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Episode Number 236 / December 10, 2023

India’s Spending Habits, ONDC & Building 10club I Bhavna Suresh

59 minutes

Episode Number 236 / December 10, 2023

India’s Spending Habits, ONDC & Building 10club I Bhavna Suresh

59 minutes
Listen on

About the Episode

This week’s episode is about India’s spending habits, ONDC & building 10club… as we welcome Bhavna Suresh, founder of 10club, to the Neon Show!

How Is ONDC Impacting the E-Commerce Market?

Is There A Bias Towards Women CEOs In India?

How Much Has Entrepreneurship CHANGED In India?

All these TRENDING topics and more in this CAPTIVATING conversation. A deep dive into what makes ONDC such a force to be reckoned with in the e-commerce industry & how Bhavna Suresh is leading the charge for home decor in India… Tune in NOW!

Watch all other episodes on The Neon Podcast – Neon

Or view it on our YouTube Channel at The Neon Show – YouTube


Bhavna Suresh 00:00

India spends towards the living room the most. It is where guests come. It is where people come. That is where the most pocket spend happens. It is a very new category. It’s so new that Flipkart today is trying to say, hey, you know, we’re gonna double down and bet on this category because it is the future.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:17

Do you believe that the impact of ONDC would be as revolutionary as UPI.

 

Bhavna Suresh 00:21

Without a doubt we’re trying to do something in a category that is not yet there. The inflection point is as India goes from a three, three and a half trillion economy to the 10 trillion economy, this is where boom is going to happen. Because people start spending. People start consuming and people care about how their houses are.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:40

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia and welcome to the Neon Show. Forbes released a survey recently that only 13.8% of India’s startup ecosystem is comprised of women founders. Today’s guest is looking to shatter those barriers. Her ecommerce company closed India’s largest seed round in 2021. We welcome 10club’s founder Bhavna Suresh to the Neon Show. I would also like to thank our sponsors Prime Venture Partners for sponsoring the Neon Show. Hope you enjoy it.

Bhavna Suresh 01:12

I also built a business prior to this in real-estate. And I think just personal bias, I like spaces. And I always have thought that however small your space is a reflection of you. Right, just like fashion, I think there’s a style quotient to it. I think I’ve always been somebody who from the time I was a teenager, my space was very, it had to reflect my mood, and what I was being at that point. So I think it was always that. So I think as I kept talking to people, I realised this was such a broken category, right. And I think when this opportunity came in, we looked at it from all lenses. And then I did not have a fully formed idea. And I’ll be very honest about it. Right? We just said that. Home is a huge category. Everyone who’s tried building a business in this category has struggled for multiple reasons. One, the market not being ready. Two, maybe it’s still a I mean, not maybe it still is a very, very, very informal category. And it’s expected for an economy like India, that is just on the start of its consumption trajectory. It’s electronics, fashion, everything personal that comes in and home comes a little later. So I think for me, that was what was super exciting, right? And I when I was having these conversations, like I said, the first business we bought was almost like a we bought everything in like a three, four month period. Right. But we spent one year before that, having hundreds of conversations. And also, as we were having those conversations, we were going back and refining our thesis a little bit. So I think my conversation with all of the founders outside of India, all of the Indian investors, everybody who we pitch to and kill the idea. It’s all a learning, like you said, right? You have to listen and say, hey, you know, what are they saying? What am I not paying attention to? So we took a contrary break where we said, we would not buy brands, right. And that is something I was very clear about because this category does not have brands. They have businesses. And that’s what it’s all of these people who are moving to marketplaces and Amazon. Were buying impulse buy products. Most of them didn’t remember who they bought from, it was just who is the right price, who had the highest reviews, ratings, and let me buy from them. But it was consumption that was growing slowly for convenience. So I think that’s what we built on. And we were very cognizant of there is an unnatural COVID spike that has to fall once markets open. And that is why we said we will buy these businesses, one 100%. And that was a very scary bet to take on that prior time, right? Because there’s no brand, we actually you’ve sold a company, I’ve sold a company. And while there are many romantic stories to tell

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:38

More are horror stories.

 

Bhavna Suresh 02:15

It’s not horror, you know, it’s not that the person on the other side is bad or anything. It’s just you have given this your blood, sweat and tears is the question I asked. You was right. How do you tell an entrepreneur what to do? Most of the time? It’s not easy. Yeah. So I think that was my base that I’m saying. As we spoke and watched businesses, and we really understood it. It’s very easy in India to keep throwing products into the market, and somebody will buy it at some price, right? And that’s what happens in marketplaces. So there was no depth to any product. It was just everybody was throwing everything and people were buying because India was on the start of this consumption. So I think these were all the patterns that we saw. And we said, Listen, we can either go zero to one and start building this. But that’s a very difficult journey in this category, very specific to this category. Right? And I I have multiple thesis. And I think these were thesis is in 2021. But I think sitting in 2023, I have not been more confident of it now having run this for two years, and this impractical idea that I had in 2021 actually kind of figuring out a way to do it. I think our answer was people are buying lawn equipment. And every home now has plants and life plants, and people feel a sense of calm with it. You know, there are also homes that buy a lot of artificial flowers. And if you just look at this category, there is a direct association with calmness, nature, green. And then there is a aesthetic, beautiful flower. Both are important. And we operate in both categories now. And they both kind of cater to two different kinds of modern India. But they’re both important. And they’re both not happening. They’re all happening on marketplaces. Right, they’re not coming to a website to buy this. I think these were some of the theories that we had. And we said, the debt in this business is because of the range of products. And because unlike fashion, these are not light. Yeah, you know, fashion has a range inventory problem. It is a known problem in the retail industry, home has the added difficulty of one, it’s very impulse most of the time, unless you’re in a deep

Bhavna Suresh 06:18

life stage of setting up a house that happens very rarely, you know, it happens once or twice in everybody’s lifetime. But a lot of it is impulse buy. And India’s data started to show that. Right? But I think the part that I started seeing that was missing in everything was one, everybody gets so excited building brand and telling the story that I think, at least me as a founder because I had debt.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 06:54

You were super careful.

