Flipkart: India's First eCommerce Giant
People around the world are mesmerized by Western entrepreneurs - we basically treat them like rockstars! However, this leaves us somewhat blinded to what has been happening in the East, where Asia's startup culture is going through a Silicon Valley-like booming period.
India, with it's 1.3 billion citizens, is now becoming one of the most profitable markets for young entrepreneurs, where they can easily create businesses able to compete with established tech giants.
The biggest success story in this region is Flipkart, India's very own garage startup that is now worth billions.
Founded in 2007 by two friends, Flipkart began with selling books on the internet. Their persistence and focus on customer experience allowed them to grow to where they are today - offering many products and services and making their service an integral part of everyday life in India.
The beginning of this company is a story that will inspire many young and brilliant minds out there, struggling to find the strength to turn their ideas into reality.
The Origin Story
Before starting the company, Sachin and Binny were just two friends sharing the same last name - Bansal. They met at IIT, Delhi as students of Computer Science Engineering and became inseparable friends in no-time, spending days discussing the opportunities technology gives young people to change the world.
It didn't take long for Sachin and Binny to realize they had the knowledge to build something from scratch, something that might get them to the top while improving the life of others.
In the beginning, they wanted to make a comparison-based shopping website which they could work on from home by writing code, but when Sachin and Binny did their research. The results were clear: if they wanted to be part of the e-commerce business in India, they could do it without breaking much of a sweat.
While doing the research, they also realized that two people working from home could overtake a large chunk of the market, as the existing businesses were behind in terms of deploying the newest technology.
Being skilled programmers with experience, and working for the most advanced e-commerce company in the world, the duo decided to go all in. Sachin and Binny took all the money they had saved up - $6000 - and put it into their Flipkart idea!
Confident they could provide much better service than their Indian competitors, the two friends joined efforts in creating a business that guarantees the best customer experience.
The Big Struggle
Like all startups, they faced several issues, especially with payments. While this wasn't a programming issue which could be solved overnight, it was an issue of trust: they were a new company with no name or credibility. They had trouble gaining the trust of the customers to give them their money before sending them the product they ordered.
Binny, being the communicative and people-oriented one, immediately began working on making Flipkart a recognizable and trusted brand. He started by improving the website's interface and deploying new marketing strategies.
But what they thought planned on flowing smoothly actually proved to be a challenge, and their marketing strategies were tweaked until the site gained minimal recognition.
Once they gained users' trust, they faced another challenge - delivery orders on time. Sachin and Binny were 100% committed to this project, so they did what any successful leader should do - hopping on a bike and delivering the orders themselves!
In 2007, they delivered 20 shipments, but in 2008, that number increased to 30-40 orders a day. It wasn't easy being both the logistic team and the CEOs of a company, but they did it successfully!
Around the same time, the team grew into five employees, which prompted them to move out of their apartment and open Flipkart's first official headquarters.
Although they had a base of operations, it didn't mean they were successful. In their first year, they sold 100 books per month on average - not much, but enough to help them grow.
Scaling the Business
Sachin and Binny held completely different ideas on how to run the business, meaning the company was led with two different perspectives in mind. What seemed like a clear incompatibility was actually the very thing that allowed Flipkart to grow and become the giant that it is today.
Binny's understanding of how people and markets work, coupled with Sanchin's ability to materialize ideas and concepts into working methods allowed the company to grow to a hundred employees by 2009.
With their minimal initial success bringing in similarly minimal profits, the two visionaries reinvested their money. In 2010, Flipkart bought WeRead from Lulu.com, a service that helped people choose the next book they'd want to read.
Living in a digital age where fewer and fewer people appreciate paper books, the Bansal team understood they would have to dive in digital distribution if they were to keep their rise to stardom.
A financial injection from a hedge fund helped Flipkart buy Mime360.com, a platform connecting publishers and writers. This move was crucial for Flipkart to hit the ground running in the world of digital publishing back in October of 2011. After Mime360.com, Flipkart bought Chakpak - an IMDb-like platform containing more than 10,000 Bollywood movies and 40,000 filmographies.
But Flipkart's expansion in the digital world was not yet finished. In February 2012, three months after acquiring Chakpak, Flipkart flexed their financial muscle once again and released Flyte - their own online music store.
This turned out to be a bad move for Flipkart as the market was distorted and unwelcoming - other streaming platforms weren't paying a dime in copyrights, so it was impossible for Flipkart to take Flyte off the ground and make it stand out among a bunch of similar services. Flyte was shut down the next year.
Taking Over the Fashion and Smartphone Market
The ongoing success of Flipkart attracted big investors, especially considering the potential of the ever-faster growing Indian e-economy. One of these was Softbank, the Japanese multinational conglomerate behind Vision - the largest tech-focused venture capital fund in the world. Sachin and Binny wanted to keep expanding the range of products sold through their platform, so in May 2012 they decided to make two more bold acquisitions.
With Softbank's help, Flipkart bought Letsbuy, an online electronics shop, and Myntra, the most popular online fashion retailer in India.
During the next two years, the company's sales kept growing, especially with electronics, which gave the Bansal duo an idea on how to take the success of Flipkart to the next level.
In 2014, the company raised its first billion dollars in funding, allowing them to improve on the services by introducing same-day guarantees, scheduled deliveries as well as new acquisitions and partnerships. The most successful of them was the one they established with Motorola, where Flipkart became the sole provider of their new smartphones.
Sachin and Binny knew the partnership would prove fruitful and didn't expect any immediate fireworks, but it paid out almost instantly: they managed to sell the 10,000 devices they had in stock in just 5 seconds. Yes, in a flash!
The website was down for the whole day after that.
In the next few years, Flipkart became the exclusive provider of other smartphone brands as well. Bit by bit, they managed to take a foothold on large parts of the smartphone market in India, cementing the notion that Flipkart was on its way to greatness.
The Big Billion
The brilliant ideas of Binny and Sachin didn't stop there. Their next big idea? The 'Big Billion Day' - a big sale event which brought $100 million in profits during the first 10 hours!
Each following year, the company doubled its profits with this event, putting Sachin and Binny on the world map and among the world's elite entrepreneurs. Their ingenuity and capability to put Flipkart in direct competition with Amazon were acknowledged, and ten years into running their company, both founders were now billionaires.
However, they were far from finished, continuing to work on the smallest problems to this day to ensure the best experience for the customers.
This customer-oriented approach wasn't profitable for them from the start. They started off by putting the profits back into the business and reinvesting them, which is why Flipkart turned no profit in its formative years.
By staying true to their principles they endeared themselves to all Indians, leading them to take over Amazon as the biggest e-commerce company in the country.
Joining Walmart's Family
Although Binny managed to attract investors several times, their ideas required financial backing, so they decided to sell the majority of the company.
Walmart beat Amazon to the punch, buying 77% of Flipkart for $16 billion on May 04, 2018.
Shortly after, Sachin left the company to venture in different sectors, while Binny stayed on the company's board to lead Walmart's conquest of India's bustling market.
Now, experts are saying that joining Walmart's big family gives Flipkart access to funds and other markets, which might turn out to be instrumental in their mission of becoming Asia's Amazon.
Will it happen? We'll see, but Flipkart's future is definitely bright, as they're expected to reach a value of $200 billion before 2030!