Breaking the Taboo

Initial Thought Process in Starting Up

See! I worked through my education. I’ve always been thinking about ideas which are a lot more consumer centric. So when I was doing my MBA from Narsee Monjee in Mumbai, I was thinking about a couple of ideas. Then when I started my first job, again I was thinking about “oh, we should do something like this, we should go in” and you meet with your friends and you are always discussing that over coffee. But somehow most of them remained at the paper stage. I would say nothing really took off. When I was working with SAP, I happen to work on a project with a lingerie giant and that kind of got me thinking about lingerie as a category for India and being a woman myself, I realized I was 29½ years old and I didn’t know what the brands were, I didn’t know what sizes was and that got me thinking a lot deeper and overnight and next morning I started feeling that this is a category that need some sort of a research to figure out what are pin points because as a consumer, I definitely know what and which brands of Jeans I’m wearing, which brand of apparel watch, glasses I’m working but I don’t know anything about my lingerie and why is that so? And then I started researching a lot in the offline space asking a lot of questions to my friends about their experiences and I very quickly gathered that this category is underserved in India and technology a massive massive role to open out this category to make the experience better in this category and there was certain things that stood out very very startling saying that “this category needed a lot of sizes” because it’s very close to the body and not every woman is of specific size. I had a retail background before but it was in food and grocery. So I understood space constraisn very well and retailers were very hesitant to stock the long tail in this category. So the customer was coming always felt that she was compromising on whatever was available, not necessarily what was right for her. The second thing was that, they choose a category which had a lot of social embarrassment. It is a category that nobody is comfortable experiencing in public spaces, men and women alike and the third thing which is again a little more ironical is this is a category that need a lot of time and effort because it’s so close to the body, every body shape is different, every type occasion and outer wear is different. You need to have awareness and consultation around this category. So you don’t want to be seen around experiencing this category but you need to spend time in this category. Online, taking this category online made the perfect sense for it. So that’s how exactly we started. We said “let’s leverage the power of technology and start solving the problems that existed in this category in the offline space to create a lot more joyful experience for the customer”. Like I said, I think out of all these 6-7 ideas that had ever crossed my mind, sometimes you feel that the time is right, everything seems to be working out because you would have never figured out when you start. I listed down 10 things actually that I needed to know if I had to start. I didn’t have apparel experience, let alone lingerie, right. So even lingerie is really really…. I came from an enterprise software experience. I never had any exposure to internet as technology. And then I did not know so many other things. The delivery, the logistics, everything else and I made a list of what are the 6 things that I could still figure out for the rest 4 things that I would not figure out and figure out people who would help me and when that checkbox was made, I said “yes, this is the time to take the plunge”. I really liked the idea at that time. I totally took it from a consumer point of view and back of my head I said “I want to give it all and if I fail, I worked hard for an education, I worked hard to get experience in the corporate life, I could always go back and this experience would be still valuable”.

Identification of Pain Points

I go back to the examples that I, as a consumer, faced. When we shop for this category, you are very uncomfortable because when you ask for a t particular size, somebody will look at you and almost size you with your eyes and say that “your size is not available and this size doesn’t run”. And it’s not very nice to hear this. Second this is you ask for something a little more experimental or bold. If you’re, let’s say, you’re getting married, like a lot of my friends said “oh, I was asking for a red bra and the salesgirl started [sniggering]” and this is a problem that I’m talking about which happened in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore. Because I reached to my friends in these metro cities so to say. Think about the problem that was happening in a tier-2 city where there were not girls on the other side of the counter, they were actually men and why would something which is so intimate to you be experienced or the experience of that would be dictated by a man on the other side. I didn’t think it just made sense in the way the category was being approached from a retail perspective.

