Home > Internet > Here is why Snapdeal’s Kunal Bahl didn’t start a movie booking site; Plus his success secrets


Here is why Snapdeal’s Kunal Bahl didn’t start a movie booking site; Plus his success secrets

Kunal Bahl, co-founder and CEO of Snapdeal, initially wanted to start an online movie booking site and had registered the domain name moviebooking.com for the same. Those were the days before BookMyShow. “I had all my plans laid out to start moviebooking.com. But when we actually worked out the details, we came to know that there was hardly any margin in the business and didn’t go ahead with it,” said Bahl, while sharing the seven pivots or tipping points that turned his business to what is today at the recently held VCCircle Angel Investment Summit.

Pivot #1: Let’s do something no one’s done before

So the first pivot or turning point came when Bahl scrapped the movie ticket booking biz and came out with restaurant deal vouchers in a tearable booklet form. “The first thought behind the deal voucher business was to do something which nobody had done before,” explained Bahl. Although he had signed up some 150 restaurants, selling that booklet or distributing it was really difficult. Also, people were not too keen about paper booklets which are easily perishable (or get lost easily). Neither was it taken very seriously in the  market. So here was Bahl facing another dilemma – what to do with the deals already signed up and how to make it work?

That’s when he brought in the scratch cards. A user could scratch it and send the code to a mobile  number  to receive deals on his/her handset. It was the second pivot in the business and it brought in hundreds of  thousands of users in a couple of weeks. “But again, we were not very sure as it was a free model. After all, we wanted to monetise the business,” said Bahl.

Pivot #2: Let’s reduce the friction in user experience

From there on, came the third pivot, which was to make plastic cards (in the credit  card format) and  people had to buy them. But the moment he introduced this model, the user base declined  drastically. He still held on to it when the merchants  asked him to come online. “This was around  two years ago. Our merchants said that  others were also doing it and we should try it out as they  have the faith in us,” he informed.

Pivot #3: Let’s make money!

The fourth turning point in the Snapdeal story was not far behind. The company  piloted its portal while running its physical card business side by side. That was  when Snapdeal came into the picture actually.

Pivot #4: Internet works in India?

Initially, Snapdeal only featured daily deals but consumer feedback made him include more deals and region-specific deals as well – the fifth pivot, to be precise. “We realised that only daily deals won’t get us further; we will have to do more,” said Bahl.

Pivot #5: Just this won’t get us there, so let’s do more

But the biggest turning point came when the most happening deal site entered the products segment. Once again, Bahl said, consumers nudged him towards this direction. Based on their feedback, Snapdeal tested the general e-com market with one product a day to see if it would work and of course, it did!

Pivot #6: Can’t ignore what consumers ask for

Surprisingly, the last and the seventh pivot came out of Bahl’s China visit. When he was there, he realised the market potential and decided to scale up the products business further.

But what do entrepreneurs learn from it? The story clearly speaks of a never-say-die attitude and a focused approach. When one model didn’t work, Bahl didn’t shut shop and go home. And in spite of not-too-successful business models of the earlier days, his “excellent” relationship with merchants helped him sail through. Bahl concluded by saying that apart from conviction and focus, what’s really important for a startup is to have people who are adaptable to change. After all, one can’t do away with change and flux in a startup venture. But for now, we wonder if Kunal Bahl would have pioneered a ‘BookMyShow’ kind of business, had he not changed his mind?

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)

10 Comments

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Sushant June 22, 2012 19:15

Snapdeal is a unique venture but is it profitably sustainable is the question. Taking shots at Bookmyshow.com is nothing but a dead beat publicity gig.
Pioneering the e-ticketing business??
“If Kunal Bahl could have done it, Kunal Bahl would have done it.”

Rakesh June 23, 2012 11:22

why is this assumed that his 7th pivot is successful? I think they are doing an equally bad job of this one as they did for all previous ones…recently, i clicked on a snapdeal link from junglee.com and there were three windows asking for city, email, and something else before i could reach the product page…i think he will have to do 70 more pivots before something works out for him…regarding his comment on bookmyshow thin margins, obviously he couldn’t foresee that people will be willing to pay convenience fee..no understanding of indian consumer whatsoever….

Sameer Khandelwal June 23, 2012 11:51

Writing on the wall? Daily deals is a dead-end business, unsustainable on its own. E-comm (products) is the model that the 150+ deal sites will eventually adapt. Does this mean the daily deal bubble has burst in India?

Aman June 24, 2012 15:12

Why do you write about people like kunal bahl, gaurav kachru, Harish bahl, pearl uppal, etc etc. ?? We are not learning anything from them and they are not our inspiration. These ppl are not innovators, they are cloners. And if i was an investor, i would have bet on bookmyshow.

