This Chair at FabFurnish spins 360 degrees

|October 23, 2015 0
He is presumably leaving nothing un-noticed as the newly-adorned CTO – be it the cliché playbook of horizontal e-commerce players, the pros and cons of inventory models, the gaps on content or curation and the new spray that a furniture e-tailer has to use to avoid the usual failure termites. As easy as saying ‘Touchwood', is it?

Pratima H

GURGAON, INDIA: Some peg it as a $ 500 million market, and some guesstimate it to be around $200 to 300 billion. Yet, the online slice is still underpenetrated when you think of the overall furniture market in India – which can be a good $ 30 to 35 billion in a few years even if we reckon the largely unorganized flavor of it.

This is just the starting if we tune in to Ken Research Pvt Ltd that puts the Indian furniture market growth rate somewhere around 13 per cent between 2013 and 2018. (Note how 85 per cent of the overall market is still ruled by unorganized segment with organized players like Godrej Interio, Nilkamal, Durian Furniture recently coming to the fore.)

That should explain the sudden surge of vertically-chiseled start-ups in the e-tailing spree here.

There are well-known names like Urban Ladder, Pepperfry (which, by the way, raised $100 million in a round led by Goldman Sachs as per media reports) etc to start with and then there are hungry players like Livspace (from the aegis of Home Interior Design E-commerce Pvt. Ltd that reportedly raised some $8 million in 2015), Spacewood Furnishers Pvt. Ltd (which seems to have culled in $13-15 million from Japan’s firm Sumitomo Forestry Co. Ltd.) and the extremely tier-1 city-focused Homelane etc. The list continues to only grow as other all-basket players like Amazon and Flipkart too announce plans to add furniture to their online shelves.

There is FabFurnish in the same game, propelled by Rocket Internet (the same hood under which Jabong, Food Panda etc emerged). It’s a player that is trying to etch a new living-room designed with special furniture and home-furnishing sensibilities in this otherwise plain big-e-commerce house.

A house with not-so-plain a dartboard of strategies though. Even as we gather our wits together around words like next-door-neighbour deliveries or open deliveries or same day deliveries in the general space, the furniture space is ready with its own new window sills. Pepperfry was last heard extending its Last Mile Delivery (LMD) service to 400 cities in India. Use of in-store comparison and visualization is all set to take shopping furnishings and furniture to a new ceiling. The game-changing elements of installation, assembly, services and logistics get even sharper and examples like FabOne re-iterate the charm of free expert assembly, open delivery, on-the-spot product demos, precise package tracking, holistic supply chain synergies, after-sales dynamics etc.

Yet the market is prodded with the same tensile strength and wobbles with the same set of worries when it comes to applying technology.

Yes, investments worth $two billion in logistics, infrastructure and warehousing are expected to roll in the next six years, and the e-commerce industry could be betting anywhere around $950-1,900 million by 2017-2020 on technology as per a PwC-Assocham study.

But the big gaping holes continue to remain– need for a predictive IT analytics framework, inability to tap the latent potential of analytics, weak infrastructure (which often fails to rise up to customer demand and immense market potential during moments of truth), app vs. web debates, and not to forget, lawsuits over fake reviews and lessons like big-billion sale crashes that keep flanking the technology corridor for this market.

As he dons the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) hat at this niche e-tailer for furniture FabFurnish, Nimit Kumar is very buoyant about technology innovation in the years to come. He is pretty confident of axing all the missing-blanks and assembling all scrambled pieces in the big picture for the portal’s, eh, loft-y plans ahead.

It was also shared recently how is taking a fresh approach beyond the typical discounting models and is busy building tech-enabled products and services that will allow a large offline market to transition to the online world.

Carrying a deep experience of a product and technology advisor at various companies as well as that of a founder; besides stints at leading research labs, financial analytic giants and venture-funded startups, building technology driven products for global markets and more; Kumar is wielding quite a toolkit under his belt.

But would he be able to distinguish between the industry’s deadwood from oakwood when it comes to strong strategies? And exactly how does he see the layout perched many feet above? Does he spot use of drones, VR and IoT at the same time when being a vertical player in a horizontally-hammered market poses its own set of struggles? We try to understand his design sense as he moves around some technology furniture in the e-commerce room.

So, get seated.

