When Ashish Goel and Rajiv Srivatsa founded Urban Ladder, they crafted a quasi-vision statement, which today, stands as a testament to their success; to make millions of Indian homes look good. “We asked
ourselves why the interiors of Indian homes couldn’t look as good as those of foreign homes? That got us thinking and furniture seemed to be the obvious answer because we’re talking about a US $15 billion, unorganised furniture market that is slowly moving to the online space,” notes Srivatsa.
During the early stage, he indicates that one of the first questions that the founding duo addressed was the need for a startup to have values over a period of time. “We strongly believe that a value system acts as a precursor to a vision statement,” he adds. Thus, on day one, they began with great clarity to set up a business that emphasises value for money, provides good quality and builds a customer base through word-of-mouth appreciation.
Building core values
First among Urban Ladder’s core values is to build its business around customer obsession. “Even today, on our scale, it is the number one standing value because we know that a small glitch is enough to keep customers away,” notes Srivatsa. Second is honesty and transparency in practices and in daily interactions and third is excellence that trickles down to the last detail.
Facebook is brilliant for marketing once you’ve identified who your target customer is. And, while it’s very easy to earn a million fans, the quality of a fan base determines the quality of interactions. That’s why we chose to build likes for our brand through people, online and offline.
If identifying core values is one aspect of the process, the other is getting every employee to believe and share those values. “If they don’t, they won’t be able to execute the company’s vision. And that was one of our biggest lessons,” shares Srivatsa. He believed that the first five to six employees would define whether the company could translate its vision to reality. “We literally had to handpick a few and let go of a lot of smart, talented people because they didn’t find comfort in some of our values,” he recalls. And till date, Urban Ladder follows this practice.
Targeting the right customer
Post the making of business plans and securing funds, the founding team at Urban Ladder set out to define its target audience. “We went into the definition of our target audience to the level of detail that is just insane,” recalls Srivatsa. For example, the company identified customers based on whether it is a family, living in an urban area, in a metro, in an apartment complex, is married, has a taste for home decor, is digitally well connected, has at least 150 friends on Facebook and more. In fact, it mapped to the extent of understanding which international brands the customers prefer to buy. “Facebook is brilliant for marketing once you’ve identified who your target customer is. And, while it’s very easy to earn a million fans, the quality of a fan base determines the quality of interactions. That’s why we chose to build likes for our brand through people, online and offline,” says Srivatsa. Today, Urban Ladder has a fan following of over two lakh and Srivatsa claims to have spent a lot of money in building a credible fan base. “Today, a good chunk of people would see 20 to 30 of their friends liking our brand on Facebook and that builds trust for newcomers who want to engage with the brand,” he says.
The second step to identifying target customers is getting them to be active promoters of your brand. “This is where the focus is on building customer stories and highlighting real feedback from them,” states Srivatsa. Urban Ladder shares its customer stories in its newsletters, on Facebook and on its website. It has a separate tab on its website, which records and shows customer reviews. “Now, we’re also trying to collect videos and photographs of how customers have used our products,” he shares. But, despite every effort to ensure a seamless customer experience, there will always be a glitch in service in terms of the product not being delivered on time, or it being damaged. In such circumstances, where negative reviews arise, Srivatsa says the best way to tackle it is to be honest. “The idea is to ensure that the issue is rectified in the shortest possible time and the customer is given a better service experience,” he explains while adding, “At one point, a brand operating in the same space as ours, had closed the comments section once it started getting negative reviews. We don’t want to do that because we want our customers to come and talk to us and tell us what they want.”
Delivering on a promise
“You shouldn’t be advertising your brand on television or radio before you deliver on your core promise, which is, your product, your service or the experience the customer undergoes on availing that service,” insists Srivatsa. In other words, for Urban Ladder, the focus was on ensuring that the merchandise displayed online is the same as the one that’s delivered to the customer. “Here, we share a silhouette to ensure that customers get a sense of the size too,” adds Srivatsa. For example, once, a customer had posted a query on Urban Ladder’s Facebook page, asking if a particular product would collect a lot of dust. Instead of being less than honest, the company responded honestly by saying, yes, it will collect a lot of dust. Though the customer didn’t buy that product, at that point, she came back and made another purchase. “Especially in the first three to six months of business, this is a very tricky call for a startup because there is so much sales pressure. While this is just one example, we’ve had to let go of opportunities literally on every front,” says Srivatsa. In another instance, during the early stage, sensing the opportunity in the growing market and having a stock of solid designs, Urban Ladder tried to match up to its competitors (such as FabFurnish, Pepperfry and HouseFull), by launching pan-India. Soon, it started receiving complaints about delays in deliveries, delivery of damaged goods and inconsistent customer service. Realising that the then small team had bitten off more than it could chew, the company rolled back its services and started focussing on just three markets; Bengaluru, Mumbai and New Delhi. “We lost 30 per cent business overnight, but today, we’re a trusted brand and customers come to us,” notes Srivatsa.
Moreover, Urban Ladder doesn’t encourage its customers to share customisation requests. Neither does it depend on offers and discounts to lure sales. “Probably, for a short span of time, it will result in increased sales, but we believe it’s not the best strategy to build a sustainable business,” shares Srivatsa.
In having gotten as far, the founding duo claim to have derived inspiration from a book titled ‘Delivering Happiness’ by Tony Hsieh. Among other things, the book, which was written by the CEO of Zappos, the online shoe retailer, shows how success is linked to happiness. “Just the process of buying furniture has to do with being happy. We ultimately want to ensure that our customers are happy with the experience delivered by us,” says Srivatsa, on an ending note.
Identify core values on day one and get every employee to believe in them
Build a credible fan base on social media, share customer stories and embrace negative feedback. This will lead to customers being your brand ambassadors
Execute on your core promise before advertising your brand on mass media