Entrepreneurial Journey

In fact, when I started Zivame coincidently, I think not many people know about it, I was actually working on another business idea with a partner and we had done the entire paper stage work, we were wanting to meet companies and it was a very different model; more on the lines of food and grocery. It had nothing to do with India as a market and overnight, my partner stopped talking to me and he disappeared and I didn’t know what was happening and what was running in his mind but when I was talking to my parents, they knew about the fact that I was really thinking about an idea and I was working with somebody on an idea. Within a month, I got initiated to this category lingerie and in fact, the name of our company, Actoserba,was from my first business idea and then I was like “hey, this is what I want to do and I figured it out” and my parents still thought I was working with the initial idea. They had no clue that I was actually going to start a lingerie company. Over a period of, I think, 2 months, when I quit, I told my mom and my mom was aghast. She was like “what am I going to tell my friends that my engineer-MBA daughter is selling bras and panties?” and they just didn’t find it to be a very very intellectually and stimulating and also something that a person who is very very well educated would possibly get into but I think they also believed in the fact that if it was a wim fancy, they knew that I would be ascute to give it enough time and get back to corporate work if required. So they were not really so worried, they were a little like “ah, but would be tell others like what work are you doing”. Today all of it is absolutely changed but when we started the company, I remember we were getting our rental office rental and we were two friends who were trying to split the cost into half and I went for a discussion with my landlord and he working in a corporate. He called us to his office. I understand what you guys are doing, which is what you would be doing and I said “I would say lingerie” but this category is such a big taboo. Maybe he will not give me the space. So I said “we will be doing apparel retailing”. Apparel ecommerce is what I said and my friend is looking at me and said “that’s not what you are going to be doing, you didn’t tell him” and now everything else has changed. So when we got a payment gateway integrated for the first time, they asked a lot of question when we said accessories. We said we are into lingerie and accessories. What kind of accessories? So, there were a lot of questions that were asked and actually then I realized, with all of this, then I realized that actually it’s a good thing that we are embarking into something which is actually looked at such a taboo. Potentially, it could become a mainstream category because if you look at western evolved markets, it’s never considered as a taboo. It’s considered as a part of women apparel category and that’s how it started.

Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs

I think there is a difference between, let me put it very bluntly, there is a difference between doing a hobby and running a startup. When you run a startup, you’re going to give your startup equal, if not more priority than your personal life and I think women definitely get caught into a very big tussle of balancing their personal life with what they want to do professionally and most of the time their professional endeavors take a back seat and the personal becomes a lot more important and that is the only reason they don’t stick on to doing this. So everything needs a lot of perseverance. Hobby is something that you can take it for 3 months and say “I won’t do it” and nobody will question you but when you’re into a startup, you’ve to question yourself very seriously why you’re doing it, that’s no.1. No.2, I’d like to say that when you are running a startup, think about how you would like to scale it up. I found a lot of women are very very passionate. They want to do a lot of things but they are not thinking scale at all. They are thinking is very small and they are not thinking very big. When you start thinking big you realize that you have to work under of the constructs of an organization, you have to hire right, you have to retain talent, you have built systems and processes and therefore that’s the difference between running a startup versus doing a hobby.

