Here are the exclusive interview with Viral Thakkar. He is the CEO of eBAZaar.com.He opened the company to see the condition of the grocery store.
Tell us something about yourself and your background?
Currently, I run eBZaar.com, a daily shopping marketplace, helping customers to buy daily shopping needs from curated real world grocery stores. Yes, you understood right, daily shopping includes grocery, fruits, mithais, meats, sea food, cakes, flowers and dairy etc. We ensure you get the best of quality from local stores who have been in business for generations. At the same time, we ensure local stores are able to adopt technology and make themselves relevant to the online customers.
In the past, I have been a banker with corporate experience of 13years plus. Apart from banking, I have also done internal audits of banking & finance companies. My Chartered Accountancy course prepared me for attention to detail and being analytical of most things or situations while my corporate career ensured that I hone my skills in various facets of business & commerce, specifically business development, relationship management and product sales & product management.
I have done my studies at Mithibai College and Sydenham, at Mumbai University.
our vision is to connect a million stores to hundreds of millions of online customers over the next few years.
2.What was your childhood like? What dreams and goals did you have for your life after you completed your studies?
I come from a humble background. Childhood was a lot of studies, playing in the streets (marbles, cricket, gulli danda, lagorchi, hide & seek just to cherish a few) and also doing business. I have more than 20 years of experience in grocery, as a part of the family business, we used to run a corner grocery store. Being working right from early childhood till few years overlapping with my corporate career. So I have been working for 30+ years while being on this planet for 38 years!
During the years that I was growing up, I always wanted to become an Investment banker doing M&A deals; the second thing I wanted to do was multiply our one store operation into 100 stores or more. For the first goal, I have been fortunate enough to come close where I was an Executive Director, Global Trade & Loan Products at JPMorgan Chase Bank before I decided to pursue my entrepreneurial journey.
And it is a home coming to the grocery segment, working on the second dream now, albeit in the virtual/digital online casinos world. We have reached 15 stores, it is an interesting journey and in its modified form we would be tracking 2000 to 3000 stores. In fact, our vision is to connect a million stores to hundreds of millions of online customers over the next few years.
Coming from a background like mine, of course, the first goal was financial security. God has been kind, parents and family have been supportive, and post-graduation with Chartered Accountancy in my first attempt also helped. Though it was a recession when I cleared [first dotcom bust], jobs were difficult, especially in business. It took me 1.5 years at a Chartered Accountant firm before I could start my banking career.
3.What are you currently doing? What motivated you to do this and how do you feel about it?
As explained in the first question, I run eBZaar.com. Our most recent claim to fame was being recognized as the Top 15 Changemakers as a part of Catapooolt & Economic Times Changemakers 2017 contest. In fact, we were stacked at number 3 in the end results of a crowdfunding campaign that was organized to decide the final pecking order.
350 million out of 1.2 billion people have internet access in India and this number is likely to grow to a billion in less than 10 years – that is a 3X growth. There are over 40 million SMEs and nearly 98% of retail is small and unorganised, with the largest share being of the corner retail stores a.k.a as Kirana store. The scenario is fast changing though, with over billions of dollars invested in Indian eCommerce marketplace, with the likes of Amazon, Big Basket, Grofers, Nature’s Basket and now Paytm Mall among others are leveraging the power of technology to thrive at scale in retail business. In doing so, they are disrupting the conventional kirana store.It is only a matter of time until the division between the internet haves and have-not deepen to completely wipe out the kiranas.
It is important so that these Kirana stores can stay relevant to customers moving online and do not lose out to well-funded rivals due to lack of tech. It is a matter of their livelihood. At a family business, we traversed the journey from a tiny packaged milk retailer by the roadside to a to a reasonably large grocery operation (i.e. a Kirana Store) over a 25 year period. Post my successful career, I was researching on a number of things to do as an entrepreneur. Doing banking/payments/finance would have been a natural extension of my banking career. However, spending few weeks on the ground made me realize that the retailers / kirana stores are left behind in the digital journey while consumers were/are adopting technology at a much faster clip.
How can a kirana store do more than surviving the big technology and e-commerce giants? This thought was over powering, like a mountain of challenge and a sea of opportunity. The local Kirana stores have grown on the foundation of trust, more importantly, their customers became extended family members and few would also avail unsecured credits. Today’s internet business still lacks this kind of trust. I had found my calling in going back to where I started, it was a moment of inspiration for me. After all, I could relate to them and their need to stay afloat even in the tech enabled world.
The obvious question was: What if I could add a layer of technology to create convenience on top of the existing trust and goodwill already built by the local kirana stores? Thus eBZaar was born.
