I planned to start Nurturing Green in 2010, when a friend of mine gifted me a Zodiac Plant in Austria. I thought of how cool it will be to create a business model in India where gifting is an inherent behaviour & flowers category is seeing de-growth across the world. After shifting back to India in 2009, I found myself juggling to start my journey without parent’s money & any savings at all. Somehow, with the help of friends, family & fools, I was able to crawl the first few milestones of my startup journey. We raised a small angel round in 2011, after which we bootstrapped & grew through customer money.
Today, after 6 years we are a 100+ organisation bootstrapping to become India’s biggest gifting company along with helping our customers create green spaces indoor through live plants & related products, bringing fresh air inside & even creating world class landscaping for cities/governments. With presence in 11 cities & being omnichannel, we are also showcased in Harvard Business Review twice & have won many national awards including ET-Power of Ideas. And yes we are healthy EBIDTA positive & growing Y-O-Y at 3 digits. The long eventful entrepreneurial journey has taught us a few lessons which I would like to share:
GMV Is Crap, Unit Economics Is The Only Nirvana
Post Flipkart era, i.e, 2011–12, it was all about GMV. You spend investor’s money in exorbitant salaries & crazy discounts thinking customer behaviour will change, but it might reverse after removing the extra non-sustainable incentives. While we went out to raise money too to expand in 2012–13, we were been tagged as ‘lifestyle’ business & non sexy to be touched by prolific investors as they couldn’t have cashed out easily (well they didn’t in ecom case too yet!). Today when I look back, I am thankful to all the rejections (more than 30+ BTW) as they made us learn the basic principles of business – how to make world class products & how to drive higher growth rates with minimal costs.
Topline Is Sexy To Have, Bottomline Is Sexier & Cash Flow Positive Is Orgasm
I have learnt this after 5 years of my journey. I always thought of increasing topline by burning cash & thinking I will be able to bring the bottomline to required number & cash flow + post burn. I was wrong! Thankfully I learnt it early. We made this a basic pillar of every expansion we did – from hiring to geographic growth to increasing our retail presence. Today more than 80% retail points make money & 20% will do in next 6 months max, or we close it.
Understanding Why You Need Money
In 2013–15, it was fancy to say to people that we raised $ X million or become a me too brand & raise easy money without a correct business model. Things have taken a u-turn & again in 2016, investors are talking about unit economics or what you need money for — expansion or burning into discounts etc.? No real business can work without knowing these basic sustainable practices or a foreseeable sustainable business maths. One should know if he/she needs money to grow & whether the unit maths is making business sense, before raising money.
Customer Money Is The best Money
We have been so blessed to bootstrapped this whole time. Last 4 years have been really tough & we were always tempted to raise money through equity (not that we were getting it in 2013–14!). But somehow we managed to gain more traction, get repeat customers, make real net money & boom! Our cash flow today is positive. Even as our base has increased, we are budgeting to reach 2–2.5X growth next fiscal, without external equity money. Thanks to the future inflows we can predict from our lovely customers!
Adversity Makes You Innovate
Pre-2011 was a very tough phase in my life. I had to live for a year in my girlfriends apartment to save living costs. For many months, I even had to beg for INR 10,000 from my siblings to pay salary to our only gardener. But that made me a stronger person, & made me learn how to live & survive in bare minimum costs. In 2013–14, we had some real bad days when we were not able to raise money & our growth couldn’t be sustained with the cash flows coming in. I cried, I failed, I gave up & re-started; next day I failed & again started. Finally I survived! But in this phase, I learnt to innovate in everything we did! Right from saving costs (we worked from an apartment with 8k rental to getting second furniture for office) to making better retail deals. Now innovation has got into our blood & as we expand it is getting into our culture.