A true market leader, whether company or brand, captures the meaning of its segment and replaces it with its own.
When you want to buy a portable MP3 player, you automatically think of iPod. Think eBook reader and Kindle comes to mind, and of course online search isn’t even online search anymore. It’s googling.
If you reckon this to be a new phenomenon that is restricted to new players or only the technology sector, think again. It wasn’t until Red Bull was brought to market that we started consuming ‘Energy Drinks’. Similarly, it wasn’t until Louis Vuitton exemplified luxury luggage that we started aspiring for their monogrammed leather bags which are synonymous with high-end traveling.
How have these brands, young and old, managed to build undisputed credibility in their categories? In many cases, a first mover advantage helps to establish the name, but it takes a lot more to be the ultimate go-to destination for a product or service and successfully remain there.
When I started icustommadeit.com, I was simply motivated by the idea of bringing unique, custom made creations to a wider audience. Along the way, I also wanted to change the perception that bespoke goods cost a lot of money or are too complicated to buy online. I felt it was important that people at scale have an accessible and affordable option of buying products that represent who they are, instead buying mass-produced, generic looking items.
At that point of time, there was no major player taking on this challenge. Not surprising, given the fact that it’s a completely unorganized and fragmented market. Indian entrepreneurial landscape is very unique in that we build great second, third and fourth companies but are seldom the first ones to take on uncharted territories. Perhaps having it ingrained in us from a very young age that failure is the worst thing that could happen, we often need proof of success to proceed on the road less traversed.
Unfortunately this line of thinking has also infested the VC mindset, compelling them to seek tried and tested business models before empowering startups with growth capital. To quote Chamath Palihapitiya - Sri Lankan war refugee, early Facebook employee, investor in Slack and Box, part owner of the Golden State Warriors, “If we are in fact in the early stages of a second tech collapse, venture capitalists have only their own mediocre, clubby selves to blame. They should focus on using capital as a way to take really big bets on things that just seem totally audacious. Right now we haven’t done enough of that, and the result is that most of the things we’ve funded are mostly crap and largely worthless.”
I was lucky to find like-minded Angel Partners who have a bigger and broader vision. So by default, icustommadeit.com when it was launched last year, became the first custom products’ ecommerce marketplace in India. Now almost ten months down the line, we still maintain this position. There are many of the same fragmented players in customization space spread across different categories and specialties, but there is no direct and integrated competition for us.
In many ways the obstacles we chose to surmount became our strengths. Our two years of intensive market study and database building has created a barrier to entry for anyone who wants to construct an across the board platform for customization today.
When it comes to custom made products, the rules that apply to regular e-marketplaces don’t apply. Customers that patronise the bespoke industry have different and might I say, higher expectations regarding what they buy and the service that accompanies it. Naturally, our team, technology and product offerings needed to be at par. Apart from hosting a curated collection of customizable goods from carefully vetted creators across a gamut of lifestyle categories, we also needed to differentiate and elevate ourselves in terms of the shopping experience on a whole.
Consequently, we improvised on the usual customer service standards to form a team of CHO’s (Customer Happiness Officers) who specialise in the products/categories they handle at icustommadeit. For instance, one of or top grossing categories of modified motorcycles is handled by CHO’s who are not only hard-core biking enthusiasts but also hold certifications in the field. The process of customization requires communication with buyers to educate and inform them on their purchases. Our CHO’s need to not only do that, they should be able to answer technical questions ranging from manufacturing to costing of the product.
Similarly, our online platform needed to support this direct and open communication between buyers and creators, not only in text form but also images and other file formats. Creators are required to send images of their custom projects at every stage of development so that buyers are kept appraised and can approve the design. That’s how the Internal Messaging System came about, a tool that allows clear communication within the icustommadeit platform and maintains a record of all exchanges, which may be required in case of a disagreement.
Claiming a position and consistently staying there require two different set of skills.
In a fast changing business scenario, no single brand or organization is secure. Tomorrow, a new company could enter this space to contend for a slice of the pie and contrary to common perception, as a market leader we cannot be complacent. However our years’ of experience in the niche, valuable archive of data and a leader’s reputation certainly gives us an edge to remain miles ahead in the customization space - to become and remain a brand that is synonymous with all things personalized and custom made. Needless to add, finding synergy with VC’s who share this vision is crucial to us and goes hand-in-hand with our goal of annihilating all future competition in this segment.
Rajh is a serial entrepreneur with ventures in knowledge process outsourcing, hospitality, retail, IT and e-commerce. He has over 25 years of corporate experience and expertise in key roles of leadership, strategy, planning & management. Rajh is especially skilled at developing new profit centers within scheduled timelines and costs while ensuring operational efficiencies through long-term strategic planning. His core expertise includes delivering customized and cost-effective solutions to meet the operational and financial goals of the organization and its stakeholders. Rajh holds an MBA in Marketing from the University of Mumbai.