Backed by Seedfund and Krishnan Ganesh, Browntape aspires to become a leading software player to help online sellers manage the process of selling on various e-commerce sites
The long-term vision for Gurpreet Singh, co-founder of Browntape Technologies (Browntape) is clear. He compares the Indian e-commerce market to China’s and justifies that when a country like China can have one million active sellers online, so can India. And, that’s what he and his team have set out to achieve with their maiden venture, BrownTape. The company develops software for online sellers, helping them seamlessly sell on Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and several other e-commerce portals. Currently, BrownTape is used by various companies including IFB, Khadim’s, Milton, Coca Cola and several small mom-and-pop online sellers.
Singh says that the differentiating factor for Browntape lies not just in developing centralised software for sellers, but also in offering an entire gamut of services. The company’s software enables the seller across three layers – getting setup on e-commerce portals (account opening, listing, catalogue, e-commerce photography), daily operations (shipping documents, inventory synching across multiple e-commerce sites) and sales increase (competition pricing, participate in e-commerce site’s promotional campaigns and stock planning).
“Once we hit the market, we realised that Indian sellers are not as educated at a macro level about seller technology. Only one in 10 people knew what software we were selling. Rest didn’t even know how to setup an account in an ecommerce site.”
The company raised an angel round in April 2014 from Seedfund and Krishnan Ganesh, Chairman of Portea Medical and founder of Growth Story. Browntape currently employs 270 people across its offices in Goa, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Tracing the journey
Back when Ian Morgan and Piyush Goel were pursuing a PhD in the UK, they developed a tool called Scrobbld, to help a couple of their friends manage orders and shipments for products they were selling on eBay. While the tool was kept active and accessible to more users, they pursued mainstream careers in UI and Artificial Intelligence. The complete transition to entrepreneurship happened after they meet Gurpreet Singh, who was running a UX design firm in Goa. “Coupled with my experience in business and their idea, we founded Browntape in June 2012,” recalls Singh.
When they started, they operated like a typical SaaS business, wherein they placed software on cloud and sellers paid a monthly fee to access it. “After the first three quarters, once we hit the market, we realised that Indian sellers are not as educated at a macro level about such technology,” claims Singh. In other words, they realised that only one in 10 sellers understood their technology and knew how to use it, while nine others admitted that they haven’t explored such an option. “That’s when we realised that they needed a lot of handholding. This led to pivoting the model from being just a SaaS-based solution to a managed services model,” he notes. To quote an example, one of its key clients is a 50-year old hosiery manufacturer in Ludhiana. While the company entered into wholesale and exports, it was never a renowned brand. And, if it wanted to target a higher presence among urban communities, it would have to set up a complex distribution system. “To overlook this and still establish a greater presence, is where ecommerce helps. Hence, we helped the manufacturer setup accounts with ecommerce companies, and in-built the centralised inventory software to help them manage their orders,” shares Singh.
Today, with over 5,700 merchant sellers on board, Browntape manages everything from digital catalogues of clients to sales analytics, shipping management and payments from marketplaces. In fact, Singh claims that their key innovation in this space is their remittance model. “When a seller sells through a marketplace, the e-commerce company processes the order only after a few days, once the customer has received the product and is satisfied with it. This is a huge challenge for sellers because their business depends on how quickly they can receive cash,” he explains. Hence, Browntape’s comprehensive remittance model ensures that the correct payments from marketplaces are cleared on time, so that retailers can continue to scale their business.
Putting the Word Out
While the early stage marketing strategy revolved around participating in e-commerce events, Singh realised that they were finding more competitors than customers at the venue. Ever since, they shifted their focus to more vertical trade shows, which gave them the opportunity to meet more manufacturers. A second strategy they adopted was to create online forums and communities where sellers can discuss and learn from others’ experiences. “Apart from this, a more recent strategy we are concentrating on is education-based marketing. We conduct full-day workshops in different cities every month, where we explain to 100+ merchants, how to sell on ecommerce sites,” shares Singh.
With a current team size of 270, spanning across sales, operations and marketing, Singh admits that they are more comfortable recruiting ex-entrepreneurs on the team. “They can better understand where we are coming from and what we expect from them,” he adds. In fact, the operations team (of 200 employees) was setup only after the company received its seed round.
With a goal to manage up to 25 per cent of the ecommerce orders in India in the next five years, and to evolve into an omni-channel company in the next two to three years, Browntape is actively on the lookout for a Series A round, one it hopes will close in the next six months. “What we have right now is pipeline technology (that is, the technology that is extended from ecommerce sites). It’s a mundane system. Moving forward, we want to add an analytics and predictive sciences layer to the software,” he shares. In number terms, the company aims to sign on board at least 20,000 sellers within the next three years.
Founders: Gurpreet Singh, Piyush Goel, Ian Morgan
Concept: Software for Online Sellers on e-commerce marketplaces
Investors: Seedfund Advisors, Krishnan Ganesh
Key Takeaway from investors
Krishnan Ganesh likes to simplify things. He does not believe in complex models. In fact, he didn’t even sit through our pitch presentation. He latches on to some fundamental points and focuses only on them. This strategy turned out to be a key learning for us. He taught us how to think simple and focus only on worthy goals.