To the end consumer, eBZaar empowers them to shop online from real world stores without the need to visit one. They can thus focus on building happy memories spending time with family & friends instead of household chores. To the local supermarket, we empower them from going obsolete due to changing dynamics of technology. eBZaar thus marries the conveniences of online shopping with the comfort of getting quality groceries from real world stores.
eBZaar has products lined up where it can encompass the entire ecosystem – especially the corner stores; ultimately having a great positive impact helping them sell more and sell better. All of this while they focus on unique strength – which is being on top of their supply chain and procurement expertise; and retain the customer bonding and customer’s business even when the customer has moved online.
4.What struggles did you face? Did you get any support from your family & friends?
As a startup, struggles abound. Right from finding an office on rent, building a team, building a product and all of this interspersed with accounting and legal / compliance hassles. The biggest of these have been building a team. Understanding motivational drivers and then inspiring them with the vision – that is the biggest asset a (bootstrapped) startup has – is easier said than done. We are still learning, though we have come a long way since our early days and have been able to work with some fabulous people.
For now, the focus of eBZaar is on moving from few hundred orders to a few thousand. The second struggle is around acquiring customers and sellers, though again we have had our share of successes. We are not yet content when it comes to this and working hard to master it. Getting first few customers is always difficult. The fact that eBZaar has some early traction having processed hundreds of orders; and that there are a fairly loyal set of customers who repeatedly shop from them is what keeps their business going. The customers are the best brand ambassadors and can help spread the word about eBZaar. The faith of repeat customers is something very important and eBZaar is striving to keep it going.
5.Do you have any role models in your life who influenced you? What lessons did that person teach you?
The biggest role model in my life has been my mother. Keeping the faith, being persistent and not giving up in the face of difficulties is what I have learned from her. While I learned how to befriend people, nurturing relationship and trust, and being able to have a debate from my father. Later, I have been lucky enough to have awesome friends, great managers and leaders around, each of whom has helped shape me up to what I could become.
Since the time of starting up, I have been highly influenced by Albert Einstien and his various quotes, especially this one: “If at first, the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it”. That helps to keep the torch of faith burning bright. I do not think what we are doing and intend to do is at all easy. Besides, Gandhiji’s biography “My Experiment with Truth” – about all the courage you ought to have; and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead where Roark is a non-conformist, does have its influence for sure. For me, non-conformist is interpreted to mean that you can question and questioning (Why & Why Not) is a key ability needed to succeed. Lastly, it is so very important to absorb the Feedback you get, including from all critique’s & naysayers, without being distracted by the “no”.
Our analytics account showed a 4% spike in daily visitors, but as it turned out zero orders.
6.How has been the journey so far, did you ever felt like giving up? And if you could recount the instance for our readers.
No, giving up is not an option. Yes, there are bouts of frustration on difficult days and then a joy ride immediately the next day. Plus speaking to men tors and friends helps to keep sanity. Also, one needs to be resourceful enough to find a way out – it comes with a). Not being hesitant or shy about asking help b). Finding out people to whom you ask for help.
It is easier said than done, at times you have to keep at it with faith that it will work out, and that is our take on resolving a couple of challenges we spoke about previously. To give an example, when we launched the first version of our website (I had no clue about private beta etc.), we distributed a thousand leaflets. Our analytics account showed a 4% spike in daily visitors, but as it turned out zero orders. We later realized that the payment page had a bug and hence order submission was not going through.
Or at the larger level, for example, what happens when you buy an office which is 5 times larger than what you need. I speak about these and some other mistakes in this article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/8-must-knows-starting-business-viral-thakker
7.In your difficult phases, what keeps you motivated/what makes you hold on?
The fact that I have done wonders from where I started the journey I had in my corporate career. The confidence of having done that gives the assurance that I can do it again. And the belief that nothing is impossible.
8.What do you see as your place or purpose in life? How did you come to that conclusion?
Our current drive is to ensure we keep focused at our mission of connecting a million stores to hundred million or more customers. That is our purpose and likely to remain so for foreseeable future. And we have delved at length about that. I just so strongly feel for them for that has been my background.
At a philosophical level, what makes me happy is to be able to help people with my thoughts, experience, and some worldly wisdom. When I see that positive effect on people’s lives, I have a satisfaction and a smile on my face too. I know and like the look of me smiling and so that’s how I can conclude it!
9.As we launch this platform “AlphaIndians,” how do you think it will help people know the unsung stories of our nation?
I am sure you will bring out inspiring stories of grit, determination and can do spirit, you will bring out stories of people’s ability to dream and chase those dreams. While as a nation we have come a long way, there is still a vast majority of the populace who needs to hear and read this story, if only to believe in themselves. If only to know that other mortals have done and they can do well in their lives too. I am sure AlphaIndians and their store can be a guiding light to a lot of its readers. And my best wishes to them.
10.How do you define yourself as an AlphaIndian? What best advice would you like to leave for our readers?
Never say never. Never ever give up. Chase your dreams. Have fun along the way, enjoy the present to the fullest; and it is ok to think about the future, that is how you dream and that is how you find a purpose to your life.