Jasmine Fernandez June 25, 2012 9:18

Oh well, then I guess that the commentators here are experts> Uh! Sameer, Sushant, Rakesh – How many pivots do you even have in your whole life to say that e-commerce won’t work?

For those who said that there were three windows before reaching the product page, please open your eyes wide while surfing. It clearly says ”Skip” which was a click away for your to reach to the desired page. On the other end, without knowing your city, It doesn’t make sense to service a client.

I think you all are those set of users who ideally wont give your waist size, fit preferences & other details to a store staff in a apparel shop & demand instant service, what a crap!!

As far as the model is concerned, People like Kunal & more importantly the investors are not fools to inject millions of dollars in this business without thinking. They have much bigger & better brains than you guys who are sitting & putting up comments – a no brainer activity! Kunal has also not commented on bookmy show’s business or margins. He has expressed his reasons for not choosing that business as ideal & thats about it.

I dont discount the fact that the business has its own challenge, but then which sector doesn’t? Brick & Mortar is also a dead end business in the current market scenario, clearly that is why each & every brand is setting up their online shop (Check any brand & they have a online store) recent one being Croma!!

You should also respect the fact that Kunal has provided more than 1500 opportunities for people in India to work & earn money, many of those could be your family & friends as well. I guess some of your would have been either fired, rejected in an interview or simply belong to a competition business going for suckers against Snapdeal’s outstanding leadership in this space – Well!!! Keep lossing & really enjoyed your comments here.

Aroos June 25, 2012 14:22

It’s an interesting read, a little encouraging for a change. I have been a tired of seeing all the negativity around eCommerce recently and thanks to weak research and strong sentiments even in journalism today. Having said that, it is not about eCommerce or deals, it is about how you manage the business, ramp it up successfully and eventually make profits. While all (seemingly successful) models in India have been built on marketing and not any real value proposition, these stories remain stories and rarely become success stories over a time period. I don’t think most models including some of the big boys will survive beyond 2015 considering their burn rate (Mktng, salaries, inventories, logistics set-up and smart offices). Whatever happened to the lala, marawari or gujju style of doing business…profitability. It is good to lose to get some but it is suicidal to lose, to lose more and then put some more money behind bad money. Success should be measured by customer satisfaction, is their an index to measure it? How would you read into 30 days money back guarantee and COD, the only 2 points where everyone seems to be taking the high ground and foolishly creating negativity in the mind of shoppers that you will need replacement, I advise them to hire intelligent marketing professionals who can advise on positives of shopping online. Does a customer buy to return..always or always want to buy on Cash? Snapdeal has been smarter of the lot by not creating own logistics infra or warehousing, for a change glad to see a marketplace model succeeding. Snapdeal in my view has the best chances of pull it off really well.

Sushant June 26, 2012 16:21

@Jasmine – No offense girl! I didnt say squat about the pivots, all I said was that your capability to do something is judged by the application of that capability and not by boasting it when the moment has passed. I still maintain what I stated:

1) the business model of snapdeal is flawed (not wrong) and
2) Undermining a profit making company like bookmyshow.com would only generate short lived publicity at both professional and personal level. Snapdeal historically has been a client of Bookmyshow and referencing it time and again in a derogatory manner is unprofessional at many levels.

Again, no doubt snapdeal is a unique company, I firmly believe that rise in ecommerce platforms backed by strong brand names (e.g. amazon’s jabong) and their competitively priced products will definitely exploit that flawed business model. It’ll have to evolve or just get to the back of the long line.

P.S. BTW, Very informative and nicely put argument up there! :)

Sushant June 26, 2012 16:29

@Jasmine – One last thing, I haven’t been fired or rejected (hope that continues).I have worked with international organizations, MNCs , volunteered for NGOs and very much conscious about the shift in business trends and preferences and deserve a similar freedom of expression as you have. Please don’t pass harsh statements on a personal level. Lets take it out on the topic, seems quiet engaging that way!

Sahad P V June 27, 2012 22:32

Folks, to clarify this better. Kunal never mentioned Bookmyshow. He just said he didnt get into movie booking business because of low margins. It’s another matter Bookmyshow innovated on this and started charging a convenient fee.
So there is no mention of Bookmyshow in his speech.

Roshan September 24, 2012 20:28

Well Snapdeal have come a long way and has scaled they changed their strategies as per the market demands. They moved to become a ecommerce portal from a pioneered coupon site and they sustained are doing well. Question again is are they making in profit in their books but will definitely grow bigger and break even soon.

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