India GameChanger learned a lot from Saahil Kapoor, the Founder of Buzzaar. Buzzaar is an AI/ML-powered content-driven marketplace that lets consumers shop from their trusted neighbourhood stores as well as products from upcoming brands, to provide a convenient and personalized shopping experience.
Some of the topics Saahil discussed:
- Going to work for the family business but being bitten by the startup bug
- Built Retouch and had great partners, but COVID hit
- Empower mini-format retailers and Kirana stores to thrive in a modern market
- The importance of supporting new, DTC brands
- Building a work-life balance and the importance of treating employees well
Some other titles we considered for this episode:
- Going Through the Hustles Every Day
- I Love to Go Beyond the Boundaries
- You Should Have a Good Set of People Around You
- Learning Is a Forever Process
- It’s Not Easy to Kill Me
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:07
And now we are. Let’s go. Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to India GameChanger. today we are joined by Sahil Kapoor, we have an answer read the founder of bizarre. Dalio thank you so much for joining the show. How are you doing today?
Saahil Kapoor 0:24
Michael, it’s a pleasure to be on your show. I’m doing great. Going through the hustles every day.
Michael Waitze 0:33
I know the feeling. Look, I noticed this and tell me from wrong. Bizarre has two A’s at the end, I also noticed your name has two A’s at the beginning. I’m not sure if that’s on purpose, or if it was just because you couldn’t get the website. But whatever it is, I love the symmetry.
Saahil Kapoor 0:49
My do is a bit of a long way back when I was still studying in school, it was on astrological reasons bizarre is completely you know the way you pronounce it. So there’s no logic behind it.
Michael Waitze 1:05
Either way, I love attaching meaning to things like that. Look, before we get to the main part of our conversation, can you give our listeners a bit of your background for some context? So we know how we got to here?
Saahil Kapoor 1:16
Sure, sure. Michael. I did my after doing my schooling from Don Bosco Delhi. I did my engineering. For first two years, I was in Manipal. And the last two years I was in Delhi. So there’s a there’s a bit of story behind that. Tell me why. Yeah, we’ll come to that. Okay. You know, the usual engineering rowdy boys stuff. So my parents didn’t allow me to study, you know, far from home. Otherwise, I was on a training program. So you know, that’s supposed to go to Canada. But yeah, the impact landed in Delhi completed my engineering. You know, I worked for a while after that, with companies like microwave lambda, RTA Videocon had, you know, got a license to launch telecom services in India, the company called Data calm. So I was there in projects. And, you know, after that, I found that, you know, I’m not made to do jobs. So I joined my family business, they were into manufacturing and distribution, vertical, couple of my friends that was starting up. So you know, the bug also break me with my first venture, I made chicken steel.com, which was Farm to Fork model for everything known which meat seafood, I did that for eight to nine months, my family being hardcore vegetarian, kept pushing me that’s not the right thing to do. Because there was the family business, and everybody was like that, I should focus more on that. In 2012, you know, although the startup ecosystem was booming in India, but for the parents, it was very hard to understand what the startup is, what they understood was, that is this is the business and you should focus more here. So you know, I exited chickens to you. And again, you know, got down to this family business thing. But then, you know, it kept troubling me, because I always wanted to do something of my own. And I had a close friend who was building, it’s a big business. Now, he has built over a big startup. So 2017, I completely exited my family business to the extent I even had to walk out of my parental home. So it’s hard, right? Yeah. It’s kind of a taboo in India when you are the only son and you’re walking out so. So but yeah, I did that in 2017. I started again at a company called retouch, which was a C two b2c e commerce platform for us devices. In fact, it’s a great idea. Yeah, so we grew to a level we became the buyback partners with Amazon and Flipkart, to bid for the devices one of the biggest in Delhi NCR, I had built a good company in house team of around 17 engineers, we had a marketplace where they were around more than 150 resellers on the marketplace with around 80 to 90 offline network of resellers in northern part of India, with two Retail TouchPoints in Delhi. But then COVID happened. Again, things were back to square one because everything got disrupted. In fact, we were not getting any, any support for the devices, you know, from the Amazon and Flipkart as well. So I exited that business as well. But COVID gave me a good time you know, to study this market. So that has been you know, now building bizarre now.
