The beauty of online retail, especially with the progress it has made, is that anything can be sold in the space as long as you have your packaging sorted. Consumers always want more options, and they want different options.
So when we stumbled upon AuGrav, we couldn’t help but pick 30-year-old Vivek Krishna’s brain to understand more about the niche segment of products they are churning out. With AuGrav, Vivek and his team are building a personalized jewellery brand – gold jewellery made with the help of 3D technology.
They are close to raising the first round of investments. In this IOS Exclusive interview, Vivek tells us more about the journey till now. Vivek brings to the table years of experience in a New York based data technology company.
IOS: Tell us more about AuGrav.
Vivek: We are a Coimbatore-based startup completely backing on technology to build an online brand. We have created tools(patent pending) to automate the entire design process hence reducing time to manufacture and thus we’re able to ship most of our products in less than 10 days all over the world.
And, no we did not start like this, we changed our business models couple times, and have nailed the right one after a year.
What are the essentials for building an online brand?
First and the foremost thing are products. If you’re products are good, they themselves will start doing the marketing.
Once you have good products, marketing them online is the next challenge. We had to be creative in marketing our products, as they were totally new to the market. We always think in terms of customers, and try to understand their emotions, and the philosophy on what they like and what they do, and finally create a plan on how to reach them, with as minimum budget as possible.
Changed your business models? We’d like to know more.
We started selling plain gold jewellery online, and very soon realized the numbers wouldn’t work out because of low margins. And due to poor marketing, we didn’t make much sales. However, we understood the market, we realized the problem of a customer shopping online, what they are looking for etc.
Very soon we felt all the local jewellery stores creating an online front, and struggling to market their online version; very similar to what we were facing. We took this problem, and went on to create a market place. This is our first pivot. We helped the local jewelers and other online retailers sell on our platform. This was a futuristic idea, as people were not even used to shopping jewels online in the first place. So, again we didn’t end up making much sales!
And, it did not work because it needed huge funds for marketing, and cannot sustain without investments. Raising money again is a challenge because it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have to show the minimum viable business to raise funds, and we were unable to do that.
Also, it was the time when Sachin Tendulkar retired from Cricket and there was a craze for gold coins with his face on them. We decided to adapt this idea and put the customers’ faces on coins. It wasn’t a hit, we felt, and we stopped. But we were wrong. A year later, we got an email from our ex-customer’s friend saying she wanted a similar coin, and didn’t know where to get them done!
We learnt the lesson of availability. In jewellery, people bought because either it was not available offline, or it was not easy to procure offline.
After receiving the email, we quickly coded a single page website, and named it AuGrav ( Au-Gold, Grav- to engrave) and started marketing. In the next one-month, we got an overwhelming response. We started adding new and innovative products and soon our brand was born!
What were the initial hurdles? How did you tackle those?
Buying Gold, that too online, that too from an unknown brand. Is that even possible? When we started no one thought it would work. Convincing the initial set of customers was a big challenge. But our products were unique and different. Customers were either very obsessed with the product or they are not. And, we made the customers who loved our products even more happy!
In the era of Kalyan Jewellers, PCJ, TBZ and the likes, who spend a TON of money on marketing and branding, why would people buy from us? We had to differentiate, and that is what we did. We created a niche that was not possible earlier because of lack of technology and skills to make it happen. Now it is possible, and we’re the pioneering ones to build a brand out of it!
So how did you create the niche?
We sell products that are NOT sold by any jeweller in India, be it online or offline. We created a new category of personalized and customized jewels that were available in very limited quantity, because of the pain in manufacturing them.
Now that with 3D printers and rapid prototyping, and the ability to reach global audience easily, we thought this niche could have a global market, and it does have. The products we sell have global audience and, the companies that sell products similar to us, take almost a month to deliver, whereas, we have optimized processes, and technologies that could deliver products almost within half the time they do!
We are the only brand that does only personalized and customized jewellery. That in itself is a good brand positioning.
What problems did you identify in the online jewellery market?
Typically jewellery shoppers who visit an offline jewellery store don’t have an idea on what they are going to buy. They browse, see the variety and then pick something up. AuGrav is working on products that will exactly address this problem. As of now, we cater to audiences who exactly know what they want to buy. Eventually, we help them discover, and then add their necessary customization/personalization and then buy them.
We chose a niche audience – the audience who are particular about their taste who know exactly what they need. With the internet era, our mission is to be everyone’s personalized jeweller.
Can you explain the technology aspect and how are you making use of it? Looks like it forms the basis of your brand and business.
Yes, we are a mix of technology, marketing and jewellery brand. Rather I would prefer saying we use technology for marketing, and we use technology for jewellery.
3D Printers play a vital role in making our products. Design softwares play an important role. And, we automate a lot of marketing things that will get the job done easier and faster. We are also working on automating the jewellery design process as such. We want to get to a state where 3D printing jewellery is as easy as hitting the Print button on your laptop. But, we are not there yet.
How important do you think technology is for a business? Specifically online retail.
Without technology, there is no AuGrav. Technology is the backbone, and we’re working on lots of projects leveraging technology. We’re about to launch NFC ( Near Field Communication) based rings, that will pair with your mobile phone, to do small chores like turning wifi on/off, unlocking the phone, open a video etc.
How do you make things happen with a shoestring marketing budget? What are the channels you use?
We are everywhere digital. We use all possible channels available online, but are creative in generating traffic. We write on interesting topics, work on innovative ways to structure keywords to cajole Google, and generate organic PR activities. And we also focus a lot on usability and the UX, which makes all the above work! It’s a continuous learning process. And, we have built tools and have automated processes, to adapt faster.
Also, our customers are by default our marketers. They buy something unique, and since it’s unique, they boast off among their friends and families, and the word spreads.
It’s like organic human virality, without Facebook. And, this happens because our products do most of the talking!
In fact, we had a customer who shopped wedding rings, and due to lack of time was unable to give a testimonial. One fine day, after a couple of months, in the middle of night, when he suddenly saw the ring on his hands, he remembered the experience of shopping from AuGrav, and gave us a very huge (nice) testimonial!
Have you considered or tried selling through online marketplaces? Why or why not?
We do have some products listed on marketplaces. But, since we’re a personalized brand, we have lots of to’s and fro’s with the customers, which is not possible with these platforms. So, we don’t see a ton of sales happening here.
What is your pitch to investors, and to customers? Why should an investor invest in you?
We believe we have identified a niche, and this niche is growing into a very huge market, all over the Globe; with the teams’ infectious attitude in solving problems, and the inherent scale that we have, we believe it is definitely possible to build a highly sustainable and scalable business out of it.
And, our numbers could do a lot of talking. In the last 4 months, we grew 150% in the website traffic as well as sales! And, we’re not ready to settle on anything, to keep this momentum going!
What is your employee strength? How many per function/team?
We are a team of just 5. Everyone has the startup gene in them, and are very obsessed with what they do the best. The irony is everyone has an engineering degree, but they work on marketing, tech, design, UI/UX, etc.
What is your expansion plan?
We want to introduce more unique products, and start marketing all over India. Our goal is to grow 10x in the next couple years, and we will do what all is necessary to do that.
Do you think you could have done this without ecommerce?
It’s not that we deliberately chose ecommerce. Our vision is to innovate and optimize on the manufacturing and the distribution of jewels, and eventually change how people browse and shop jewellery. And, ecommerce is one of the channels that for sure helped us build our brand fast. We were unique, and without the online presence, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to build it in just one year!