Vision & Target Group Identification

So it’s also an evolving vision because it becomes larger and our appetite increases to take in more but if I could say today, the vision of Zivame is to build the confidence of women through merchandise, through service, through technology. We believe there are categories which are inherent to this confidence building and Zivame wants to embark to that journey where women who engage with us, find us as an emotionally resonating partner to them. Having said that from a business point of view, we definitely want to be the largest, the most preferred and the most loved destination for women in lingerie and apparel. So when we started, it was very clear that our category could target both men and women. We were very clear that we wanted to target women. So whatever we will do, we will do from the eyes of a woman customer. How will she perceive a communication, a merchandise, a service, everything that we do? That kept the focus right from day 1 and that is where you will see the entire experience or everything around Zivame is extremely catered towards a woman and that goes back to say, “why we have women who are so loyal to us? Why do they like us so much?” Because somewhere we also want to build that capability of saying that we understand women intimately. That understanding needs to be there for us to survive in this business. From a target consumer perspective, when we started- this also is changing but let me tell you how this evolved. When we started we said that we will look at all the consumers who are from Delhi, Bombay, you know, the top 3-4 cities who are used to buying lingerie. They know their brands but they just don’t like the offline experience. We will give them an online experience which is private, which is unlimited sizes of all styles and which is a lot of consultation and of course, we can transcend this across physical distribution. So we started saying we are looking at a 28 year old who is working, who is aware of the brands and who wants to look at Zivame because it is much more convenient way of shopping but now when we are looking at our persona, we’re still saying that we are looking at a 28 year old woman and that age is important because we’ve done a lot of research to say that when a woman in India, this is more specific to India, till the time you’re 21, your mom plays a major influence in your lingerie buying habits and like it is in US where once you got 14 or 15, your mom will take you to Victoria Secrets store and say “hey, welcome to being a woman etc.”. That doesn’t really happen because we are a little more protective of our children. So till 21, your mom is taking deciding what you want to wear etc. all of that and from 21 to 24, you’ve got into a new job, so you would want to experiment but not so much. But when you’re 28, you are really going to spend an experiment on things which are good for you and lingerie becomes a part of that kind of a category which doesn’t need external validation or datafication. So that is how we set 28 is an important age bracket for us and then we said that this woman is possibly living in the top 10 cities, is educated, we have a socio economic class of classification here. So we call it as an SEC-A or A+B kind of a classification but what we are actually saying is she has done her graduate studies. She understands what’s right for her. She has a point of view, that is important and she is working or has worked possibly on a leave or something like that or maybe has plans to get back to work sometime. It’s that’s the kind of construct. So that we where we said that this is the woman who understands the power of choice, who has financial- well I’d say capability, may not be independence completely because it’s a phase of life. She could on a maternity leave or whatever else etc. and she is the customer who we want to target. So this is our core TG and from there we also have an extended TG. So our extended TG would be anyone from a 22 to a 38 years of age but when we map it through the data of customer that we already see, we’ve seen women from 18 to 65+. Of course, the bulge is from a 24 to 38. So we are right there in terms of customer communication which is specifically around 28. The other thing that is there is that this is also possibly a factor of how we are marketing. We are currently marketing to women who are online and if you cut to the number of women who are online, you’ll see it’s actually from 18 to 28 where you see the majority of women who are online. So today, it could be a function of this and maybe this will shift a little bit, will become more 24 as we start doing and reaching out to women in the tier-2 and tier-3 city audience.

Marketing Channels

So we are an internet company and there are so many women, 40% of the internet demographic are women. So first thing first is to get the lowest hanging fruit, women who are online, who would have bought or would not have bought. I mean who have transacted in an ecommerce site before is what we’ve looked at. So we start looking at online channels which will give us an avenue to reach out to these customers. Facebook for example, becomes a very very important channel for us because that’s one of the only channel which is giving you targeted women customer which you can segregate age wise, city wise. So there the demographics are built in. Facebook is a very very important channel for us to reach out. The second thing that we look at is display. All forms of display where there are content sites where a women might be consuming content and we have our ad banners etc. The third thing would be search. Unfortunately, search for lingerie, I think before Zivame, we were not really searching “how do I buy bras online?” So it’s a really or lot more about Zivame search which is happening and that is what we are building in because we are trying to get women to shop online this category. So that search is the third channel that from where we acquire customers but most of them would possibly know of Zivame in one way or the other. So from just a building awareness perspective point of view, we are more concentrated on Facebook as a channel, gives us targeted audience. But then once you’ve got the awareness in and there is an interest part that you’re doing, then you search etc. Then we also look at- and these are very smaller channels for us. We look at affiliates etc. people who will put some sort of an incentive on their sites where people who are incentive seekers come and look at. We do some sort of cross promotion, cross marketing with other fellow vertical companies. So those kind of things is what we do. We’ve also done a little bit of mass advertising. We’ve used television as a media because television content is consumed by women at large but television again is a very very expensive media. We’ve done a little part of print. So marketing for us is just the way we are saying “hey, we’ve women. We want to reach out to women. What are the best ways to reach out to them which is at scale but what are also the most efficient ways to reach which may not have scale and you’ve to always do this balancing act”

Working with Publishers

I’d that’s a display what really happens is that there are publishers and there are ad networks who take some inventory or whatever is available inventory that the publishers sign up with them for serving ads. So we don’t really work with publishers as such because there were a very few publishers who are very very large. So what’s really works best for us is to work with ad networks. We give them our creatives and then they start serving it to sites and public content where women could potentially be. We work with them on various kind of, models are possible. One could be cost per thousand which is called CPM, one could be cost per click, third could be cost per transaction which is cost per sale. So there could be different kind of metrics that you could work with. You could always say that “okay, I’ll give you this cost per sale if my average transaction size is this but I’ll give you rupees X if my average transaction size is something else”. So you could work with them differently. We definitely don’t directly work with publishers. That may not be a very very scalable situation. You can do it one off but not really at large.

