Temasek Holdings and CapitaLand-backed Ace Turtle has built an omni-channel platform which provides technology, logistics and customer support for brands and retailers to improve the ‘post-click’ commerce experience for customers.
Nitin Chhabra spent his career in leadership roles in the retail industry before venturing into an entrepreneurial journey. As the Head of International Business Development at Reliance Brands, Chhabra’s role was to identify international brands which would find relevance in Indian markets and launch them in India through joint ventures or long term contracts. From his interaction with the CxOs, he understood how the web was affecting retail and how some of them were using their stores to fulfil these orders. Ecommerce was just picking up in India during this period and price points were also improving, though it was largely discount driven. Chhabra narrates an interesting incident that happened then. “Myntra wanted some of our brands and we sold Timberland Merchandise– a footwear brand to them. Reliance was a partner with Timberland at that point of time,” recalls he. Further adding, he says, “When it went live, the company got orders from cities like Guwahati and Jamshedpur which was not in its business plan for the next 10 years.” So, the company realised that there were pockets of customers spread across the country who might not be in large numbers to put up a store there, but ecommerce could be a great way of reaching them. “All these dots connected. Our background in retail, challenges in Indian retail real estate, and large, disbursed pockets of relevant customers put us in an interesting spot,” recalls Chabbria. Hence, in 2014, he and his co-founder Berry Singh sought US $300,000 as initial angel investment from friends and family and set up Ace Turtle, a company that specialises in the omni-channel space.
How The Technology Works
Ace Turtle is a technology driven platform which enables web-influenced commerce. The company’s omni-channel platform combines technology, logistics and customer support to enable brands and retailers to improve the ‘post-click’ commerce experience for customers. It integrates online and offline retail chain, enabling automated omni- channel fulfilment through Rubicon, its proprietary platform. Rubicon allows a single window view of all inventory and makes decisions based on the client’s business goals and systems. It powers ‘order and ship from anywhere’ service, and also manages orders, inventory, catalogue, logistics and analytics.
“What differentiates us from the rest in the industry is that our team has people from both the retail and technology side. Since we have worked in the retail industry, we understand what is important for brands. That domain knowledge also helped us tackle the technology aspect of the business,” he adds.
Customers would try the product in a physical store and order it online as they were getting it at a cheaper price. All online players too were discounting the products as a means to acquire customers
Stepping On A Growth Pedestal
While it took the company a year to build its platform, it’s only in the last two years that it has started recording growth. There are two reasons for this. One, the company was able to validate the platform’s capabilities with its initial set of clients. And two, the scenario in the Indian retail dramatically changed in the last two years, wherein online businesses became aggressive and offline markets started seeing a lag. “Customers would try the product in a physical store and order it online as they were getting it at a cheaper price. All online players too were discounting the products as a means to acquire customers,” says he. Since there was no price parity, brands faced problems with their customers. Moreover, there were clear financial issues as well. “All large brands have multiple stores with fixed costs. But, since all of this was going online, sales in stores came under pressure. This is the main reason why, in the last two years, brands wanted to get into this game. We were able to capture this market as we had a couple of implementations in place,” adds Chhabra.
Last financial year, the company registered a GMV (gross merchandise value) of less than a million dollars per month. But, currently that number has increased to US $3 million a month. With the current customer base of 26 and team size of 160, the company aims to end the year with a target set at US $4 million.
Ace Turtle owes many of its learnings to its early customers, like Flying Machine. It realised that its solution works better with larger brands when compared to smaller brands. “Our strategy was to work only with large brands. We don’t see any key brand which is not in discussion with us today to enter this route,” says Chhabra. Its solutions are currently used by brands such as Fossil, Puma, Ray-Ban, Max, Arrow, Flying Machine, Ed Hardy and US Polo Assn., among others.
The Talent & Technology Challenge
“We made a mistake early on: we hired people from large corporates and technology giants, thinking that since they are from a large company, they will be able to do what we want them to do,” he admits. But, the team quickly realised that people in large companies are used to working on small pieces and typically get into the depth of the technology. “Those who come from startups have a different mindset and are able to build end-to-end open source features,” he explains. Hence, it quickly changed its DNA and overhauled the entire team. Even today, while hiring for the special engineering team, Ace Turtle prefers candidates who have gained experience working in a startup.
Where to from here
Backed by Singapore-based Vertex Ventures, the venture arm of Temasek Holdings, and C31 Ventures, the venture arm of CapitaLand, the company is among the 14 startups selected by Microsoft to connect with their global clients. “Microsoft is extending help by setting up an inside sales team,” shares Chhabra. The company has recently set up a business development team and is just about setting up its sales team.
So far, while its operations were within India, it recently forayed into the Singapore market. “Our team in Singapore will be the base for the entire South East Asian region,” he says. In India, the company has had a good start and going forward, it is looking at increasing its client base. “All our clients are in fashion accessories and apparel footwear. Now we want to extend it to other categories,” says Chhabra. On this front, it is already in discussion with marquee brands in other categories like consumer goods and consumer durables. “Going forward, our aspiration is to be a well aligned, largest omni-brand platform in Asia. By June 2018, we will be in all markets across Asia,” says Chhabra on a concluding note.
Year of Incorporation: 2014
Founders: Nitin Chhabra and Berry Singh
Investors: Singapore-based Vertex Ventures, the venture arm of Temasek Holdings, and C31 Ventures, the venture arm of CapitaLand
Profile: Ace Turtle is a technology driven company enabling web-influenced commerce. The company’s Omni-Channel platform comprises technology, logistics and customer support that enables brands and retailers to improve the post click commerce experience of their customers. It integrates online and offline retail chain, enabling automated omni- channel fulfilment through Rubicon, its proprietary platform.