Nearbuy.com (previously Groupon India) is a pan-India online marketplace platform that allows customers to connect with local merchants present in more than 35 cities in India.
As a business, it allows customers to discover, buy, save and thereby engage with over 50,000 merchants across 100,000+ distinct locations in more than 18 product and service categories.
Business: India’s first hyper-local online platform for customers and local merchants.
Co-founder / CEO: Ankur Warikoo
“A startup needs to be growing everyday…that’s a false definition. A startup is when you set your mind to do something and build a size and scale to make it happen faster.”
– Ankur Warikoo
Nearbuy.com pushes the envelope with Experiential Marketing aka Engagement Marketing. It offers customers varied options to discover experiences within their cities while also providing local merchants with a strong branding and visibility-led platform for easy accessibility. Everything from Food & Drink, Beauty & Salon, Gym & Fitness, Health & Wellness, Movies & Events, Spa & Massage, Hobbies & Learning right down to Personal, Home & Auto, Nearbuy.com has clearly been gunning for all avenues to bring the perfect experience to their customer.
I spoke to Ankur to know more about what went on behind the scenes while creating a brand that makes its own rules.
- Journey to Nearbuy.com
- Business Model
- How they got their customers?
- Scaling through Experiential Marketing
- Scaling through Partnerships/Sponsorships
- How Quora and LinkedIn helped build brand Nearbuy.com?
- Summary of Growth
- Distribution of Traffic
- The Nearbuy.com Culture
Journey to Nearbuy.com
The genesis of Nearbuy.com began with the acquisition of Sosasta.com, a deals platform co-founded by Ankur Warikoo. In 2010 Groupon made its maiden entry in India by acquiring Sosasta.com. The platform was rebranded as Groupon India after a battle to acquire the legal rights to the name. It began as a subsidiary of Groupon, but after having firmly planted its feet in the subcontinent, Groupon India went on to become one of the fastest growing companies in the Groupon portfolio. With the entrepreneurial DNA of Groupon on the decline, Ankur made a conscious decision to move out with a management buyout. The independent entity thus formed, with investment from Sequoia Capital and a minority stake held by Groupon was rebranded to Nearbuy.com.
The appended timeline outlines the journey in greater detail.
Nearbuy.com is using the same model as Groupon.
- Nearbuy.com strikes a deal with the merchant on two fronts
- Customer discount on the merchant offering
- Nearbuy.com commission on the sale
- Customer pays the discounted price to Nearbuy.com on the purchase of a coupon/deal
- Nearbuy.com keeps its commission and transfers the rest to the merchant
- There is no upfront fee for a merchant feature
- Nearbuy.com makes money only when the merchant makes money.
Nearbuy.com has forged ahead in the discovery space which is novel for Indian audiences and it has worked well so far.
How they got their customers?
Family and friends
Nearbuy.com started how many other companies do. Initially, they tried and tested their services with family and friends. According to Ankur, “Your friends and family are influenced by you and might still continue using your services because of the close relationship. They will also give you genuine feedback.” The one thing we learned about Ankur’s initial 100 customers was that they weren’t necessarily people who fit Nearbuy.com’s customer persona. But the feedback gathered was important and useful to better the product and its offering.
Merchants pushing offers
Nearbuy.com had a distinct advantage of a marketplace wherein the merchants listed on Nearbuy.com’s platform would advertise their products on their respective channels. Close to 1,500 merchants advertising across all channels drove the customer traffic to Nearbuy.com People took to the idea of deals right away and Nearbuy.com had customers without spending a dime on marketing or advertising their product.
Facebook & Google AdWords
Nearbuy.com took to marketing online when they noticed people had begun searching for coupons and deals. They tried a number of channels and finally zeroed in on Google Adwords and Facebook which they found most effective for their business. Close to 90% of their marketing budget was spent on these two channels.
While marketing on Facebook, Nearbuy.com’s strategy revolved around the conventional ‘Get Offers’ type of ads. This worked well because any discounts on food services were readily and rapidly gobbled up.
Nearbuy.com’s Google Adwords were based on potential search queries in two categories – Nearbuy.com specific and brand (merchants/service providers) specific. They pushed out Adwords for every new merchant. Due to the volume of merchants present on the platform, the process was automated. Each time a merchant came onboard and went online, the Google Ad word would automatically go out as an advertisement. This helped save a lot of time and while staying efficient.
Nearbuy.com used overlays to promote their offers and deals. Subscribers who opted to receive emails received multiple offer/deal details in their Inbox regularly.
High Discount Vouchers
Nearbuy.com was ready to scale at this point decided to work with their most popular and in-demand service providers to help them do it. These included PVR and Domino’s Pizza to name a few. The plan involved selling a Rs.500 voucher for Rs. 99. A high discount voucher. Ankur knew that they were losing money in this transaction, but as an acquisition strategy, it worked well. These vouchers helped track users who came through this channel and measured how many purchases they would make in 7 days, 14 days and 21 days. This gave them an idea of whether this marketing was worth the steep discount or not. This form of marketing proved advantageous when affiliate marketing channels would pick it up at their end and promote it thereby driving high traffic towards Nearbuy.com. After a point in time, they were able to predict the success and failure of a campaign because of the data they had.