Michael Waitze 4:56
I want to get to that in a second. But there’s some other stuff here that I really want to unpack. So if People can learn about this a little bit more. So you said you made this phrase, but I’m not meant or I’m not made to do jobs. I don’t think it’s the first time you’ve said that, like, I can actually see you arguing with people about like, Yeah, this is, but I’m just not made to do these kinds of jobs. Can we just take a little bit deeper? Like, what is it about you? What’s the feeling you have, when you’re in a job, whether it’s in a family business, or just working for a corporate, right? That feeling you have of just not supposed to be here? Like, where does that come from?
Saahil Kapoor 5:29
So my goal, you know, a couple of years back, when we talk about the corporate culture, or even, you know, Indian companies running their family, big businesses in India, there is no such type of freedom, you know, when you’re working, in fact, you have to stick to the line, you know, what you’re told to do, and it’s not in my nature to you know, I always love to experiment, always love to think out of box, always love to, you know, go beyond the boundaries. But now, these things are changing, you know, with the startup ecosystem boosting in India, a lot of in fact, American multinational companies in India and lot of other companies are, you know, they, they let a person run kind of a profit center, right, where they are responsible for running that business. You know, all these things used to hit me hard. In fact, I remember my father worked for more than 35 years in the corporate world, and I was the one to push him into the business. Right. So you know, I used to tell him that you have been building big businesses for for others, why don’t you do it for yourself?
Michael Waitze 6:35
Right? Do you think that founders are made or born?
Saahil Kapoor 6:40
they’re made, actually, nobody’s born, you know, over a period of time you you learn scalp? What I believe is the attitude and the skills, way, they go way above what degrees can get you, for sure. I think you have the right attitude. You can learn the skill set, you can actually, you know, change the whole way of, you know, looking at things in a way, plus lots of people around you. That’s why I said you have you know, you should network? Well, you should have good set of people around you. And learning is a forever process till the time you die. So, as long as you’re learning well, you can become a great founder.
Michael Waitze 7:25
I feel like there’s a part of you that doesn’t give up. In other words, you started this company, what did you call it? Chicken? Tell me again. Chicken Stew. I love chicken stew. And then you had to get out of that for whatever reason. And then you started another company, right? The b2b to see company, what was it called retouch? Which was the killer idea, right? And you had partners like Amazon, and Flipkart. So real big business building here. And then COVID hits. And it’s just like, again, I got to start this from scratch again, but you seem like a guy that just doesn’t give up? Do you know what I mean? Is that Is that a fair way to characterize this? It’s not easy to kill me? Oh, I think that’s gonna be the title of this episode. It’s not easy to nobody. But again, isn’t this one of the really important parts about being a founder is this idea of, Okay, that didn’t work. But let’s keep going. It’s this real learning loop that you were talking about? Right? It’s super important. I want to go up another level again, right? Because you also said this thing about, it’s really important to have great people around you. I struggle with this a lot. And I have like, my entire life. How do I find those people? Like how do I know? Or what process do I use to test right? Because someone can look great on the outside being during a first meeting. But then afterwards, you find out all these other things about them? What is the way you go about doing this?
Saahil Kapoor 8:40
Like, go go? No, there are no fixed set of rules, you know? Sure. Some people they find it early with me, things have always happened very late. Like my mom started walking very late.
Michael Waitze 8:54
Maybe interested in it, right?
Saahil Kapoor 8:57
Yeah. So, you know, over a period of time, I, in fact, there has been a lot of push from my father and my wife, you know, in terms of, you know, venturing out and I think from like, everybody has a time you know, when you were just partying and you’re focused on, on, on, you know, going out having fun drinks, but yeah, over a period of time, all these things, take a backseat and you start focusing more on yourself, on the people around you trying to you know, no, like you said people might look very good from outside. You know, what takes time, it takes time. That can come in build for few.
Michael Waitze 9:39
Yeah, I still struggle with it. I want to understand this to you come out of COVID I think, look, I learned a ton during COVID about my own business, right. And you’re right, I did take a lot of time to sit and think about how can I build this? What should I do? What should it be? But you came out and started building bizarre, right? Maybe you just want to talk about out what the idea was there why you figured this out during COVID? And then what’s going on now?
