“Winners never quit and quitters never win” this quote from renowned American football coach Vince Lombardi, continues to resonate with entrepreneurs years after it was first said.
While it is easy to say that one should never quit, at times it gets difficult for an entrepreneur to keep up with this maxim. For FirstCry cofounder Supam Maheshwari, this doggedness and determination is often what sets successful founders from those whose ventures failed. FirstCry’s journey from a kidswear website to a gamechanger in the D2C space was the topic of discussion in the opening keynote of The D2C Summit by Inc42 Plus.
In conversation with SoftBank Vision Fund’s operating partner Vikas Agnihotri, Maheshwari shed light on his entrepreneurial journey, how the D2C space is evolving and how he envisions building FirstCry’s Global Bees platform. Here are the key takeaways.
Entrepreneurs Are A Different Breed
Maheshwari began his journey as a founder with edtech startup Brainvisa, which was founded in 1999. After eight years of operations, it was acquired by US-based group Indecomm Global Services for $25 Mn, which kicked off the FirstCry phase for Maheshwari.
Three years after the Brainvisa exit, Maheswari launched FirstCry as a kidswear ecommerce platform and it went on to achieve unicorn status in February last year. Today, the startup claims to have more than 5 Mn users and a retail footprint of over 300 stores spread across 125 cities. So Maheshwari’s thoughts on entrepreneurship and building startups come from a place of accomplishment.
“Entrepreneurs are a breed which dares to dream, they dare to fail and also dare to succeed, come what may.”
He added that Indian entrepreneurs are showing that they have fire in the belly and an intense desire to win and overcome all odds. As per Maheswari, the current evolution of D2C space in the country is further fanning the fire in the belly of entrepreneurs, making them dream big. As per a recent Inc42 Plus report, India’s D2C market is expected to reach $100 Bn by 2025. At present, there are 800 D2C brands and most of them are witnessing a spike in demand during the pandemic.
Talking about entrepreneurship he said that having an intense desire to build something and sharing your passion with others in the team is the right formula to start something meaningful.
He goes on to say that a startup founder will face multiple hurdles in his way and at times might even see things not going according to plan.
“You might have to change course, take a corrective course, listen to your inner voice, listen to your audience,” he added.
How The World’s Biggest Investors Backed FirstCry
In the early days, Maheswari says he was confident about only one thing — he and his team had the ability to execute better than others. Going down memory lane, he added that there was competition from Tiger Global and Accel-funded startups, but that didn’t deter the team from executing.
Maheswari along with his team continued their work and started making inroads and eventually got a taste of success through their very first institution round of investment in 2011. The company raised its Series A round of $4Mn from Elevation Capital, then called SAIF Partners in 2011. Once the investment came in, there was no holding back for Maheswsari and his team as they continued to expand their operations and invested in their technology infrastructure. The very next year, they raised their Series B round worth $14 Mn from new investors – Chiratae Ventures and IDG Capital. The firm got its first international cheque from Vertex Venture who led its Series C round worth $15 Mn.
He goes on to say that at times founders fail to raise capital not because they failed to pitch ideas in the right way, but because of the “opaqueness” that venture capital firms today have.
Looking back, he said that FirstCry is among the lists of many VC firms that missed the opportunity to invest in the first place. “There was a time when I was literally begging them to invest in my firm,” he added.
Along the way, FirstCry also made the eye-catching acquisition of BabyOye in 2016 from the Mahindra & Mahindra group. It remains one of the first examples of a startup acquiring a business backed by a corporate entity.
Then In 2019, the company attracted the attention of SoftBank which led the Series E round worth $149.4 Mn through its SoftBank Vision Fund. He said that getting ‘SoftBank’s stamp’ was important as it helped them to dream big. To date, the company has raised a total of $741.4 Mn across 10 rounds of funding.
GlobalBees — The Next Big Thing For FirstCry
The D2C segment saw capital infusion worth $2.04 Bn between 2014-2021, with Sequoia Capital capital being the most active in doling out cheques. And this year, the market has seen the entry of new ecommerce models, similar to US ecommerce unicorn Thrasio. When one has a core team to rely on, then founders can keep building more such products and experiments.
When asked what still drives him, Maheswari said that having a reliable core team whom he can trust helps him to push further. Explaining further he said that many of the core team members of FirstCry and Global Bees, a Thrasio-style investment venture, are from his first startup Brainvisa.
FirstCry’s Global Bees is one of the early adopters of the Thrasio-like model in India. Taking a page out of a foreign company’s playbook and expecting a similar kind of impact in India is perilous, so this is seen as a litmus test for the vision of the FirstCry founder.
Massachusetts-based startup Thrasio was founded in 2018 and is valued in the range between $3 – $4 Bn. The ecommerce company started consolidating third-party sellers on Amazon in the US and helped them to scale further. Global Bees is looking at a similar model and is looking to acquire 30-40 D2C brands across categories. And Maheshwari is confident about the same core from FirstCry pulling off the new venture. “The bond that you build in the first league of your journey takes you a long way because you can build a telepathic understanding of taking roles/responsibilities and deliver as you believe in the vision that you and your team have collectively signed on,” he explained.
Global Bees will be headed by Nitin Agarwal who was a cofounder at Brainvisa. It has even received funding worth $75 Mn from SoftBank, Chrys Capital, TPG, and Premji invest. Maheswari said that the vision is to partner with entrepreneurs and help their brands scale, by hand-holding them to grow their business, complementing the founder’s abilities. GlobalBees is a step that will bring like-minded people together to unleash new avenues and create household names.
Taking a swing at big companies for not innovating, he said that companies such as Unilever are stressed out and are neither innovating nor are they agile as D2C entrepreneurs are. “Partnering with fellow entrepreneurs to take their dream to the next level is the dream of Global Bees,” he added.