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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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)