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Through newspapers and online media, we are delighted to read inspiring stories of successful entrepreneurs and seldom hear about the failed ventures. So here’s the statistics.
A study says that 90% of Indian startups fail within five years. Another says that from 2015, as many as 1500 startups have closed down in India. And this brutal fact is not limited to Indian startups alone.
Leaders deserve particular respect who succeed in this cut-throat competition of startups. And to examine the factors that differentiate a leader of a successful business venture among a crowd of failed ones I guess is a fascinating subject.
About Ashish Goel
Ashish Goel is 39-year-old CEO and co-founder of the Indian furniture brand Urban Ladder. The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore graduate started his career somewhat predictably like most IIM pass outs as a strategic business consultant with McKinsey & Co. His next stint was helping out his friend Samir Patil in selling comic books such as Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and Karadi Tales as their new Managing Director where he revolutionized the access of media products in India. They revived the storied children’s content brand Amar Chitra Katha. Today his company Urban Ladder- a marketplace for unique & innovative yet less expensive furniture and home decor products, he co-founded with his decade-old friend and college mate Rajiv Srivatsa in July 2012 is reportedly valued at over INR 776 crore.
At one place in an interview with a magazine, he says that “We increasingly realize the power of that one special place in the house where we can relax and tune out the daily slog.” He has always analyzed the way people sit differently on the same chairs in a meeting, noticed that many of our children still sleep in parents’ beds even though they may have their own nicely decorated rooms or belief among Indian customers that wood is the best material for furniture.
When asked about One critical decision that he made as a leader?
Goel says that when they started the business in July 2012, they had all-India shipping using third-party logistics firms except for deliveries within Bengaluru. We were then just 45 days into the market, we decided to say no to 75% of our business because this arrangement of third-party logistics and quality let us fell short of our promise to customers. It was one of the hardest decisions to make we had to make given the number of orders we have to cancel, and I think it saved us.
This is Ashish Goel’s fascination with the insights and studies into the details of his line of business-as to how the people actually engage with the products or emotionally attach to them?
The feeling of guilt he realized was not good business in falling short of the expectations of customers even if it’s just over being late on the delivery of products.
It indeed says something about the man who has taken Urban Ladder to such heights in a market with fierce competition. A leader is someone with a vision and a passion for making things happen.
It was not an unchallenged market to start with. Urban Ladder was not the pioneer of the online furniture market. Pepperfry and about two months later, FabFurnish started in 2012 and later, Urban Ladder joined the fray. Other than Pepperfry and fabFurnish, It had direct competition with all the big offline & online players such as Home Town, Lifestyle Home Centre, Godrej Interio, Fab India, Style Spa, DLF Pure, Evok (Hindware), Zensaar. As of 2017, Urban Ladder has clocked revenues that are almost twice of Pepperfry’s revenues.
At Urban Ladder you can find more than 30 categories of furniture’s which include beds, sofas, dining and coffee tables, etc. and also a range of over 400 product to choose from. As we noted earlier about Goel’s refusal for third-party logistics, the delivery and installation of all their products are dealt by Urban Ladder itself. Headquartered in Bengaluru, the company delivers to more than 100 towns and cities across India. Urban Ladder’s focus is on stylish and modernistic furniture that comes with the promise of superior quality.
Details from the beginning
Urban Ladder started in 2012 as a 10-member team operating out of a house in Bengaluru’s Marathahalli area. From the beginning, Goel paid strong emphasis on design and customer satisfaction. Urbanlader’s website was quickly noticed in metros, and tier 1 cities for its detailed specifications and common-sense touches like putting the size of the furniture in perspective by placing it next to a human figure or giving a unique name to all items of furniture “Naming the products is great fun,” says Goel that there are a lot of small things that no one probably cares about. He likes to see beauty and joy in little things.
One of the features that caught everyone’s attention was human silhouette standing alongside the furniture. “The purpose was to give buyers a fair idea of the height and width of furniture when compared with an average person’s height. The feature became an instant hit” says Goel.
On his creative process
Goel says he surrounds himself with people who are very good at process management. There are pinch hitters like Sehwag, and there are people who rotate the strike and build the innings like Dravid. Goel admits he does everything in intense bursts like a hitter in Cricket and over time hand it over to someone else to work on the development. “This is my way to channelize my energy in the best productive way.”
On the culture in his company
Goel says integrity is non-negotiable at the urban ladder. Whatever kind of company you are running, culture is integral. It can be equated to the DNA of the company. “We also go by the spirit of the Indian Constitution—secularism, respect for diversity, respect for personal freedoms.”
Goel is an avid reader—and not just of management books. “My locker is stocked with 30-40 books on all subjects favorite being fantasy fiction,” he says.
Goel talks about one book he has read—one that has helped shape long-term strategy at Urban Ladder. ‘The Four Steps To The Epiphany: Successful Strategies For Products That Win’ is written by Steve Blank. The book emphasizes to “follow a customer development model and not a product development model” and inspired him to create a set of values that are integral to his business, “customer obsession”, “honesty and transparency”, “action-orientation”, “stepping up efficiency” shortened as CHASE.
The Road Ahead
The success of Ashish Goel and the Urban ladder has not gone unnoticed. Urban Ladder has the highest funding in its segment. It has got some $78 million from investors including – Sequoia Capital, Kalaari Capital, SAIF Partners, Steadview Capital, TR Capital, and Indo-US Venture Partners. A personal investment from Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons is an “It’s recognition of what we are doing,” says Goel.
His company is now growing @ 50-60% every month. They have the highest average transaction or ticket cost in India of Rs. 15,000 per order for an e retailing companies. Urbanladder has a team of around 600 people and planning to add another 1,400 employees to its workforce to strengthen their rapid expansion plan.