Advice on Digital Marketing

I think that when you are in the digital world, it is going to be very important to understand levers for growth, levers for how do you get your customer and we chose digital marketing as one of the levers. We could have completely done the entire business by saying “it will be a subscription business, it could be a referral business, it could be a close site flash sales business”. I mean whatever, the model could be different. We chose to reach out to women far and wide because we believe that the problem is a lot more endemic of the experience of lingerie. My advice would be to first choose your business model very clearly. Don’t jump into marketing because marketing is just a ways for us to increase awareness but there are 10 different ways for a company to increase awareness and today we are looking at different forms of acquiring a customer. It could be through referral, it could be through offline marketing. So we are also evolving in the whole but we started with digital marketing but if you decide that your business model needs digital marketing, it will be very important for the entrepreneur to understand the basics of digital marketing because it’s almost like an engine and if you don’t understand this and you treat it like a black box, then for sure, you will start facing challenges when you want to scale up. I wouldn’t say there is one thing that just go to an agency and do my job. I wouldn’t advice. I’d say you must get your hands dirty. Facebook has really made their entire ad serving platform very easy for individuals to run their ad and at least start experimenting from there. Once you start getting a feel of it then you can definitely hire a person in your team or give it to an agency but what this will do is also it will enable you to ask the right questions if somebody else is running this. When we started, we of course, ran ads ourselves with 5,000 rupees, 10,000 rupees etc. That’s how the foundation, the basic understanding was built.

Building & Evolving Technology Platform

Again, it’s not like today’s thing that we’ve done but we started okay. We started with saying that- we didn’t built out the sites ourselves, we took an open source platform which was Magento and we said that “something works, let’s not reinvent it”. So that is exactly which is where I said that top 10 things I wanted to do and I wanted tick, tick, tick off the 6 things that I could potentially do and the rest 4 things I’ll figure out who could do it. So on the technology front, on the platform front, I took an open source platform and then that gave us a nice foundation. I would say a scaffolding structure. And then we knew that you need to have let’s say at time there were a lot more desktop. You have a home page, you have a category page, you have a product page, you have a checkout page. So then we started building the funnel like this. When a person comes to the homepage, what do you want her to do? When she goes to the category page, what you want her to do? when she goes to the product page, what is the action that you want? And therefore basis that what action you want, you have to say what is the information that you want to put. So we took it in a very structured manner but we just took an open source platform which gave us the basic structure which is there. So we didn’t have to reinvent all of it. Today, when we use the same process, we realize that “oh, we missed out giving delivery information on this page, oh we need to give that”. If you are running a “buy one, get one” promotion, she is not getting that information on the product page. So today, it’s a lot more evolved in the whole process but what we also did is, we started measuring data from day 1. How it was from a funnel perspective. So many people came, so many people bounced off, so many people visited the home page, then the category page, then the checkout page. So our teken version is this much. And then we started taking one part of the funnel and started improving it. Say, how do we improve this from a customer point of view. So somethings are really let me put it this way, our best practices from a platform perspective and some things are more from women as a customer and lingerie as a category. These two things are things which are very critical for us because we are also building differentiation with regards to why customers should necessarily shop on Zivame if she can get the same product anywhere else. So you always have to do a balancing act, that’s no.1 but you also have to have a sense of what’s the pace and sequence that you would want to do. You can’t get it overnight, it’s although is a working progress.

