What would you give to get 2.5 crores for your startup? Now imagine getting it on national television from a distinguished set of industry veterans? That’s essentially The Pitch.
Essentially it’s a reality show with 10 contestants, who were selected from over 500 applications. Each week on a fresh episode, a business leader will design and assign business tasks to the participants. The tasks will be designed to challenge the aspirants on the most critical skills required to be a successful entrepreneur and by eliminating the weakest performer.
The winner gets to walk away with upto Rs.5 crores in funding from reputed angels and VC’s. This year’s judges were Mahesh Murthy of Pinstorm & SeedFund, Vishal Gondal of IndiaGames, Alok Kejriwal of Games2win and Neeraj Roy of Hungama.
This year’s winner was Sujayath Ali, the Co-Founder and CEO Voonik.com. He won a whopping INR 2.5 Crores in funding from SeedFund on the Final Episode of Bloomberg India’s ‘The Pitch 3.0’ after competing against 10 other amazing Entrepreneurs. You can catch the episodes on their website – btvin.com/thepitch.
Voonik.com wants to be your very own online personal stylist. It melds together personal style recommendations with e-commerce. Do checkout their website to get a better idea.
It was founded by like-minded people from companies including Amazon, Zoho, HP Research Labs, IBM, Fresh Desk, and Aryaka and from institutions including Indian School of Business, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras Institute of Technology, Pearl Academy of Fashion, and Image Consulting Business Institute. Voonik is based out of Chennai.
Sujayath wants to bring about a new way of shopping, with a firm futuristic perspective in mind. With over a decade’s experience in product development, e-commerce, analytics, cloud Computing, mobile commerce and go to market strategy among others, he is transforming Voonik to operate as a data company instead of a traditional ecommerce company.
He has a stellar background as well – with over 7 years at Amazon, he holds a number of patents and was a key player in Amazon’s payment system.
Sujayath endeavours to meld machine based predictions with the power of expert curation to address the eternal fashion centric woes of Indian shoppers. An MBA in Technology and Finance from the Indian School of Business, he also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science Engineering from Mepco Schlenk Engineering College.
How It Works
I signed up on Voonik.com, being a single, male engineering student, I was in desperate need of some styling tips.
After singing up, it asks you a few quick questions and then helps you select the right clothes for you based on a number of factors like body type, skin tone, height, etc.
They then ask you to select events that you often frequent to give you even more accurate recommendations: Casual Social Event, Casual Business, Formal Business Meeting, Sports, Traditional Indian, Religious, Western and many more!
Then there’s also the option of asking their in-house style experts on clothing and fashion tips.
So overall it seems like an interesting way to buy your clothes, bringing a personal touch to online shopping. Let’s see if it catches on with the Indian market.
We got in touch with Sujayath for a quick chat about his startup and on winning the 3rd season of The Pitch.
Inc42: How does it feel to have won ‘ The Pitch 3.0’? How do you plan to use the funding and the mentorship to your advantage?
I feel humbled by the experience gained in the Pitch program. I have so much to learn and so much distance to travel to get out of the woods. Winning is not a personal victory but a function of the funding needs of my startup and the stage that we are in. There were people more capable than me but were either too early or too late for seed funding. We plan to use the funding and mentorship to get bolder and to do some bolder experiments. Till now, we have been too conservative.
Inc42: In what way has your MBA from ISB helped you in your journey into entrepreneurship? Do you think an MBA is a necessary tool for entrepreneurs?
a. What MBA gives is a mindset to understand the big picture and to understand how every tactical thing you do fits in that big picture. You can get to this mindset through experience, through books, or through mentors as well. But yes, the mindset is a necessary one.
Inc42: How has the experience at ‘The Pitch 3.0’ helped your startup Voonik.com?
It shows me I am not perfect and neither is Voonik. It shows me the gaps that we have as a company that we need to fill through hires, strategies, or processes.
Inc42: How has the journey at Voonik been so far? You must have had your fair share of downs and ups. Tell us about what you’ve learned from these experiences.
We are still in the woods searching for a path to break out. When we launched the product, we did not get any orders in the first few days and we even considered pivoting. But we gave it some time and things turned around. Key is patience.
Inc42: A few words on how each of the mentors guided/helped you in and after the show? Your views on each of them? (Mahesh Murthy, Vishal Gondal, Alok Kejriwal)
I have been a silent follower of Mahesh Murthy for a long time. After Paul Graham, his ideas are the ones that inspired me to start-up and have formed a basis of our tenets. He often takes a polarized position, which is dramatically helpful in forming thought processes. He reminds me of Jeff Bezos. When I was at Amazon, we prepare a lot for all sorts of questions for a Jeff meeting. But in the meeting, he will ask questions from an angle which no one would have thought of, mocking all the preparations we did. Same thing happens with Mahesh and that shows his superior intelligence and immense creativity.
If Mahesh is the greatest mind for strategy, Vishal is for the execution. He is honest, straightforward, passionate, and hard working. He is a living example of how to excel by loving what you do. He is not doing games to make money; he does because he enjoys doing that. He is recently into fitness and you should see the passion and love he shows for it.
Alok Kejriwal was the very first entrepreneur I knew, when I did not even know what “entrepreneur” means. Today he is a very different person. He is an enlightened soul. I admire him a lot and he is the role model for any human being, not just entrepreneurs. He believes in transforming other people’s lives and not just merely helping. He is hungrily searching for opportunities to help others. He wants to touch as many lives as possible. His messages are beyond entrepreneurship. You have to meet him to believe.
Inc42: What is your favorite book and/or movie?
a. Favorite Book: Innovator’s Dilemma
b. Favorite Movie: The Aviator
Inc42: Which inspiring personality past/present would you like to have a dinner conversation with? Why?
I want to have dinner with Paul Graham. Without his essays, there is no Voonik. He has so much clarity in what he says. There are no grey areas. In this ambiguous world of Entrepreneurship, he is a guiding light.
Inc42: Currently Voonik.com’s main target audience is Women aged between 18 -30. Men are generally the ones who have no/little fashion sense and would benefit a lot from styling the services of Voonik.com, any plans to provide similar services to men too, in the future?
We started with both men and women and started focusing on women as they were reacting better to our value prop. It will take extra effort to make men understand the importance of what we are doing; women readily get that. We will get back to men soon.
Inc42: Any message or advice that you’d like to send out to budding and peer entrepreneurs?
Be bolder. Make bold experiments. Forget the conventions. The incumbent companies have the resources and conviction to innovate; how can startups compete with them? By doing things which are beyond the traditional definition of innovation. Don’t look at incremental improvements; completely change the way how things work.
Inc42: How was your experience at the show, The Pitch, overall? Any negatives or improvements you’d like to see in the show?
It was personally a challenging exercise. The judges understand your weak points, tear into those, and expose it to the whole world. It takes a lot of courage to go through that exercise and come clean. We cannot change the show; this is the format and only for tough ones to go through.
Inc42: Finally the 2.5cr for 30% equity deal, is this around what you were expecting? What is your opinion on the deal?
We were getting other offers too and so we knew this was around the market rate for our product. Either we persist till traction with our own funds, or take money at this rate. We chose to take money as it will allow us to make bolder experiments without worrying about daily survival.