Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
Rahul Anand, 38, founder and CEO, Hopscotch.in, a discovery-based e- commerce destination for moms, offering a wide range of curated children’s merchandise, was initiated into business while still in school. Years later, looking back on his early beginnings in the world of business, Anand is grateful for his interest in a family business that his father was involved in deeply.
When Anand thought of a career choice later, he knew that he had only two options, both linked with start-ups. Either start-up or join one. “That was what excited me,” says Anand, for after having worked in his dad’s firm and later with a start-up, he found these were the best places for someone of his temperament.
Naturally inclined to observe what his father was doing in a family business of manufacturing hand tools, Anand followed his father. His siblings, a brother and a sister, were not interested in the business. “Since I was keen, my dad allowed me to work in the factory during school vacations. Later, when I went to college, I worked on the shop floor,” he says.
As Anand showed his capabilities and eagerness in the business, his father helped him expand his wings. “I did not start off as the boss’s son. I worked hard and could depend on dad to guide me. Later, I travelled to small towns across India and met with distributors. Manufacturing is a difficult business. However, I understood in my interactions with distributors and clients what they did and cared about.”
In the long hours he spent at the factory after school and college hours was when Anand felt that his true calling was to be an entrepreneur. He went off to the US to do a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Operations and Mechanical Engineering from University of Michigan and then felt 'compelled’ to do an MBA to be equipped for an entrepreneurial career. “I was old at 30 years in class at Harvard Business School,” he says, but adds quickly, being a matured individual helped him to see things in perspective. “I did not have the herd mentality and do what the majority did after graduating from HBS,” he explains.
Starting off working for a start-up after his MBA, Anand then worked as a Director with a leading online portal for baby products based in New York – Diapers.com. The idea of Hopscotch germinated while Anand was working with diapers.com. It was launched in October 2012.
Identifying the need of Indian moms to provide the ‘absolute best’ for their children, Hopscotch.in set up operation with the aim to make international standard merchandise and variety accessible to mothers around the country.
The start-up soon caught the attention of mothers, says Anand. “There were some 50-60 brands available for children in India then and we launched 3,000 brands. The response was phenomenal and continues to be so. Even we did not expect it.”
The market size is estimated to be around $40 billion, of which a large chunk is unorganised. Of this, apparel penetration is barely 2 percent online.
Hopscotch’s business model focuses on a supply model where it sources products from vendors in 40 countries. It also has 70 in-house brands on the site. In India, outside of 6-8 cities, moms are selection starved, says Anand. The online market is geared to small towns. “Half of our business comes from small town and cities. Around 20 million moms in the country are starved for options and many come to our site,” says Anand. He feels one of the reasons for the start-up’s success is that 20 new collections are put up every day. “Moms are spoilt for choice,” he says.
Customers have dramatically gone up 7-fold, claims Anand. “Business has grown year on year and we have a high number of repeat customers who they come to the site 12-15 times a year.” An app was launched in the second half of last year which has one lakh users daily, says Anand.
It also provides a platform for mothers who are seeking to start-up their own business to showcase their offerings while enabling them to create successful brands for themselves.
When Anand came to India, he had a few misconceptions. “They were busted soon,” he says laughing. “We thought we would be catering to around two million moms and were surprised to know 20 million were looking for options for their children. Another fallacy of our's was to believe that moms in Mumbai and Delhi would be our major customers. We were surprised to find moms in Tuticorin and Aizawl and other far-flung areas shopping on the site. As millenials grow up, and later the women become moms, they will shop on their mobiles. The potential is huge," he says.
In 3.5 years, the company has raised a total capital of only $15 million (it raised $11 million Series B round in January 2015) and plans to raise the next round of around $30 million to $40 million in six months time. The funds raised will be used for marketing, technology and investments towards technology.
Life beyond work
“E-commerce is not a walk in the park,” says Anand, and his way of destressing is to wake up early, practice yoga to find 'peace of mind and be prepared for the day’. He has been learning the piano since he was in school. “I pursued it while I was in the US, but haven’t found the time for it now,” he says, with a hint of sadness at a favourite pastime being relegated to other priorities in his life. “I want to be home in the evening and be able to put my two year old to bed and spend time with my wife.”
For Hopscotch, that he and his co-founder named to evoke childhood memories of games, he wants its offerings to be emotionally appealing, and become the destination for moms. He refuses to think about the size or rank of the company in the sector. “There is more to life than numbers. I am interested in the journey where we will surely make mistakes and not everything will be perfect. But it should become an iconic brand.”