Conversation with Sandeep Aggarwal, Founder, Droom
It is a fact that there is no other platform like Droom in India yet. Founded by Sandeep Aggarwal of ShopClues.com in April 2014, Gurgaon-based startup Droom is an online marketplace for buying and selling of old and new automobiles. But what makes it stand out from the competitors?
- It follows all four models of operation i.e. B2B, B2C, C2C, C2B.
- Unlike classified listing sites like OLX, it is an end-to-end service.
- It has an unparalleled AI and machine learning platform. With just 170 employees, Droom boasts of achieving an annualized GMV of over 4,102Cr. This is an unprecedented feat in India.
Startup Buzz Media recently had a chat with the founder and CEO, Sandeep Aggarwal. Here is what he had to say.
Ques. How did the idea of Droom come about? When did it struck you?
After ShopClues, I was looking at a bigger issue to address through technology; something with a scope of a big internet company. I also realized that online and print automobile classifieds are not the solution to the problems of the buyers and sellers. This is when the idea of Droom came to me.
Ques. How is Droom different from OLX, CarDekho, and other such companies?
Unlike online classifieds like OLX and discovery platforms such as CarDekho, we are end-to-end service providers. We don’t only post listings on our website; we also provide 360-degree assistance to the users. Droom is one of- the its-kind platform in India.
Ques. People here are still opening up to such online platforms. How comfortable do you think they are using such online services right now?
People are definitely opening up and embracing online purchases. Until a few years ago, people were only buying books online. Then, they started buying clothes, shoes, and electronics. Today, people are even buying LED 3D TVs. From finding dates to looking for home loans, people are depending on the internet to do everything. The trend shows that they are ready for big-ticket items like automobiles. Out of 1.3 billion Indians, 350 million are internet users and 60 million are the online shopper. Out of this 60 million, 15 million users (25%) buy multiple items online every year. These people are our core online shoppers. It is estimated that by 2020, this number will increase to 100 million. These are some very good numbers.
Ques. How hard is it to reach out to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and what is Droom doing to get its customer base there?
Until September 2015, we were operational only in NCR. Now, we are active in 150 cities out of which we are already generating good revenue from more than 75 cities. We have a unique value proposition- trust, transparency, and pricing. It is a mass appeal and not just an urban appeal. This is why we have been making good inroads to these tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
Ques. How does Droom go about ensuring these three parameters of trust, transparency, and pricing?
We have multiple features like ECO- an independent app to get an unbiased and objective vehicle inspection report. This report is based on 121 exhaustive checkpoints. Also, we use data sciences to maintain the trust factor. We also provide full circle trust score to ensure the buyers that they are dealing with trustworthy sellers. All our listings are rated based on 15 factors. Our effort is always directed towards making the transaction transparent.
Ques. Please shine some light on the growth and sales numbers of Droom.
We sold our first vehicle on 7th January 2015. Since then, we have sold over 30,000 vehicles. At present, we have over 59k sellers and 88k+ listings. Our annualized GMV stands at 4,102Cr+.
Ques. What is Droom doing in terms of marketing?
Since our customer base comprises of internet users, we majorly use digital marketing. We want to target the core online shoppers. In our industry, brand and product perceptions play a very important role. And for this precise reason, we have adopted the way of digital performance-based marketing, social media, e-mailers and promotional activities. Currently, Droom has a 2.1 million Facebook fan base. Due to this, Droom is the largest automobile-focused community today.
Ques. You have implemented machine learning technology in your customer support division. Does it also extend to other departments?
Machine learning and AI in data sciences are at the heart of Droom. We have managed the feat of generating 1000 crore business with just 4 people in customer support. Because of machine learning at the core of our processes, we can manage a seller-robot communication without an error. Our platform can also automate notification processes for e.g., if a particular listing doesn’t get any response for 10 days, it can notify the user and also suggest them to lower the price of the listing. In this market category, Droom is easily the most advanced marketplace. Because of this, we are still a staff of 170 people with a 1000 crore annualized GMV. Nowhere in India can you see that.
Ques. You recently completed your Series B round of funding? What are Droom’s plans from here on?
We will be expanding our categories to auto loan and insurance. We have earmarked this money to expand to southeast Asia because we believe that we have a global opportunity here.
Ques. Along with running Droom, you also actively invest in startups. What do you look for in a startup? More importantly, what do you look for in an entrepreneur?
Being a prolific investor, I see if the founders are energetic and passionate. Are they being driven by vision or just the need to be their own boss? I like to invest in technology-driven businesses. So, I like to think in terms of how important a role that technology is going to play in our lives and how uniquely qualified is the person to solve a problem.
Ques. In India, we see a lot of service-based startups but rarely a product-based startup. What do you think is the reason for this trend?
The problem lies in our system. We missed out on Industrial Revolution of 1760. After Aryabhata, we have not produced an inventor like Edison or Graham Bell. It actually also depends on the aptitude. In our business ecosystem, product-based companies are deemed as very risky. We have a bias towards rewarding something that can be profitable sooner.
Ques. What is an average day at work like?
I am basically a high-energy, high-passion kind of a person. And then I am paranoid too. As Andrew Grove has said in his book, “Only the paranoid survives”, I take even the smallest of the problems very seriously. I think that level of seriousness and dedication is the way to top. Saying that, on a typical day, I work for 17-19 hours. I wake up at around 6:30 am, go to the gym, start checking mails after that. It is usually a working breakfast for me. I reach office around 10 am where, being a CPO too, I spend 60% of my time in discussing and strategizing products. Apart from this, interaction with teams is a daily routine to which I give very high importance. Remaining of my time is spent on PR and marketing activities.
Ques. How do you balance your professional life with your personal life?
Sometimes I don’t see my kids for days despite living under the same roof. But having worked with 4 Fortune 500 companies, I think I have come to terms with the reality. To succeed, one needs to make some sacrifices. Nevertheless, we keep going on small unplanned vacations and spend quality family time there. I think taking such breaks with family is a must for anyone.
Ques. Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you started your first business?
Just start following your passion; don’t wait for a perfect time to start. I wish I had started earlier. I was a young kid when my father started his business. While helping him with branding, challan book, etc, I came face to face with a business model which I had no understanding of at that point. I was doing those things naturally without realizing they were entrepreneurial in nature.
Ques. One book that you think all aspiring entrepreneurs must read.
Books really motivate me. I have more than 850 books. They have traveled with me to two different continents and seven different cities. Out of them, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier is my most favorite.
Ques. You had put your own money into your earlier startup, ShopClues. Can you briefly recount those days of struggle?
Starting ShopClues was not easy. I had a very well-paying job at Silicon Valley. I wanted to be an entrepreneur but at the same time, I thought I had worked very hard my entire life to be here. So walking away from all that was not at all an easy decision. I started moonlighting on the idea of ShopClues. I was alone in the beginning and it was hard. But then I realized that if I don’t believe in my conviction, how will I convince others? I spent $200,000 on ShopClues from my own pocket before I got any other investors on board.
Ques. Some words of motivation for the young entrepreneurs.
If you have a vision and you feel you can do better than what you are doing now at your job, then go after your dream by all means. The regret of knowing your dream and not doing anything about it is bigger than any other regret. Don’t do it because you want to be your own boss. Don’t do it just because you have money. Do it only if you have the dream and that passion in you.
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