Improving Conversion

Very early on, we realized our checkout from the time that a person has put a product on the cart page and she is checking out, that metric was lower than others in the industry and we said “okay, we will just improve this checkout conversion”. So we starting decoding in terms of when a woman is on the cart page, what could be going in her mind. Is all information rightly available there? does she know when she is going to receive the product? Does she know that there is no extra shipping charge? Does she know that there will be a cash on delivery charge? Etc. So ensure that all the information that could be friction point for her at that time to complete the transaction is completely given. Let her not go towards the end to find out that information is there and she drops out at the end. She’d rather drop out right away than she goes to the end. So that is one thing that we did. Then the second thing that we started saying is, we started doing some sort of an incentive on the cart pages where we said that “well, a pack of 6 briefs is at 70% off”, when you’ve come to the cart and then you add it to your cart. So the customer starts feeling that she is getting a freebie which was not really discoverable anywhere on the site but because of the way she has put her cart together, she is entitled to a freebie and that makes us a lot more closer to completing the transaction. Then the other thing that we also did is we started giving them a lot more- and we did a lot of experiments. Not everything happened at the same time. We said “if you complete your cart today, you get a 10% off”. So which basically meant that it became time bomb, there was some sort of urgency and people who were not really say “Okay, I’ll shop when I want to, it’s okay, I’ll put a cart” but when they started getting some incentive, when they started getting all of this, they started converting better and the other thing that we also did is- people have placed products in their cart and we have their email addresses because they have logged in, they have registered. We started using technology to send abandoned cart mails where first we didn’t even give them an incentive, we said was there a problem that you faced when you were checking out? And that threw a lot of insights for us. Our customer start and what we did is very small thing, we said we didn’t customer care team, we wrote it on first name, Angela, this, that and then they felt that they are talking to a person there. Hey Angela, I felt that this was not there, I did not know this and started writing. So we used all that insights to bring back and improve our checkout funnel.

Minimum Viable Product

The MVP is basically what I said that- okay, the MVP is what we actually launched when we launched with Magento which is an open source platform. We took their framework, we just improved upon the UI and UX, a little bit on the UX but UI is what we improved upon and we launched it. It actually came in zero cost. I don’t remember but almost zero cost because this was an open source platform and we just had to get some of our friends who we knew who helped to kind of build in some of the UI, UX stuff for us and that’s how we started. So that was the MVP that I was actually talking about. So always start with an MVP. There is never going to be a perfect product in the internet industry. Ship, reiterate, ship, reiterate is how we even work now.

Plunge into Entrepreneurship

I think for us, a lot of people put in a lot of parameters of evaluation. Let me tell you, when I started, I did not know what was the market size of the lingerie industry, I did not know the market potential at all. Only when I was trying to raise my series-A, that is where I went back and started looking at what is the size of the market. I was fortunate enough that the size of the market was decent otherwise nobody would have ever funded but I guess started from a very pure saying that “hey, the experience could be better and let’s use technology” and I did calibrate saying that “what if I opened a store and give them the fit experience etc.” but then I said “how would I scale it up?”. So I said “no, let’s use technology” and I came from a retail background and I knew the problems of scaling offline retail. So I would definitely say that you need to still do that, what are the ten things that you need to know, if you know the 6 things, go ahead, take the plunge. Don’t wait for the perfect product. Ship, reiterate, ship, reiterate because every time you will learn some things that you don’t know of because the consumers are there. They will tell you by their behavior, by their action or even by just directly communicating to you. So even today, let me put it this way, we are still a startup and we are doing new things everyday, let me say, every month, let’s say we’re launching a new product category, how do I go about doing that? I could completely take the research routes and personally I feel that’s a lot of analysis, paralysis. If you say that “okay, this is the capital I can put at stake, this is the time, energy, resource I can put at stake, can I go ahead with some sort of engineered intuition?” and that’s the word we use commonly. Is it intuition? Yes. Can you engineer around it? Yes. Then go ahead do it. and then constantly learn as your product is there in the market.

