Furniture and home decor e-tailer Urban Ladder is aiming to hit a gross merchandise value (GMV) of around $100 million this year. The firm has just raised $50 million in a fresh round of funding from both new and existing investors. Rajiv Srivatsa, founder and chief operating officer of Urban Ladder, says this allows the firm to take on large offline home dÃ©cor retailers in the country. Techcircle.in spoke with Srivatsa to understand the firm's plans. Edited excerpts:
The new funding comes just about nine months after the previous one. Did you burn all the cash?
Fundraising is a continuous process. This round is more of a strategic one for us and it happened when we saw a group of investors who we thought would fit into our philosophy at a time when there is a good traction to capitalise on the market conditions.
TR capital, which co-led the new round, is a new member on the board. It is quite new to the country as well. How did you connect with it?
Our existing investor Steadview Capital is based in Hong Kong. It introduced us to TR Capital, which is also a Hong Kong-based investment firm targeting investments in Asia. Its management team is very well connected to the European and Asian markets and we saw a lot of value on that front. We gelled well with its investment team and that led to it coming in as an investor.
How do you plan to use the capital raised through the latest round of funding?
The main focus is to expand our products and services to more cities, which we have been doing for the last six-seven months. The next focus is technology—we are focusing on innovations in customer experience, mobility, automation and analytics. We are trying to offer a new customer experience, helping customers get a sense of our products. We believe a lot of innovation needs to happen in this space. Mobility is getting a big push. Customers are doing a lot of discovery, exploration and transactions via mobile. Once we have the right products, services and technology in place, we would want to enable a marriage of these aspects to bring out greater results. Our aim is to invite the customer to give us the key to his/her house so that we can design and furnish an extremely beautiful house and give the key back to the customer in just three weeks through a tech-enabled process.
Can you run us through your expansion plan?
We expect to touch revenue of Rs 600-700 crore this year. We are looking at reaching at least 30 cities by the end of 2015.
How has the growth been so far?
We have grown around five-six times in the last 12 months. From a product perspective, we are adding a couple of cities every three weeks and are doubling our product catalogue every five months. In terms of people, we are doubling our headcount every four-five months.
From a tech perspective, what new aspects do you plan to add?
A lot of innovation needs to happen on the customer experience and the web (store) part. We are investing a lot on mobile technologies to provide a great experience on the core catalogue as well as on areas like visualisation, personalisation and app development. A bunch of innovations will come out on how customers interact with products on mobile and how customers engage with the brand on mobile. We are building a strong technology, user experience and product management team to look into these aspects. We are also looking at technologies such as ERP, GPS and RFID to automate and ensure smooth flow of information throughout the process without any manual involvement. Analytics is another key area of focus in terms of real-time data and dashboards. We now have a scale of data with which we will be able to gain a lot of inputs on buying patterns and personalisation can be done much more effectively with real-time analytics.
Many large horizontal firms have refrained from going big in the furniture space as logistics is a challenge. How have you handled the key pain points in the sector?
Logistics and delivery are crucial in the furniture category. It is important that the furniture is quality checked, delivered and installed at the customer' home. We started out with pan-India operations in July 2012 but quickly rolled back to three cities with a trained delivery and logistics team because we didn't want the customer experience to suffer. We are now present in 12 cities and will expand to 30 cities by the end of 2015 with our trained logistics team.
Some of the vertical e-com players are either being bought out by large offline players or horizontal e-com ventures. Is that the future of home decor e-tailers? There is a huge market opportunity in the online home decor space. The market is big enough for several players to survive if they can offer unique products and great customer service.
(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)