Saahil Kapoor 10:06
There were a couple of ideas. I was contemplating at that time, you know, I was trying to explore fintech. I was trying to explore social media. In fact, we started building a social media app focused on privacy for women. Because an incident happened with my wife and on research, researching, I found a lot of women in India, yeah, go through this problem of spam. But then, you know, we beta tested the product. So you know, there are two things. One is the network effects. Second, good to have a must have. Right. So I failed in both of them for that social media. So it was good to have and plus network effects for unique network effects for any social media app to work. Right. Yeah. And, you know, I then started figuring out what my whole career has been, it has been more on the growth and, and scaling businesses, right, as in the marketing, the business development, the sales, plus, I have been, you know, interacting with all my career, I’ve been interact with a lot of retailers, a lot of, you know, distributors, a lot of consumers for that matter whether that was in the devices, whether that was in the telecom and marketplace has been something very close to me as a business, you know. And plus, when we think about retail in India, Michael, retail is very, you know, it’s at a very grassroot level, and centuries old, right? Yeah. Even despite the fact a lot of quick commerce. startups come after the lockdown went away. After after India was open, all the retailers are back to their businesses, you know, yeah. So
Michael Waitze 11:52
Can I Can I interrupt here for a second. So this idea about all these would all call kind of mom and pop shops, right? went through a phase both in the United States in Japan, so to places that I’ve lived the longest in my life, right where big retailers came along and kind of destroyed them. And there was no mechanism to save them. But I always felt like the neighborhoods in which they operated. And the communities that supported them, were losing something because they missed that ability to like when I’m paying for something in a store. And I know that the owner is the guy or the gal that’s taking the money. I’m very serious about this, that makes me actually super happy. And I’d rather go to the little, that little mom and pop shop and give that guy $1 Rather than go to 711 and give the same for the same product $1. Because I know where that’s going, that’s going to send that kid to the kids, the parents kid to college or to buy them a car to buy them clothes. And I know what that’s like to and that makes me happy. I know, I’m talking a lot. But I feel like not only are you saving part of the community by doing this, but you’re enabling to compete in a way that wasn’t possible before. And that’s why this works. Is that right?
Saahil Kapoor 13:01
Absolutely true. Absolutely. I totally agree. I couldn’t agree more, you know, if you if you see closely, all these mom and pop stores in the community, they kind of, you know, what, what should I call them the kind of things or, or be close to that community? Because these are the people who have been sitting there for for a couple of years. They know the people around by the name, right? For everyday shopping. I mean, nobody, you know, takes the car and go to supermarkets everyday. Right? And these are the people who come in very handy for small orders. So I believe, Michael, if if with proper technology, and like India has come up with a very solid system called bow in DC five out of it. Now, what is that site? Again? It’s the Open Network for digital commerce or when DC like it’s something very similar to what UPI did to payments. Yep, go
Michael Waitze 13:54
ahead. Um, can you make that comparison, because that up, I think is so important. And if Oh, ndc is having the same impact on retail that UPI had on FinTech and payments, this is a big deal. Please go ahead.
Saahil Kapoor 14:06
Yeah. So when DC has come into the picture, of course, to not as a competitor, but to support these small retailers, but majority of the retail network in India, you know, these people do not understand technology at all, how could they? I mean, yeah, I mean, that’s where I believe a startup like ours can, you know, come into the picture, actually bridge that gap, also support these people to become the part of the Commerce revolution.
Michael Waitze 14:38
One of the things and again, I’m going to use your pen as reference just because I’m sitting here, right, but I noticed that I went on this sort of five to 10k Run. There’s a 711, like on every four or five blocks because they they kind of serve multiple purposes. One is their payment centers. You can actually go in there and pay your phone bill. Two is you can shop there, but three is there almost like a mini warehouse, right because The 711 businesses are really just logistics businesses. So if you can layer to that on top of these, what do you call them? Cyrano’s? Right, in India, right? You’re cheap, because you’re mixing this like old business that it could have been there for generations, right? Not just for a few years, with modern technology in a way that just simply wasn’t possible before. I’m super curious about like, exactly what it is that you’re building and how it inter interacts with these individual businesses, and then how it interacts at scale, but also the impact that it has on those families that have been running those businesses.