Heavy investment in Data Analytics
From very early on, Nearbuy.com has relied on data to make major business decisions. Nearbuy.com built a patented process, in-house, for its merchants to find the demand for their offerings in real-time. For example, you are a merchant listed on Nearbuy.com who owns a restaurant. There are 300 customers present in the vicinity of your restaurant on a given day/night. The question is how many customers do you want right now. Assuming you have 7 free seats, your answer is 7. The minute you key that answer into the system, the patented algorithm will scan the 300 customers around and determine a price at which you must sell to get 7 customers. Once the price is agreed to and confirmed by you, the merchant, push notifications are sent out to the relevant Nearbuy.com customers. Thus reliance on data analytics has helped make informed and strategic moves.
Events in Malls
The marketing was expanded to running small events and experiences in malls and shopping centers. This was definitely low touch because the number of people they reached wasn’t much, but it was high impact. It helped build longer brand recall through an experience. This was the start of what became Nearbuy.com’s signature marketing style – Experiential Marketing.
Direct aka Repeat Users
Customers/users who had enjoyed and availed of huge discounts on coupons/deals on Nearbuy.com kept coming back for more.
Scaling through Experiential Marketing
Nearbuy.com truly believes that Experiential Marketing is the way forward for a brand such as theirs in the 21st century. They want to create unique and rare experiences for people and catch that in action. This form of marketing is rooted in story-telling. This involves incurring costs that go into creating the experience itself such as the camera team, gifts given, among others. Executing customized campaigns with a certain context and relevance that touch the hearts of people is a tall order and no small feat. But it is definitely worth the effort because brand building and user acquisition through this mode are a lot more effective and long-lasting when compared to conventional print and digital media.
Here a few examples of campaigns that really stood out.
The Onion Heist Campaign
This one checked all the boxes. It went viral and also went on to win the marketing campaign of the year. The campaign stood for the most opportunistic creativity encountered in the Indian startup space in a very long time. At the time of this campaign, there was an onion crisis in the country, where onion prices were skyrocketing to Rs.100 per kg. Nearbuy.com’s marketing team decided to run a campaign to sell onions for Rs.9 per kg. An obvious deep discount that would get people’s attention. They bought 21,000 kg of onions with a plan to sell it over 7 days. 3000 kg per day. They sent teasers to a few journalists. On the first day, all 3,000 kg were sold in 23 minutes. Customers were restricted to buying 1 kg per email id. On the final day of the campaign, they sold 3000 kg in under 13 seconds! Nearbuy.com’s website crashed. This was unprecedented.
- The entire campaign cost Rs.13,00,000 and the PR it garnered was worth $6,00,000
- They delivered onions to over 78 cities
- They got 17,000 new subscribers in a matter of 7 days.
- Business literally doubled. When the buzz settled, traffic was 22% higher.
- The campaign was covered by Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal and the national media.
- Singapore Management University & ICFAI wrote this up as a case-study.
One Way Ticket Campaign
For this campaign, they tied up with Red Chillies Entertainment to give an opportunity for fans to share screen space with Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). Groupon India created a campaign called the One Way Ticket where people could log on to the website, pay Rs. 499 and bag the chance to act with SRK in his movie Happy New Year. The rules were simple, you had to send an audition video to Groupon and a group of eminent people from the film industry would rate the auditions and the top ten would be selected at the end of the process. The finalists would then get an opportunity to perform in front of Farah Khan, the Director of the movie and she would choose the winner. The campaign went viral with news and media picking it up and covering the story. Every news article mentioned the Groupon name and even SRK in his video while asking people to audition told the users to log on to Groupon India’s website to participate. The experience for the finalists and the winner was a joyous one and they associated it with Groupon India.
The Mominate Campaign
This was a simpler campaign to plan and execute. On Mother’s Day, Nearbuy.com invited people to nominate their mother through the Mominate campaign and the winning mother would get a chance to be pampered for the day while Ankur, the CEO of Nearbuy.com would fill in for her at home. Ankur actually went to the winner’s house, made tea for the family, took care of the grandmother while the mother was pampered in a spa and taken to a lavish lunch. With no marketing spend the video shot got 40,000 views in just 7 days by sharing on Facebook and Twitter. It tugged at many heartstrings and helped build traffic organically to the website.
Give Love Back Campaign
During Diwali Nearbuy.com approached a local brewery in Mumbai, spoke to the owner and decided to surprise their waitress Sophie who hailed from Manipur. They planned and organized thoughtful gestures to make her day a memorable one. Throughout the day she received unexpected gifts from the guests who visited the brewery. These included Rs.5000 tip, a free air ticket to Manipur, her rent for 6 months was paid and a cake to celebrate the day. The campaign video titled ‘Server gets tips worth 4 times her salary, in just one day’ went viral with close to 36,000 shares and over 314,000 views.
