Advertisement

BrandSutra

Updated on: Monday, November 29, 2021, 12:03 AM IST

We have increased our overall ad spends by almost 60-70%: Ambareesh Murty

Great businesses are built on great execution: Ambareesh Murty |

Great businesses are built on great execution: Ambareesh Murty |

Advertisement

Ambareesh Murty, Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer, Pepperfry, is a diehard adventure aficionado, who built his Rs 2000 crore company – a leading online marketplace for furniture and home décor - on the three tenets of being ‘Indian, honest and fun’. Here, he recounts in his own words his eventful journey, and also talks about the upcoming IPO, using tech to blur the divide between online and offline and overall future plans

Growing up in Delhi…

I'm the son of a scientist from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in Delhi. Unfortunately, I lost my father when I was barely seven. My mother brought me up, along with my elder sister, instilling in us a very strong sense of independence and the courage to accept the consequences of our actions. She would allow us to do pretty much what we wanted, as long as the end result was achieved. It was great parenting. If I can be half the person that she was, I’d consider myself successful.

I went to school in Delhi, and did my engineering there. Later, I studied management at IIM, Calcutta, where I thrived on the Open System, which did not need you to attend classes, but asked you to spend your time in any way you thought was useful. For me, it was at the library, reading books of all genres.

In my first year of engineering itself, I had started giving tuitions in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics to Class XI and XII students to add to my pocket money. Soon, I realized that the bigger idea was to actually connect tutors and students. So, I started putting out ads in the Hindustan Times, Delhi Sunday edition, and earned a commission from the connects I would facilitate. That was my very first entrepreneurial venture.

Aim to be a VP at 30…

My first job was at Cadbury. I guess they thought Kerala would suit me, a South Indian, so I was sent to Kerala. But I was a South Indian born and brought up in Delhi. I did not know much of the South Indian languages. My stint in Kerala was as much a test of linguistics as it was of me being a good area sales manager, because I had to figure out the language as well! I then moved to marketing, and started off with new product development, and went on to handle the flagship brand, 5-Star. I learnt a lot, made a bunch of mistakes and was lucky to be supported by the company in spite of them. I later launched ‘Temptations’, ‘Bandhan’ for Rakhi. I moved to ICICI Prudential, the asset management company as their Head of Marketing and customer support, and made it my goal to be a VP in a fairly large organization before I turned 30. I became a VP at 29 and told myself that my fundamental career goal had been fulfilled! I moved on to Bangalore to work with Levi's, then quit the job to work on my own - I would empanel agents for the insurance and mutual funds industry and help them get certified by AMFI, IRDA, training them in soft skills, right ways of selling, etc. Then I would hand them over to the respective AMC or insurance company. We had operations in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore. I think it was an idea ahead of its time, and I eventually decided to come back to corporate life with eBay. Two years later, I became the Country Manager and CEO of eBay. I’d like to take credit for what eBay achieved in India at that point in time - local product development, features, and a site experience entirely made in India for India. We gained market-share, and eBay was a force to reckon with. I left the company in 2011 to start Pepperfry.

Indian, honest and fun…

I’d met Ashish Shah, my co-founder, at eBay, and we decided to set up Pepperfry. The story of Pepperfry actually started with three words we'd written on a whiteboard: Indian, honest and fun. We wanted to build a company which takes on everything that's good in India; we also wanted to be honest in everything we did, and we wanted to have fun along the way. We were in our mid-30s as we were turning entrepreneur, with reasonably successful corporate careers behind us. We came up with the name Pepperfry as pepper is the reason why the Western world discovered our trade routes in the first place. It's also a very honest spice. But the fun of it happens when you fry it! And that’s how Pepperfry was born.

In my entire journey, I have learnt that you're just as good as the people you work with. If you're fortunate enough to have great people working with you, you can achieve pretty much everything. The second thing I learnt was that a lot that happens in business is subjective. If you recognise patterns in what's happening around you and how one thing links with another, it can have a very positive impact for your business in the longer term. The third thing I learnt was that everything new that you do is new only till the time it's done. The final piece to all of this, that defines success in any sphere of life, is grit. What you do when the chips are down really defines you.

We stand for variety…

We are democratizing choice when it comes to the overall home and living space. Any customer with any kind of preference, any wallet size, can get something for their home on Pepperfry. Today, there are more than 1,00,000 curated items on Pepperfry and of them, 25,000 will be just furniture. Imagine a showroom with 25,000 pieces of furniture to choose from! As market leaders, we define the market, and the category. However, as we grow larger as a company, it is really important to retain the same ability to execute at the highest level, even with increasing scale. It's an ethos, a culture that gets built into the organization over time. I focus on the highest standards of execution. In India, strategy is important, but most great businesses are built on great execution.

The pandemic experience…

After the pandemic, people have become a lot more comfortable buying products online. The overall consciousness about home and living products has gone up significantly, thanks to so much time spent at home. Because of social distancing and other norms, people are more comfortable ordering readymade furniture, rather than getting it made by a carpenter in the house. All of these are great signs for the industry overall. Last year, there was a lot of purchase related to work from home. Now the trend is towards overall pieces of furniture to ensure that your home experience is the best. As a business, we are lucky that we own our supply chain. Our ability to ramp up and serve demand was much higher than anybody else's the moment supply chains opened, and we gained from that.

Future plans for Pepperfry…

I want to be the de facto starting point for all home and living purchases in India, period. Our mission was to spark a feeling called home across the world, and I will do everything possible to deliver to that mission. There are white spaces we've identified where we have invested heavily this year and we will continue to invest in future too - areas such as mattresses for good sleep as well as the entire modular furniture segments. From a technology standpoint, my goal is to blur the lines between online and offline - which means that if I could have a person see a product on the mobile phone and knock on it and feel exactly like they were knocking on wood and hear exactly like the wood sound would be. It means that a person would never need to see the piece of furniture in front of them in order to purchase it. Those are the kinds of investments we're making in virtual reality and augmented reality, using technology.

