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Mobile commerce is an exceedingly difficult space for any upstart shopping app that’s seeking to compete with the market’s dominant players. Yet one innovative company is doing exactly that. India’s fastest-growing ecommerce platform, Meesho, has seen an explosion in its number of app downloads, with more than 5X growth in the past 12 months. This massive spike in popularity has led Data.ai to crown Meesho as the breakout shopping app of 2022.
This episode of the Mobile Presence podcast features our host, Peggy Anne Salz, chatting with the architect behind this hyper-growth: Kirti Varun Avasarala, Chief Product Officer of Meesho. In the first of a two-part interview, Avasarala discusses how the company is working with CleverTap to bring ecommerce to the masses, building loyalty among shoppers, and competing against the likes of Amazon and Flipkart.
Avasarala has more than 15 years of experience in building and scaling high-performance organizations and executing complex cross-functional projects. As CPO of Meesho, he leads product management, product analytics, design, user research, and talent branding. He brings a wealth of ecommerce expertise, having served as a Director of Product at Flipkart; VP and Head of Product Management at ShopX; Product Leader at Amazon; and Senior Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company.
Understanding a Huge Market Where Value Matters Most
Meesho, a CleverTap client, is delivering on its goal of making ecommerce in India accessible to all. Founded in 2016, the company has evolved into an ecosystem connecting sellers to consumers and entrepreneurs. Meesho has facilitated purchases from more than 100 million consumers, introduced ecommerce to more than 45 million people across India, and enabled more than 15 million entrepreneurs to start online businesses. In 2021 the company raised $570 million in funding, bringing its total valuation to $4.9 billion.
According to Avasarala, this level of market disruption wouldn’t be possible without a deep understanding of the Indian ecommerce market. In India “there are about 700 million people who use smartphone internet,” he says, “but only about 100 million people, until a couple of years back, shopped on ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Flipkart. There’s a huge space of the remaining 600 million people who have access to smartphone internet but are not using ecommerce. Many of them are semi-urban, rural; almost all are low- to mid-income. Pricing matters a lot; they’re very value-conscious.”
With the market leaders pursuing a strategy based on maximum consumer convenience and fast shipping, Meesho has gone in a different direction. Avasarala calls this strategy “price over convenience—a platform that offers a large selection of unbranded, low-priced items to consumers, even at the expense of convenience. A lot of these consumers will buy something if it’s $20 cheaper, even though it may ship two days later.”
Differentiating Through Social and Gamification Elements
Avasarala says that on a regular basis, employees throughout the organization engage in broad conversations with groups of Meesho customers and non-Meesho consumers in order to gain the kinds of valuable insights that can’t be found solely in surveys or commissioned research.
Among the key insights: For Meesho’s core audience, “shopping in some ways is like entertainment,” he explains. “We started making the app more engaging and fun. That led us to [add] many different social features on the app, which you wouldn’t find on a regular ecommerce app. For example, we launched a milestone-based rewards program for consumers as they cross different shopping milestones. You don’t just get rewards which you can redeem as discounts; you also get badges, etc., which increase your social recognition.”
Gamification and social features like this have helped Meesho foster an extremely deep level of user engagement. “One of the metrics that all consumer internet apps look at is the DAU by MAU ratio: daily active users by monthly active users,” he says. Among all ecommerce apps, “Meesho has the highest DAU by MAU.”
To hear more from Kirti Varun Avasarala about how taking a counter approach in ecommerce can help lead to new market opportunities, tune into the entire interview below.
Peggy: Welcome to Mobile Presence, your destination for everything mobile and of course every two weeks we bring you the tips, the advice, the ideas from the masters, the marketers achieving growth through retention. This special mini-series on retention marketing is powered by CleverTap, the modern integrated retention cloud that empowers digital consumer brands to increase retention and lifetime value.
And in that space, we look at some of those leading brands and that’s what we’re going to do again today because we’re looking at a company that is ringing in the revenues at a time when perhaps customers are not so focused on spending. So, what do you do if you want to rocket your retail app growth? You want to look at the market leaders who are, as I said, ringing in the revenues and today we look at Meesho, an eCommerce app that is literally breaking records right now. It has grown app downloads by more than 5X in 12 months and this massive spike in popularity has prompted Data AI to crown Meesho as the breakout shopping app of 2022.
Today, the platform which competes with the likes of Walmart-owned Flipkart, Amazon and others, counts more than 100 million Indians who have made purchases. So, my guest today is the architect of the success, he has more than 15 years of experience building and scaling high performance product management organisations and executing complex cross-functional projects. More importantly, he is the Chief Product Officer at Meesho, that company I just told you about, a hyper-growth company where leads product management, product analytics, design, user research, the works.
And before joining Meesho, he held positions at other retail giants including, ah ha, Amazon and Flipkart, so it’s a long and impressive track record and my guest today is Kirti Varun Avasarala, he is, as I said, Chief Product Officer at Meesho. So, Kirti, first of all, let’s just start there – I mentioned it – Amazon, Flipkart – even some time at McKinsey – tell me a little bit about the talent or learning that you bring with you to make Meesho what it is, what Data AI has said – the breakout success of 2022.
Kirti: Firstly, thanks, Peggy, for the kind introduction and I think it’s great to be having this conversation. Talking about learning, I think the last 15 years have been quite an interesting ride for me across different strengths and different kinds of companies.
