Here are excerpts of our conversation with Nirogam.com Founder and CEO, Puneet Aggarwal.
Q. What prompted you to get into e commerce right after the dot com bubble burst in 2000?
A. Entrepreneurship and e commerce happened accidentally to me. I was working as a web developer and simply helping out a client to market one of their organic products across the world when she asked whether I would want to make it into a business. What followed was a portal where we started selling some ayurvedic medicines, which later took shape of Nirogam, a health and wellness online destination.
Q. Most e commerce startups are shutting down in their first few years of operation in India. What made you sustain over 17 years?
A. Being lean is the one thing which made us sustain and grow. No fancy hiring, no fancy offices, no unrealistic expansion plans. Simple business, based on profits and not GMVs is what clicked.
Q. You have served customers from over 100 countries over time. How did you manage to spread word so far and wide without too much marketing?
A. We did marketing where and when required. We did everything right from banner ads to PPC to facebook ads and more, but never overspent. We focused on returns and stopped investing in mediums where we were not being able to draw profits. We heavily invest in email marketing and think it is one of the most under hyped mediums. In addition to all this, we reach out to many customers through marketplaces like amazon.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in your entrepreneurial journey?
A. I think the journey of each entrepreneur is full of multiple professional and personal challenges. Of the ones I can recount, adapting to changing market conditions, scaling up and sensitising people about the field of Ayurveda are the toughest ones I faced.
Q. Has Nirogam diversified over the years or is the business model the same as when it started?
A. Adapting and pivoting are crucial in today’s times. While we started off by selling a particular product, we have since grown in our offerings and what we stand for. This year itself, we remodelled our business and now offer multiple services like online counselling, panchakarma, corporate workshops for stress reduction among certain other health related solutions.
Q. Do you offer these yourself or have you tied up with external partners for the same?
A. Some of the services we offer are managed in house while we have empanelled select partners to help us with others. The focus is on delivering quality over unnatural scaling up. We still stick to our primary motto of staying lean.
Q. Baba Ramdev and Patanjali are riding high on the Ayurvedic and Make in India wave. How do you look at that vis a vis companies like yours.
A. I feel while Yoga and Ayurveda has been around forever, there has quite been nobody like Baba Ramdev who has brought these things to the forefront at such a massive scale. Our entire industry is proud to have an evangelist in him and it is a strong push for the Make in India initiative. Ayurveda, natural and home grown products will only find an even wider acceptance because of Patanjali.
Q. What would your advice be to new startups?
A. Focus on making money over raising money. While investments help businesses grow, but businesses need to first focus on growing on their own before seeking external funding. Also, companies must try and do more with less. Whatsapp was built by just 50 engineers, we don’t need 500 for all companies we create.
Q. How important is to have mentors in a business?
A. Very very important. A good mentor and no mentor may be all the difference between one’s success and failure. I am blessed to find some of the best mentors and constantly reach out to them to seek advice and take corrective action.