My life mantra….

Once in my childhood, I saw this magazine with the picture of a multicolored zebra on it. Zebras are normally supposed to be black and white. But this zebra had colourful stripes. Below it was a line that has stuck with me forever: ‘To be good is not enough when you dream of being great.’ I don't know who said it, but in everything I do, I try to do the best possible that I can.

QUICK TAKES

On his first online buy: It was a movie poster of Rang De Basanti, signed by the entire cast and crew. I collect movie posters and buy a lot of them. Another of my early purchases was a book called Don Quixote USA by Richard Powell, bought on www.amazon.com - at that time, there was no Amazon in India.

On IPO and goals linked to it: I want to ensure that we have a fantastic IPO in the middle of next year. All the teams have been formed and the pre-work is happening. My goal will be to deliver great value for everybody who's associated with Pepperfry - be it employees, investors or even future investors - on the strength of a great business. If your business is valuable, valuations will follow. The IPO is just a milestone. What you do for the next five years is more important than just what you do for that one year.

On Pepperfry’s omni-channel model: It is our responsibility to be available and serve our customers wherever they are [online or offline]. We launched our first Studio Pepperfry in 2014, and ever since, the studios have become a significant consumer touchpoint for the brand. These serve as offline experience centres for customers who seek to get an idea of the overall quality of the furniture from Pepperfry. Each studio has a team of design consultants who understand consumer requirements and tailor solutions accordingly. They help the consumer choose the right type of furniture. Building on the omni-channel network, in 2017, we introduced a unique franchise model and in a very short span, we have been successful in launching 58 FOFO Studios across metros, Tier II and Tier III markets like Pathankot, Trivandrum, Patna, Bengaluru, Indore, Chennai, Guwahati and Coimbatore. For these franchise studios, we partner with local entrepreneurs who are well versed with hyperlocal demand cycles and trends. The franchise model now offers a reward structure wherein the franchise owners earn a commission of 15% (previous model: 10%) on each online transaction made via the franchise studio. In June 2021, we introduced the Pepperfry Accelerator Program with an aim to establish over 200 studios in one year. Through it, Pepperfry aims to collaborate with first-time entrepreneurs, corporate employees (2-3 years of experience), home-makers, et al. The capex required by franchise partners is around Rs 15 lakh. Currently, Pepperfry has 100+ studios in 50+ cities across the country which contribute ~40% to the overall business.

On enabling local entrepreneurship: Pepperfry is a curated marketplace that has always promoted artisans and their products, giving them visibility and a regular source of income. We work with more than 1000+ merchants across various cities in India and continue to conduct webinars and events to educate and enable them to sell online. Over the years, with constant training and feedback, our partners have been able to focus on quality, standardization, and customer experience. This has helped us to offer unique and hard to find products to our discerning customers. We have successfully built the Rajasthan cluster, when we onboarded sellers from smaller towns and villages including, Jodhpur, Churu, Saradshahar and Jaipur. We brought solid wood furniture to Indian consumers, which was initially only exported to other countries. We plan to build similar clusters in other markets too.

On marketing & advertising strategy: With consumers’ shift to digital, we adopted a digital-first marketing strategy for this year. We started investing heavily in content marketing. Our spends on social media and content would have jumped 100% over last year. We have increased our overall ad spends by almost 60-70%, and all spends are directed towards digital. We will continue to focus on our trendy, design forward portfolio through communication with a digital-first media approach.


ADVENTURE ALL THE WAY

I read a lot and am a huge fan of epic fantasy fiction, like the new series that Amazon has launched, called Wheel of Time - a set of 13 books, each with 1500 pages, and it talks about an entirely new world. I'm also very interested in History and Anthropology. Then I love to travel to offbeat locations, in an offbeat manner. So, when I was in IIM Calcutta, I used to hitch-hike. I used to walk out the IIM Calcutta gate, toss a coin, if it was heads, turn left, if it was tails, turn right, and then start hitch-hiking and going to interesting places. In the last few years, I’ve tried to integrate my love for History with my love for riding. In October last year, I rode from Mumbai to Leh, via Dholavira, an Indus Valley civilisation city in the middle of the Rann of Kutch. Then I went to Kalibangan, another Indus Valley excavation between Bikaner and Ropar, and then went all the way up into the hills. Just recently, in the Diwali week, I went to the high-altitude Chantang plateau, which starts in Tibet and ends in the middle of Ladakh. The Pangong lake or Tso Moriri lake, is on it, as is Tso Kar. I spent an incredible seven days there. I guess I'm selfish and enjoy spending time by myself! Normally, I get ‘permission’ from my family to indulge myself like this once a year. My 10-year-old son shares my love for biking, and once when I rode from Manali to Leh, he was with me for the entire two-and-a-half-day trip. He is a trooper and thoroughly enjoyed it. He's already negotiating with me as to when he can get his bike. ‘The moment your feet touch the ground,’ I tell him. On my wishlist is riding the Motorcycle Diaries route, and Argentina right up to Central America. I also want to trek along the Pamir Plateau starting with Uzbekistan. We have this interesting concept at Pepperfry – everyone gets to take a sabbatical of a full month after every three years, to recharge their batteries and come back. My third sabbatical is due, and I may embark on my next big adventure.

Advertisement

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Published on: Monday, November 29, 2021, 12:03 AM IST
Advertisement