From buying vegetables to baby products to movie tickets or even booking a flat, you can purchase almost anything online these days. But even in the midst of this plethora, Peyush Bansal, founder and chief executive officer of New Delhi-based Valyoo Technologies, discovered that there were a few categories that were seriously under-serviced and one of them was the eyewear segment. Though some retail sites do enable buying eyewear, the variety is limited and aggregated information on related products and their prices is insufficient.
“The eyewear market is not mature even in the U.S.,” points out Bansal and sensing an opportunity he started Flyrr.com (Flyrr) for the U.S. market in mid-2009. The company enabled placing orders on even prescription-based glasses, contact lenses and sunglasses on its website and tied up with a US-based logistics company to undertake the delivery of the products. But Bansal candidly admits that the model did not work. “We were able to monetise fast, but since the logistics was not under our control, we were unable to scale up quickly,” he says. The company was making US $100,000 in 2010, but did not see it growing much from there. The website was recently sold to a US-based company.
Eyeing Indian e-commerce
Meanwhile, e-commerce had matured in India and Bansal sensed the same market potential for eyewear in the Indian market. Hence, from the stables of Valyoo, Lenskart.com (Lenskart) was setup in November 2010 exclusively for ordering sunglasses, prescribed glasses and contact lenses. Today, it offers almost all leading brands such as Fastrack, Sprint, Vintage, Johnson & Johnson, Ciba Vision, Bausch & Lomb, Cooper Vision and more. Pricing information is also provided upfront, enabling customers to choose from any of the brands at budgeted prices. Recently, the company also designed its own brand of sunglasses for Rs. 299, marking it at cost price. At present, Lenskart delivers to 450 cities in India. It also has a 14-day, ‘no questions asked’ return policy on its merchandise.
In order to facilitate quick delivery and keep customers happy, Lenskart.com established an in-house logistics team which handles high volume orders. As a testament to the company’s growth, it now handles an average of 500 orders a day in just three months of operations.
In order to facilitate quick delivery and keep customers happy, Lenskart established an in-house logistics team which handles high volume orders. As a testament to the company’s growth, it now handles an average of 500 orders per day in just three months of operations.
The dotcom experience
Bansal graduated as an electrical engineer from McGill University, Canada in 2006 and then worked at Microsoft for a year before pursuing an entrepreneurship programme at Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru. During this time, he also set up a website – Searchmycampus.com, meant for the student community to look for services and products in and around the campus. He created microsites for different college campuses and was able to generate high traffic and usage.
Founder: Peyush Bansal
Year: November 2011
Funding: IDG Ventures
Industry: Online retail of lifestyle products through Lenskart.com, Jewelskart.com, Watchkart.com, Bagskart.com
“The idea was to generate revenues through advertisements, but that involved having a separate, offline sales team. I was not interested in that,” he points out. A survey of the e-commerce market showed him that the eyewear was not serviced enough and there were no exclusive sites for this segment. Hence, he went onto start Flyrr and subsequently moved on to Lenskart.
In May 2011, Valyoo received funding to the tune of US $4 million from Bengaluru-based IDG Ventures to expand its e-commerce business. Following Lenskart, Valyoo also started Watchkart.com, Jewelskart.com and Bagskart.com – all under one platform. “Each is like an exclusive department for a specific product within a large showroom,” explains Bansal. These are lifestyle products that make for great gifts too. He estimates the market for all the four segments to be more than US $100 billion.
While Valyoo might look to capitalise on the burgeoning e-commerce market in India, it does face stiff competition from other players. Bansal believes the way to stay ahead in this environment is to ensure high quality of products, delivery on time and good pricing. The company’s cash-back policy in case of customer dissatisfaction is an assurance of quality and Bansal notes that less than five per cent of customers avail this policy. The products that Valyoo sells through Lenskart are directly sourced from the manufacturer and this allows for competitive pricing that drives volumes. The same product in an offline retail showroom would carry a higher mark-up price as there are intermediaries involved.
Valyoo has invested in a robust technology backup for its portals as this is essential to minimise downtime (system unavailability). “Even then, downtime is inevitable. So, we are constantly working on improving our technology and we have a very talented troubleshooting team,” he explains. While other lifestyle portals have resorted to advertising heavily, at least on the digital medium, Valyoo’s portals have relied on word-of-mouth publicity. This, in addition to minimal advertising on Google and Facebook, has been enough to generate the required business.
Building a team
One of the challenges Bansal feels any business faces is in being able to turn a vision to reality. He has personally experienced this with Searchmycampus and Flyrr, where he was able to only partially achieve what he set out to do. But those experiences enabled him to perfect the system and present a more successful business model with Lenskart and the subsequent retail portals.
Towards the creation of a successful business, Bansal believes the first need is to create a team that has faith in its leader and his vision. “When my team was small (about 25 people), I would personally interact with all,” he says. Currently, the team has grown to 160 and continues to expand. He believes in investing in people more than sales. And even today, he tries to ensure everybody feels valued and their views are heard. Job flexibility and respecting commitments made to employees are his strategies to keep the work force happy. If the team is in place, other things will automatically fall in place, is the motto Bansal swears by.
In the coming years, Valyoo will continue its focus on its four online retail portals. And by virtue of operating in a niche space with the backing of a good team and sound technology, Bansal believes that he has struck upon a winning combination.
Concept in brief
Seeing the e-commerce market booming, Peyush Bansal dreamt of leveraging it to fulfil his goal of becoming an entrepreneur. Noticing a gap in the eyewear market, he entered the segment with Lenskart.com to provide focused services and enable buying of not just sunglasses, but even prescription glasses and contact lenses online.
Strong logistics support and good customer service won the portal loyal customers who referred it to their friends, and today the site registers 500 orders a day. Encouraged by its success, the company has started three other focused retail outlets for watches, jewellery and bags, all within the main platform. Valyoo hopes to cash in on the burgeoning trend of e-commerce and become the one-stop shop to buy from the entire range available in each of these segments. Through this, the company also hopes to bring about standardisation in pricing.