INSIGHTS Podcast Series — #3: Learning from a Failure: The Making of Swiggy (Part 1 of 2)
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference…”
- Robert Frost
Every entrepreneur’s journey is different with his/her own share of highs and lows, but what binds each one of them is the passion to commit and the ‘never-say-no’ attitude. At Accel, we are proud to have associated with such go-getters, whose journeys are motivating life lessons for many new and upcoming entrepreneurs. Here, we are sharing one such inspirational founder’s origin story.
Started in August 2014, the food ordering and delivery startup today has more than 5,000,000 mobile application installations and has become the household name for anyone and everyone who wants to order-in food. Tying up with more than 25,000 restaurant owners, Swiggy today has its own fleet of local delivery boys with operations in 13 cities of India, including Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and more. While their story today looks impressive, but the founder’s success wasn’t achieved overnight and there were a few roadblocks on the way.
Coming from a background of entrepreneurs, Sriharsha (Harsha) Majety, founder and CEO of Swiggy says, “Entrepreneurship was always in my blood. My father runs a restaurant in Vijayawada and plans to invest in the hospitality sector and my mother is a doctor by profession and has her own clinic. She is also planning to start her own chain of beauty parlors. Seeing my family members being in charge and taking control of what they do was an inspiration from early years.” says Harsha
He also credits his journey to his stint pursuing an Engineering degree at BITS Pilani, where he got an opportunity to meet people from different background and cultures. “I think those were my formative years. Unlike other colleges, Pilani never forced students with attendance, which gave us a lot of time to pursue our passions. I met a lot of people and dabbled in a lot of passions like quizzing, photography and travel.”
Being a travel buff, Harsha went on a lot of backpacking trips across South-East Asia and Europe. His traveling pursuits taught him a lesson or two about the world, which has also helped in his entrepreneurial journey. He understood that how people didn’t get stuck in the rat race and were curious to try new things. In one of his backpacking trips, Harsha realized how to tackle failures and unpreparedness with calmness and patience. “I went on a bicycle trip across Portugal and was not at all prepared for the weather conditions. I was exhausted, stranded and on the verge of giving up on the trip. I was helped by my holiday host, who took me in and helped instill the confidence back to continue the journey. I was under a lot of pressure and he just told me that if I can’t cycle uphill then I should hitch a ride uphill and cycle only downhill. Which made a lot of sense then. He also made me understand that it was okay to pause and take a break and think about the long-term goal and not the short-term failures.”
All these formative incidents have shaped Harsha and even today he thinks that the issues of short-term can be resolved by not trying to put too much pressure and thinking about the long-term goals. “I think I have tried to apply the Zen approach in life to the extent possible and this has been immensely helpful in gaining some composure. That whole trip was about 3 months of cycling which was about 4,000 kms by myself from Portugal to Turkey.”
Being an Entrepreneur
According Harsha, one personality trait that has shaped him as an entrepreneur is stubbornness. “I was really stubborn about doing things that excited me and was ready to commit myself to it,” he says.
This is one of the reasons why he choose to give up campus placements and take one-year gap before joining IIM-Calcutta.
The travellerin him got excited when he got an opportunity to work as trader at an investment bank in London. “London was exciting, but the job wasn’t and halfway through the year I figured out that I needed to find more exciting things to do with my life so I took the hard decision of leaving London and choosing to come back to India with no plan in mind. But I was sure of one thing that whatever I was going to do in India was a long and hard commitment,” says Harsha.
“In this journey of entrepreneurship, I was only very stubborn about loving what I was doing, when I left UK I was sure that this is the only route. I was happy to work with early startups if they would hire me. But, as luck would have it none of my circle was closely involved in starting up at that time. Hence, I had no other option but to dive in myself,” he adds.
On Taking the Plunge
For Harsha the inspiration came from Phanindra Sama, Founder of RedBus. In 2006, when Sama discussed his venture plans of going public, Harsha thought it was a crazy idea. But after returning to India he saw the growth of RedBus, which instilled the idea of taking the plunge.
He started meeting and discussing ideas with Nandan Reddy (Co-founder, Swiggy) and both saw a huge opportunity in the E-commerce industry with successful platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, e-Bay and more. One thing both were sure off, was doing a business that is a mix of technology jobs as well as offline jobs.
“We thought that we will find that competitive advantage by being not just a pure software company or not just a pure offline company,” adds Harsha
They realized the potential in the unorganized logistics and shipping sector within the E-commerce industry and here was born their first venture, Bundl in August 2013.
“We realized that a lot of small and medium E-commerce companies either had their own websites and were trying get more traffic or were selling on places like eBay, Flipkart, Amazon, etc. We considered it and figured out that all of them wanted to manage shipping, but they didn’t even know how to get in touch with Blue Dart or FedEx. This is when we came with a vision to democratize shipping, of course, it was not limited to that, but it was a start. We wanted to ensure that not just a vendor but also a consumer could find the fastest way to ship something from Salem to Darjeeling. For that if we had to involve small services like DTDC, or regional services along with Blue Dart and FedEx, we were okay with it. We just wanted to build that network and make that transaction possible. That is how we started. That is when I decided to come to Bangalore because all the action was happening here,” says Harsha.
Things didn’t run as smoothly with Bundl as Harsha and Nandan has expected. They needed a technology co-founder for bringing our vision to reality. According to Harsha, finding the right technology co-founder is crucial for every startup and that is where everyone struggles. “It wasn’t easy (to find a technology partner) as none of my friends were ready to take the risk and finally I had to resign to reality and got a contractor to build the product.”
By the time they came out with their product, the market dynamics had drastically changed. Platforms like Flipkart and E-bay decided to ship the product by themselves, which made the market smaller.
“That’s when we knew that we had to change our focus and it wasn’t worth the opportunity cost. Thankfully, we didn’t have any employees, investors and liabilities at that time,” says Harsha.
They shut down the operations of Bundl within a year.
Failures are Experiences in Disguise
After shutting down their first venture, Harsha was still not convinced that this was the end of their entrepreneurial journey. Instead he started looking out for other opportunities and how he can convert his lessons into something fruitful.
He says, “Our experience in Bundl made us realize that the logistics companies were pathetic at utilizing technology to help their business. We took that as a cue and wanted to start another venture with intersection of technology and logistics. We didn’t want any aggregators and build a logistics company that utilized technology to create customer delight.”
They also saw that by this time technology was making things work with a push of a button. Ola and Uber gaining success through their on-app booking, made them realize the potential of hyperlocal delivery and that was the genesis of Swiggy.
“There was no large company with ideas similar to ours and hence we saw a competitive advantage of building a hyper local delivery platform that moved things fast in the city,” adds Harsha.
A result of the founders’ dedication and persuasion, within four years of its inception, Swiggy has turned out to be a successful hyperlocal delivery platform and a household name for online food delivery.
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In Part II of the Swiggy Story next week, we will dive deeper into the fascinating story of how Harsha recruited the third co-founder and an early startup team and started scaling Swiggy. And some of his key learnings from the early days that can be very helpful to first time founders.
If you would like us to cover any specific topics or dive deeper into particular questions, please do share them with us via twitter @Accel_India
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