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In a discussion moderated by Brian Carvalho, Editor of Forbes India, Mr. Vipul Parekh, Co-founder of BigBasket, talks about how he built a brand that not only survived but thrived during the pandemic by starting an online grocery business ahead of its time, connecting with farmers on a grassroots level. Mr. Sachin Chawla, Head of DNB India and South-East Asia at AWS, also shares his insights on the role of technology in the growth of DNBs, leadership, and tackling the COVID-19 crisis. The Inception and Journey of BigBasket
What started with a group of five people back in the 1990s as Fab Mart and later became BigBasket in 2011, Vipul Parekh shares his plans from back then and the lessons that came in handy when launching Big Basket. He says, “We are the perfect example of the saying- Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
In 1999, there was massive momentum and talk about how the Internet would expand and how many digital broadband services and dial-up lines would be running. It was still very early, but we learned a lot about the customers. They were happy with online deliveries and would wait for 20 minutes to finish their groceries, as against now- when they have no patience. Although customers loved shopping online, we realized the base of customers coming online was still small. That sparked the idea of shifting from an online retailer to an offline retailer.”
Talking about the shift from online to offline, Vipul shares the challenges they faced in setting up a physical store. “We did not know how to run a physical store owing to our tech backgrounds. But, we built the business of Fab Mall based on first principles. Our background helped us in inventory control, customer experience, better assortment, better fill rates, and more. The biggest experience was building the tech and supply chain stack from scratch.”
On consumer behaviour, raising capital, and growing an offline business
“We learned a lot about customer behaviour since we saw them buy groceries physically; very different from the western countries. We knew how to grow this business since we had started online, and that’s how it went. When raising capital, we had a very celebrated investor to whom we made the pitch. And halfway through, he fell asleep. That’s when we realized how hard it would be. But overall, it's been an amazing journey.
The biggest realization for us was when we launched in Bangalore; we could not build capacity fast enough to meet customer demands. That’s when we realized this would work, and customers would buy offline. We had fresh fruits and vegetables from day one- something that people would not buy online.”Role of AWS in building a robust and cost-effective platform for Big Basket
Sachin Chawla, India head of DNB at AWS, shares his insights on the impact of COVID on the grocery sector and his role in managing the new highs in traffic. He said, “Different businesses had unique patterns. Some saw enormous demand; some struggled.
For example, Big Basket saw a surge in demand by almost 6x. We quickly huddled to help them meet this peak. The good thing was Big Basket’s ongoing journey from a monolith app to microservices-based architecture. The team sped up this journey- with containerization, auto-scaling, and up-time, and that helped.”
Technology is at the forefront of farming, the base for your groceries. Big Basket’s Farmers Outreach Program has also helped grow this market. Online retail today stands at 5-6%. But, by 2030, we hope to see it grow to almost 20%. There’s a long way to go for this market; we’ve just scratched the surface.
Stay tuned for more insightful conversations!
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