“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
— Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
Small little things. Like a cool evening zephyr enveloping you after a humid day, like receiving a surprise from your little one, like simply laughing your heart out, like tucking into a comforting meal, like finding your dream dress, like matching it with an exact lipstick shade. These little things are ‘infinitely the most important’. These little things come together to make life more vivid, more wholesome, more alive.
We did not want to change the world. We did not want to bring a revolution. We wanted to add to these little joys of life, subtly yet significantly. Establishing a startup was a hidden desire all three founding members of ‘Fashiate’ had cradled for long, but the experience seemed elusive. A team of passionate technologists. A team of computer vision and machine learning experts — Gaurav, a stalwart researcher whose motto was to never give up; Deepthi, a product geek, for whom no problem was too complicated; and I Nikhil, who loved finding solutions to problems, and many times problems themselves. Together we thought about how could we make use of our skills and knowledge to add to your everyday little joys. Along the way we should have a little bit of fun and a little bit of money. These were our guiding principles.
It started off, as most things do, with a small recurring irritation. The irritation of spending several hours to find a simple T-shirt. A long sleeved T-Shirt. Shades of blue have always been my favourite. It turned out to be a arduous task. My first attempt was to go to a brick and mortar store. A multi-floor multi-brand store for that matter. Hopping from one brand to another, I kept asking salespeople where could I find a long sleeved blue T-shirt. Sometimes I was met with a long thoughtful silence, followed by that disappointing answer — “I don’t know”, some other times I was misdirected to a rack of short sleeved T-shirts. A couple of times I did see long sleeves, but alas, there was nothing in blue! Then I tried my luck online. The experience was better and physically less gruelling. I did not have to walk around asking for help. A few clicks here and and a few there, and I was able to filter in some long sleeved T-shirts. But the problem with online shopping was just the opposite. I found more than I could consume. The website showed ‘542 items’ as potential products, even after filtering based on my specific preference. It was a painful task to go page by page over various product choices. Sometimes I did like a T-shirt, but then an uncanny voice inside me was telling me, something is missing. If only by some magic I wished I could find more that looked like it.
Arthur C. Clarke, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Technology was our hope. This became our idea. The little joy that we would bring to the world. So, Fashiate was conceived with a simple problem to solve — assist people find what they want, starting with fashion commerce. The online commerce had solved the problem of limited choice. But it was lacking in human touch. The ability to understand what users want and help them explore products around that choice. The missing element was that, e-commerce companies were not using product images to understand users’ preferences. This is where our expertise lies — in understanding images. Our team had over thirty years of experience in processing images and so Fashiate was born. We spent the initial few months researching and making sure, our product provided a real solution to a real problem. The first set of people we wanted to please was us. And, we knew it was not going to be easy. After many a failure we did crack it! We developed a solution we were happy with.
It started with a simple SMS from Anuj – “Can we talk sometime when you are free?”. I was free right then, checking my messages. That SMS is the reason I am writing this blog today. Sometimes I wonder how little things change lives in significant ways, but I digress. Anuj, was an old friend who had joined Snapdeal as an Assistant Vice President of desktop products and we had briefly discussed Fashiate over a common friends party. He had a vision of how what we had built at Fashiate would be useful to Snapdeal. He wanted us to consider being acquired by Snapdeal.
Fashiate was on a success path. Our solution created a ‘wow’ sensation with everyone who used it. Us, family, friends, potential investors and clients – were all excited and ready to use our product. We had a very promising start. However, we had little experience in running a business. We were beginning to learn, running a company and starting up are two different things. No, we were not scared of going all out, but yes we were realistic about our interests, our expertise and our aim. The next few days were the hardest for Fashiate. The heart wanted to stick to Fashiate but the mind wondered if joining hands with Snapdeal is better. We knew Snapdeal could give us the leverage to make our product a reality more effectively and faster. Snapdeal had the customers, the infrastructure, the scale, the data, the money. We had the expertise, the wow’ing solution. After several days spent in thinking and introspecting, we were open to the idea of an acquisition. What was to be seen was if Snapdeal and Fashiate had the same DNA.
The energy I felt at Snapdeal’s Delhi office was intoxicating. A full day of presentations, meetings with several senior members of Snapdeal, and some casual chit chat. Almost everyone I met there was living a dream. Many of them were themselves co-founders of companies and had joined hands with Snapdeal. Slowly the heart also started changing sides. Gaurav and Deepthi were in Bangalore, eagerly waiting for updates from me. Alas, they could only sense the energy through me. The day ended with a meeting. An important one. A meeting that I can confidently say helped tip the scales in favor of Snapdeal. A meeting with Rohit Bansal, COO, Snapdeal. A guy who had created a successful billion dollar startup, and who despite his remarkable achievement remained humble in his disposition and genuine in his words. He had a vision for Snapdeal that resonated with me. I firmly believe that first-class people hire first-class people; second-class people hire third-class ones. I could see how a company under him could only be first-class. Whereas most people take no time to sling mud at competitors, to become dream merchants of a fantastic future, Rohit made no attempt to sell Snapdeal to me. He simply shared his thoughts, his vision and the culture he wanted to create inside Snapdeal.
I came back with only good things to say about Snapdeal. To make the final decision, the entire Fashiate team needed to meet senior members of Snapdeal. Incidentally, Rohit was visiting Bangalore with couple of other senior members of Snapdeal. This was the time we actually showed a demo of our product to Rohit. He started liking Fashiate. Fashiate started liking Snapdeal. A few more rounds of discussion and it was clear to us that Snapdeal would be the platform to execute our primary motive — to help people find what they want, starting with fashion commerce. This was it. This was the first lap of our roller coaster journey. From the day we starting working on Fashiate to the day we decided to be a part of Snapdeal, we had learned a lot — about startups, about building companies, about building products, about raising funding, about co-founder dynamics, over and above everything about ourselves. All deals involve fleshing out details and a round of negotiations. This one was no different and the synergy we had ensured a smooth ride during that time. All paperwork was complete within one month of the first meeting. And before we knew it, we were sitting in Snapdeal’s swanky new Bangalore office, discussing the next steps of our journey. After an incredible first phase, this journey will now have a bigger platform, a bigger excitement, a bigger impact!
The aim still, adding little joys to lives.