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Fashioning a niche space through social shopping cart

Swetha Kannan
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Suneil Chawla (left), Co-founder, Koolkart, and Vikas Chawla, Head of Marketing. — Bijoy Ghosh
Suneil Chawla (left), Co-founder, Koolkart, and Vikas Chawla, Head of Marketing. — Bijoy Ghosh

Koolkart provides online platform for Indian brands, designers

In the cluttered world of online retail, Koolkart tries to stand out with its quirky fashion products. Started by Suneil Chawla and Anupam Agarwal, the Chennai-based online fashion retailer provides a platform for upcoming Indian brands and designers. And that’s not all.

Suneil, an IIM-Ahmedabad graduate, believes shopping is a social experience and even online retailers must provide that. “When you buy a cool pair of ear-rings or a funky bag in a mall, you immediately tell your friends about it. So, why not in the online world too.”

Koolkart provides an interface on its site wherein shoppers’ comments and recommendations are integrated on to their Facebook page for friends to see. Welcome to the world of social shopping.

Looking back

Co-founder Anupam Agarwal is also from IIM-Ahmedabad and it was in the corridors and classrooms of the B-school that the idea to start out on their own germinated. But it wasn’t until four years later that Koolkart was born. While Anupam went on to work in Barclays Capital in London, Suneil worked with Bain in Boston, Delhi and Mumbai.

But the entrepreneurial bug in Suneil was too strong to be brushed aside. Soon enough, Suneil and Anupam quit their cushy corporate jobs to set up Koolkart in January 2012 with an initial capital of Rs 50 lakh.

“We looked around and saw that the next wave of growth in India was clearly online. This medium has lot of potential to innovate and reach out to lot of people and build communities,” says Suneil.

Operating out of a tiny office in Chennai (it is actually Suneil’s grandfather’s space), Koolkart today sells apparel, bags, jewellery, home accents and collectibles from funky brands such as Urumi, Quirk Box, Funky Potli, Bohemian You and Happily Unmarried. It gets 1,60,000-2,00,000 visitors a month.

Although Anupam could not be present for this interview, Suneil is joined by Vikas Chawla, an old school friend and Koolkart’s head of marketing. “While there are many players in the online space, most of them are in the mass market. We are in a niche space and we see growing interest even from tier-2 cities which do not otherwise have access to such unique stuff,” says Vikas, an alumnus of London School of Economics.

“The difference also lies in how you curate your products. We have a team of 10 curators in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, who evaluate every product so that we leave out the bad designers and showcase only the best,” says Suneil.

While initially Koolkart relied on word-of-mouth publicity for itself, it now has designers knocking at its doors. Koolkart also takes parts in offline flea markets such as Madras Market in Chennai and Soul Sante in Bangalore to scout for new talent. An informal association with NIFT, Chennai also provides Koolkart access to young designers’ work. The Koolkart team knows that sustaining an e-commerce venture won’t be easy, what with several well-established players still struggling to make profits. “There are many challenges related to logistics and delivery in a market where everything is fragmented. But we are in this for the long haul. You need to be ready to build expertise, partners and teams,” says Suneil.

It is also important to find the right set of partners to invest in your venture, adds Suneil. “While Indian investors are shy about it, high-networth individuals and foreign investors are keen on investing in e-commerce.” Koolkart is talking to potential investors and is hopeful of closing a deal soon.

Social beat

Suneil and Vikas are also together involved in another venture – Social Beat, an agency that helps brands optimise the power of social media.

“Most offline brands and retailers never leverage the online platform the way it should be. There is a lot you can get out of it and Social Beat helps you do that,” says Vikas, the founder of Social Beat. (Suneil is an advisor at Social Beat.)

Social Beat is just four months old but it has already bagged a couple of clients. Its first assignment was for a Chennai-based dental clinic chain. “We redesigned their entire Web site and also built their presence across Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to target customers area-wise. Already, it is seeing walk-ins doubling,” says Vikas.

swetha.kannan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on April 7, 2013)
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