Coffee with the CEO – In conversation with Anisha Singh, Founder and CEO, mydala.com
How and when did you feel the need to start mydala.com? Was it based on a personal experience or did you simply see it as an existing gap in the market?
mydala is actually my second company. My first company does digital content and has a JV with one of the largest real estate marketing firms in the US. I woke up one day and realized that Kinis was growing nicely and was pretty self-sufficient. I was looking at doing something more “cutting edge”. I was looking for ideas and came across the Chinese getting together and getting a discount. The same model seemed to be evolving in the US as well. Made perfect sense to try it in the Indian market where the only thing that had taken off was the experience of hybrid ecommerce in travel where you buy online but have your experience offline. However, in the first six months it also became clear to us that the main need was on the merchant or the small business side where they had limited options to market themselves.
Overtime we developed mydala into a marketing platform that helps all businesses especially local businesses market themselves via social media, mobile and our website. We help businesses build brand awareness and drive conversions to them. We help local businesses as well as online companies reach their right target user group leveraging mydala’s various platforms.
What is the best marketing move that you’ve initiated which sets you apart from your competitors?
When we started, we had limited money and so we knew that in order to grow we needed our customers to become our champions and that word of mouth advertising was going to be our asset. For the first two years of mydala, our users were our promoters. We also looked at alliances that we could leverage to grow. At mydala, the logic was basic business logic – if your acquisition cost outweighed the LTV on a customer, it didn’t make any business sense. So, we got our alliance network to grow and reach users.
How big is the online deals market in India and how much of the market has mydala captured? Please share some numbers, if possible.
As the first movers in the deals space, we are the largest, selling more than 150,000 vouchers a day. We have a strategic alliance with all major telcos in the country, and with a presence in more than 152 cities, we have the widest footprint in the country. Interestingly, smaller cities are contributing more in terms of revenue than the major metros. About 40% of traffic comes from non-tier 1 cities.
Recently, we launched a new vertical for the website and mobile app – grocery listing. The new grocery vertical will allow shoppers to view all offers on grocery items at nneighborhood supermarkets or kirana stores. The launch of the vertical has already witnessed half a million unique visitors.
Is mobile already a big segment for you? How has the traction been like for your mobile apps?
Absolutely! We started as a local business but realized pretty quickly that this would never remain just a desktop game. An entire generation has skipped desktops and their lives revolve around their mobiles. In 2011, much before everyone else was betting on it, we knew we had to get on mobile. It made sense as the next logical step to enable a user to seek out deals/ shopping at their convenience.
We also realized that no matter what we did, it would still be equivalent to a drop in the ocean – this required a bigger player. We then started having discussions with telco’s for strategic alliances. In 2012, we began working with Vodafone and the response was something even we had not anticipated. Till then, users only had the choice of ringtones or wallpapers, and we were giving them more options in the form of local deals.
We also leveraged our internal consumer analytics data to offer location-based deals and that’s when mobile really started building user momentum and our J-curve on mobile really came around. Fast forward to 2014, and more than 70% of our user traffic comes from mobile now. We currently run deals and offers for a lot of the top Telco’s reaching out to over 200 million users every month.
We are now India’s largest mobile couponing portal with the highest profile targeted mobile and internet base to reach out to. As mentioned before, we have a wide collection of data which will ensure repeat value of a customer. We are gradually expanding our presence on all online platforms and more than 75% of our company’s revenue being driven by m-commerce.
What has been your single biggest challenge in sourcing and retaining talent?
Actually, my founding team is still intact and with us. We’ve been really lucky to have a team that shares our vision and passion for mydala. We have a very open work culture, my door is always open and anybody can walk in and share their ideas with me. Our team is young and therefore we focus a lot on mentorship programs and quarterly training for our teams. We regularly have one-on-one team huddles to figure out and address any confusions, questions or concerns. It’s wonderful that getting the right kind of talent and getting them to stay has never really been a challenge for us.
How do you handle consumer complaints and bad word of mouth?
