The Pirates of Vella Valley
I am just a stupid entrepreneur. You would have probably seen guys talking passionately about their idea, explaining how to make it big, scaling it to dizzying heights and making a difference. Choose any one of them, and you have got me.
My venture is profitable and still bootstrapped. However, this also keeps me on tenterhooks. Being bootstrapped is like having the cake and eating it too. It means walking perennially the tight rope between scale and profitability. When I go to sleep, I don’t ask myself, how long my runway is.
When I wake up every morning, I say to myself, run, because there is no other way. I am not worried about the next round, because I have to stand in the ring and see it through, every day.
Driving a non-funded startup is like running obstacle course race, forever.
Having said that, you get used to it after a point of time. You start enjoying the webpage of funds parked in your bank account, or rather the lack of it. However, there are times where you can see the problem and can’t do a thing about it. I have encountered one and I am sure that many of you would have, and would like to share with you. But first things first, let me introduce myself and my firm.
I started CupShup in second year of my MBA as a college project at NMIMS, Mumbai (Back then, I used to call it Cupvertising). I quit a high paying job to establish Cups as a medium to communicate with consumers. At CupShup, we specialize in advertising over paper tea cups. Our business model is simple. We provide free printed paper cups to offices/colleges/tea vendors and charge our clients for the same. Starting from Mumbai in 2014, we have our tie-ups in more than 7 cities of India and have campaigned in more than 20 cities. We have a acquired a clientele of more than 50 including clients like Uber, Kotak Securities, Snapdeal, Ola cabs, Viacom 18 etc.
In an emerging economy like India, we have many business models borrowed from West. For every Amazon, there is a flipkart, for every Uber, there is an Ola, OYO rooms for Airbnb etc.
A competition of your business model is a welcome change. It further strengthens your belief in your idea. It reassures you that your heart is at right place because someone else believes in the idea too. Thus, when we started CupShup, we were expecting someone to come up with similar business model. However, the level to which our idea was copied astonished us. A player from Bengaluru not only copied our business model but also our pitch mail and modus operandi.
I call them Pseudo Entrepreneurs and these are what constitute the “Vella Valley” of India.
We started CupShup in Nov 2014 and this was our pitch mail back then:
Now sample the pitch mail of the Startup I am talking about:
If the brazenness has synced within you, let me disclose this, the client they are referring to is actually our client. We confirmed this from our client that they never worked with anyone other than us.
Not only this, they also used images of our cups and posed it as theirs. Needless to say that we had a call with the co-founders and they brazenly asked us to do whatever we want. We ignored it as we felt that a founder who doesn’t have the ingenuity to come up with its own mail will not pose a serious threat. This was in early 2015. We evolved with time and changed our pitch mail (As our operations expanded pan India). Meanwhile, they continued with their dirty tricks and fleeced few clients.
Cut to 2016, this is what our pitch mail looks like now:
Wanna have a look what their pitch mail looks like? Here you go....
Mother of Coincidence, isn’t it? And if you think they are the only one to indulge in such kind of practices, you are wrong. Recently, a Delhi based firm was again at it. It brazenly showcased our cups as theirs, copied content from our website and pitched to clients. Thankfully, few of our clients were kind enough to inform us about that.
We mailed the Delhi based firm highlighting and warning about this. Their website is down for the time being but I am pretty sure that they will be at it again.
Is it illegal to copy someone’s pitch mail? I don’t know. I am a layman as far as law is concerned. Is it moral? I think it is immoral. Moreover, these “Pseudo entrepreneurs” are displaying our work to clients and shamelessly claiming it as theirs. As an entrepreneur, you anticipate and prepare for the day a big/small player will enter your domain and try to compete with you.
But you do not prepare for the day when someone take credit for your work just like that and uses immoral means to gain undue advantages. In a country like ours, where legal loopholes are many, you can only keep your head down, work and try your best to outshine others.
I write this article to call upon the community of entrepreneurs who has faced similar violation to help me in tackling such kind of problems.