 

Bhavna Suresh 06:56

And see, I don’t know if I knew we would go into times like this and macro like this, whether I would take this crazy bet right? We were all in a very optimistic scenario. And like I said, we took 32. We got we raised 7 million in equity, we raised 32 million in debt. And that was our 40 together stitched up round. We got 500, 600 More after the round. And that’s how we came 40 Out of the 32 million we used 6 million for pure acquisition that debt was not being was not to touch anything else. It was 6 million, with the caveat that we would buy 100% of the business right up front, we will pay the value upfront so we could take the business and do whatever we wanted it without being answerable. And having to like, you know, just learn and break and whatever I luckily stumbled to the early believers. Their one of America’s oldest venture firms, again, if somebody in today’s market told me Forex would change the way it did I think life would be interesting, but I think many things changed. But I’m so glad that that thesis of buying 100% held, because as soon as we bought it, the market started to change. You know, COVID like, market started, cities started opening up, people started going back. But I think it was super interesting for us to learn at that scale. And I think if you can run a marketplace business in India, India, because our customers are deeply value conscious. And if I have to say ruthless, ruthless, right, there’s no room for tomorrow. Right, especially on marketplace. So if you can run that operation, well, I think you’re set for like, a long period of time. Any other kind of distribution channel is a cakewalk. Right. And I don’t say this lightly. I think this is after speaking to a bunch of founders in the ecosystem. They’re like, You’re crazy. You’re running like a heavy logistics, heavy goods phase, which is not fully played out yet on marketplaces that are extremely ruthless. If you can build that muscle, and you survive that. We just tried launching offline a few weeks ago because now we believe we know how to run marketplace as a distribution and I say we took this because it was very clear for us to buy different categories. We bought the garden business, we bought a home nursery, we bought what was a mix between a sports brand and a home gym business. And these were all axil- axillary needs for somebody’s home. So if you look at your home, there’s your plant. There will always be your fitness corner in most modern Indian homes now because health is becoming so critical. Some form in some small form, EVA yoga mat for sure, or dumbbells or like ankle weights or something right, it’s always there in one little corner. And I think the baby room became interesting. Yeah.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 10:08

That’s the highest pen. In a, in that period of time in a person’s life.

 

Bhavna Suresh 10:13

Yeah, it was, I think it was the opportunity came along. And it was something we wanted to learn from what we did not buy are the core, you know, what we knew is India spends towards the living room, the most it is where guests come it is where people can all come that is where the most pocket spend happens. Kitchen is usually utilitarian, because that’s the way it is. But most of our homes, Net, Net are functional, right, India has, however modern we become, I think the values that we’ve carried on. I don’t know, I don’t see, I don’t know if it’s frugality, right. But all of us whichever income bracket we belong to, it has to make sense, from a value point of view, whatever that is. So value for money will always be part of India. I think quality is very subjective. But I think it’s important as you interest quality is important. And I think functionality, when you look at least more homes that I go to, however beautiful it is, if it’s not functional, it is not an Indian home. So I think these are things that are almost given in India. And I think in the modern distribution channel, which is the marketplace online, no one’s really cracked this people have cracked it in the offline retail world. And very established names have cracked this in the retail world. No one’s really done it well in the online world. I think that was our bet saying it is important for us to go everywhere, right? But no true Indian home business has been accessible. And is there a way to kind of give modern India spin saying, we will take your value for products, we will certify quality. And we’ve actually taken it to an extent because it’s been a problem. Stay tuned for all of us, right? When you buy something. If we buy a cheap price, we don’t have to, we don’t know what quality is going to turn up. Right. And that is India is a low trust market. To solve for all of that. I think those were the simple thesis. And like I said, I was very, very paranoid because I was very confident will tell our story. We have a clear vision, we know what we want to do. But I really knew what will mess this business up is operations. And that is what we heard again and again and again. So we started there, we said, let’s just do the hardest job. If we fail here, there’s no point saying all the promises that we will say, Let’s get past this. If we get past this, we’ll definitely build it out. And I think that’s a very long answer to your very small question.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 12:53

I want to know, you know, some some more details about your childhood. So I have some something prepared right? About my childhood here. Because I believe it whoever you are today as a business person running a small empire, small empire, I would call it a small empire, right?

 

Bhavna Suresh 13:15

Sometimes they call it a circus also.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:19

Today, eight or eight brands that you’re running are eight labels, as you see them that you are running today.

 

Bhavna Suresh 13:27

We only have one brand called 10club.com.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:31

Yeah, and but how many companies that were bought in different categories?