We have been fortunate that we have had an almost negligible record of consumer complaints, and most people have had a good experience with us. Because we grew on social media, we have used it to connect with our customers right from the start. Users/consumers have always been giving us feedback via our social media. Now we’ve actually taken it a step further and with the launch of any new feature we solicit user feedback via our social media. Similarly because we work with so many businesses we ask feedback from our users using social media all the time. Besides we have a dedicated customer support team and quick and effective resolution of complaints is a top priority.
Of course, there have been instances where consumers have not been completely satisfied. I remember I once got a call from an irate customer in Siliguri. He had purchased a coupon for the local outlet of a well-known coffee brand. And the local outlet refused to redeem the coupon. When he reached out to us we immediately called up the vendor. Turns out, the brand had never expected that someone from Siliguri would actually buy the coupon and so they had not briefed their team there. It was quite an eye-opener for us also, where the complaint actually gave us an idea of how much our footprint had expanded in the country.
What would be your piece of advice for new players entering the group deals sector in India?
We see a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs in general. Each day the support structure for entrepreneurs and start-ups seems to be maturing. Although it’s still not the Valley, but it’s become much better from when we started. There are a lot of angel networks, forums, incubators and support systems that are helping the new entrepreneurs think innovative.
Having said that, success is not achieved in a day’s work. It’s very important to have a vision but it’s great if it comes with some perseverance to back it up. When we had started, there were more than 38 deal sites in our competitive tracker, but now it’s down to less than a handful. It’s not like we had better luck than some, as matter of fact funding post the initial months was a regular concern, as was the ever-growing well-funded competition. I think the two things we did well were persistence, and looking at mydala from the perspective of a merchant and a user. The key was innovation and resourcefulness.
Also, people will only believe in you when you believe yourself. Never doubt yourself. If you set your mind and heart on something, go do it. What’s the worst that will happen, you’ll fail but that’s not all that bad, you just start over again.
Tell us more about your personal journey. How had been your life prior to founding mydala.com? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I grew up in Delhi, born in a Punjabi family enjoying the culture of a closely knitted joint family with my cousins.
I have spent 12 years in Washington DC, Boston and NY for my education. I graduated with an MA and an MBA. I worked for the Clinton Administration helping women entrepreneurs raise funding for innovative women-led businesses. The digital space was getting big in the US and it led me to start a company which provides digital content to US companies. When it didn’t need me full time, mydala came about. India is trending towards being an internet-driven consumer economy; I feel my work requires me to be on my toes always.
The other day, someone remarked that it has been 5 years since we started. To me it feels just like it yesterday. There have been days when I’ve come in and said, “Man, I don’t want to deal with this anymore.” But if I was extracted from the company, I would be lost. The sun has not been always shining on our backs. That made it even better. But being an entrepreneur the second time around, I’ve understood that every business has its ups and downs, and we just have to keep going with the flow. There is absolutely nothing else that I can imagine myself doing.
Finally, how did you come up with the name mydala and the reasoning behind it?
mydala itself means “my group”, taken from the Sanskrit word ‘dala’ which means ‘group’. The idea was to provide deals to customers in a group setting.
Anisha is the Founder and CEO of mydala.com. A true-blue red-blooded sardarni from Saddi Dilli, Anisha bhangra-stepped her way through a checkered academic career in Delhi and Washington D.C. — studying art, political communication, management and information systems marketing. She started off working for the Clinton administration in D.C. before moving on to e-learning, and eventually founded her first company.
As founder/CEO of mydala, her true calling, she zips through her days with enough energy to put Hurricane Sandy to shame. And as if that wasn’t enough work to employ the population of a small town, Anisha also doubles up as a yoga instructor.
In her own words, “The best part about being the CEO is that I get to be the ‘jack of all trades’ and do a bit of everything and yes am cool with being ‘master of none’ since there are plenty of great people on my team who are amazing at what they do.”
Anisha loves her “band of renegades” at mydala, sushi, wine, adventure sports and decorating cakes for which she is, you guessed it, professionally certified. Her weak point is her funny bone and you can have her in splits even with your lamest joke.
If she wasn’t working for mydala.com, Anisha would be sitting on a dharna outside the gate until they took her in.