“We ran for exactly 23 months. We wanted to see us in...

“We ran for exactly 23 months. We wanted to see us in multiple cities. Every start-up wants that, doesn’t it?” – Shanil Soni, Co-founder, Cushvie.

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It was 21st October, 2013 when I left my job. I had worked there for a year, and I had finally gathered all my thoughts to conclude that doing a 9 to 5 corporate job, just wasn’t my cup of tea. I was clueless about my future, in fact, I didn’t have the slightest idea regarding what I was going to do. Back home, being unemployed meant, I was now shouldering household responsibilities of buying groceries, including vegetables and sometimes I also ended up being the one chopping them.This wasn’t exciting, of course, and I hated it, until the point that I realized that hatred doesn’t always need to breed hostility, following which I came up with the idea for Cushvie – my very first start-up.10409190_718757038214803_1892605422245263183_nThinking about the difficulties of managing a home, when working women, just like my mom, were constantly on run for their offices, I finally ended up toying with the need of creating a platform, that precisely would cater the most basic daily need of any home – delivering groceries. Right from their daily supply of vegetables, fruits, dairy, bodycare products, cosmetics, and more, Cushvie was born to take care of solving this particular problem.Soon, I found myself a co-founder, who was also a Software Engineer like I was, and together we took nearly two and half months to develop a website, and get some sellers on board.
Sellers were for our procurement process only, as they were not available anywhere on our website to choose from.The day was 19th January, and it also happened to be my birthday, when Cushvie was launched. It was the period when this domain was not dominated by any big players, and we were in fact, the very first of our kind.

We set the agenda aside for our first marketing campaign to cover the areas, that would give us  a better conversion ratio. To change the perception of buying vegetables and groceries without a feel-and-touch substance, and building trust was a crucial factor, hence we started with door-to-door marketing activity to let people know that there were actual people behind our initiative, who’d be handling the products that make their way into their household. With this campaign, we gathered our first 100 customers in the span of a month and started getting couple of orders everyday. However, right from the inception, the biggest hurdle for us, was to have the ‘registered but not-shopped-yet customers’ to buy from us. We used to engage with them periodically, offer them hefty discounts but we failed to narrow down the gap that kept on widening, of course along with the number of regular clients.

Fast forward 7 months, we had gathered a clientele of around 300 customers and were getting at least 5-6 orders a day. That wasn’t too bad for us considering we spent zero amount of money on marketing and operations – Yes, we used to actually deliver the orders on our own. It was a slow but a steady progress, and people were getting aware of the presence of our brand..It was September 2014, when we made a deal on our first investment – the investor being one of my relatives, who had a very encouraging approach towards start-ups and workings of local businesses, unlike a lot of VCs. For us, this money would have given us a change to expand further enough to go for an actual VC investment, and hence, we agreed to his terms, just to find out, that eventually it was the biggest mistake we were making at the time.During the same time, Gaurav, one of my college friends, joined Cushvie as a Co-founder, and with hands on substantial amount of working capital, started working on an expansion plan for our services. A delivery van had been added to our logistics channel, along with a staff of two delivery boys and two Operations’ boys, who were to take care of everything we sent out to our customers.We also started covering entire West Ahmedabad region compared to a handful areas previously. This was the best time for us to hit on a market a bit aggressively and we began opting for other marketing mediums. Newspaper advertising was our first choice, however for a little time, we also relied upon Social Media marketing. A thought behind this was to gradually move up a ladder, as newspapers would fetch a larger chunk of clients in our pool.People started getting engaged with us, through our campaigns running on Facebook and Google. Our Alexa rank was getting better, and we were now under 100k worldwide. It was the first Sunday of January when our advertisement landed up on a front page of Ahmedabad Times, and a tremendous response was followed, as we got over 300 registrations in a period of three odd days and we crossed twenty-five-orders mark.

Even though we were ready, delivering orders was much more difficult than we had thought of. An order worth of a grand, took two big sized bags, around 100 litres volume in total, and delivery on a two-wheeler much more difficult. Anyway, we got a good night sleep after a long, exhausting, but extremely productive day.

Our first advertisement was followed up by two more advertisement in a span of 6 months. We were doing okay – we reached to 15 average orders a day and average ticket size was above 1100, however just like any other e-commerce business, ours wasn’t turning out any profit for us, either.Considering the expenses i.e. Marketing, Rentals & Salaries accompanied by a very low profit margin, we were left with considerable loss and it was going to widen undoubtedly, with time. We found our patience tested, and even though we tried to stand firm throughout the situation, by drawing out no salaries ourselves, our investor wasn’t really looking forward to this.We started having trouble with our working capital, and it became difficult for us to run our operations and  marketing campaigns, though we cut them down to nearly none. A dream, nearly attained, seemed to be fading out of our eyes, and to avoid shutting down our beloved start-up, we decided to look for further investment for our company.We started approaching VCs across the nation – we sent proposals, some of them replied, some of them didn’t. Majority of them denied the possibility of investing in us, citing limitation of their working domains and domain diversification. A few of them were Sequoia Capital which invested in Grofers, Helion Partners and Ascent Capital which invested in BigBasket + Accel Partners which funded ZopNow. Everyone of them asked me to keep them updated with the ongoings of our company, so as to consider our application in future.
Meanwhile out of the blue, I got a call from Brand Capital, an entity of Times Group and they asked to schedule a meeting with me. The following week, I met them at their Ahmedabad office, where we talked for a couple of hours about nearly everything, our current situation to our future plans. They showed interest in taking this deal forward, only hurdle being the ‘unique model’ they were proposing – which was to capitalize the marketing department only, and leaving the others to fund either by bringing in another investor, or bringing in your own capital.Apart from the marketing, there was huge investment needed in other areas, too, and so for a month we looked for other investors to partner with us and Brand Capital. Splitting risk would be an add-on advantage for the other investor, we thought, but we got ourselves in the wrong there.We couldn’t get the investment by the time our current capital was exhausted and getting further investment from our current investor was out of the picture. We didn’t want to believe but that was it, but Cushvie needed to shut down, even after having potential to persevere, a large base of 1200+ clients and an amazing brand value, it couldn’t survive any longer. We ran it for exactly 23 months. We wanted to see it in multiple cities – that was our dream. Every startup craves for it, doesn’t it?
Either way, the best thing I learnt from this ordeal was that is no matter where anything takes you, it’s the journey that matters.

Shanil Soni
Shanil Soni


This article was adapted from Shanil Soni’s post here. Shanil Soni is the Co-Founder of Cushvie.

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