(From left) Sameer Kalra, Co-Founder & Chief Growth Officer with Tarun Lawadia, Founder & CEO, PumPumPumTarun Lawadia has always been ahead of time. Well, this is what the track record of IIT-Bombay graduate suggests. In 2011, Lawadia started his career as a derivatives analyst, a profession which was largely obscure a decade ago. Three years later, he joined Chaayos as head of operations. For the tea retail chain, it was still early days. In FY15, Chaayos had a limited presence with seven outlets, and consumers were warming up to the idea of ordering branded tea. After spending over a year, Lawadia turned entrepreneur by co-founding Pluss—a mobile app for medicine deliveries—along with Atit Jain and Madhulika Pandey in June 2015.Lawadia’s struggle with finding the ‘perfect timing’ continued. Six years ago, the concept of online delivery of medicine was niche, consumer awareness and intent to shun offline medicine stores were quite low, and scaling the business at a rapid pace was a big ask and task. Over a year later, in November 2016, Pluss was acquired by much bigger rival Netmeds. After working with the new owner for under a year, Lawadia spent another year as entrepreneur-in-residence at T9L, India’s first startup studio, again not a widespread idea. As destiny would have it, Lawadia bumped into another business venture which was much ahead of its time in 2018: Used-car leasing. While the market for used cars was growing at a healthy pace and had seen a bunch of players making a dent, used-car leasing was still at a primitive stage. What egged Lawadia in taking the plunge, though, was having Sameer Kalra as co-founder of PumPumPum, a used-car leasing startup which was rolled out in 2018, and started operations a year later. Kalra’s rich experience in leasing business—he has had stints with Clix Capital Services, Leaseplan India and Avis India—meant that PumPumPum would not only have a headstart but would also be in a better position to navigate the teething challenges to begin with. The hypothesis was bang on. The fledgling startup did have a promising start. PumPumPum posted a revenue of Rs 28 lakh in the first fiscal—FY20. Three months later, in July 2020, the startup raised Rs 2.2 crore in a seed round from Early Adapters Syndicate of LetsVenture.Sunitha Ramaswamy, president (early stage investments) at LetsVenture, explains what made the venture capital fund back the used-car leasing business. The trigger was a nascent, but strong, trend among millennials to opt for experiences over assets. “They want to experience driving a Polo. But they don’t want to own a Polo,” she underlines. What the market needed was a solution that could enable the younger generation to live their aspirations and experience them the way they like. With the leasing of used cars, the users are not paying for the erosion of the value—depreciation—in comparison to new cars. With players like Cars24 and CarDekho in the market, a layer of business can be built on top of it because some services and logistics are already present. “The user is renting a Polo instead of buying a WagonR out of his post-tax money,” she adds.PumPumPum’s initial ride, though, soon turned bumpy. The problem was not the absence of demand. “It was excess of demand,” recalls Lawadia. Why more demand turned into trouble was simply because of the business model, which was asset heavy. PumPumPum was buying used cars and then leasing them. As demand bloated, the pressure to buy more cars mounted, which in turn led to taking more debt from banks. As the inventory kept ballooning, the startup was finding it hard to break the vicious debt cycle.
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