Frendy – the next “Al a Grand” in Social Commerce

Frendy – the next “Al a Grand” in Social Commerce

Mitesh Shethwala, Head of Marketing describes how prior to Frendy he was a founder at Alagrand a fashion eCommerce marketplace. He revisits his association with Frendy during the drawing board days and tells us that the core reason he agreed on an acquihire has been Frendy’s culture of Entrepreneurial freedom. He tells us how he is one of the several entrepreneurs who make up the Frendy team and tells us more about his teammates and their unique entrepreneurial backgrounds.

In 2012 in the final year of University, I was studying business and technology. I developed a natural inclination towards building a business that could impact the lives of millions of people through the application of technology.

After a few years of working in 7 years. I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and in 2015 I started a fashion e-Commerce Marketplace – Alagrand.com that connected SME fashion sellers to customers across India. We had a simple “Do It Yourself” user interface, operated below Industry margins and provided operational support like Inventory Management, Invoicing, Shipping, etc.

Awarded by Gujarat Education Minister and Formal Indian Railway Minister

Gujarat was a fashion & textile hub and so very quickly we managed to get over a 1000 sellers on board, including some of the major local brands, and soon had a live inventory of 40,000+ products.

Alagrand.com was selected as the most promising startup of Gujarat by the Government of Gujarat, as well as received Google credit and raised a seed round of funding and was valued at USD 3 million.

In the process of raising a second round of funding in December 2018, I met Sameer Gandotra through a common friend. He was in the process of founding a Social Commerce startup. In our brief initial meeting, we hit it off as we both saw e-commerce as the future.  I had met very few people in Ahmedabad who had a similar vision of e-commerce and was also very impressed by what the Nebula group had achieved in affordable housing.

Since we were a bootstrapped company Sameer suggested an acquisition. I declined the initial offer but agreed to stay connected in a consulting role. Group buying and social commerce was hugely popular in China and had been getting some traction in India as well. A few hours of consulting a week would be a reasonable commitment and I would learn more about this new movement in eCommerce.  For Frendy I had the experience of working in the eCommerce field in Ahmedabad and they were looking for my expertise and advice on partnerships and resources available in the local market.

During the next month as the Frendy team was built up I saw the business plan being developed, a team being hired and finally moving towards execution. I saw the formation of a team full of past entrepreneurs and a culture where these past entrepreneurs were given freedoms very similar to if they were running their own company.

One of the first few people to join the team was Rajen the COO and Gowrav the CTO. I worked closely with both during the formation of the initial strategy and business plan.

Rajen has over 20 years of global experience in leading cross-cultural local and international teams and achieving sustainable growth incorporating Start-ups in Ecommerce, Retail and Direct Selling. 

I could see that Rajen has deep insight into micro-entrepreneurship and how women’s networks work in both Metros and Bharat. He has been extensively working towards women empowerment for over a decade and has helped thousands of women earn through micro-entrepreneurship.

His understanding of offline and online user acquisition & growth, and the brand-building came from his prior experience working for companies like Avon, Revlon, and OLX combined with an MBA from Australia. He was able to leverage his experience in Social Selling to craft a very unique business plan and concept.

Gowrav on the other hand was a True Techie with 21 Years of experience as an Entrepreneur developing software, technologies and products. He was proud to do something that helped Bharat. His leadership style was more in the nature of a Coach as he encouraged curiosity, interest, and inspired passion. In the early days, I had introduced Frendy to outsource the app development to a company in the start-up network in Ahmedabad. Once Gowrav was on board he was clear in his vision of moving development in house.  The decision was left to him. I think Sameer said something to the extent – “Think like an Owner but remember the responsibility lies with the Owner”. He quickly understood the business vision and putting difference aside and found a compromise solution by hiring fast and moving the development in house. At the same time, he continued the relationship with the vendor but without burning any bridges or affecting timelines. That transition would not have been possible if Gowrav was not given the freedom to call the shots but was also made to feel that he was responsible for the decision.