 

Bhavna Suresh 13:35

So I think that was the biggest piece that I really, you know, I said this two years ago, and then I kept quiet that I think last year I only spoke to Shanthanu once I told him this wild idea. And he said you’re crazy. And then I kept quiet. And I think this year I just about three weeks ago, we pulled it off, right? We basically said we bought all these businesses and labels right? It’s almost distribution in our head, right? Because we wanted to buy it we bought 8000 skews day one of operations, no experience doing this. So day one we had 8000 skills with us, no systems, no data, no processes legacy warehouses. We learned how to run them slowly and optimise it. We picked 200 of them test that. We took the 200 and we moved it into brand 10club.com And everything else we can assign it kind of killed slowly. The 200 We found a way to kind of deepen it, fix quality, fix aesthetic, fix packaging, be very sure that this is what the consumer wants. And only then we found a way to kind of stamp 10club homes on it like a certification. And now we’re taking these 200 products as close to the customer which is through our website through stores. to everything, right, so that’s the journey. So, yeah, I think for us, we have 200 SKUs and one brand. Today’s call.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:10

I will start with your childhood, right? Where did you grow? And how much the city that you grew up in change you as a person.

 

Bhavna Suresh 15:17

So I grew up a like everywhere. I’m not an army kid. So that’s why I followed it up with I’m not an army kid. I just I think my parents were very young when they had me and they moved around a lot and I was also a restless kid. So as soon as I could make a decision, I moved around a lot too. early part of Bangalore, for I think for all things home it’s Bangalore.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:48

And you were a Kanadika?

 

Bhavna Suresh 15:48

No I am a Malayali, Malayali three generations, three generations Bangalore but never lived in Bangalore really.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:56

And the surname that you carry is your father’s name. Suresh?

 

Bhavna Suresh 15:59

Yes Suresh is my father’s first name, so where we come from, you take the mother’s name and the Father’s name so my, my house name is my mother’s Okay, so it’s Chathambath, but different couples do it a little differently. I think my parents decided to call me Chathambath Bhavna Suresh. So I got my mother’s house name, and my father’s first name.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 16:22

Yeah. And your first job was Mahindra. Right? Yeah. And you spent like, one year three months all most?

 

Bhavna Suresh 16:32

I think a little bit more? I don’t know. I think a little bit more. I dates were a little messed up. Because I joined the other place. There was a so yeah, yeah.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 16:42

But but it was always clear to you that entrepreneurship is your path, or it became clearer over a period of time to you that once you started getting more and more independent and more and more exposure to where more ownership was given to you.

 

Bhavna Suresh 17:03

See, I I don’t come from a business family. I did not know what entrepreneurship was. Yeah. You know, I come from a very simple middle class, family, everybody salaried in a way. So no, I don’t think entrepreneurship as a word or thought or business was even. I like being independent. Right? I like making money and being independent. And that’s all I knew. I was quite okay, doing jobs like minor was very exciting for me, right. I didn’t get paid anything. But it was fun. I loved it. I think when I joined that first startup with 22 feet was when I suddenly like loved work, like, you know, it was just so exciting. And that was, I think that’s what happens when you don’t come close to business families and stuff. Your first startup experience is like tasting, very special. It’s like tasting blood. You either love it or you hate it, right. And even in the journey of 10club, a lot of people who’ve never worked at startups came in very early and my conversation with very senior people was it’s like Bombay, it’s like New York, those things that people say right, you enter and you know, you either love it. Or you can never explain why you love it or you hate it. I think startups are like that. It’s you love it, or you can never adjust. So yeah, I think that was what it was me it was 22 feet was not a startup, but it was a startup for its time.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 18:37

It was a self discovery mechanism for you, I would say because then you discover that.

 

Bhavna Suresh 18:41

See, I think I liked I did not ever project and say I will do this on my own right. There’s a lot of self doubt. And there’s a lot of you and I care like I don’t come from like intense money or anything right I come from you need to have this much in your bank. You need to take care of yourself. So I think those plunges are it built slowly. So I think it was not like one day I woke up and I said yeah, I did it. This happened, Business School happened a month into business school. I was obsessed. I was really scared. I think that was the most scared. I was because there was a loan. I had gone outside. I still tried doing it as much on a scholarship. I really did not want to take money from my father. All of that right. So I think that was when I was most scared. And I failed. So I think that failure was it was hard. That first one was it was hard. I almost said I will never do it again.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 19:43

But then Rocket Internet came and then you said yes to them.

 

Bhavna Suresh 19:47

See Rocket Internet was not it was not rock it was rocket with a bunch of other people with a ridiculous idea. See the answer was there. I feel like there was somebody Yeah, you know, I think that was what I needed, which was I was like, I will not do something absolutely crazy again, I need to have three or four reasons why I would do it and I will do it. So while I say the story, like it was, you know, just one night, I changed my mind. And I went, I think it was, I was at the right space where I knew I needed to like, leave, because if I stayed here, the healing would have taken more time. I think I just changed and I got this opportunity where I said, I will go give it my best shot. And yeah, I took it slowly. Like I said, like this, this one, there was a potential idea. There was a thesis that there was an opportunity. And there was existing limited money. So I think it was a build on and I was ready for that. Yeah, I learned a lot there.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 20:51

It was not 100% risk, a CEO and owner, but with a certain set of equity, sponsored by.