Saahil Kapoor 15:33
Right. So I’ll tell you, Michael, like all these quick commerce companies that run dark stores, right, in India, they’re still trying to be profitable. Whereas these small businesses, they’re earning little bit of profit, or whatever they’re earning, they’re, you know, they’re supporting their family. They’re trying to pay back their small small loans, like a two wheeler or not three, we’re so so think about it in a way, what if these stores become kind of a network or for organized deliveries, where apart from a walk in customer they serve, they can also fulfill the digital orders, right? Think about kind of volume, they will get plus kind of coverage? They will, you know, they will enhance in the overall business.
Michael Waitze 16:21
So do you what do you enable them to do group buying to right, because there can be one store like a kilometer away from another store that are completely buying separately from let’s say, from Coca Cola, or from Procter and Gamble, right? Little bits of soap, little bits of sachets, little bits of drinks. But if they all ordered together, they could probably get a discounted price and hence make more money.
Saahil Kapoor 16:40
Yeah, I think that’s a separate business model of group buying a couple of startups and that which are working on that. What we are trying to do is on our app, we did a small POC, we are now making some sort of changes in the app and launching the final version next couple of weeks. So what we do is we be consumer, you know, gets the option to choose a particular store nearby based on the location, right? If some stuff is not available there in that particular store, he has the option of you know, order from couple of few kilometers away. But yeah, the main focus is on getting all those tools discoverable on the app, more than 88% people in India, they love to shop offline from their favorite Trusted Stores. In fact, I was surprised I did a small survey on the LinkedIn, I was not at all, you know, as a shop that I thought that LinkedIn audience is more of a quick commerce types, right? So much more than 70% people opted for this offline, they do their grocery shopping offline, I was surprised. It’s interesting,
Michael Waitze 17:46
you say that I’m gonna come down to the side of not being surprised. And maybe it’s me just talking my own position. I don’t enjoy shopping online, I want to be in a store, I want to talk to those salesperson. And I don’t think it’s just because I’m 57 years old. I want to interact with other people as well. That’s part of the shopping experience. If it’s just click this, click here, give me your credit card. It’s not even funny. Is it? Is that fun? For people? I don’t know, right. But there’s a human element that I think is really important. So I’m not surprised about this. I would also ask this to what do you install inside the stores to make them discoverable? Right. I know, I understand like being on a marketplace, and how happy like they must love you when you do this for these stores. No.
Saahil Kapoor 18:29
Yes, so I’ll tell you like it’s just a two minute registration process for the stores it doesn’t take much time they do not have to invest anything plus you know apart from so once they register online we install was a small standee and this doors whatever walk in customers are coming at this dose get to know that they can order online from this specific store through this app app is content driven. Plus, we have tied up with a lot of upcoming DTC brands in India to start with beauty, personal care and wellness. They also get the penetration through the stores, because you know stores focus mostly on the regular FMCG products, you know, legacy companies which are fast moving. So, you know here the store also get access to the over the top virtual inventory of these newer brands. And the customer is happy. So we are happy, you know
Michael Waitze 19:30
how important it is for you and for your company as well to support these new DTC brands. Right. In other words, it’s okay that everybody wants to buy, you know, from I don’t even want to say the names of the companies but you know, you know, the big ones, right, if everybody wants to buy from them because it’s easy, and they understand that that’s great. But the smaller DTC whether they’re fashion or beauty or whatever, are very similar in scale and scope to these to these Kirana shops as well. And plus, they’re supporting families too, right. In other words, they’re started by real people that have real that have real Kids, right? They’re not just being started as a as a hobby. And it gets back to this thing that I said before you give them money and makes everybody happier. How important is that to you and to bizarre itself.
Saahil Kapoor 20:11
That’s very important for us, Michael, on the overall level, I think all the good businesses are built, if you know what I’ve learned over a period of time, if you so for me, my customers are these Kirana stores, upcoming brands, where these big giants do not want to keep their hand, right. But these are all potential companies, which could grow big. Plus, in India, there’s a lot of, you know, if you go to a customer with a newer brand, they will ask their friends have you tried this, they will try to check it a particular product at a mall, but these newer brands do not have that bandwidth or capital, you know, to get into that distribution. Business. So, that is where, you know, we have made a very good model, I must say, we have kind of gamified where on on certain gamification, the customer gets the free samples from these brands absolutely free of cost, you know, so that’s where the first obstacle gets down, you know, trying out a free product, which everybody does, right? So if they like the product, they can order it on our app. So that is where you know, the whole flywheel starts, right. Plus, these brands also get the penetration they, they they get, you know, they get to go inside a household penetrate that household, right?
