10+ Indian Startups that pivoted (successfully)

Pivoting is one of the most difficult decisions for a company – for two reasons, first the world labels you a failure and second, the world doesn’t believe that you’d be able to make it either with the new product

“Startups are nimble. Plan A assumptions rarely survive their first interaction with users. Most startups succeed with their version 3 (if lucky).”

We’ve heard these so many times!

Yet when the time comes, its easier to get cold feet and freeze in ‘trying hard’ to ‘make it work’ rather than chuck it for a new idea, new market – it just seems too risky and there’s the trauma of having to give up on the idea you really really believed in.

But it’s true that pivots have helped many not only recover from a pointless chase of a vision shared by none (especially not customers) but even attain big success! We decided to recount a few stories about pivoting in India that were worth telling!

Pivot: Shift? Ctrl or Get Locked!
Pivot: Shift? Ctrl Fn or Get Locked!

Here is our list of 10+ Indian startups who pivoted well:

Webklipper to WebEngage

Started as a WebKlipping system, WebEngage pivoted to a customer engagement tool/feedback service and raised funding from IAN and GTI Capital.

Cofounder, Avlesh shares his candid thoughts behind the decision to pivot:

“Pivoting is one of the most difficult decisions for a company – for two reasons, first the world labels you a failure and second, the world doesn’t believe that you’d be able to make it either with the new product. At Webklipper, we didn’t care about the world. That’s the only difference. We were the first ones to realize that this (annotation) product is not going to make money for us. It needed a far more bigger gestation period than we imagined. We needed to pay office bills. Hence the pivot. Simple.”

WebEngage, was our second product idea and worked well. We are the feedback, survey and notification backbone of over 3200 businesses worldwide as of this morning. We have raised money twice. If these stats were not as great, we’d have pivoted again. Simple!

Why we think its worked : Well, data driven is data driven and needs little other proof!

MingleBox: From Socionet TO Educational content site

Minglebox started as a social network and was one of the hottest startup in 2007. The company raised funding from Sequoia, launched several interesting services including streaming music, which was later shutdown. The company eventually pivoted to an educational content company, helping students find the best colleges and courses through online admission help and counselling services.

Why we think it worked: They were starting to compete with wide portals and social networks in their earlier avatar – a pretty steep challenge hardly negotiable with not very deep pockets. Education, colleges and students in India, on the other hand, has always been a big market online that the team actually were sharp enough to notice as they faced challenges.

[Recommended Read: Keep Going OR Give up? The Art of Failure]

Roopit to Exotel : Classifieds that ran into a (good) telecom problem (to solve).

Launched in 2010, Roopit started as a micro-blogging styled classified site and founder, Shivku actually came across a ‘personal itch’ that is now known as Exotel.

Exotel is a cloud telephony service (launched @UnPluggd) and raised INR 2.5Cr Series A Funding from Mumbai Angels & Blume Ventures.

Why we think it worked : Shivku was trying to solve an online-offline connect issue and created solutions where he couldn’t find any. Since he realized this solution filled a major gap, he acted quickly and completely focused on this.

redBus (was an early pivot) : B2B to B2C

Bus ticketing service, redBus’ initial concept was around selling bus booking software to operators. The company totally changed the business model and focused more on consumer segment to gain traction.

Why we think it worked : The bus operators had existing ways of doing things, and no real reason to change. Clearly the pain points at the consumer level were stronger and would prove to eventually drive change in the whole industry.
[Read: The redBus story]

Flipkart/Infibeam : Ok – just more categories

You may not want to call them a case of pivot, but they expanded into several categories, as they started figuring out the market gaps. Infibeam started as a portal to sell second hand cars and Flipkart started off selling books.

They now sell everything.

Why we think its a good one : For one, its important for an online trading business to be diverse – consumer behaviour on any one product category could change too suddenly and leave them vulnerable if its their primary or only one (Youtube vs Channel V/MTV, and ebooks vs print!). Also, it gives them a wider customer base and an opportunity to upsell better and increase yield per customer, eventually.

Inmobi: Mobile coupons. No, search. No, ads! No, …. ?

Probably the best pivot instance from India, InMobi started off as mKhoj, mobile based local search play, raised funding and later, pivoted to ad network. And there may be more happening soon!

They are actually now more than an ad network (watch cofounder, Naveen Tiwari’s inspiring talk @UnPluggd: The InMobi story)

Why we think it worked : Consumer facing mobile startups were more or less completely dependent on operator partnerships, as well as limited in growth till a few years ago up until mobile data and apps made independent plays feasible. Serving mobile ads, on the other hand, was a B2B sales problem and if you had a good sales team which inMobi did, and built aggressively, you could grow it.

Myntra : Custom designed to lifestyle ecommerce

One of the first players to get into custom designed products, Myntra closed down the custom design unit and pivoted to selling lifestyle products.  The last round of funding raised was $20mn and the company is now targeting INR 500 Crores revenue in FY 2012-13.