What’s dotting your vision as you take on this mantle as a CTO at FabFurnish? Specially as transitions from inventory-led to marketplace model are afoot?

I come from a software background and what is exciting here is a chance to do something path-breaking in a vertical format in e-commerce, where people are trying to solve inventory logistics, last-mile issues or explore market-place models. What we are essentially doing at FabFurnish is to see how people buy home and furniture and we strongly feel there is a real value in being able to explore the product in all dimensions, including offline ones. That’s the most important question to solve. We constantly ask ourselves – what we can do as a platform to address everything in the process? The sheer complexity and relevance of the problem excited me as I took on this role.

Nimit KumarNimit Kumar, CTO

How easy has it been or would it be to supply the hygiene factors common for horizontal players (who have set some precedents in e-commerce already for the customer) while tackling a high-involvement, big-ticket category like furniture?

We are here to solve this very problem. We also have an advantage in being a vertical player as that allows us to go deeper in a particular slot. If you look at any horizontal player, some problems and challenges are still there but we can solve those in a more meaningful manner. For instance, our FabOne logistics arm helps us offer a hyper-local platform with deeper integration with local players and also allowing them to market more effectively at the same time. We are not just about ‘sales’ but ‘leads’ now.

What do the words ‘content-driven’ and ‘curated’ mean for FabFurnish when it comes to being distinct in the market?

Design-led furniture is an interesting concept and we know that when it comes to furniture, the whole look and feel of one’s house matters in decision-making. Buying furniture is an experiential process that needs ideation. We are trying to give the product those look and feel factors with curation. Being content-driven enables us to help that significant portion of buyers who have a feeling of wanting to change something with the interiors but can’t exactly figure out what that is.

How close then would the notion of Ikea’s model intersect here – may be not today but somewhere in future?

DIY furniture is a different concept but I cannot comment more here except that India is not exactly a self-styling economy by large. We like stuff to happen to us and DIY sounds far-fetched unless some macro-shifts change the society.

Who would you call your competition – the vertical names like Urban Ladder or Pepperfry or horizontal ones who are considering this market category (Amazon, Flipkart etc) or the unorganized furniture market?

I don’t like the word competition per se. I guess we are all in some way together making the pie larger, the market more efficient and thus, giving more value to the customer. But as far as the offline market is concerned we at FabFurnish are actually playing enablers. We are a marketing platform for those sellers also. Every player is following its own model in e-tailing but we feel ours is more scalable in that sense and will help sellers engage with the market better.

Can you give a peek into the technology side when it comes to moving towards a marketplace model?

There used to be just one ERP for managing all inventory but now there would be a full-fledged seller centre that can take care of specific sellers, market interfaces and sales results etc.

Continuing on the use of technology, for how long would ideas like use of drones or robots or virtual reality stay theoretical in e-tailing here?

India is a place that can leverage automation significantly. If you look at operations here, so much can be achieved via robotics. The economies of scale though, have to play along. We are using Big Data and decision analytics in a major way at FabFurnish and are mulling IoT also. I also feel strongly that there is good future for AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Robots. As to how soon we can see drones shipping our wares, I won’t comment much as those can be complicated realistic scenarios. But yes, internal use is always a scenario that can deliver a lot.

Technology on infrastructure side in e-commerce has often been in a wrong spotlight. Would you agree?

I would say India has some local problems and we are looking at technology the wrong way if we see it as a solution for everything. You have to design your solution first and then see what can be used to achieve that instead of force-fitting technology for the sake of it. You can’t simply use drones without watching out for all implications that will follow or without a controlled environment. Technology is no holy grail. The problem is not scale but the essence of fitting technology at the right place.

Where do you stand on the app-only debate?

Being deeply integrated with location has its upsides. Let’s face it. It is going to be an app-only world someday given the strengths on better research and local integration that it conveys. Mobility is not a supplement but a major medium now and at times, activities done offline can dovetail smartly with online purchasing.

So how strong do you feel FabFurnish to be in the vertical vs. horizontal battle?

There is so much room for innovation that the lines have blurred. At this point, people are just trying to replicate horizontal practices into vertical spaces but we would rather step back and see the problem differently. The problem is about how to make a home more beautiful. Let’s drop the e-commerce lens and look at the space with an overall, higher, well-rounded home-furniture lens.

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