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Fynd, the Zero Inventory Online Marketplace

Sreeraman M G, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, pursued his dream of becoming a startup entrepreneur even by dropping out of the much sought-after IIT Bombay. Seven years since he started the company along with co-founders, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) took over it after duly noticing the passion displayed by the tenacious team of youngsters Thiruvananthapuram:

Sreeraman M G, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, pursued his dream of becoming a startup entrepreneur even by dropping out of the much sought-after IIT Bombay. Seven years since he started the company along with co-founders, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) took over it after duly noticing the passion displayed by the tenacious team of youngsters

Thiruvananthapuram: The most important ingredients of a potentially successful startup nowadays, according to regular investors, are a skilled and motivated team, and out-of-the-box ideas. However, Sreeraman M G, the co-founder of Fynd in which Reliance Industrial Investments and Holdings Limited (RIHL) recently invested a whopping Rs. 295 crore, adds another one to the list, timing. A slightly late or early entry into the market may also botch up the chances of realising one’s goals, he says.

Sreeraman, having completed his schooling from Christ Nagar Central School in Thiruvananthapuram and BTech from TKM Engineering College in Kollam, joined IIT Bombay to pursue his post-graduation in 2012. But the engineer along with Farooq Adam and Harsh Shah, who he met through the IIT network, co-founded Shopsense Retail Technologies in the same year, discontinuing his PG programme.

Fynd launched in 2015, provides technology and solutions to merchants to manage sale of goods through the e-commerce platforms of the company. Previously, the company has also been successful in raising more than $7 million from Google, Kae Capital, IIFL, Singularity Ventures and GrowX.
According to RIHL, they would further make an investment of Rs. 100 crore in the company by December 2021, taking the total investment in Fynd to about 87.6 per cent of its equity shares.

In the initial phase, Shopsense Retail Technologies offered retail fashion brands to help increase customer experience of offline stores. However, Sreeraman and team decided to move to other segments as well considering the lack of viability of the products they offered through the platform.

Armed with a huge collection of data on the supply and demand of hundreds of brands in India gathered during the operation of Shopsense Retail Technologies, Sreeraman and fellow co-founders have positioned Fynd as an Online to Offline (O2O) business tying together various fashion retail stores in cities across the country. At present, through online platforms like Fynd Market Place and Fynd Store, the company headquartered in Mumbai offers a large market avenue for fashion retailers and brands. As an O2O business, the key advantage of Fynd is that it need not hold any inventory or warehouse, thereby reducing the cost of running the e-commerce business. On the other hand, for other e-commerce giants in India, cost of warehousing and associated logistics are factored in as extra cost elements.

In an exclusive email interview to technopolis, Sreeraman speaks about various aspects of setting up and developing a startup. Here are the excerpts.

Can you tell us about the growth story of Fynd and the important people who helped you achieve your goals?

Our first suite of products, Shopsense Match and React, were interactive apps installed in large touch-screens set up in stores. However, that model had some issues, the major one being an upfront capital investment of Rs. 40,000-plus for the large touch-screens.

Many brands were reluctant to bear this cost and hence, the growth in business didn’t match our ambition. We explored many ideas during this time and finally decided to switch from a B2B to a B2C model leveraging the existing inventory integrations we had built from 2012-15. We have grown from 0 to 20 million users in the last four years and now we work with around 500-plus brand partners. One of the people who played an important part in our journey is Sasha Mirchandani of Kae Capital who continued to invest in our venture from 2013 till the last round.

What does the takeover by Reliance Industries mean to Fynd? What would be key service/product additions?

Fynd is an O2O player. With Reliance having major offline presence across the country, this partnership will definitely disrupt the e-commerce market in the country. We will continue building our existing products – Fynd, Fynd Store, Uniket & Open API – with major new supply coming from Reliance in addition to our existing supply.

Can you recount your association with Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM)?

To be honest, my association with KSUM began only a month ago when KSUM got in touch with me after the Reliance partnership news broke. However, I have met a few startup promoters in KSUM Kozhikode during a Meetup Café event and am very much impressed by the progress made by the startup scene in Kerala.