Michael Waitze 21:29
Do you feel like because you said, you’re constantly learning, right? And I always say this about my own business to the business that I thought I was going to be running that I thought it was going to be starting, it looks very different from the business that I actually am running, right? Because I’ve learned stuff along the way. You’re shaking your head, but
Saahil Kapoor 21:44
it’s dirty. When asked me now I talked to my wife, she tells me I don’t know what the hell of you are doing.
Michael Waitze 21:53
But but But it’s interesting, right? Because when you first said to her what you were going to start I’m sure you sat around the dinner table or whatever, we’re sitting at a coffee shop and had a conversation like you have, we’re going to do this and I have this idea. And I’m going to fill this market gap. And you start writing the software, you start hiring the other engineers, you start contacting whoever, and then like, Okay, I’m a learning person that’s not working, but it’s kind of close. I’m gonna make a left hand turn here that I’m gonna make a right hand turn here. And then you come home. I’m obviously simplifying this and your wife goes, What are you building? Again? You’re like, nevermind, because it keeps changing. No.
Saahil Kapoor 22:25
Yeah, I mean, I think I believe, Michael, a bit of strategy changes, the overall business idea has not changed, right? Yeah. Because I cannot afford to do so my team will run away at first moment I do so that this guy’s building something else. Now he’s building something else. Now. He’s always learning. So you’re not 30? You say, let’s build something. So no, the idea has not changed. But yes, I was very much sure that we need to get into a business where we need to support these upcoming brands, as well, as you know, combine it with the Kirana. So it’s a huge network in India. Yeah. Right. Like 12 million shops. It’s a $70 billion untapped opportunity. Right? Yeah. The overall idea has not changed. Yes, a bit of strategy change, how should we go to the market in terms of UI UX? What can be changed a bit in the app that that is, you know, always evolving, right? Even after we launch, three months down the line, more things will change based on the customer feedback, right?
Michael Waitze 23:29
Are there things that you see changing over time, right, in other words,
Saahil Kapoor 23:33
Amazon started as a book selling platform.
Michael Waitze 23:37
I remember I was there. But I do think Bezos always had the idea of becoming like this over this overriding retail thing, if you go back and listen to him talk, and I’m never sure if it’s just if it’s Hindsight is 2020. But if you listen, listen to Jeff Bezos, when they started adding new products, his idea was, books is really fragmented. It’s actually it’s actually the easiest thing to do. It’s very little competition. Nothing’s changed in the years. And a book is always going to be a book, it’s always going to be a book, right? So it’s different than, you know, they sold CDs to when when people listen to music on CDs, but then when it started going digital, it didn’t really matter, right? So all these learnings that came from that. And you’re right, I just want to be clear about this. When I said change your mind and learning. It’s not the overall business. It’s just like the strategy of implementing that business to get to the state where you want to that’s where all the learning takes place. Right. And I think that’s super duper cool.
Saahil Kapoor 24:27
Right? So in fact, Amazon also realized the importance of offline, you know, that’s why they’re drinking those, I believe, not just in India or anywhere in the world offline is never going to go away out of fashion.
Michael Waitze 24:38
never it never for some of the reasons that we talked about, but for other reasons that like, like, you’re sometimes you’re just walking down the street and like, I need a cup of coffee, or I need to get some bananas or I need some toilet paper, whatever it is, and if the shop is there, you’re gonna go in, you’re not gonna go home and then order this stuff. It’s just not the way the world works. We talked a lot about where things are today. Talk to me about where you think things are going
Saahil Kapoor 25:00
The segment where we are in this mini format retail, which I call it, it’s highly unorganized. Right? The, you know, our idea. If I talk about our mission and vision to be, you know, very precise, you know, I want to build India’s first hybrid mini format, retail shopping platform, you know, with the vision that it should be the default solution for shopping in the network. Right? That is what the aim is. And that is how we are building. We have too small, but yes, the ambitions are very big.
Michael Waitze 25:34
I do really like this idea of maintaining these sort of multi generational, what did you call it? Mini format? Kirana. Shops?