Metrics Evaluation

So some of the metrices that we really look at and we looked at these matrices from early on was the cost of customer acquisition and we said, this is the amount of marketing money we are spending, how many new customers are we getting? Because we wanted to build a business for scale, it was very important, every month to calibrate the amount of new customers who were coming onto a site. Fundamentally, this goes back to the fact that more number of trials you have, more people are going to talk about your brand and that’s another way of building the brand. I can’t build a brand if there are only 10 people who have experienced Zivame. I can’t create an ad, I can’t do anything, nothing will work but I don’t have to possibly even do a brand ad if there 1 lakh customers who have experienced Zivame because they are all talking about it. So fundamentally for us, we believed that there is a lot of virtue in the base of customers that would have experienced Zivame and therefore it was important for us to track the metric of new customers that we were acquiring on a month on month basis. If we are going to be looking at new customers that we are acquiring on a month on month basis, what is the cost of acquiring those customers? What we did was we took all our marketing cost and divided it by the new customers that we acquired in a particular month and that is how we arrived at the cost of customer acquisition. Ironically or this is not entirely the right approach of arriving at a cost of customer acquisition because you would have and every company spends money on retention also, you would have marketed to customers who have bought from Zivame on the same channels such as Facebook, on the same channels of SEM, I mean search, display etc. I would search Zivame and click on a paid link and come, I would have bought from that. So while technically this is not correct, but on a periodic level if you can look at from a trend analysis and say “hey, this is how my cost of customer acquisition is trending”, you know which way you are going, that’s number 1. Look at cost of customer acquisition with the lens of what is the unit economics that you get. Now in your first transaction, if you break even, well very good, you can remain in that same customer acquisition. If you break even in 6 months, I mean, I don’t want to justify, I don’t want to qualify whether it is very good or very bad but look at it from a frequency of repeat. Let’s say you acquire a customer, and I’m giving random numbers, for 5,000 rupees and this customer’s average transaction size is 1,000 and you make 50% margin on the entire transactions. You make 500 rupees but the cost of acquisition is 5000, you need the customer to shop with you at least ten times. So will the ten times happen in a year, 2 years, 3 years or on 6 months and that is what you have to calibrate for your business. You may not be able to do this early on, in the first 1 year of your business because you don’t have repeat cohorts coming in but you would definitely know what you are making in your first transaction and when is she going to come back next? Repeat is important. Frequency of next purchase is important and the third parameter is what you earn, what’s your gross margin or contribution margin in that transaction? That is going to be important. Put all of these together and then you will arrive at the right mix and that will directionally guide you in terms of how much should you be spending on a customer and this changes from vertical to vertical, business to business, everything. So it’s going to something which is intrinsic to you whenever you are comparing it with others, ensure you ask them these other set of question also along with it because that’s the cohesive thing. The other metric that most people use is the payback period where they say that it’s more of a cohort, where you say that “I have spent X amount of money on acquiring, Y amount of customers in a particular month, by what time do I recover the X on the Y by basis of their repeat transactions? In the subsequent month.” So it’s a cohort that you are building on Y, which is the customer base that you’ve acquired. So in the next 1 year, if this customer base is transacting so many times that you are able to recover X amount of money on them, then you get a payback period for your customer. These are the two matrices that would be very important for internet businesses like ours to kind of measure.

Cost of Customer Acquisition

When you calculate the cost of customer acquisition, it is going to be very important for you to be cognizant of what cost need to be taken and what cost need to be not taken in. For example, if you are going to use let’s say the cost of your PR agency, you can’t really put a customer acquisition cost to it. It’s an ongoing cost. By that logic you have to put everybody manpower or every operations cost into it. Let’s say, for example, if you add the cost of a creative agency, you may not want to add that because that’s not really a directly attributable to an acquisition cost but any kind of advertising, media cost that you do, necessarily need to be incorporated into a cost of customer acquisition. For example, whatever you are spending on Facebook, whatever you are spending in media spends, in television, for example, anything you do in or the spends on displays etc., all of the media cost need to be definitely included in your cost of customer acquisition. You may choose to not include the cost of creative or supporting functions, which could be a media agency, which could be a creative agency etc. in the cost of customer acquisition.

