The Indianaut Chronicles #5

A Conversation With Vaibhav Lall (Founder, Khojdeal)

Introducing, 'The Indianaut Chronicles', a fortnightly interview series where we sit-down with some of the most accomplished entrepreneurs, CXOs, leaders, innovators, and visionaries to figure out what makes them tick and how they're spearheading the next wave of Indian innovation.

As a customer, the best part about shopping is to discover the best deal, cashback, discount, or coupon to boost price satisfaction from that purchase. This was made possible due to Khojdeal, founded by Vaibhav Lall in 2016. Khojdeal is an online product and deals discovery platform that helps users get the best offers curated in one place.

With immense knowledge in the entrepreneurial field, Vaibhav has worked under myriad domains ranging from consultancy to business development. He previously ventured into e-commerce with GetDandy and founded Permeate360 to provide branding and marketing solutions to renowned clients.

Falguni: What is your Indianaut origin story?

Vaibhav: “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.” Having heard people saying this, I never imagined that I would live this myself. Especially after shutting down my first startup in 2012 and navigating my way through the corporate ladder for 3 years, I never thought that I’d be back in the game so soon - building a product from scratch and living the startup life again.

At that point in time, the provenance of a digital revolution in the Indian ecosystem had commenced and garnered a steep growth curve for a gamut of businesses to upscale. With increasing internet penetration, we knew that India's e-commerce story had just begun. The consumers in the urban nexus were growing comfortable ordering everything online and shoppers from second and third-tier cities were starting to experiment with ordering standard products like electronics and home accessories. Owing to our massive population, we knew that India would be a hotbed for internet-based businesses, especially the e-commerce industry.

We realized that as more consumers will get online, they would look for guidance and deals around shopping from e-commerce stores. This motivated us to start building Khojdeal, a deal discovery platform. Khojdeal was beta-launched circa 2015 and finally rolled out in March 2016 for the world.

Falguni: How popular is the concept of cashback in India and how well placed are you in the Indian ecosystem in terms of the cashback business?

Vaibhav: Propelled by the rising smartphone penetration and 4G connectivity, India's e-commerce market is expected to grow to $200 billion by 2026 from $38.5 billion in 2017. Major e-commerce players understand the benefits of discount coupons and cashback websites. India is a price-sensitive market and websites like Khojdeal become the driving force behind converting ‘window-shopping’ users to actual buyers. Cashback is also one of the main distinguishing factors between online and offline shopping.

Khojdeal is almost 5 years old now and we help around 5 lac+ users every month to find the best deals and cashback offers across multiple e-commerce stores. If we take the example of the recent Great Indian Sale on Amazon, our users earned a cashback of more than INR 8 lacs in just a week.

Falguni: What gap in the existing ecosystem are you trying to bridge?

Vaibhav: When we launched Khojdeal back in March 2016, there was only one other player in the cashback business in India. We started with the vision of becoming a leading cashback website but over the past 5 years, we have evolved into a deal discovery platform with the sole objective of enabling users to make informed decisions by providing them detailed reviews and listicles. Coupons and cashback sweeten the deal by saving extra money over and above the ongoing sales.

We aim to become a one-stop destination for consumers to stay updated not just about the active deals or cashback but also as an informative portal that acts as an online shopping assistant for them.

Falguni: How do you plan to become an industry leader in the crowded Coupon market in India?

Vaibhav: We enable our online shoppers to find the best deals that are live on 1500+ e-commerce stores and also earn cashback over and above these deals. An amalgamation of AI automation, customer service, and inbound content marketing strategy is what sets us apart from our competitors. We enable consumers to make informed purchase decisions by providing them detailed reviews around multiple products useful in their daily lives. Khojdeal aims to add value to the user’s shopping experience in ways beyond what a coupon website usually does.

Falguni: Affiliate marketing is the ultimate tool to nurture loyalty in customers. How does your platform work in tandem with that?

Vaibhav: Indians love a good bargain and are always on the lookout for great deals. We leverage cashback as one of the key drivers to deliver performance to our partner brands. Affiliate marketing or loyalty programs can be used to harness the power of one’s customer base. Affiliate marketing uses these customers as brand evangelists that spread the word about your product or services to their circle of friends and followers.

At Khojdeal, we closely collaborate with brands to develop their targeted messaging which captures their brand essence and unique selling points (USPs). This helps us build trusted partnerships. When we write reviews or share information about a product or service, we are essentially reaching out to our community and positioning the brand as a trusted place to buy from. With the toppings of coupons and cashback, we eventually convert these informed users into buyers and nurture loyalty in customers.