I really liked working with Sameer, Rajen & Gowrav a few days a week and at that time still saw my association as a part-time consulting gig. I was still focussed on Alagrand – my own startup. I did however start noticing the benefits of a funded start up. Things at Frendy moved fast – they had an affiliate company with resources at their disposal – hiring, finance, network, etc. Also, they had an ownership culture with fast decision making & responsibility which drove speed.

What really started to get me thinking was when I started seeing some people I knew join the Frendy team.

One Saturday (typically the days I would dedicate to Frendy) I met an old friend Parth Amin who had recently joined Frendy as the Product Head. Parth and I knew each other from our college days at Gujarat University. Later he went to IIM Indore and had since built and sold multiple start-ups.  He told me he had just sold his last bootstrapped e-commerce company, myPhoneMate, for a healthy return. Before that, he had also raised a seed fund for his mobile-app startup, All Dealzz, in the hyperlocal retail space.

The next week I bumped into Bhavik Shakhrani, another new recruit and someone I knew from a few years earlier when he was at Uber in Ahmedabad. Bhavik had moved to Zepo Technologies in Mumbai and had only recently returned to Ahmedabad. Just a week earlier we had spoken to each other and he told me he was interviewing for a job. Bhavik had really imbibed the hustle culture at Uber and I knew would be a great asset to Frendy.

By now Frendy was a team of 35 and there would be new faces every time I visited Frendy. I could see an experienced team forming and a great open start-up culture I had only read about in books. A common thread amongst most of the new recruits I would meet – they had all at one time or the other being an entrepreneur.

There was Jitendra who had recently joined as Head of Operations. Jitendra had been running different selling businesses on online marketplaces platforms like Flipkart and Amazon for years and both the platforms had used him as a role model for other sellers via their “Zero to Hero” program. Recently he had also managed the entire operations at Beardo, one of the more famous startups to have emerged out of Ahmedabad. Jitendra had recently left Beardo to start his own eCommerce business but as he said he was convinced by the Frendy pitch to give that up and be a part of something bigger.

There was Pinal Didwania who had worked in multiple companies and areas and also doubled up helping out in some of her family’s home entrepreneurial businesses. Vinu Nakum had over 14 years with McDonald’s, Dominos Pizza, and Faasos. He was very structured, understood Sales, Training and the benefit of Professional Development and Culture.

Swapnil Naila had owned and managed a chain of Supermarkets in Gandhinagar, Priyanshi Shah had run her own Instagram based Curated Shopping Business, Siddharth Shah was managing Influencers and so many others who were either freelance entrepreneurs or ran a small business from home.

As I saw more and more people (some of who were my friends) believing in the Frendy concept I started to doubt my decision of not joining up with Frendy 6 months earlier.

Could I jump ship (with the entire team which I built in 5 years)? There were two very compelling reasons.  I had come to believe in the Frendy concept of community commerce. I may have had some preconceived notions about e-Commerce where Frendy brought an entirely new perspective to solve the problem without burning cash as compared to many competitors. I never thought that any e-commerce company can reduce the CAC next to ZERO without affecting growth. And they were going to make it feasible in the near future with this Model.

Secondly, I felt Frendy was a place where I would still have the freedom to be an entrepreneur (with the responsibility of course). I had clearly seen this culture play itself out in the last 6 months of my association.

The next time I went into Frendy I thought I would just check whether the offer was still open and within half an hour we shook hands and Alagrand had just been acquired by Frendy.

It happened so suddenly that I had to call Sameer late that afternoon and say that I had to check with the team and find out if everyone was on board.

We took the decision on Friday and we joined the Frendy office on Monday along with the entire team. I must thank Rajen, Sameer & Gowrav for this no-pain transfer process of making us all feel like home & family.

In a few days, we figured out about the competencies of each employee and allocated different roles as per the strength. 

Today in May 2020 we are standing 100,000 Users strong and building the plane while falling from a cliff together with the decision to join Frendy seems worth taking the risk of merging Alagrand.com to Frendy!