Blume Ventures-backed Vox Pop Clothing partners with iconic brands such as Marvel, Warner Bros. and Disney, and develops merchandise for brands like Spiderman and Avengers in India. Siddharth Taparia, the founder, believes his business is really about closing a supply gap
Siddharth Taparia, founder of online apparel company, Vox Pop Clothing, had three good reasons to quit a lucrative job at Walt Disney and pursue an entrepreneurial venture in the merchandising space. One, during his stint as the business head of licensing at Walt Disney, he noticed that there weren’t many legitimate licensees in India who could develop merchandise for the company’s icons. Two, developing licensed merchandise for iconic brands would mean significantly lesser customer acquisition cost. And three, of course, being online meant gaining a quicker and wider reach to a growing online customer base as against operating as a brick and mortar store. “Today, when a movie like Avengers or Spiderman releases, it cashes at least Rs. 80 crore to Rs. 100 crore in the box office. But the merchandise for these icons is never easily available. There is a clear supply gap. That’s what pushed me to start this venture,” says Taparia.
Founded in April 2013, Vox Pop Clothing operates on a simple business model; firstly, it acquires licensing rights from brands such as Marvel. Disney and Warner Bros., then, with the help of its in-house and freelance design team, develops branded apparel, manufactures and distributes it through external courier services. “We largely distribute online through B2B and B2C channels, where, in the former, our products are made available on sites such as Flipkart, Jabong and eBay, or offline retailers sign up, browse and place an order for products that they want to display at their stores,” says Taparia. A second, recently developed business model is one where yet to be popular brands are given a separate platform to merchandise their products. “These brands can develop their own merchandise and showcase it on the platform that we create for them. Once a minimum number of orders are placed by the customers, we print and manage the entire supply chain,” explains Taparia.
Currently, the company has 10 employees on board and 11 other employees through three to four external agencies, which manage its creatives, social media and marketing activities. It follows a low-inventory based model where it creates fresh designs every month and handles a lot of print-on-demand. “Almost 45 per cent of our demand comes from the metros. The rest is from Tier-II cities such as Chandigarh, Kochi, Ahmedabad and such,” says Taparia while adding, “If I had adopted an offline strategy, it would have been difficult to reach these parts. In the online space, Tier-II and Tier-III population has access to these aspirational brands,” he reasons.
In November 2013, Vox Pop Clothing raised its first round of funding, to the tune of US $4,00,000 from Blume Ventures and a few strategic investors from India and the U.S. “The funds were channelised towards building the team, technology and inventory. Now, we will focus a lot more on marketing,” indicates Taparia.
Placing them right
So, how does the company identify which brands to partner with? “We have identified two methodologies for this; the market research approach and the anecdotal evidence approach,” explains Taparia. He elaborates on the first method by way of an example- his team wanted to identify whether a Disney character like Mickey or Donald would gain acceptability among young adults. For this, it conducted a market research where it invited 80 people, showed them designs and took their feedback. Apart from this, it also held a qualitative study among 1,200 people across five cities to understand their preferences. In the latter, the company predominantly identifies brands, which have a huge fan following on social media and/or have high engagement levels with the customers and partners with them.
For Taparia, brand building at this stage is about building traffic on the website. And this is largely driven through Facebook or Google. “Instead of promoting Vox Pop Clothing to our customers, we want to go tell them that their favourite brand’s merchandise is available on Vox Pop Clothing. That way, we leverage on the strength of the brand that we’re developing merchandise for and reduce customer acquisition cost to a large extent,” states Taparia.
Being operationally sound
The primary challenge Taparia faces today is in achieving operational efficiency. “Every day we are trying to identify better ways to deliver an order quicker or manage inventory in a way that we do not have stock-outs often or are left behind with a large inventory,” admits Taparia.
As is the case with other e-commerce players, the biggest growth driver he sees is in the growing number of online buyers. “As more customers start purchasing online, we will see more brands participating in the merchandising business. In fact, when they do their part of branding, in directing their fans to our site to access their merchandise, our customer base will grow further,” he notes.
Though Vox Pop Clothing does not have exclusive rights to manufacture and sell a brand’s merchandise, Taparia feels his competitors on the online platform are companies that sell branded T-shirts, and offline retail stores that sell branded merchandise. Currently, the company is growing at 50 per cent, month-on-month and Taparia plans to expand into other merchandise categories such as phone covers, coasters and mugs, in the next three to five years. “My vision is to position Vox Pop Clothing as a platform which develops great designs. Over time, we want to bring in many more brands and achieve a huge fan following,” he says, and signs off.
WHAT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL TAUGHT SIDDHARTH TAPARIA
A LESSON TO REMEMBER
At Harvard, we discussed and brainstormed on real life business case studies to understand and learn the finer nuances of managing a business. But, the real test was when we had to adopt these learnings in our entrepreneurial venture. For instance, one of the lessons we learnt was about how to hire smart people, empower them and motivate them to deliver better. When I was running Vox Pop Clothing, I realised that there is no one way to manage people. The trick is in adapting your style to the kind of people you work with. It is very difficult to say that I have a delegative style of managing. I don’t think one approach will work. Some people need hand-holding, some people need micro-management and some people flourish when they’re left alone.
A LESSON TO UNLEARN
In large corporates, most of the functional aspects of the business are already set up and you have support systems in place to enable you deliver better. You just have to do your part in managing the business. Even at Harvard, there was a lot of thinking from a CEO’s perspective. It taught us about the various strategies we could adopt to manage a situation better. However, when you start your own business, things are very different because you become the de facto finance, legal, HR and business head. This part of unlearning and re-learning is very important and that took time for me.
A FOND MEMORY
I had gone to Harvard with two thoughts in mind– to give myself time to introspect on what I wanted to do next and to network with a bunch of great people. And both were fulfilled during my stint there.