At BlumeVentures, we think of ourselves as the little guys in the VC industry basically, we cut the small cheques you see ergo, 'little' in the face of the large (and sometimes scary) cheques we see from our friends at larger VC fundsâ particularly, in the e-commerce space.
Over the last 3-6 months, Blume has wondered what the role of angels and funds such as ours is or could be, as we scoured the market for discovering great ideas and even more importantly, great teams in e-commerce. Yes, there is a role to play as far as the little guys are concerned since every e-com start-up needs to show some traction now especially as every 'horizontal' or 'vertical' seems to have multiple players and there are gazillions of very well-funded start-ups who have a capital advantage. But to enable this traction, some capital becomes essential, although one also starts worrying about the 'good' problem of finding additional capital if things take off! So, investing $300-500K in the e-com pot may seem a tempting offer. It’s really tough to find something unique, though.
We made our first e-com investment and we are happy with it (some public announcement should follow when we think it appropriate). We loved the way the team was rethinking the entire trade in the sector. That’s what it was! Can you re-imagine the way things are done for the consumer? Beyond the usual suspects for e-com's existence price, convenience, information, yada, yada? We are looking at a few more teams, which meet this differentiating criterion over and above the good teams and great white space. These are the e-com 're-imagineers.'
But that’s not the only reason why I began writing this piece. I think the role for the small guy in the angel/VC space seems to be equally exciting as that of the e-com 'enablers.' At least 3-4 fellow-investors, both angels as well as VCs, recently affirmed (to me, in private) their belief in this theory.
Incidentally, I have met one of the two Bansals (who are not related but I am adding that detail since I have started to believe that it is statutory to mention that when writing about Sachin and Binny in the same sentence. I should have double-checked with their lawyer while I was at their office). Flipkart is arguably not only the big daddy of e-com in India but one of the e-com enablers too! Have you seen that fancy bag that their delivery boy brings to the door? They are re-inventing non-envelope, door-delivery-in-a-day logistics and how!
Okay, so Flipkart is a little out of reach. Sigh! Maybe we can all sneak in on a Goldman/Facebook-like sexy, pre-IPO block deal. Well, I am at least a satisfied customer there. So good luck to them and god speed!
Now, onto the mere mortals. Everyone else will hopefully require enablers to be built outside their core e-com business and that is where we saw and we continue to see gutsy guys trying to change things. Take logistics and payments, for instance. The Blue Darts and the Aramexs are dominant but they are boring and beyond investing. But teams like the pesky Chhotu (the small guy in local e-com delivery) and the trippy Gharpay (cash payment solution provider left to themselves, they will eliminate and absorb the 'C' in COD) and the humble imitator EZETap (the desi variant of Square credit card swipe onto a mobile phone appendage) are what make the space interesting.
And then there are a slew of attempts to create simpler desi variants of Shopify and Magento (to create e-storefronts quickly). There are a slew of loyalty and marketing enablers on the Net/mobile. There are social commerce enablers sounds novel in an Indian context and of course, it is Adepto and its product Trolly wanted to focus on the US market but the Indian e-com market is loving it and the US can wait a wee bit longer.
Where are the review-enablers and review sites? What about price comparison across sites offering the same goods? Maybe Akosha can primarily focus its consumer redressal site on e-com? What about product code QR/bar code scans/Zipdials that can tell the consumer which e-com site will offer the product at the best price/turnaround time? What about re-inventing e-com as only India can? (Incidentally, Blume is a very satisfied investor in Trolly/Adepto and a part of an angel consortium that invested in ZipDial.
E-com, to me, is fascinating on these new frontiers. E-com is the only way to fix fed-up supply chains like never before. There are online-only brands being built, some in apparel (The Stiff Collar, Zovi), but contemplations have begun in other quarters as well. Touch-and-feel is overrated. (The drudgery of) mall shopping is overrated. The consumer will be empowered like never before, probably getting a better touch and feel of things sitting at home, and how that can happen through these e-com re-imagineers and enablers is what will be fun to watch.
(P.S.: A little bit of disappointment and a pitch to entrepreneurs we would like to see more! I haven’t yet seen some ideas that I like won't disclose them since I have a selfish motive in wanting to invest in them if I do find them! But I will be happy to see who is building e-com enablers. If you have the passion and no ideas, come to me. I have a couple of them to get your mind racing.)