 

Bhavna Suresh 20:51

Yeah, so I think it was not one of those ground up like swings, right? I think it was the best thing that happened to me after the first failure, because the first failure scares you humbles you, and makes you realise you’re not everything you make yourself out to be right, like there is there are 20 ways you will fail. Yeah, I think with that humbling experience and a little bit of a safety net, which is it was 100% entrepreneurship, right when I talk about it now. But it had a little bit of a safety net. And I think that just gave me this intense freedom to learn-

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 21:36

Confidence back again.

 

Bhavna Suresh 21:38

Slowly, it did not come overnight, it took time with every win every correction. So I think the first year I was still completely like, on my guard, right? Because I knew nothing. And then I think slowly as the wind started coming, confidence grows, you make your mistakes and confidence grows. But yeah, I think that Lamudi for me was it was a fantastic learning opportunity.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 22:01

If you are now have to reflect right? Why do you think Rocket Internet and the group took a bet on you?

 

Bhavna Suresh 22:09

I mean, I think they came to college. And it was not even the person who spoke to me, right? See, Rocket Internet was not in his glory days when I spoke to them. Yeah, you know, they had like this amazing rise. And they they kind of hired investment bankers and McKinsey people, and all of that. And I think when I spoke to them, it was when I met somebody at some career fair in in ATC. And I did not sit for any career fair, because by then I was building Style Blank. So I think one of it was one of these weird conversations. I sat and had coffee with somebody and I was telling them what I was doing. I think we collected my details saying, let’s stay in touch. And my email from them was very weird. It was one of those almost like very regularly, I gotta have you shut down yet. Not Have you succeeded? What are you doing? It is? Are you done? Are you ready now? So I think it was one of those things where I don’t think somebody from a very prestigious like school with the right things would have said something said yes to a crazy kind of opportunity like this. Right. It was a distressed asset that they didn’t want to close. And they said one last short. So yeah, I think they found a failed entrepreneur and said, and I actually said I want to say fail, but tried entrepreneur, right. It’s the thesis we’ve applied at 10club. Also, I think, as we did this year. I think it needs a different kind of structure to come and say, I’m going to do something completely crazy, but I will drive. So we actually started hiring a lot of X founders,

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 23:54

X D2C founders?

 

Bhavna Suresh 23:55

Yeah. So I think as we can kind of did this and got into 2023, and we had to kind of push for this consolidation. We started hiring a lot of seasoned D2C founders, and we said, if you’ve been through that, and I’ve been through that I feel the mentality with which you come back to build is very different. And I feel because I was given that security after my first failure. It changed my trajectory a lot. For me, that’s important.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 24:26

That can be summarised that for entrepreneurs or anybody operates ownership with a limited downside.

 

Bhavna Suresh 24:32

I actually have this conversation with everybody, you know, I’m like, Listen, I’ve been exactly where you are. Healing is a process. It comes in waves, you feel like you feel you will not. It will take some time. And if you throw yourself into a structured environment right now, chances are you will go crazy. So you need a place where you can be yourself and run. But your brain cannot take the risk right now. So yeah, This is your, this is the bet I had with Lamudi. If I can even create one, and I’m sure I’ve like I’m 100% sure everybody who’s come in as an ex entrepreneur will do their healing. And we’ll go back and start again. I’m so confident like 100%

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:19

I want to jump tracks right now. Right? You are in E commerce, you are selling on marketplaces. How to guess right. First, I would like to share your understanding of ONDC. And, and how is ONDC even impacting your business?

 

Bhavna Suresh 25:35

See? I’ve just started having conversations with ONDC. Right.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:41

What what is the ONDC?

 

Bhavna Suresh 25:42

I think, to super simplify it, because I do not want to get into technicalities and say something wrong. I am definitely not the expert. I understand it. And my simple version of it is it’s almost an enabler. Okay. Right. It is what UPI has done for the financial world and how it has enabled digital payments to become as easy ONDC becomes that underlying distribution partner for anything to do with commerce. Right. The reason I say we have not gotten deeply active is we’ve just started having a conversation, we need to remember commerce in India in any form, the meat of it is groceries, and daily staples. That is what ONDC is very, very clear, on trying to consolidate and make happen is basically enabling onboarding. I mean, at the end of the day, if you have to do commerce today, distribution is king. And distribution is in the online world. Getting on to an Amazon is so different from getting onto a Flipkart, there are so many hurdles with from a seller and a buyer’s perspective, right? Like the onboarding processes, the structures are so different that they become hurdles. But if you can start making what you want to sell, available, easy, and buyers have access to seeing what is available across, it just makes the ecosystem so much more evolved. That is the enabler that ONDC is trying to play.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:38

And how are you trying to attend club trying to work with it?

 

Bhavna Suresh 27:16

So we’ve just gotten on, like two weeks ago, I think my conversation again was it was too early last year, because we needed to consolidate and bring it under one brand. As soon as we did that. We of course got on to ONDC. Through, we are not a direct network partner, but through a network partner on to ONDC. But I think we’ve had a very honest conversation saying home is a very new category. Yeah. I mean, it’s so new that Flipkart today is trying to say hey, you know, we’re gonna double down and bet on this category because it is the future. There is there is a lot of complexity with home, right logistics has to get built out. So I think it’s a slow process. But if you look at what’s happening in this category, whether it’s quick commerce is definitely starting to get into it. So if you start looking at the Swiggy’s of the world, they do have a home category now because it is an important category. So I think it is the start of the spike. And ONDC still is very early. And they’ve also told us that baby steps, we’re still really focused on groceries and then maybe a little bit more of lifestyle. And then it kind of gets into the other categories.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:29

And you believe that the impact of ONDC would be as revolutionary as UPI?