Falguni: What is your creative growth hack strategy to reach out to your target audience organically?

Vaibhav: As a company, we focus on providing maximum value to our members. Providing them with detailed information about products and bargaining the best cashback for them is our growth strategy. You can call this our brand's mantra which each one of us lives by.

First and foremost, I would advise to never undermine the value of customer experience. According to a recent survey by Hubspot, it was found that 74% of customers switch brands if the purchasing process is difficult and 51% never do business again because of one negative experience. In the digital era, we don’t need a sales rep anymore but rather a robust and agile customer service team.

A modern-day consumer does not want to be sold to, they want to be informed and educated. Thus, brands should engage in Inbound knowledge monetization rather than investing in out-bound, interruption oriented marketing strategies. This not only garners a strong customer acquisition funnel and a positive brand recall but also builds brand loyalty as a long term asset. A great experience online from a customer’s standpoint will eventually optimize your sales funnel as customers engage in word-of-mouth marketing to become organic promoters of your brand.

Leveraging the power of Social: Targeted content marketing must be deployed across the omnichannel network nexus. Brands must find the best mix of content on the right channels at the right time.

For a holistic customer experience, we need to focus on both the demographics as well as the psychographics of our target groups. Companies should leverage data and create a valuable end-to-end experience for an individual customer. The end game is ROI; e-commerce stalwarts should deploy digital analytics to understand their customers’ online behavior and then market their products and services in tandem. Automation can also help in creating customized solutions to curate a personalized shopping experience for users.

Falguni: How many brands are you currently associated with? How do you encourage local vendors to partner with you to support the ‘Make in India’ initiative?

Vaibhav: In tandem with the Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat initiative, Khojdeal offers a platform to local vendors to showcase discounts on their products offering for the Indian audience. Being Vocal for Local has been a part of the organization's ethos since it’s conception in 2016. A spectrum of players from the Indian startup ecosystem are offered visibility and a platform to share their stories with our audience in addition to cash-deals.

We have more than 1500 brands associated with us across the globe. We are in the process of integrating them on Khojdeal as I write this. We truly believe in the Digital India vision of our Prime Minister and encourage local brands to get online and realize the potential of e-commerce, thus supporting the Make in India initiative. I also consult some people in my personal capacity to help them leverage the power of digital.

Falguni: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business and how have you innovated to overcome the same?

Vaibhav: Unprecedented disruption caused by Covid-19 across the globe has pushed e-commerce penetration globally driven by consumers' need for safety and convenience. India has also seen massive growth with respect to e-commerce due to the pandemic. A Bain and Company-PRICE survey of 3000 households across income groups and geographies, conducted between April and June, revealed about 13% of respondents were buying online for the first time and approx. 40% were buying more online.

Initially, Khojdeal saw a dip in traffic as people were trying to process the reality of lockdown, but then as the survey suggests, owing to safety concerns, almost everything needed was being ordered online. We saw an increase in categories like groceries, home improvement products, entertainment, artistic supplies, and DIY tools. However, we also saw a devastating crash in categories related to travel like flights and hotel bookings.

Sailing through the first few months post the pandemic was tough for us since the advertisers were calculating the extent of damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many paused their affiliate campaigns and it had a direct impact on us. However, it started settling gradually and we were back on track by September. Recreational growth and constant learning are the core attributes of our company culture. While others were still adjusting to the new normal, our team upskilled with online courses during the lockdown to become more agile in this data-driven era and to come out as more resilient for a post-COVID world. This not only helped our workforce in upgrading their skills but also helped them in achieving their goals in a more organized manner which eventually enabled them to take up additional responsibilities with ease.

Falguni: What one piece of advice would you like to give to the aspiring 'Indianauts'?

Vaibhav: In Paulo Coehlo's words, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

Entrepreneurship has allowed me to do what I LOVE and create a positive impact in this world. I believe it is a state of mind; a way of thinking. I was inspired to start a company at the age of 23 because I wanted to be around people smarter than I was at the time. Today, after spending 12 years as a professional, I can confidently say that it has been the best growth hack of my life. So, go ahead and find your dream and dive into it with full passion and love.

Falguni Chaudhary is a PR specialist and communications strategist. She has previously worked as a consultant for startups in the AI, sustainable fashion, ed-tech space, and was previously a contributing editor at NewsD, Youth Incorporated Magazine, and Feminism in India.