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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Building India’s Leading Social Commerce Platform

Neha Suyal
Neha Suyal
May 24, 2022
Category of startup
e-Commerce
Country of startup
India
Revenue of startups
No Data
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Building India’s Leading Social Commerce Platform

Neha Suyal
Neha Suyal
May 24, 2022
Category of startup
e-Commerce
Country of startup
India
Cause of failure of the startup

Woovly is a social commerce platform for lifestyle products. Through word of mouth, the company has been growing 30%/month. Here’s how.

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Hi Neha! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

‍I am Neha Suyal, and I am changing the way small towns and cities of India discover fashion, beauty, and lifestyle products.

Woovly, based in Bangalore, India, is my first entrepreneurial venture. It is India’s leading social commerce platform for fashion, beauty, personal care, and lifestyle products that help customers to shop via AI-driven brand-tagged user-generated content. 

As a qualified Computer Science engineer, I have extensive experience building open-source technologies. I left a well-paying job with HP India in 2015 to join the Stanford Ignite program on Entrepreneurship and Leadership, where I met J. Venkat, my co-founder.

After completing the program, I went on to work with Quess Corp., Venkat’s earlier venture, to understand the business and improve its business metrics.

After working on various Telecom and managed services projects for two years at Quess, I decided to take the plunge as an entrepreneur in 2017 and finally founded Woovly, an adventure experience platform with Venkat in 2019. In 2020, during the pandemic, Woovly pivoted to social commerce for lifestyle products. 

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I studied Computer Science Engineering at a Regional Engineering College in Uttarakhand and built my career and expertise at HP, working on open-source technologies. I never had to look far for an idol. 35 years ago, my mother founded the only school in my hometown and continues to run it today. I draw inspiration from my mother’s undying spirit to take on challenges and overcome all odds to fulfill her dreams.

In 2015, I met my co-founder at Stanford, and the idea of Woovly was seeded. We discovered we had a shared interest in studying and predicting consumer buying behavior and our belief that buyers were increasingly tending towards discovering products and brands online rather than offline. 

After the short-term program, I returned to India and worked for two years at Quess Corp. As a part of my responsibilities, I traveled extensively across small towns and cities termed the Tier II and Tier III cities in India and realized that the young population had aspirations to achieve the lifestyle of their peers in Urban India or the Tier I cities. I recognized a latent need for a platform that would allow them to fulfill their ambitions. Later on, when we finally decided to go down the entrepreneurial path, this learning and our faith in online brand discovery led us to social commerce and Woovly.

How did you build Woovly?

During my trips to various Tier II and Tier III towns while working with Quess, I discovered that the youth living there were hard-working and ambitious and wanted to consume lifestyle products too. This made me realize this segment's consumption behavior, which ultimately laid the foundation of Woovly.

I quit Quess in 2017, and Venkat joined me in 2019. We started Woovly as an adventure experience platform but pivoted to social commerce for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle products during the pandemic. 

Our biggest challenge came in early 2020. When the pandemic struck, we had just started getting heavy traction and had over a million users. But travel came to a standstill, and we had to think on our feet to transform ourselves. Our experience with making the perfect blend of content, community, and commerce came in handy and we decided to serve it as a unified experience on our app; this time with fashion, beauty, and lifestyle products.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

When we started building our business, we were very clear that we did not want to go the social media advertisements route for promotions. We devised our own growth hack since we wanted to grow organically.

For the first 1000 users, we directly reached out, spoke to them, and shared the value proposition. We aimed to make them our ambassadors or brand loyalists who could advocate our brand to their communities. They, in turn, reached out to college students who wanted to be influencers and content creators and brought them on board.

As we began to grow, we also tied up with placements cells of Management Colleges and picked students who wanted to become content creators. Over time, we tied up with 1000 such colleges and 10,000 students. This had a powerful network effect and we were able to make our mark among youngsters organically without spending our resources on costly advertisement campaigns. They became micro and nano influencers with their own groups of followers and we had our community of advocates and loyalists. It was our greatest and most successful marketing strategy.

To date, 72% of our users have been acquired organically i.e., through word of mouth. 61% of our revenue is from these micro and nano influencers.

Woovly Meetup 1

What are your goals for the future?

In the near term, we aim to grow the number of D2C brands featured on our platform by 400% and expand to 4 categories to bring lifestyle products to our users. India is a country of diverse languages, and we aim to reach out to our users in their own language, i.e., vernacular languages.

As per our research, our target audience makes close to Rs. 25000 every month. We hope that by the end of the year, each content creator on the Woovly platform will be able to supplement their income by at least Rs. 12000 per month, on average. This is about 50% of their average monthly income and would help them fulfill their ambition to have a better lifestyle. Our target is to capture 15% of the $100B social commerce market in the next 5 years.

Through the Woovly Creator Academy, we hope to train more young girls across Tier II and Tier III cities so that they can prepare and shoot video content. They can become micro and nano influencers and when they create content and build their community as micro and nano influencers, they get the opportunity to earn a livelihood or supplement their income through incentives on our platform. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced and obstacles you overcame?

Though our business was in a healthy state and we were growing, when Covid hit, we as founders had to take a call on our future. Though it was an unforeseen challenge, we took it positively. Our approach was to work with our core principles and business premise, yet transform to stay relevant and maintain our growth. This move has held us in good stead as we saw 600% growth in our user base in the next 18 months.

The other challenge that I personally, as a women entrepreneur, faced was the unconscious bias around. There are skeptics everywhere - including family, friends, and even peers. Especially because I hail from a small town (Tier III in India), when I quit my job to start my own venture, no one agreed with my decision. It was considered too risky as I was expected to go the conventional route of holding on to a typical day job.

However, with Woovly growing rapidly and setting new benchmarks, I am happy to note that young women find my journey inspirational to start their ventures. 

Woovly Meetup 2

Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?

While scaling up, we needed a lot of skilled resources and that’s where I think I fumbled. When the ask was to hire fast, I took a lot of time to hire new talent. When new hires did not perform, I waited too long to let them go, giving them multiple opportunities to come up the curve. In some ways, the slow learners and poor performers slowed down our growth. But very soon, it made me realize that it wasn’t the ideal way to grow. I learned to keep my emotions aside and take tough decisions when necessary.  

Another disadvantage we faced was that we were in unchartered territory. Since social commerce as a concept is still in its early phase in India, we had no benchmarks or standards to measure against. There was nobody to share insights into the industry and we just experimented and built as we progressed. 

If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?

Building Woovly has been exciting and enjoyable. I look back at my journey as an immense learning experience. Every obstacle, disadvantage, and challenge have taught me new lessons and I have treated them as learning opportunities. So, there is nothing I would want to do differently. 

What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

I am an avid reader and love to read on diverse topics related to business, entrepreneurship, and consumer behavior. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely is my go-to book for understanding consumer buying behavior.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more from our website, app and my LinkedIn profile.

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