 

Bhavna Suresh 28:36

I think without a doubt, having run marketplace online distribution coach for a while. And understanding how simple the hurdles are and how detrimental they are to the customer or the seller. I think it can be again, I think it’s a game changer. Right. And the way we’ve kind of implemented UPI and just the adoption across India, it takes time. But then I think in India, once it reaches that inflection point, just the uptake become so fast. And just knowing the consumer base that we have, I think it’s just going to change the face of commerce. So I’m personally very, very excited to see just a majority that will start coming in from every front.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 29:28

Got it. And you returned, you ran a business in Philippines and returned back to India right? What made you was it emotional decision or was was it a decision based on the market size that that you came back to India?

 

Bhavna Suresh 29:45

So we sold Lamudi. I think going into Lamudi, I was very sure that we were building to get acquired right. It was a distressed asset that needed to be turned around and sold for every stakeholder to make money. We had a timeline in mind, all of it was quite read. I’d said three, I’d said I’ll take one at a time I stayed for for four and a half years at that place. We got stuck in COVID. I think as soon as the acquisition happened, Varun and I tried travelling, we got stuck, we could never go back home. 10club was, like I said, it came to me, it was not something that I dreamt up. It came as an opportunity. And I spent time evaluating it as an opportunity. When it was, when it came to me, I evaluated it for India. So I think it was not, it was not got, it was not emotional. It was very, it was very calculated. Yeah.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:45

It was not like, I want to be back to my roots as an entrepreneur. So…. did that play, or help in making that decision for you?

 

Bhavna Suresh 30:56

No, I see the answer is home for me is everywhere, I think for home for me is people. And I say that with a lot of joy, right? For me home is people and the space I choose to make my own. I think I knew I would come back to India and build for sure. I do know if it was, if I have to put it I don’t think it was something I was actively thinking of all it was also the entrepreneur in me who had tried building for India and failed. And I wanted to do it once more when I had the courage. If somebody had told me, I would come back so quickly and try it, I would have not believed it. But this seemed like timing and just the opportunity together. So it was not just emotion, it was definitely a bunch of things stacking up together.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:48

And you have been an India operator in India, Entrepreneur India twice now, right? 2014-15 timeframe. And now again, right, like a gap of six, seven years, what has changed? Or what is currently the change that you’re observing happening in India? At a mass level?

 

Bhavna Suresh 32:07

I mean, it’s just one I was very young back then. So I want to say I was very clueless founder. So I have changed dramatically. So the lens I look at it from also has changed. But I mean, everything that everything I think the conversations around it, the acceptability around non business families kind of encouraging. I think the Shark Tank has changed the face of entrepreneurship in India, which is amazing. I think India’s always been a very entrepreneurial country. We’ve just never called it that. But yeah, I think it’s it’s insane. Like, you know, every young boy and I, it’s not even young. I think that’s what’s interesting. I think it’s happening, you know, there’s a lot of conversation around the young because, of course, the 20 year olds are the future. So it is important to invest there. But I think it’s amazing to watch people in their late 40s, early 50s and 60s. Take very calculated swings. I think that’s also quite, it’s quite interesting. Right. So yeah, I think funds have matured, money has changed. And that is important for an ecosystem. I think regulations, compliance is starting to be taken very seriously, which is important for an ecosystem to mature. So yeah, I think we’re still at the start. But.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 33:44

And this is about the ecosystem, right? The startup ecosystem. What about general life? Because you are dealing with consumers day in day out? Right? Do you think what you’re building right now would have been viable at that point in time?

 

Bhavna Suresh 33:57

See, I think what I built that time was not viable at that point of time. It was definitely way before its time. Yeah. And I still think it’s not a model that’s fully played out in India, right, even anywhere else in the world. It’s a difficult model. I think what I’m trying to do is in the home category is still in its very early innings. Right. So I I think if we had come in and we were trying to build something in beauty and fashion, the conversation will be very different. And I can give you that timeframe. So I think it’s not as simple as it’s what you want to build. And when right the timing is also quite specific. It’s not broad strokes. So I mean, everybody says this in the consumer space, right? Building a 100 Crore fashion business today is a very clear possibility because adoption from the user has become widespread. They want homegrown brands. The infrastructure is built out. It’s a very exciting time to do that. But your proposition has to be very deep and very clear. Right? And there will be takers. I think beauty is at the start of that kind of inflection point. And we’ll get there in a couple of years or sooner because the repeat rate is so high. I think home is like, a good two to three years from even starting to see a serious uptick. But I think that’s what’s exciting. You know, it’s just such a large category. And there are so many problems, that to build a large enough business, you need to start now and get your foundation now. And that’s why I’m not in a hurry to like acquire all the customers right now. It’s not possible. It’s a journey for the next 5, 7-10 years minimum.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:44

And you mentioned you’re okay, building it as a lifestyle business rather than a venture capital. Like business?

 

Bhavna Suresh 35:51

No, don’t get me wrong. I’ve raised a lot of money to say lifestyle business. It’s not a lifestyle business.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:56

1000 crore can be a lifestyle business. Right? If growing 10% 15% year on year.

