision, this came out as one of our best move to maneuver the firm.
Following a big bang approach to develop a product does seem lucrative, but it has many fall backs. The development cycle should be broken into numerous sprints so that you can ship out as many functionalities as possible. This allows you to see the real-time impact of the system, helps you judge whether something would work or not, allow you to experiment and innovate on so many levels — in short, it keeps the whole system agile and lean.
We followed pretty aggressive sprints and constantly involved the operations team to provide feedback over each functionality that we rolled out.
By December, we were ready with a decent product around fleet management and rolled that out to our active clients and started pitching the same to new leads. However, the product didn’t hold much value for the clients. We did some soul-searching and found out following reasons:
- A person managing business doesn’t simply want one more platform to get added where he would need to check the fleets. People wanted an interactive system that would be intelligent enough to intervene around any operations hit or compliance breach.
- No one wants a solution in isolation and our system back then did little talking with the live client system.
- Most important of all, no one wants to change or disrupt their process flows. Since, they’ve found a way of keeping the operations going since past 20–25 years. They are too comfortable or too apprehensive of changing.
When in doubt, throw yourselves out into the market.
That’s what we did. We started talking to people from various sectors and started understanding the whole process flow for operations and logistics. That proved to be an eye-opener for us. Attacking a particular problem in isolation would never create a great value for you. With that, we took few step backs and started scanning up the whole value chain. Here’s the insight that we gained that gave us a leverage to move up the value chain:
We started working on these solutions. Though it required a huge change on architecture level, but keeping with the concept of lean, we came up with the updated version of our dashboard by February 2016. We started pitching to businesses and got a decent response.
However, we now realised that though, we were gaining momentum. But the time to convert a lead into a repeating customer was something that we need to improve. B2B sales is a lot different than B2C sales. If we analyse the B2B sales decisions closely, we’ll find that there are more or less two reasons that people don’t buy.
- They don’t believe the problem they face is significant enough to take any action (if they recognise it as a problem)
- They don’t believe whether the solution will work.
Majority of the cases are Reason 1.
Rather than a typical sales cycle of calls, meetings, follow-up meetings and more meetings; we tried something different with one of the leads we generated in March.
Let’s call it “Collaborative Development”. We worked along with different teams (operations, technology, and analytics) of this lead — going through the process flows, identifying the failure modes, and coming up with an integrated solution to streamline their operations. We acted as a central force that assimilated all the resources to come up with transformation. Surprisingly, we were able to attain a deep integration in no time. Just with the fact that instead of selling our solution, we tried solving the problem side-by-side with our clients.
The other thing we recognised was ‘Change’. Change is always considered painful by everyone and this serves as the major blocker in huge number of cases. Buying a new solution means going through a change process. So, what we did? We simply created modules so that our clients had to go through a minimal change process to use our solution.
These methods do provide an easier way for the businesses to adopt technology. Talking about adoption of technology in operations and logistics by businesses in India, we still are looking at a very nascent market and as illustrated below, there lies a mammoth market to explore.
However, the problems that plagues Indian Logistics sector are deep rooted and we are scratching only surface level problems. But, I’m sure technology would lead the way into attacking them.
Anyway, back to us. It has really been a steep learning curve for us. The fact that you interact with such a diverse set of people in the form of customers, clients, team, investors, competitors, partners, vendors etc, makes this journey all the more interesting. It really presents a great opportunity where you learn from any and every one.
Trust me, nothing can be more humbling yet gracefully bold than starting on an idea and scaling it up.
After writing this account, if I had to summarise our journey via one image, nothing beats this one!
We’ll be glad to answer/comment any queries you might have.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)