With hundreds of deals sites running for every conceivable stuff in the market, would anyone think that we would get deals for Drinkers? Enter Vgulp, a Startup that helps drinkers get awesome deals. They help discover more places to drink out and shop liquor. Now, are you asking if the founder is a malayalee? Don’t get me wrong, the founders Anand Janardhanan and Ajeesh Udumbath, both B.E Graduates are from Kerala are asked this question and they reply with a smile : Tech, Liquor and Malayalees! They both met at People10, where they worked previously. Anand is responsible for Marketing, Business Development, Product Strategy and Fund Raising at Vgulp. Ajeesh is responsible for Product, Technology, Architecture and Frameworks.
What’s in a name?
[pullquote align=”right”] “We gulp” is more for those social and responsible drinkers, symbolizes being bold to admit and to promote the social drinking culture[/pullquote]Vgulp stands for “we gulp” – we as in the people, and gulp as in the expression of gulping down. .You would agree that there are hundreds of thousands of people in India who drink, but hide the fact – cannot blame them. There’s a social stigma to it. Especially in a metro like Bangalore, many of us are drinkers – but it’s more of a social drinking rather than being irresponsible..
Story behind the Startup
So we were colleagues at work, and we used to hangout with a bunch of friends. When we felt the need for a central place that we could go to and find out what were the nearby deals in town – on weekdays and weekends and when you have so many friends telling you the same things – you get the hint there is the need for an app like this. Secondly, there are a lot of good places that don’t have enough walk-ins or awareness, and they resort to putting a lot of deals – that there are no takers for, again lack of visibility. So we decided to bridge that gap.
So yes, we started building the app, and in the meanwhile, we started exploring the future of what Vgulp could be – spend almost 6 – 8 months talking to a group of users, retailers and brands, and we knew it was time to get it out, probably do it as part time. However as we talked to more people the need was very clear and we decided to execute the complete roadmap of the product vision quickly. The moment we got into the data process, we realized it was too much and the market opportunity was too big to do it part time, and we quit our jobs. We did make some really weird assumptions of doing it part time 🙂
We would be out of private beta by end of August. Getting the data up, user traction and product improvements are key. They are not mutually exclusive; it’s fundamentally chicken and egg for the first few months. So in terms of plan – having Pan Bangalore data up on the portal by end of August is one of the objectives, which is about 200+ exclusive deals. We are also improving the product UI, and building some cool features on the social side.
We do not know how long we we would be in an open beta, perhaps an year. Private beta is going good, we once in a while get calls and emails from users – most of the times it’s appreciation and rarely they say how much we suck and how we could have done a few things better. But we listen, because they are the key. We have 40 – 50 deal claims a week, and it’s improving everyday. We have offers not just from Bar owners, but also from liquor shops – the transactions in a liquor shop are larger in sheer quantity. Like we said, we are yet to rollout to 4000+ in the queue mainly because their location preferences don’t match with places we have offers in. We believe the product by nature would get talked about and challenge would be to get in front of so many us and influencers in every clan try us out.
On getting judged for being a startup in Drinks
Brilliant question. We actually feel it’s 1 out of 5 officially admitted, but there should be more like a 2 out of 5? Market is pretty good. I would also be discussing the same thing in the last answer on how we came up with the name.
Totally funny experiences in fact – we only had a facebook login to the app initially and we had calls, tweet mentions and private messages which said, though I need what you do, we cannot expose this in front of families. So we need an anonymous name option, and an email based sign up. And yes we implemented it. [pullquote align=”right”]Even my own mom, my mom’s sister and my cousins gave me the expression like “you should be kidding me”. Many of them even told me, so finally we were right – you drink![/pullquote] They were somehow scared that the app would post something onto their wall and their relatives would see. Though we feel we get judged, we also see that as an opportunity.
When we get on a call with a restaurant, let’s say, and we say we are a portal for drinkers. They smile, and we say no we’re serious. They smile again and ask are you malayalees. And we would ask, really? now is that a problem?. Not to blame them, the per capita consumption is so high in Kerala that somehow people take it for a watering hole. However the conversations always start on a fun and positive note, and they listen. So it’s good.
On Cracking the tough Liquor Market
[pullquote align=”right”]Liquor industry is extremely hard, also because of the people who run them. It’s also home to a lot of regulations. [/pullquote]We see some guys are all up for technology and ROI, and about maximizing their walk-ins through investing in platforms. While some others run it as a side business because their major focus would be real estate / construction. Getting time on someone’s calendar is the hardest thing. You also know the kind of people we deal with everyday – they are extremely street smart. You get one chance and you’ve got to make sense. But once the rapport is built it goes a long way. These guys drive BMW 7 Series, and Audi Q7s, if you understand what I mean. Introductions are the key. The way we have worked is reaching out through friends and friends of friends to get a discussion going.
I will tell you it gets real nasty at times. But in the business we look at the economics as much as we learn from one on one transaction, volume is the key, so we move on fast and we get back to it later. The bigger resorts and groups are relatively simpler. However that is not where the mass drinks / buys from.
Marketing Plans, Revenue Streams and Initial Investment
For most parts the traffic of Vgulp has been organic, friend referrals and thanks to some press mentions. We have 1600 users who have been given access to the portal, and there are 4000+ in the queue. One thing that is really working for us is we know almost all our users, and we put a lot of time in reaching out to them and collecting feedback and in some cases we crack a deal with the place depending on user requests and they love us for that, naturally end up referring their friends.
Vgulp will be pan Bangalore by end of August. [pullquote]With our current growth rate, we would be 50000 users by end of September or mid October – however we can tell you these are assumptions and getting the first 10000 is the key[/pullquote]. We hope to boost it with product improvements on the mobile, social and gamification front. We would be putting marketing dollars on advertising deals.
On Support and Mentors that helped
My brother was an entrepreneur; he started soon after his college. At age 24, he raised a significant seed round from IAN. My friends back in college have built very successful businesses in India, you would have heard of Foradian and Innoz. [pullquote align=”right”]Some of those folks help us with advises, a special mention to the CEO of Foradian, Unni Koroth who has been very helpful[/pullquote].
We were always inspired and followed how companies were built. And from all the books we have read, and from all entrepreneurs we talked to, there is only one answer that has been the same – build something the users want and businesses would pay for. The offering is unique in terms of market and the model itself – so everytime they would tell us is though you could draw similarities and learn lessons- the key would be to do it quick, get feedback and change.
However for the most parts, we are on our own. [pullquote]The business model has gone through a lot of the feedback from customers and users, and quite honestly that is what we have valued the most[/pullquote]. We’ve talked to mentors in the consumer internet and deals space initially to validate and improve the business model. Were very helpful. There were even some mentors who asked us to diversify into other markets, we honestly weren’t sold on that. As of now, we are beyond the market validation point and we have paying customers. It’s a new turf, so we feel adapting fast has definitely been the key. We roll out something new everyday in terms of product itself.
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did doing it. If you are in Bangalore, we seriously suggest checking Vgulp for your next social outing!