 

Bhavna Suresh 36:01

See, I don’t I you know, I? I don’t know, right. I don’t think I’m a lifestyle business kind of person. I’m too restless for that. So I think the answer is, when I got into this, I think the way we kind of structured our cap table and I went to Fireside Ventures who are consumer focused. Investors who are marketers, and I’m not a marketer. Right. And I had a very honest conversation with him. And I said, y’all know that it takes time. We’re trying to do something in a category that is not, it’s not yet there. The inflection point is, as India goes from a three, three and a half trillion economy, to the 10 trillion economy, this is where the boom is going to happen. Right? People start spending and people start consuming, and people care about how their houses are. But it’s a long journey to there. So for me, I’m like, if you’re here to be your 5,10 years and mean it, then I’m the entrepreneur to back. But if you’re gonna make me growth is 80- 100, 100%. You’re on your I don’t think it’s possible. I think it just puts very wrong measures. And we all face it right? Every time we have to go raise capital, and it is important. You have these weird, like metrics that you will have to chase. I think it makes the foundation very weak. So my answer is we are all here to build a really, really large outcome. But I’m very clear that it will take time.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 37:38

You are very closely connected with consumer pulse. Right. You have 200 SQ’s across various categories. The current global macroeconomic environment, two wars going on first time in global history as to what’s going on Parallel. Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, and don’t they both are the such wars. They don’t have an end in sight. Yeah. Right. How are they impacting the consumer, the spending and various other factors in India right now?

Bhavna Suresh 38:07

So say, I think my honest opinion about this is one, We tend to react in very short timeframes, right? And that’s not the right way to look at anything. Right? We talk about quarter to quarter and like, like this, Diwali’s this festive season for us has been a little different from most right, the Diwali has been pushed by a few weeks that changes the way consumers buy. You know, everybody in India, a large part of India waits for sale season, right? People push their purchases by a few months for this to happen. So you know, when you look at July and August information, sometimes if you compare it to last year, the value was in October last year, now it’s in November, so people have moved some of their buying a little. We do work around calendars, we do work around season. So it’s very seasonal. It’s very price conscious. I mean, so I think for me, we are in such a one. I am close to the customer, but I don’t know who my end customer really is yet. Now I will. But for us because we were working on marketplaces and we we do like 10,000 units a day in sale. Right? We do volume we don’t do you know, so it’s a lot of people. We service 15,000 pet coats, that’s that’s the lesson we have. There are high days there are low days, this time during sales season. We had a peak in the online boom, but three weekends at a row there were cricket matches. And when there’s cricket in India, everything stops, right it rationalises Over the next few days, right because buying happens in our category, its impulse plus its requirements. So it happens. And it’s not like fashion where there’s a peak that is sustained buying that happens but these small changes change day to day All right. And yeah, I think this time, all of the big sales that happened, there was serious. There was India, Pakistan, which was quiet, like the day was quiet. And it all happened on a weekend where boom, bang happens. So that buying got spread out to weekdays a little bit. So you know, and you can tell categories like garden for us didn’t get affected very badly. But a little bit of home gym and sports. That was the drop was massive on a match day. So yeah, I think that’s what happens in the commerce world.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:31

But this is like what is happening in India, right, the cricket and everything else? What about the global thing? How are they impacting?

 

Bhavna Suresh 40:37

See, I do think, I don’t think it’s just consumption, right? It’s also everybody’s looking at unit economics a little bit more. Everybody is looking at profitability and cash flow a little bit more. It’s public information that even marketplaces are kind of having serious for the first time serious conversations about money logistics. Right. So I think it’s bringing a different kind of discipline in sellers and brands. But it’s also kind of, I do think there’s a little controlled spending at the value level. Right? If you look at numbers, I think the super wealthy in the luxury segment is doing really well, like luxury car sales are out of whack. But there is a little bit of fear, right? There is in today’s connected world, people are hearing, like they are there is a recession talk everywhere, there is no sign of it, where there is a conversation.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 41:32

This talk has been on for the last 18 months.

 

Bhavna Suresh 41:35

So I think this kind of plays in many people’s, at least the online shoppers. Right? Right. may not, I think I cannot talk about the offline world yet. I don’t have enough data. But in the online world, there is, I think what’s. And this is a little controversial, but I think it will happen. I think we overestimated how quickly it will happen is premiumization. Again, it may be happening in a fashion category in the beauty category. But I think in some other categories, we are still value buyers, I don’t think premiumization is happening as quickly it may happen in the next two, three years. And that’s why I think sometimes when we assess India, because we’re so heterogeneous, and we’re so different, sometimes we’re in too much of a hurry to club everybody together. But I think it’s all going to happen. It can happen in 12 months, or in 48 months. And that’s the beauty of India. I think over a period of time, it all definitely stacks up just look at how dramatically different we are as a country compared to 2016 or 17 to where we are today. I think five years has changed the way we buy differently.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 42:45

And I assume most of your buyers would be, who have income between 50,000 to one lakh rupees a month.

