Aap Ki Kahani – IOS is the platform for online sellers, by online sellers. In the months to come, we will feature inspirational stories of Indian online sellers who have pushed the boundaries, redefined the meaning of success and led the way for the industry. We present the first interview of the series.
Samir Kazi was a Quality Assurance Manager at a reputed call center handling a team of 35, with good career prospects until one Sunday morning in June 2011 the online selling bug bit. Samir hasn’t looked back since. What started as a part-time experiment with his full -time partner and wife Razia has seen him become one of India’s most promising homegrown e-commerce merchants selling on marketplaces like eBay, Shopclues, Tradus and others. Here is his story of conviction, incredible growth and how he began and built GadgetBucket.
Taking the plunge
Gurpreet Singh (GS): So, how did it all begin?
Samir Kazi (SK): The idea occurred to me in June 2011. I used to buy stuff (especially gadgets) online and came across a US-based website that was selling mobile phones at throwaway prices. I thought: why not import them and start selling here? I went ahead and listed a refurbished Blackberry 8830 from the website on www.eBay.in
GS: Without the product in hand?
SK: Yes. I was testing the waters. In the first week itself, I got 7 enquiries and 1 confirmed order. After I got the first order, I said to myself, “What next?” Back then I was a salaried employee with a limited income and endless expenses. I couldn’t afford to invest Rs. 50,000 to import 100 handsets in one go. So I decided to scout the local markets (Manish Market, Mumbai) for the product. Surprisingly, I found the product at a price that ensured me a profit margin of Rs 1000. Although the US website sold it for much cheaper, I went ahead and bought the product, packed it and faced my first big challenge.
The First Hurdle: Shipping
SK: Since I was a retail customer, none of the courier companies were ready to ship an electronic product. Even if a company agreed to ship it, they would charge me Rs. 1000-1500 as the shipping cost.
I had thought it would get done in Rs. 100 – 200 and hadn’t anticipated this. Then, I found parcelmonkey.in (now defunct), which shipped my parcel for Rs. 150. They sent a guy over and the order was delivered the next day. The following week I got three more orders which I fulfilled in a similar manner.
More products mean more profits
GS: So, you would go to office during the day and procure, pack and ship the products in the evening or weekends?
SK: Yes, as soon as I would get an order I would procure the product. Being in a managerial position in my job I had the flexibility of time.
GS: You started procuring from Manish Market (the local market) instead of the US website…
SK: In fact, my approach and attitude to online selling changed after I started procuring locally. I had sold a few products at a good margin but once I got a complaint from a customer that the battery of the phone didn’t work. Normally batteries come with a warranty so I replaced it, no questions asked. I went to Manish Market and to my astonishment the battery cost me very little money. I shipped the battery to the customer. So I listed the batteries as well. Orders poured in. Then came Nokia Bluetooth devices. I made a handsome profit for the amount I had invested.
With a margin of Rs. 100 on each product with no other operational costs (since I was alone) I could easily make Rs. 1000 a day. Also, I discovered Speed Post that shipped products for Rs. 50. I started listing more and more products. And in October 2011, I generated a profit of around Rs. 35,000. I thought it was time to resign from my full-time job.
The Leap of Faith
GS: For how many months did you continue with this part-time business, full-time job arrangement?
SK: Five months.
GS: In just five months, you were confident enough to resign from your stable job?
SK: Yes, in these five months, I was doing reasonably well. My sales had grown considerably and I hired a college student on a part-time assignment. He would pack the goods and I would handle the paperwork. 30th November 2011 was my last working day. After that, I dedicated all my time to my business.
GS: Was there any resistance at home when you quit your job?
SK: Oh, yes! Lots of it! My family kept pushing me to not quit. My elder brother in the UAE too kept calling to convince me against it. I understood their point of view. I was earning Rs. 32,000 a month in my current job. I had liabilities- family expenses, home loan, car loan. Their concern was natural. It was no doubt a very difficult step for me but I was convinced about the potential of this business.
I had to do it.
Ever since I had thought of Gadget Bucket, I dreamt of building an e-commerce business of my own. I even registered the domain name and linked it to my eBay account. In December 2011, I managed a turnover of around Rs. 5 lakhs all by myself.