Customer Interaction

So it comes again from the vision of what we aspire to be and we said that we want to be the destination for this category. We want to be the preferred choice when a woman wants to experience this category and therefore first thing, an important thing was that how many women are going to be experiencing Zivame? From a transaction point of view and from there you’ll flow back and say that you’ll build the funnel, so visitors needs to come. First we put in a number saying that we need, I think maybe in the first or second year, we said we need 5 lakh buyers to be there. That tell us “okay, there are so many customers women who have experienced Zivame”. So the base is significant for us. Then we said that if we want her to be the preferred destination or the choice which basically means we are able to take what percentage of a lingerie draw or share. So we put a very ambitious target. We said we will take it everything. Once she experience Zivame, she should not be going back to anybody else because that’s the best form, I mean, if we are saying this is the best experience you can get in this category, it needs to also reflect in that kind of consumer buying behavior that we have. So we said “okay, in an offline space, maybe a woman is buying this category twice in a year”, we want her to buy 3 times in a year, in the first year. Then it becomes 4 times, 5 times as the brand matures. So that’s how we started doing the goal setting. Then we started saying, what is the amount she is spending? 1 customer, is she spending 5,000 rupees in a year, or 10,000 rupees in a year? and while we don’t have too much of supporting data from an offline world to say “is this making sense?” but the idea is basically to say that “I get a woman to try Zivame and I have her for the entire lifetime” and that directionally guides us one is on the business goal but also on how we are approaching everything that we are doing. That defines our merchandising strategy which is where we are saying that “oh, maternity is a range. It needs to be there.” Which defines and tells me that if the customer is reaching out to me through this channel, I need to talk to her in this way so that she doesn’t drop off. In your organization from a fact that you are going to be a very very high repeat category and you can’t afford to lose a customer because of a bad experience, you become very aligned to the fact that you have to resolve all friction points for a customer once the trial has happened which basically goes back to the saying that, when we started, we didn’t have, for whatever reasons, we didn’t have all women customer relation center. And we said that if this is going to be the preferred destination, there has to be a woman who is talking on the other side whenever somebody calls up for Zivame. Then you start thinking around the entire- we don’t want a woman to feel ever cheesed off because there is a man on the other side and she is like “I bought from Zivame but I don’t like talking to that man”. So we don’t want it. We are very focused on the repeat side of things because we believe you are going to take 100% of the lingerie share. We are very very focused on “once the trial has come we want to have her for the lifetime”.

Customer Perspective in Brand Development

So I’d say the way I’d approach it is we’ve been- I had a brand management experience after my business school. So I understand the value of focusing on the smaller details that role up to making a brand experience. So everybody believes that brand is all about really lofty things but I like to approach it is brand is all about the details. For example, even when we looked at it, we said just our welcome mail, when it goes to the consumer, how should she feel? That was a lot more smaller details when we started out because obviously when I was building the business, I could control or influence a lot of those things. I said these are the smaller details that we want to take care of and that I culture has ever since remained or pervaded where now when we say, let’s say, our transaction mails. Transactions mails are all the mails that come to you by virtue of the transactions that you may have on Zivame. For example, when a customer registers. So what’s the mail that comes? When she places an order, we make it like you are having a conversation with whatever you have bought. There is a little bit of a feel to it and that is what the customer notices and she says “oh, I like, this is really cool or this is very interesting” and I think brand is all about those smaller things that you are doing. It’s never going to be about that big television campaign that you did because most customers don’t remember it. They remember in the way you greet them, they remember in the way the quality of merchandises, they remember in the packaging, they remember on what they see when they come to your site, what’s your banner communication etc. Very often we have got flack from same women customers who love us when we have neglected some of these smaller things. For example, we told somebody- when we create a Facebook creative and we said “hide that cleavage” and women are like “hey, you are a women centric brand, why would you say something like hide that cleavage” and this ad would be possibly the 150th ad that a copywriter would be doing it but a woman would notice it. So how would you inculcate a culture where every detail is noticed from the point of view of a consumer? Will a woman consumer like to read a copy like this or when we tweeted something which was possibly in zest and not so much in a women found offensive. So they say “hey, I thought you were standing for body positivity but this doesn’t make me feel like that” and we took quickly say that “no, you were right, we are wrong in this”. No question asked. I think that culture is going to be extremely important more than the lofty way in which everybody looks at brand which is an agency side of thing that “let’s standardize every font, let’s do all the creative thing”. I don’t think, we have still not standardized. I know everybody will criticize, all the agencies will say “you don’t have a brand manual etc.”. I think brand is in the execution, brand is in the thought process. That’s more brand for me than really font standardization or colors or brand template, the way agencies do it. Let’s say for example, how are you building a women centric brand if there are men who would pick up a call when you call them, when you call Zivame? And we realized, when we started out of course, we didn’t have so much of- at that time we were like “okay, there could be me who could do reporting etc. and men can give the phones to women” and very quickly we realize that “no, that’s not the right experience”. Whenever a woman calls Zivame, she will be assured that there will be a woman who will be picking up the call and that is where we said this is the brand Zivame that we are building. For example, in a customer relations team, we were very clear that our brand is a consultative brand. Our brand will not be an apologetics, traditionally service oriented brand. So how do you build your customer relations team? Where your customer relations team is able to advice to a customer. So we told our customer relations team and which we still do it, we say that “here is X amount of money that we give every month, you buy whatever you buy on Zivame” because once you wear what we sell, is where you will be able to convince a customer on what is a right product, right fit etc. and think of yourselves as equal to the customer. When you become into a very service oriented mode, so order did not come on time, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry and that’s not customer service for us at all. The customer service or customer relations for us is what we’ve seen is when a customer sends her wedding invite card to a girl cause she built a relationship with her and that intimate relationship is what we want to build. When we say that we’ve built that confidence of a woman, that reflects in the way we are building brand. So there is a 50 all women customers relations team on top on our first floor and I think they are our brand ambassadors and that is where our brand is actually getting build day in and day out.