 

Bhavna Suresh 42:57

50,000 to a lakh no actually see the answer is that is the goal. Right? I am. If you’ve not caught this by now as an entrepreneur. I have very audacious goals. But I think to get to additional goals, you need to break it down to realistic. I think our end, super simple thing is we want to have something for everybody who’s part of modern India and new India. Now that can be simple stuff. And that’s what we’re working towards right. But 18-20 months into building a new company, I cannot be something for everybody. That’s not right. So we started off saying and these are actual numbers of people who spend in the home category. This category, the number that you said will be shopping for fashion, potentially electronics online for discounts and fashion for maybe just entering the Beauty Segment, but I think home is is too new for them to buy online. We’re looking at consumers households that have anywhere between 20 lakhs to 30 lakhs per annum in income approximately, we do think there is a higher spectrum that will start adopting early because they are also valued by us right. So the adoption may happen in the fortyish household category is because spending is possible. And this is a category I can give you statistics about this right. About 20 to 40-50 lakh annum household in India spends about anywhere between one lakh to two and a half lakhs a year on everything to do with their house. That is the spending disposable income for this household. And that is the interesting kind of entry point for us to start. And as we expand. Of course we want to we also think the consumers will get into a bracket where they’re willing to spend. I don’t think they are today, but three years from Now for sure.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 45:02

And which is a category, you know that you think right for example, you are also in childcare, right? You that You find that even the 50,000 to one lakh rupees monthly spend, you can tap into very quickly, because for all the E-commerce entrepreneur for all the seller’s.

 

Bhavna Suresh 45:21

So, we don’t have child care. We do child rooms, right so we do we’re trying to do everything that you find in our house room wise. Yeah, right. In the baby room, we started with blankets. And we thought it was super interesting because what we bought were only entry level blankets like blankets that were 150 to 300 rupees, right that people without, you know, it was cute looking blanket, it was almost like you can buy it everywhere. But that is what people bought. And that’s the business that we bought. And we then took it to like a category that does 150 to 300 rupees 300 rupees 500 rupees 500 up to 700 rupees we went up to 1000 And we created a spectrum. But I think 70% of our buys happen between the 200 to 500, 700 rupee category, anything above 700 rupee in this segment falls. So, while I think there is a segment of India that will exponentially spend on their kid, I still think value buyers will not spend more than this. We started at the opening price point and we kind of expand it to 1000. And we realise that the sweet spot was between this 250-300 to 700 rupees a little bit more than that consumption dropped. So while our ticket item was higher the volume dropped. So we believe this is the sweet spot for where people want to consume at large.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 46:57

And this is across your categories now.

 

Bhavna Suresh 47:00

So this was specifically because you asked me about See, I think if you’re trying to build a pure D2C business with a design language and a niche, you have to charge more than that. But because we are trying to build for the value segment and last India, for us, accessibility is very important, which means we don’t want to be a marketplace business. We now want to take this what we’ve learned to stores and distribution offline and through the website-

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 47:30

Build 10club as a brand now, right?

 

Bhavna Suresh 47:32

Yeah, and go as see my thing here is like I said to goal here is go. I should be available on quick commerce in the next two months, two years, right for you to know my brand and say I need something I will close my eyes and buy it. Yeah, I think that’s the goal for everything home, which is if you want to walk into a store and experience a full store that is also possible. So that’s the idea. But our best selling is like I said garden. It was one of the early businesses we bought, we nurture it, and there was suddenly this boom of home gardeners. We didn’t sell pretty stuff, we sell sold a lot of utility. And that’s what sells in volume in India. We tried selling pretty planters. It sold, but it never hit like critical mass. But I think that’s the idea. We sell pots for like 70 rupees plastic pot, and that goes in volumes and volumes and volumes, we also sell huge plant stands for 4000 rupees. So depending on what you want, there is a range for everything.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 48:35

One other you know, the last topic that I want to cover is right. You have worked across so many countries now, right. Do you see in India a bias towards either for or against a bias toward women CEOs?

 

Bhavna Suresh 48:52

Ah, no, I think-

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 48:55

I think we have come beyond it. Because earlier it was fancy.

 

Bhavna Suresh 49:00

See I think it’s still unfamiliar. Right. And I don’t think it woman, I think it’s anything, right? That is not known and familiar. You have a checkbox of female founders are not common anymore. Right. And I think the last couple of years, the numbers that have come up is quite exciting.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 49:29

Before you just dive in, I want to share one number, right. So folks shared a report that women entrepreneurs only comprise 13.76% of Indian startup ecosystem. And they said is there a chicken and egg situation where women founders are being told that they can’t lead successful startups but the reason for that is that there aren’t enough opportunities that get invested in women’s startups or women founded?

 

Bhavna Suresh 49:58

See I think there’s a very, very complex problem, right? And I’ve tried answering this many times, one for myself, two, I think, generally for the few of us who are in the ecosystem and are active, and though women, co founders in the ecosystem may not have been connected in the past, yeah. But we all are now deeply connected, right? we’ve realised that we’re a few of us. And we’re all learning. And we’re all we’re all realising that we need to cheer each other up. There is a WhatsApp group that all of us talk about Nansi, and yeah, we’re all on it. We’re all on it. And it’s a first step. It means it’s very little. But I think that’s the first step that most female founders need, right? Our stories are pretty much the same. And you know, you need somebody to tell you that, listen, this is not personal. Right? We are not the stereotype. We are new. So a lot of it is unconscious. It’s not intentional. Some of it may be intentional, but what are you going to do about it? Right, you can sit down and beat yourself about it. Or you can say, hey, and sometimes there’s a deep power in collective suffering. I don’t know how, like, you get very lonely when you think it’s only you. But when you realise it’s happened to five other people, suddenly you feel you’re able to brush it off a little easier. And I think that’s what’s happening. I think we’re still a very young ecosystem. I think the rate of women but I think women founders is a problem globally. And it is going to take time to catch up around the world, it still has to catch up in the formal workforce. I think the startup ecosystem is still so young compared to that. But because there’s innovation technology, lacerated systems, we will catch up faster. Of course, there is a capital problem. There is, of course, an allocation problem. There is, of course, a data problem. There aren’t enough female founders who have made it yet for people to be able to say I will validate this and put my money.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 52:04

Kanal today is going IPO. Right. So that’s break lot of glass ceilings.

