Our design-rich product and business plan attracted Ratan Tata
In 2011, I faced the arduous task of setting up home in Bengaluru. I picked up some items of furniture but shoddy craftsmanship left me with a broken chair barely six months later. I rued my choice. Then it dawned on me that I had chosen the best of what was available. So why blame myself? As things turned out, my best mate Rajiv Srivatsa was going through the same heartache. Exchanging notes with our extended circle of friends, we realised it wasn’t just the two of us. All we wanted was good quality, durable, competitively priced, well designed furniture. Surely that isn’t too much to ask?
At the time, it was. Market research showed that India lacks a furniture brand of repute with countrywide operations. Around then I was toying with the idea of starting up. I’d been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and badly wanted to launch something of my own or in partnership. Rajiv and I spent a lot of time deliberating—should we, should we not, start a furniture business? On the one hand, we knew nothing about furniture. On the other, we firmly believed we had identified a pain point.
What’s in a pain point? It’s all you need to start a successful business.
American author, entrepreneur, marketer and orator Seth Godin said of some thirty odd businesses he started on campus during his college years: “None of those businesses was about making money; they were about solving a problem.”
Starting a furniture business offering tastefully designed pieces at competitive prices would solve a problem. To quote Godin again: “If you see a problem, you have an obligation to try to solve it.”
That’s precisely how we felt. So we took the plunge.
We spent close to six months figuring out how the furniture and the home décor space works. We studied raw materials, manufacturing, packaging and shipping options.
We engaged with manufacturers across India and the world. We spoke to hundreds of consumers. Gradually we arrived at the perfect business model.
We would retail online because it’s where a lot of the start-up action is happening. But we wouldn’t be an e-commerce platform for furniture manufacturers—we would develop our own furniture brand. We would select tasteful designs and work with manufacturers to ensure they are made of quality wood. Taking control of the supply chain would allow us to offer customers vital quality assurances. Thus, Urban Ladder was born in mid 2012.
Our target audience is digitally savvy consumers who are comfortable with the idea of buying goods without getting a feel of them, and who would rather buy readymade furniture than hassle with carpenters. Given the nature of our product, we cater to late twenty-something’s to those in their forties—essentially adults who are settling down and starting to become home proud.
Delivery constraints limit our market presence to seven cities so far. We started out delivering to customers in Bengaluru, then attempted a pan India presence, but had to scale down because of logistics challenges. We plan to expand to 20 more cities in 2015.
Thanks to solving a pain point, we’ve gained early traction. To keep up the growth chart, every business must adapt to customer needs. We have innovated to compete with offline and bespoke furniture retailers. To attract those who want a look-see of their product before committing, we now offer sofa buyers a “trial room”—whereby they are delivered three different single-seater sofas to try and swatches of fabric to choose from. We have also launched a Living Spaces app, which allows users to take a picture of their living room and see how a certain piece of furniture looks in different configurations. The app enables users to relay their preferred configuration to Urban Ladder.
Putting our heart and soul into creating well designed durable furniture and designing a memorable furniture buying experience has brought us to Ratan Tata’s attention. Tata has invested in several e-commerce companies—we’re proud to be one of them. Interacting with him has reaffirmed my belief in our business premise. Consumers in India are becoming increasingly conscious of, and developing a taste for well designed products, and he recognises this. With his and Kalaari Capital’s backing, we expect to achieve monthly revenue of rupees 50 crore in a year.
We look forward to a fantastic year with great designs in furniture and home décor space.
Ashish Goel is founder CEO at Urban Ladder.