So it’s really important as when you are building a company from a hiring perspective, somebody told this to me a very early on, “always hire people who are way better than you in their functions”. Way way better and we’ve always tried to calibrate that level of talent. We’ve tried in this organization and therefore how do you get people to be as motivated as you are? The best way for them to feel for the company the way a founder feels for the company is to give them a part of the company, is to make them a part of your vision. So how do you co-own your vision and e-stock becomes one of the most important parts in which the vision gets co-owned. So then you are not the only one who is stressing about the business goals and what we are doing right. Everybody is stressing about. They are also looking at “okay, short term we can do this but long term we are not building differentiability”. So everybody is looking at balancing it out just like the way you are thinking. So it would be very important to think about stock options. The stage of the company, I’d advice, there is a lot of legal stuff involved. In my experiences, it’s very important to put everything on paper, on mail, on record and say this is what we are agreeing to even before you get a person onboarded. So today for us obscure because the company has reached a certain amount of maturity, we have a whole bunch of legal people who are helping us with everything else and I know in the beginning, I didn’t know much of this. But maybe if I have to rewind and say what I could have done better, I could have put everything right there on paper because then it became just a part of taking it to the legal team and drafting it out because otherwise expectation in the mind of early employee could be very different from what it is in your mind and that will create a lot of friction later on and my advice is to sort everything on the table before even the offer letter is rolled out.

Advice to Entrepreneurs

My one advice would be that – I won’t want to talk about being resilient. I think that’s the most important thing I’d feel. I’d say resilience is a very important quality in an entrepreneur because the business will see highs and lows. You will have people who would look at it at like a job, you would have investors who would look at it like an opportunity to invest on but for you, the fundamental belief in why you are starting this needs to be very very clear and you need to persevere with that vision. You need to persevere towards that vision and therefore I’d say that today, if we are here a large part of that goes to say that “hey, we didn’t quit” and I am sure I would have felt like quitting 50 times, if not 100 times in this entire journey and when things are not going well, it will not be only one thing that is not going well, it will be actually 10 things that will not go well at the same time and everybody would have lost faith and confidence in you, everybody. But can you still buckle up? Roll up your sleeve, keep your head down and then start doing what you set out to do? because times do change and good times- when you tell yourself the good times will prevail and too shall pass, you will definitely see, I don’t know, the rainbow on the other side or whatever else is there.

Richa Kar - Co-founder & CEO, Zivame
Richa Kar - Co-founder & CEO, Zivame - A Civil Engineer from BITS Pilani, and an MBA graduate from NMIMS, Richa Kar is counted as one of India's top women Entrepreneurs. Prior to starting Zivame in 2011, Richa was a Marketing Manager in Spencers Retail Ltd. and a Business Process Consultant for SAP.
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