Saahil Kapoor 25:44
Nobody’s looking at them right now. Yeah, I’d from digitizing them. There’s a lot of challenges, I believe that would come. In fact, I remember, when we were doing a POC. We are tied up with these DTC brands. So we, I was partnering with these stores, they started selling the app to the to the consumers, K, whatever, you know, it’s not available at our store, you can order from the app, and you get these new brands. So a lot of these store people, you know, the store owners came, why don’t you sir, why don’t you list our inventory? Right? Like, for example, it’s not an easy task, a single store might have 50,000 sk use, right? So combined with multiple stores. So yeah, so I found Yes, there is there could be a good business, if we do that, plus these stores, a good push, you know, they have every store as a as a set of good customer, loyal customer base, right?
Michael Waitze 26:44
Are there other ways, right? You said there are 12 million of these shops, right? In India, it’s a gigantic opportunity, multi multibillion dollar opportunity. And part of the benefit of running this this business bizarre is that, like I said, early, you get to help these families and these multi generational families that are running these shops, are there other things, other services you can offer to them, that will also help them and I mean, it’s very seriously, like investment services, insurance services, and stuff like that, that you can put on the platform that really do help them. In other words, they don’t just earn money for you, but it helps them out as well.
Saahil Kapoor 27:15
Like I read today, again, the learning which I’m sharing. I was I was thinking of, you know, one scaling, I was thinking of, we just took a gentleman on board, as an advisor and mentor, us, senior person from reliance, retail X, Reliance was a big giant, you know, we were talking about how we can support these Kirana stores in terms of the supply chain, as in the b2b segment. Yeah, it’s very competent. And in India, it’s kind of a bloodbath, right? Interestingly talks about VP, right. So you know, a lot of ways where we can help the skill also in terms of getting credit lines, you know, for placing orders, right, launching BNPL kind of products for them, where they can order products from the these FMCG companies like buy now pay later kind of service. So there’s a lot of things you know, which can be done, when I was talking to the store owners, lot of store owners do not get credit, even as low as let’s say, one lakh of rupees, because they do not have their their GST registered in India, right. So, that’s where a lot of products can be built over a period of time to help them, you know, scale their business profitably and, and with the volume.
Michael Waitze 28:36
I love this idea. I’ve got to have you come back in like six months and learn more about what you’re doing and how the building is going. But before I let you go, I want to ask you one more thing, because this is also important to me, too. We read a lot about in the tech press, right? And in the startup press about how you’d constantly hustling constantly doing this working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I don’t think it’s the right way to live. I mean, one of the biggest benefits of having your own business is you get to manage your time in a way that to me is way more, what’s the right word efficient than it was when I was working at Goldman Sachs, where I literally had to be at the office at six. And I probably couldn’t leave until seven and it didn’t matter. This is a true story. Actually. One of the guys that I worked for, who was not a nice person at all said to somebody, and this was metaphorical, but he actually said these words, go get your chemotherapy when the markets closed. Well, that person didn’t have cancer, right? So it wasn’t directly like that. But that was the mentality. He was like, yeah, there are important things but this is the most important thing you’re doing. And I think if you’re running a business that’s not the way you treat your the people that you work with, but also treat yourself maybe you can talk about that a little bit as well.
Saahil Kapoor 29:44
Absolutely. For me, Miko my team is very important. I believe at times. You need to be a bit strict but but most of the time you need to understand because everybody has their own set of troubles, problems and responsibly Ready to write, I as a founder will not understand. In fact, I have in my team that there are two people who have been very closely it since the time I started contemplating FinTech, social media. Yeah, they will will close with me. In fact, first few, I think, one one and a half years, these guys work without any salary or stipend. Yeah, right. So I believe they are putting their faith and trust in me, I need to repay back in the similar way. Right. I I need to take care of them. I need to understand them a lot of times I you know, sometimes people tell me, Sahil, you’re too soft. So you stay out. Let me talk to them. But I’m in. I think that’s the way so for me, my team is very important and especially take care of,
Michael Waitze 30:52
okay, I’m gonna let you go. That was really great. So he’ll come forward, the founder of bizarre, you got to come back and talk me through what growth is like and how that’s going. That’s okay with you. Thank you so much for doing this today.
Saahil Kapoor 31:05