SPARK OF THE CORPORATE
Her Dean from the B-School in Washington University believed in her more than she herself did and that imbibed in her so much confidence and courage to take on newer and greater challenges in her life much later as an entrepreneur (something she is as passionate about woman-entrepreneurship as she is about making Shopclues as the go-to place as far as a manage market-place is concerned).
Radhika Ghai Aggarwal, who co-founded ‘ShopClues.com’- India's first and the largest managed marketplace, along with her husband, Sandeep Aggarwal,and Sanjay Sethi in 2011 in Silicon Valley, has had to squeeze every bit of determination that she inherited from her army-man-turned-entrepreneur-father and her grandfather (who had served in the British Army) when faced with adversities - be it in personal life or in her quintessential role as the Chief Business Officer of the company.No wonder then that she is first Indian woman founder to enter the prestigious echelons of the Unicorn Club. Yes – Shopclues is valued at $1 Billion (it is the ninth Unicorn to come out of India)and will also, probably, the first profitable e-commerce company of the country as it is going strong by playing a different kind of niche altogether – the e-commerce for all those looking for a wider selection and lower price points.
Education, Ad agency,America and the super jobs
Radhika Aggarwal did her Post-Graduation in Advertising and Public Relations from Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya after graduating out from Maharaja Sayajirao University. She had always wanted to be her own boss. So, right after her PG, she started an Ad agency which she ran for two years (1997 - 99). One of the other reasons was perhaps the fact that unlike now, it had very little problem solving to do back then.
In 1999 she left for the US to pursue business management and got into an MBA (strategic management) course from Washington University at St. Louis. This was one of the most enriching phase of her life as after having studied so much back in India and having run a company, she still felt she needed to equip herself with greater purpose and aptitude.
Her career got a real fillip when she joined Goldman Sachs in its Wealth Management group in New York and Menlo Park, USA. She was the chosen one for the job. It so happened that of the 80 candidates called from the best institutes of USA, around 78 had worn a white shirt and she was the only one with a blue colored shirt – and incidentally the one that they chose after thorough screening. It would have been intimidating for someone seeking his/her first job in the land of dreams and finding herself in an apparently odd situation at the interview site. But not Radhika – who was as confident as it get. She had the moral support of the dean of her B-School – who had immense faith in her capabilities.
Then came the finest of jobs that really made her into the finished product she would turn out to be after she was done with them. She joined the Nordstrom – the chain of department stores in the US- in its centenary year i.e. 2001. She worked there as the internal consulting resource for the product development group. And this is where she had the best learning required for an entrepreneur. It inverted-pyramid on which customer rules whereas the CEO at the bottom obliges the needs of the business – kept inspiring Radhika and she made full use of every day of the 3 years and 4 months she was there.
Then she took a pregnancy break in 2006 and when she was ready to resume, she helped a company called Abhivyakti Infotech with its marketing strategy.
Then she foundedFashionClues, a social portal for NRI women.It is quite by accident that the co-founders met in the US and then joined hands to float ShopClues.com. It so happened that Radhika and Co-Founder (& CEO) Sanjay Sethi’s children studied in the same school in the US (in Fremont, CA). So their kids were what got them acquainted with each other and subsequent interactions they decided to do something big as Sanjay had studied the Chinese e-Commerce market while being employed with eBay and sounded out the Aggarwal couple about doing something similar in India – where there were indeed ecommerce players but all of them were following an inventory-based model.
Sandeep who worked as an analyst and Sanjay, who was with eBay, quit their jobs to start the company in Silicon Valley. They did a lot of R&D and came up with a business plan for starting the online managed market-place where they intended to sell products and goods from the unstructured categories. Despite the initial shock and a set-back (one of the investor who had promised to pitch in with $5 million backed out at the last minute), they mobilized enough funds through friends and family in just 3 days after that major hiccup and started off with about $2 million at their disposal.
ShopClues.com journey so far
There was also another brief set-back for the company when Sandeep, Radhika’s husband and the CEO of the company prior to Sanjay Sethi, was forced to step down owing to an insider-trading allegation.
The following year, Nexus Ventures Partners lead a round of funding to ShopClues with a $4 million Series A funding. This helped the company expand and cater to the length and breadth of the country, by bringing in many vendors to sell their fares on their market-place. It also got two more rounds of $10 million funding – from Nexus and Helion Venture Partners in 2013, followed by $100 million in early 2015 (tiger Global Management, Helion and Nexus) and another ~$150 round of funding lead by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC – thus clocking the magic valuation of $1 billion in 2016 – 5 years is all it took for this different type of ecommerce player to break into the Unicorn Club.
Style of functioning
Radhika Aggarwal knows that in an absolutely cut-throat world, especially in the ecommerce industry, the work-force is really the strength of any company. Therefore, she and the CEO follow an open-door policy – that is they don’t sit in closed cabins where they risk being misunderstood as perhaps being inaccessible to the biggest asset of the company. In fact, they sit along with all the other employees of the company and function like a true team – each one’s role and responsibilities clearly defined and measured.
That is how she invests in the employees, trying to know who is doing what, and how it can be improved and appreciated when someone has done it or when someone needs a bit of a gentle push to go that much farther ahead in performing their job responsibilities.
Being the CBO – perhaps a new phrase coined by the trio – she is the one entrusted with answering the board when it meets, deals with challenges within the company, sets the tone for leadership and does everything in her power to be a role model for one and all – her employees as well as outsiders as well. She embraces all of it with due honesty, focus and passion – because if she can’t then she wouldn’t not be in a position to demand the same from others. Her passion and inspiring leadership so inspired a woman (who herself was a rebel in that she was the first person to have ever broken the cliché in the family – she wore jeans and took up a job) that joined the company because it had a woman co-founder. She herself cherishes one of the ShopClues-led success stories – a housewife who had started selling through ShopClues succeeded in doing well – which also encouraged her husband decided to quit his job and join her.
Her views of woman entrepreneurs
She doesn’t believe in differentiating woman entrepreneurs from their male counterparts on the basis of their orientation. She would rather have all – men or woman – be equipped with the skill, capacity, vision, and willingness of a leader and, hence, be respected as thus. Not because one is a woman and hence they have to be treated like that – just for the sake of it.
That is also why she and Sanjay Sethi (the CEO) get along so well – there’s mutual respect and also clarity of thought and vision and also their roles are so clearly well-defined – they stick to those and go about their work without having to ever think of the sex of the other official.They started out with 100 in 2011 and are now a propelled forward by a 1000+ strong work-force.
|The customer experience is important, especially when things go wrong.|
|Things go wrong all the time. How you react is the key test of character, and we have built a company with a strong culture and character.|
|I did not expect to enjoy the entrepreneurship stint as much as I have. My aspiration is to make Shopclues the number one ecommerce marketplace in India and South Asia." – March 2015.|
|Amazon showed us customer centricity as a culture, Flipkart showed us that Indian companies have what it takes to scale very rapidly, Snapdeal demonstrated organizational agility, that is, adapting to change rapidly. These are very important learnings for me personally and for our organization.|
|We fight the fight but do not lose perspective of the core strengths they bring to the table and have huge respect for them.|
|We empower employees to make decisions and try. You don’t get punished for failure, but for not trying.|
|I have had to miss a couple of the kids’ performances because I had important meetings. I tried to explain to them why it was not possible for me to be there. My kids and family have been supportive, but there is no utopia; it can't and doesn't exist.” – On work-life balance.|
|I cherish the small stories where ShopClues has touched the lives of merchants, merchant families and other stakeholders.|
Hope viewers caught up the spark…