Why it has worked better : Custom designed – and especially self-designed – merchandize in a relatively small online market was always a tough battle at any sort of scale, at least till a couple of years ago. At the same time, the growing interest in ecommerce meant that deeper pockets would ensure some marketshare (in their case, in relatively high margin categories), which the funding did help achieve. Still early days, of course.

SMSGupshup : Group SMS to Messaging app

From Webaroo to SMS based socionet to latest avatar, messaging app, SMSGupshup has pivoted consistently. The company has raised $47mn funding in total and its latest avatar, i.e. Gupshup.me is aimed at being the WhatsApp for India (they earlier prefered to be called ‘Twitter of India’ by US media).

Why we think its happened : Mostly because nobody – included Rajesh Jain’s MyToday – ever figured out a viable business model around group messaging and SMS services. The large audience base did bring in investor interest – and who knows – there may still be a lot of opportunity left in creating a better, Indian audience specific avataar of WhatsApp.

Guruji.com : Search, Music and now Ad Platform

From India focused search engine to mobile ad optimization platform (Adiquity), Guruji is one of those startups who stayed grounded, kept trying and eventually found a niche. The previously successful service, music search was a big hit, but was shutdown after a lawsuit from T-series.

Why we think its working : Ad networks are probably not a winner-take-all story, unlike search, and there’s little chance of obvious legal trouble. Guruji has probably seen enough rough patches to learn how to survive and battle the odds. Yes, sometimes that’s what counts the most!

EyesAndFeet to UnMetric

From EyesAndFeet, a social media analytics firm to UnMetric, social media benchmarking tool, the startup has come a long way and recently raised $3.2mn in Series A funding led by Nexus Venture Partners.

From an earlier discussion with EyesAndFeet cofounder, Lux (read: Pivoting: From EyesAndFeet to UnMetric [Interview]):

“Earlier this year, I was in the US – pitching EyesAndFeet to potential GTM partners (like Amex Open Forum, etc). During the course of this (and some conversations in India), two things happened:

a) I met restaurant owners, restaurant consultants etc – while they saw benefit in EyesAndFeet, I saw how much of a challenge it will be to cost effectively reach these people and get trials going. While possible, it would take time – and money.

b) I met a lot of old friends and classmates (I try and stay/catch up with as many friends as I can when I travel). I’d demo eyesandfeet to anyone who would listen. In the course of these casual conversations, I had (on a few occasions) friends at Citi, Amex, Pepsi etc saying “this is interesting; wish we had some competitive intelligence on social media – for our sector”  – that was when I first thought of Unmetric, and that we might be better off focusing on enterprise customers rather than small businesses.

That time, when we decided to (to use a cliche) “pivot”, was a difficult time. My co-founders, Kumar and Jose (tech gods, great friends, and classmates from over 20 years ago at IIT Madras) had just drunk the EyesAndFeet koolaid, and here I was, trying to convince them otherwise. Once we were all convinced, we set to work and rapidly built Unmetric over 6 months! Interestingly, I also kept sharing wireframes, mockups, alphas etc with “friendly” potential clients – to gauge their feedback. If the initial response is anything to go by, I think we have certainly struck a chord.

Why this made the list : The story above says it all – the founders listening to what they heard and being able to cast aside their firmly held belief about how great their earlier idea was. The market knows best – stay tuned in!

Trolly to Crowdnub

Social Commerce product Trolly, which was launched in 2011 (parent company, Adepto raised $300K from Blume Ventures/Rajiv Dadlani Group) pivoted to launch Crowdnub, a social marketing platform that can potentially give any brand the power of a bespoke application on a SaaS platform.

Cofounder Kiran shared the decision behind pivoting [read: Social Commerce product Trolly pivots to CrowdNub, a social marketing platform

“..Trolly was built just for eCommerce businesses and that was the problem. The solution was to expand the funnel and make the Trolly proposition relevant to other businesses as well. But that meant we had to break down the rigidities and rebuild it grounds up.

A young tech company will make many trips back to the drawing board until it finds market fit and acceptability. Every such story is an experience, a lesson, and possibly, an inspiration.


ibibo : From blogging platform to …

Started as a blogging platform, ibibo experimented in several avatars and is now fully focused gaming company. Though not really a startup (well funded by Naspers group), very few of ibibo peers from web2.0 era have managed to survive.

The company has launched several of Naspers product in India – including WeChat, UCWeb and has also forayed into ecommerce segment via Tradus and launched payment gateway service, PayU.

Why we think its happened : The Google(s ) and Facebook (s ) of the world ate the social networking pie totally. So for an Indian Internet company, that market is hardly available anymore (unless there is certain differentiation, which ibibo didn’t have).

Know of more such instances? Please feel free to share them in the comment section (and we will add it up here).

Ofcourse, a lot of pivots have been to the flavour-of-the-season, i.e. ecommerce; but we have stayed away from calling them pivots, as they were mostly front-end pivots and no serious thoughts was given to improving the backend operations etc. Some of these have been merely a desperate clutching at straws with no serious thought to why that pivot was a good one or if there was a USP or a niche that was worth building upon.

Recommended Read: Is Pivoting Your Latest Excuse To Not Talk To Customers?

[Wit inputs from Sameer Sisodia]

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