Only a few startups could manage to become successful in Kerala. What are the key ingredients of a uniquely successful startup?

Compared to 2012, it has become easier to establish a startup. There is a proper startup ecosystem in every State of the country which any aspiring entrepreneur can tap into. The key ingredients for becoming a successful startup are; timing – being too early or too late to the market can spell disaster even if you have a great team and product – and the abilty to achieve positive unit math as soon as possible.

For Fynd and Sreeraman, there is a long way to go. What are your future goals and aspirations?

We believe that the e-commerce market in India is huge and all we have done so far is to just scratch the surface of it. But through the Reliance partnership we aim to penetrate the market more with a combined online-plus-offline strategy.

The Union Budget included some measures to promote startups in the country. What do you think is required to provide a fillip to the startup culture in India?

There are a lot of ambiguous rules and policies which lead to confusion while dealing with government agencies. I think if the government comes out with clarifications on such issues as and when they pop up in clear and unambiguous language, startups can save a lot of precious time and effort.

Being a market player in the e-commerce sector, what do you think will be the next stage of evolution of e-commerce?

E-commerce is definitely going to be a mix of online and offline. We have seen this with many of the online-only brands opening up offline stores in the recent past while the offline brands going for their online presence. Brands and companies with an omni-channel strategy will be the ones which will succeed in future.

Could you give a brief background about your schooling, higher education and family?

I did my schooling from Christ Nagar Central School in Thiruvananthapuram and finished BTech in Civil Engineering from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam. My father Mohan Kumar retired from Women’s College in Thiruvananthapuram while mother Girija Devi works as a Professor in Agronomy at Kerala Agricultural University in Thiruvananthapuram. I have an elder sister, Maliny who is an ENT specialist.

You discontinued your post-grad course from IIT Bombay to establish a startup. What was the motivation?

I met my prospective co-founders while doing my masters in Interaction Design at IIT Bombay. This was in 2012 and I had just started my two-year course. The idea at that time was to start with a one-off project and see how well we could work together over the course of the project. This went on for a year and the first pilot we did for Diesel was a success and we were able to raise a small seed fund from it. Soon we began recruiting employees and I was just about to start my second year at IIT.

I realised that it was not fair to recruit people to join my startup while I myself was still in college. Moreover, I also felt that focussing on too many things at the same time simply wouldn’t work and thus came the decision to discontinue the masters programme.

Focus on Performance Engineering
“We had very little experience in building an internet-scale business. This led us to be paranoid about ensuring all our systems were scale-ready and well-instrumented. The attention span of consumers is very short and a slow-loading page is a sure way to kill your business. The teams were pushed to ensure everything loads fast and users have a great shopping experience.Of course, all of this didn’t happen overnight and we had our share of mistakes.Eventually, we got our act together when we rebuilt our infrastructure to be auto-scalable and started following stricter reliability standards. The aim for the team now is to Plan for 1000x → Build for 100x → Deploy for 10x. You never know when scale hits you!”

– Adam Farooq, Co-founder, Fynd

How Fynd Got Mukesh Ambani’s Attention
What proved a major milestone for Fynd happened when Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) acquired stake in the company. According to Harsh Shah, Co-founder, Fynd, it was a slide presentation at Reliance’s accelerator program for startups – JioGenNext – which grabbed the top man’s attention. “…Mukesh Ambani was really impressed by the way the Fynd founders thought about building the organisation. He, in turn, forwarded the presentation to multiple people in the Reliance network and asked the corporate development team to get in touch with us and devise a strategy for us to work together,” Harsh recalled in an in-house blogpost of the company.

Here’s what the presentation talked about…
The presentation highlighted the importance of discipline and honesty, especially that of the founders. “My presentation was focused on ‘Discipline & Process Setting’. We at Fynd have always believed in setting the company up for growth, and as founders our primary goal is to build the team and set up systems,” he adds.

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