GS: Your turnover was already more than the salary you were earning?
SK: When I quit, I was earning as much as my salary from the online business. That gave me a lot of confidence. Now, I had to set up an office and grow the sales. I was looking to grow my team and who better than my wife as I knew her potential. It was quite a task… convincing her. I explained the business model and the growth prospects. She took some time but came around eventually.
GS: What did you do next?
My wife joined me and our home became a warehouse. I had over 400 orders from eBay then. The time had come to think bigger. I looked for an office space in my suburb, Kalyan. But high rentals costs and 4% octroi (now abolished) were a constraint. Mumbai was out of question, I found a space in octroi-free Vashi, Navi Mumbai. We had hired three more people by then. We wanted to set up the office by 29th February 2012 and start operations on 1st March. But fate had other plans.
Never put all your listings in one basket
SK: 1st March 2012 is a day I can never ever forget. Everything changed that day. We walked into the office that we had set up on the basis of our eBay orders only to get an email from eBay saying our account had been suspended and all our listings had been removed. No listing meant no sale.
So there we were, a team ready to work, with no work! Apart from our salaries, we now had other fixed costs too. My wife Razia pointed out that we had missed out on a very important aspect, a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Our business was entirely dependent on only one account. We rectified this and quickly opened another account. A few days later we opened two more accounts on eBay. (Read more: Business Continuity Planning in eCommerce).
GS: Isn’t having multiple accounts a disadvantage in terms of split feedback, etc.?
SK: The biggest advantage of multiple accounts is that your business will not come to a standstill even if one of the accounts is suspended or removed. The other two accounts will support the business. The sales may slow down from 100% to 50% or even 30% but will never reach zero.
It was a turning point. We decided not to be limited to eBay. Tie-ups with Shopclues, Rediff and Tradus.com followed. Our business started growing again.
The mantras for growth
SK: We gave Shopclues a 5-day school re opening school combo deal sale. In those 5 days, we sold over 500 products as compared to the 400 we sold usually in a month! The sale was a big achievement.
Next up, I went to the UAE in September 2012 to scout for business. I was to meet the account manager of www.souk.com which is UAE’s biggest e-commerce website. But I soon found out that the biggest company in UAE hardly sold 1,000 products a day online. So I dropped the plan.
Back home our sales had changed dramatically. If I talk numbers, in the first month my turnover was Rs. 1 lakh. It doubled the next month. In September 2012 it was Rs. 18 lakhs and in October 2012, it was a whooping Rs. 23 lakhs. This was a moment of pride for us. In just 9 months, our sales turnover had grown 20 times.
We decided to move into a bigger office and hire more people. We assigned dedicated managers to handle various teams. For e.g. Fulfillment team manager, customer service manager, etc. During this time we also created an IVR based system for Gadget Bucket. We had received some complaints from the customers that no one answered calls during non-office hours. Post-7 pm, we routed the calls to a voice mail. We started getting more professional.
GS: According to you, what are the primary reasons for your phenomenal growth in the last 9 months?
SK: The top reasons that I can think of are:
- The e-commerce industry in India is growing
- Post-September 2012, we started selling through multiple accounts in multiple avenues. We didn’t stick to just one site.
- Moreover, we started focusing on every marketplace equally. As a result, the sales shot up.
- None of us are from the e-commerce background. We learnt from our errors, started correcting them and tackled problems as and when they arose. I believe this too paved the way for our growth.
GS: So, have you followed a data-driven approach?
SK: Yes, it has been a data-driven and measurement approach. My previous experience as a Quality Assurance Manager with exposure to six sigma and green belt techniques has come in handy. Often, the story that the figures tell is not true until you don’t analyze it. I might get very excited about hitting a sales turnover of Rs. 40 lakhs but in actuality it is not Rs. 40 lakhs. If you don’t follow this approach, you won’t analyze the loopholes and the downward trends. We keep an eye on the trends and identify the solutions. For e.g. if the sales are going down, we try and increase the profit margins, so our profitability remains intact.