Building multiple startup brands

Building multiple startup brands

Krishnan Ganesh, a serial entrepreneur, believes that brand building opportunities in India are unique. He shares with us his experience from Tutor Vista, Bluestone.com and BigBasket.com

POORNIMA KAVLEKAR

For someone who has exited four successful ventures and is running five ventures currently, Krishnan Ganesh’s optimism about building brands in India is encouraging. He believes that brand-building opportunities in India are unique and unparalleled. When he started a U.S. consumer brand from India called Tutorvista.com, a company that provides personalised tutoring to children in the U.S., the number of challenges he faced was immense.  To break into the U.S. consumer market and create a brand was not only an expensive affair, but also very difficult, as it was an evolved market. In comparison to this, creating his Indian brands – Bigbasket.com, Bluestone.com and Portea Medicals were relatively simpler.

Ganesh believes that the size of the country offers a wonderful opportunity to create brands.  He says, “Across the country, be it Tier-I, Tier-II or Tier-III cities, people are hungry for brands. They watch the same TV shows, their aspirations are the same, but their access to products and services is minimal.”  Not just this, people are willing to pay for quality and trust. And he believes that this provides the opportunity for startups to create brands.

From a cost perspective, building a brand in India costs much less when compared to what one spends on building a brand in the developed markets. He also believes that a brand is built much faster today. Ganesh says, “New technologies and social media gives us a huge opportunity to build brands today, which 20 years ago, would have taken a lot more time to build.”

However, this also comes with its own set of challenges. There is a huge interactivity with our customers whose attention spans are very short today and, hence, it is important to get one’s message across very clearly.

Tutorvista.com – learning to communicate

Incorporated in 2006 as a personalised tutoring company with Indian tutors and school students in the U.S. (both American and Indian American children), Tutorvista.com was the first Indian company to create a direct consumer brand for the U.S. market, from India. “While the idea was to create an American consumer brand from India, we also knew that we could not compete with leaders there,” recalls Ganesh.  The leader, Sylvan Learning Centre, has been around for 40 years. And their marketing budget was US $100 million. So, Ganesh understood that to create a brand, he had to disrupt and do something distinct.

Ganesh realised that he had to justify to American consumers why they should use Tutorvista.com, and so, the value proposition that the company offered was personalised tuition at affordable prices. “At that time, personalised tutoring in the U.S. used to cost US $60 per hour. We were doing it at a fraction of a cost. We were providing the service at US $100 per month, for an unlimited set of classes.  It was a simple proposition on the Internet.”

But he had many challenges in communicating to prospective consumers as it was a new concept and lots of questions were asked of him and his team.

This is how he went about tackling the challenge. The company first zeroed in on its target consumers, who were NRIs as they are more willing to pay for good quality education. It put up fliers and posters in temples across the U.S. “We did that for six to eight months.  The awareness level certainly went up. But there were hardly any conversions,” recalls Ganesh.  That is when he learnt his biggest lesson – offline to online transition was difficult to create.

So he began direct marketing online. The company spent the next one-year mastering search engine optimisation and digital marketing driven campaigns. “We had one lakh key words which we used to actively manage. This means that if people search for anything out of the one lakh keywords, our name will appear on top of the search,” he explains. Citing an example, Ganesh says, if someone typed chlorophyll or photosynthesis, Tutorvista’s ad would appear.  The company brought in technology analytics to aid brand building. In a matter of one year, Ganesh created arguably the world’s largest education destination site with six million unique visitors, per month.

Of course, before he started to build this brand, Ganesh did a survey. He spoke to around 100 American parents and students to determine the viability of this business idea.  “Go for the low hanging fruit and create something disruptive,” he advises.

Bluestone.com – targeting the right audience

There are two recognisable brands in the online jewelry sector – Bluestone.com and Caratlane.com. When we started Bluestone, we had to face many skeptics. Their contention was how will an Indian consumer, who is very particular about the look and feel of jewelry, buy online?  “If people want to buy jewellery for weddings or other occasions, they are going to take the whole family to the shop and make that purchase. That is not our market. Our market is those who are in their 20s to 50s. It is for contemporary women and for men who will gift jewelry to women,” says Ganesh.

It is in this space that he sensed an opportunity for creating such a brand. The jewellery market is a US $ 45 billion market with almost zero online presence. “Even if we garner a 2 per cent share in the online market, it is a billion dollar market for us,” shares Ganesh.

Bluestone.com believes in creating a large number of designs and offers these at a reasonable cost as it maintains a low inventory. The work involved in creating this online brand was similar to what Ganesh did with Tutorvista.com. His thinking was, “When people search for jewellery, we should own the search.” The company ran a television campaign with the theme ‘you don’t need an occasion to buy jewelry which was successful’. But, it still did not meet their growth aspirations.

“For jewellery, we need to do have a combination of online and offline presence,” says Ganesh. So he created a guide store, a small store where people who want to experience the touch and feel can do so. Today, 20 per cent of Bluestone.com’s sales come from this store.

On a spiritual journey

Ganesh is involved with a company called Onlineprasad.com, a company started by a BITS Pilani engineer. He started this company after his temple visiting experience with his aged parents. The amount of discomfort they went through to visit the temple made him realise that there was a need to be addressed. Ganesh says, “Religion and spirituality is a US $ 40 billion market.” Onlineprasad.com brings spirituality to your home through the Internet and mobile. Pooja will be performed on a specific day, like a birthday or a wedding anniversary, at the temple of one’s choice and one will receive the prasad.  “A very early stage company, the brand is yet to be created, but the idea is unique,” says Ganesh.  With companies like Bigbasket.com, an online food and grocery store and Portea Medical in his portfolio, Ganesh believes spirituality and religion is a great category as it is price inelastic. “You don’t negotiate with God and it is recession proof. This is the only category where you deliver something to the customer and there are no returned goods. When God comes to your doorstep you do not send him away,” concludes Ganesh.


KEY HIGHLIGHTS: 

Brand building opportunity in India is unique and unparalleled

Size of the country offers a great opportunity to create brands

Brand building cost in India is much lower when compared to what one spends in building brands in developed markets

Huge interactivity with the customers whose attention span is very short today means brands need to send out clear and effective messages 

Tutorvista.com: the value proposition that the company offered was personalised tuition at a fraction of the cost that people incurred otherwise.  And to build its brand, it brought in technology analytics and managed over 1 lakh keywords

Bluestone.com: target contemporary women and men who will gift jewellery to women. To achieve better growth, it created a guide store, for people to touch and feel the jewellery

Onlineprasad.com : A brand yet to be created as it is a very early stage company. A company with a unique idea as spirituality and religion is a great category which is price inelastic