An ad during prime time would cost as much as how much Nearbuy.com spent for some of these campaigns and it would not have the same impact as the real thing, with social being a lot more popular and widely accessed than TV.
Scaling through Partnerships/Sponsorships
Nearbuy.com formed partnerships and sponsored events to scale its brand visibility.
The Grub Fest
- The Grub Fest is one of the biggest food festivals in India and considering one of Nearbuy.com’s top categories is food, they are a good fit to be their ticketing partners. In the October 2015 edition of The Grub Fest, tickets for the event were sold through Nearbuy.com in exchange for a % of the sales.
- Nearbuy.com wanted to establish their position as experience providers in the food space, their biggest category. They made a smart move and sponsored The Grub Fest Masterclass with online engagement as a run-up to the fest and live participation at the event.
- They also advertised their food and health services with standees during the event.
- The Grub Fest is a large event with thousands of people attending and for a branding ploy, it was undoubtedly very good strategy.
Top Chef Awards
- In keeping with the strategy of associating with premier food-related events, Nearbuy.com chose to be the Presenting Sponsor at the Top Chef Awards 2016.
- Top Chef Awards is a coveted recognition, especially in the Delhi-NCR area which is considered to be the most competitive food space in the country. With significant press coverage at the event and a well-thought-out association with leading food restaurants in the country, Nearbuy.com managed to further its agenda in the food space to a great extent.
- Nearbuy.com positioned itself as a food experience brand which has helped create partnerships with top restaurants that are frequented by many of Nearbuy.com’s customers. An event like this serves as an ice-breaker and helps onboard these restaurants that have a huge customer base in the form of working professionals on a platform like Nearbuy.com.
How Quora and LinkedIn helped build brand Nearbuy.com?
Ankur is one of the few Indian CEOs who speaks his mind on social channels. He has gained a considerable number of followers on Quora due to his honest and candid answers which are rather unexpected from a CEO. He responds to both generic questions and those about Nearbuy.com in equal earnest. A question about his fitness led to an answer (which went viral) in which he spoke about how he got a 6 pack after many months of working out.
Although Ankur chooses to air his views through his personal profile, it is definitely good for the company from many perspectives. It helps keep Nearbuy.com in the minds of customers consistently and constructively. That too without spending on PR or ads. For close to 30 minutes a day on Quora, there’s a constant chatter about Nearbuy.com. Some bad, some good but Ankur has learned to tackle both with equal aplomb. He has also hired top talent from Quora in increasing numbers that have gone on to contribute significantly to Nearbuy.com’s growth.
Ankur’s writing on LinkedIn also bears testimony to his candor around professional and personal themes. His articles hit a chord with many people because as a CEO he is very open and always willing to share his experiences. An often quoted and one of the most popular articles was My Failure Resume wherein he unabashedly listed all his failures. Ankur is clearly a natural at ‘tell it like it is’ and his firebrand writing style has elicited a positive and encouraging response.
Interact with people genuinely and honestly. Your personality is bound to shine through and bring the right kind of attention to your story and your startup’s journey.
Summary of Growth
|Early Adopters → Product Market Fit(0 to first 100 customers)||
|Product Market Fit → Scale / Refinement(100 to 1000 customers)
|Scale → Hyperscale(>1000 customers)||
Distribution of Traffic
SimilarWeb, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.
Nearbuy.com receives the majority of its traffic from Direct and Search which means strong brand recall and their content is really well optimized for search.
The Nearbuy.com Culture
Ankur has set the tone for the culture at Nearbuy.com with three rules:
- Respect irrespective of your title, where you studied, the team you are in etc. Respecting each person in the organization equally is key to being part of the bigger picture together.
- Ownership of errors and unsuccessful outcomes is imperative thus allowing for identifying things that are broken and working towards fixing them. This has led to a culture where performance is not faked.
- Performance is not measured based on output. It is measured based on the outcome. At Nearbuy.com it is not about what you were supposed to do, but what you were supposed to achieve.
Let the numbers speak
Data drives the decision-making at Nearbuy.com Its use is non-negotiable. Data determines everything in Marketing, from the platform to the tool even down to the creative process. The team knows that if they want to be heard, they need to bring the data.
Know your people
Ankur began an initiative in Nearbuy.com called Lunch with Warikoo through which he would have a casual lunch with each of his employees on different days. The agenda is ‘No-work talk’ and is organized for the sole purpose of getting to know his team at a human level to help understand what motivates, inspires and drives them in life.
Nearbuy.com’s people-centric approach has led to the creation of a brand that goes beyond the offering.
This unique ability has landed them the big win. A strategic investment by Paytm and the merger of Nearbuy.com and Little Internet. The merged entity will be India’s largest discovery and deals platform led by Ankur Warikoo.
I am looking forward to the new dynamics and possibilities that will stem from a strong partnership such as this.