 

Bhavna Suresh 52:08

Exactly. And then there are so many, like in the last five years, it has changed so many things. Right. And yeah, it’s a journey. And I think if you’d asked me this question two years ago, my answer would have been a little different. I think last year have been a little different. I think all of us are on our journey of we are all changing and maturing. Right. My answer cannot be the same that it was five years. And I think my answer today is I think I think there’s a super collective power and knowing there are so many of us at different stages. Then minute somebody feels a bias. I think the fact that we can say it and say, Hey, this happened and somebody else says, Yeah, this happened. And then you’re like, Okay, I’m not alone. Now you brush it off and move on. Yeah, I think that’s how it moves. I think it will happen. As more women founders go out there Break, break glass ceilings, talk about their stories, I think more openly, maybe not talk about their open stories to everyone, I think, share within groups. I think it will change.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 53:14

But are these questions like for example, right? have they brushed away have they gone away like how do you handle work life balance? Do you feel intimidated by being the only woman in the boardroom? or were’s your business partner? Who’s the CEO among both of you?

 

Bhavna Suresh 53:32

See, I think smart female founders will read about this, I think a lot of them will expect it. I think we’ve all it’s very hard to say you come and become a founder without having lived a regular life. Right? There’s bias at every stage school college. Right? It’s, like I said, stories are almost the same. It’s how you react to it. That changes your trajectory. I think the ecosystem has matured enough to not be as blunt about these things. It’s changed that I think has changed. But I think if you are very conscious and you are afraid that you’re going to be asked that chances are it makes a situation that could not needn’t be uncomfortable uncomfortable in any way. So my best version of the story, and I think after being in the ecosystem is everyone is on this journey of maturing. Some people have realised maybe thinking it, but will not vocalise it, some of them without realising vocalise it. Now if they say something like this, you need to have the courage to say it is just me. And know your odds, the odds are relatively lower for you. I think the faster you make peace with this and the faster you, you become so much more resilient. Right? And I think the rate at which it’s changing, the more resilience you have, the better founder you become. And I think today I see a lot of founders saying Listen Were in a capitalist world, that no one’s here to do any kind of social service or it’s not it’s a capital you’re getting into a capitalist world, you need to know where you’re starting various, you need to know what you need to be prepare yourself for, because these are challenges you’re going to face. I think founders are getting very smart about preparing hard. And, yeah.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 55:24

When you started the first time, right, because you were also much younger. Yeah. Right. Were you more vulnerable to these kinds of conversations? And now you’re more aware because you have an ecosystem around you?

 

Bhavna Suresh 55:35

100%, right. And I’m not talking about seven years ago, I’m talking about seven years ago, five years ago, even when I moved back to India, right. I think that what I have learned is there is going to be noise. Now, you have to preserve your energy. Yeah, you have to decide what you want to react to. You can’t fight everything. And there is this little activist in me at all given points. And I think that’s with age, after a point, you realise you cannot fight every battle, and it was not yours to fight. Yeah, so I think now I fight the battles that matter to me. I don’t want to change everybody’s thinking, you know, like, yeah, it will happen over time. I think as we do it, it will happen.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 56:22

One thing I’ve observed right across your choices in the last 10-15 years is that you have lived a life of zero regrets you have lived a life by your own terms. Being being in your skin. Yeah, being an extremist and completely being okay, called a rebel and being okay, that, hey, this is me, and I may not be a rebel, but I’m different than I like,

 

Bhavna Suresh 56:47

I find a lot of I really struggle when when something is put on me to do and see that I’m saying right. I’m not just breaking things for the sake of breaking things. I’m very happy doing normal things also, but I need to want to do it. Right. Like I will sit at home and have my dosa and chutney and coffee, and I get a lot of pleasure, and that I can do the same things with my friends to death, and it will never bore me. Right. But different parts of my life require thrill in a different way. So I think that choice of what I want to keep stable, where I want to get my thrill, where I want to get my satisfaction is very important to me. And I realised that many people are not secure. And it’s different people’s upbringing, right? I think I enjoy who I am. And I say it with no regrets that I have, I think I have decent EQ, I understand people and and for me, when I understand and give you the liberty to be you, you have to give me the liberty to be me. And if you can’t accept me for me, then it’s okay. You know, you will live your life, I will live my life. So I think that’s been who I am. And when you live like that, I will give it my all and if it doesn’t work out. No regrets, like give it my all. But I think that’s that’s simple philosophy in life. And I hope I can hold on to it for really long.

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 58:15

Thank you so much Bhavna, such a pleasure. I think it was a very different conversation that I had, and I could thank you for being so open and sharing various aspects of your life.

 

Bhavna Suresh 58:28

No, thank you for being so easy to speak to. I wish I’d asked you more questions. I had gotten to this podcast saying I would ask you more questions.

 

Siddhartha Ahluwalia 58:38

Maybe next time next time for sure. Yeah.

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