India furniture startup aims to plug online gap

The idea behind Bangalore-based Urban Ladder came about when its two founders realized a void in India's home decor market where few offered furniture of strong trust, quality, pricing, and overall looks.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

Considering the boom in India's technology space, there is certainly a great market for software and technology-driven startups. And one interesting segment is offline industries transitioning into the online world.

It is always fasinating to see different startups which traditionally transact with consumers in the physical world migrating to the online world. As technology empowers a more virtual experience, it's always good to remember offline principles apply really well in the modern startup scenario.

urban ladder

UrbanLadder.com is one such startup based out of Bangalore, India. The furniture and home decor online store is headed by co-founders CEO Ashish Goel, and COO Rajiv Srivatsa.

The idea behind UrbanLadder.com is to make it easier for customers to seek out and buy great furniture and home decor. It currently offers an eclectic range comprising coffee tables, side tables, dining tables, balcony sets, book-racks, display units, wall racks, and a host of other products. The company is also a private label and makes its own products.

I contacted Rajiv via email and he shared what his plans to provide beautiful home decor for Indian customers.

How it began

In early-2010 when Rajiv and Ashish were setting up their homes, they realized there wasn't a single home decor brand where they could get furniture which was great in terms of trust, quality, pricing, and overall looks.

COO Rajiv Srivatsa

They wanted to change this but felt it was a difficult category to execute, considering the complex supply chain as well as consumer need for "touch and feel" in this category. That said, with immense passion for furniture and solving problems by addressing real consumer need, they decided to have a go at it in late-2011.

Rajiv said: "We wanted to do a product-led digitally-powered business which was consumer-facing, solving a real painpoint in a large market. An online furniture store best fits that bill, so the idea of Urban Ladder was born in Dec 2011 and we launched in July 2012."

The two founders envisioned making millions of Indian homes more beautiful and their primary goal was to bring in exciting products for Indian consumers and build a business with customer delight as the focus. Urban Ladder targets urban Indians living in metro and who have large community apartments or villas. And of course, primarily, someone who's digitally savy and educated.

The private label

Asked about their efforts in getting the branding right especially since they're also a private label, Rajiv said: "Right from thinking about the logo and brand name, to the visual essence of the brand on the digital front, to the banner copy, to the aesthetics of the furniture, to the customer service and delivery interactions and last but not the least, to our Facebook engagement, there is a reasonable element of consistency and thinking through on the brand that has happened."

He said the company's core values of providing customer delight, excellence in every little thing they do, and honesty and transparency permeate through all these aspects of the business. He also admits the startup has a long way to go, though, word of mouth has been helping them ensure the brand is a huge asset with respect to customer interaction.

Need to "feel" the product

According to Rajiv, there are hundreds and thousands of customers who have well and truly bypassed the need to "feel" products before purchasing, thanks to the Flipkarts and the Myntras of the world.

Urban Ladder has clean visuals, and displaying its products in real-life silhouette has given customers a better sense of the product and how big it is. A few customers who want to see the products also can come down to the startup's offices to see a sample.

Its services are available in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi/NCR, Chennai, and Pune, and the startup plans to launch in Hyderabad soon. In terms of sales, there is reasonable spread across the first three cities and sales volume is picking up in Chennai and Pune, in which Urban Ladder just recently launched. In terms of traffic, these top five cities contribute almost 90 percent of traffic since the company targets its marketing activities at these cities.

Rajiv said: "2012 has been awesome. Much better than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams." He said the company clocked a growth rate of around 50 percent month-on-month and transacts an average ticket size of over 12,000 rupees (US$209.59). 

The Urban Ladder team

Ashish, as CEO, manages the sourcing, supply-side logistics, and finance, while Rajiv takes care of digital producta, marketing, and customer service. They have senior leads looking after each of the company's core business aspects, Rajiv said, adding that the core team is a very young but holds great knowledge.

Urban Ladder has raised US$1 million from Kalaari capital in August 2012, and will soon be targeting to raise another US$5 million to US$6 million. As for its future goals, Rajiv said the company is planning to expand its product range and categories, improve visual merchandising, and further build their brand. It also plans to expand to more cities.

A lot of effort clearly has gone into creating a startup to execute a really difficult challenge of addressing a changing world of consumerism, driven through e-commerce and Internet shopping in India.

What do you think about the Urban Ladder idea and how well will it work in a tough market space like online furniture? 

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