If I talk more specifically, I think the McKinsey stint obviously helped a lot in strategic thinking, impactful communication because we end up dealing with lots of clients on the most important strategic issues. After that, I think the stints at Amazon and Flipkart I think were very, very formative in who I am today. Both of them I think helped me understand retail, the eCommerce space in India and also more broadly about product management, product leadership. I think they have been immensely sort of valuable in shaping the kind of role that I’m playing here at Meesho.
Even at Meesho, I think the last two and a half odd years actually have helped me figure out how to be a very senior leader in a high growth company. How do you hire and build great talent, how do you set a product vision, how do you create the right product culture within the company – I think all of these are things which I think I’ve sort of learned and sort of implemented at Meesho.
Also, if I reflect back at the overall level on my career until now, I think the thing that probably I’ve sort of realised a lot in terms of learning which I’ve sort of brought to the table here is just the fact that you are in a senior leadership role, I think the most important thing is to be a very versatile and multifunctional leader which means that you need to, irrespective of whether you’re a CPO or a CTO or a business leader, I think you need to have a very holistic view towards different aspects of business and you need to bring some of that holistic thinking towards decision-making which I do feel is like a superpower, it differentiates the best leaders from others.
And my attempt has been to figure out how to develop this and still obviously learning and trying. But, yes, that’s sort of how my sort of career broadly has shaped up and how it’s helped me at Meesho.
Peggy: And all of those learnings, it’s when you apply them that has the most impact, that’s the most important. Now, last time I checked in, full disclosure, I was writing about you at Forbes and you had just racked up more than 5 million orders in one day – one sales event in June, that was the record. What’s new at Meesho since?
Kirti: Yes, I think last two odd years actually have been a great growth journey for us, I think we’ve hit many milestones like the ones that you mentioned along the way. In terms of what’s new, I think the fact that we’ve grown so much and we’re also in a very strong position as a company, it has also given us a lot of freedom to try out new businesses, new product lines which is what I think we’ve been doing for the last three to six months and in terms of what’s new, I think those are the new things that are going on.
So, to give you a sense, I think one of the things I’m most excited about which we’ve just launched recently is livestreaming commerce which is a very unique thing in the Indian ecommerce context where basically we are redefining the core shopping experience of an ecommerce app. So, we now have sellers, influencers who are creating live videos to demo their products and consumers can directly watch the video and buy during the video itself, right?
So, it’s a very unique proposition and we’ve seen very strong interaction and we’re in the process of scaling that up. So, that’s I think something very new.
The other news, we have which we’ve been sort of working on over the last six months or so is what we call Super Store, so this is a grocery ecommerce business and as I think many of you will understand, grocery is like the holy grail of ecommerce, the category within ecommerce which I think even the biggest players in the world have struggled to disrupt using technology. So, we are adopting a very different model, this is a community group buying model for groceries which I think we are working on at Meesho and in India especially with the kind of income segments we have, grocery tends to be the largest retail consumption category.
So, if you want to be a very big ecommerce player, you need to disrupt grocery and that’s the attempt we are making so that’s another new big project that I’m super-excited about.
So, these are two things I think which are sort of the new things at Meesho which really keep me excited.
Peggy: When I think about it, I won’t put you there, Kirti, but group buying for grocery, that does sound very disruptive, that also sounds very exciting because a lot of what you’re doing at Meesho and a lot of the reason why I have you here today is because these are lessons that every marketer on the planet can benefit from – no matter where you are, you’re wondering how do I compete with the giants and win – the Amazon, the Flipkart etc?
And this is what you’ve done, maybe because you had a little bit of time there as well but share some of the approaches that have helped you literally punch above your weight in your market, you wouldn’t expect some of these records wins but you have done it. What are some of the approaches you’ve used?
Kirti: I think the most important aspect that Meesho as a company has got right which has helped us to become what we are today, I think is our understanding of the ecommerce market in India itself. Like, if you look at India, there are about 700 million people who use smartphone internet but only about 100 million people, until a couple of years back, used to shop on ecommerce platforms like Amazon, Flipkart and these 100 million were urban affluent consumers of India.
So, what I think we at Meesho figured out is there’s a huge wide space of the remaining 600 million people who have access to smartphone internet but are not sort of using ecommerce, right? And our understanding of these people was I think critical in us disrupting the market and one of the most unique insights of this large user base is many of them are in the tier 2 and beyond geographies of the country so semi-urban, rural people. Many of them, or almost all of them are low to mid income in terms of their household wealth and for all of these people, pricing matters a lot which means they’re very value-conscious.
And the ecommerce value proposition for the affluent people has always been around convenience, like we’ll ship items to you very fast, you can order very easily and so on whereas for this consumer segment, that convenience didn’t matter as much. What mattered more was the low price and sort of the value conscious nature.
So, what we sort of figured out is that our strategy needs to be very opposite to what I think the other players offer, that’s why in simple terms, we call our strategy price over convenience which is how can you build a platform that offers a large selection of unbranded, low-priced items to these consumers, even at the expense of convenience which means that a lot of these consumers will buy something if it’s $20 cheaper, even though it may ship two days later to them, right?
So, our understanding of this consumer segment and having clarity on this is how the strategy should be I think has been sort of the biggest reason why I think we’ve been able to disrupt this market even though we had established players already operating when we entered the market.
Peggy: I’m thinking about how this can be applied universally because, you know, as a segment, I’ve done research on this in the past, it was like humans have one thing in common – we are always on when it comes to shopping, it’s just no matter where, we’re either purchasing, thinking about purchase, researching a purchase – it’s about that, it’s about how we have made this part of our routine.
How did you come to understand your audience so well, was it just very, very smart segmentation or also some survey in there to figure out how do you know an audience, that it matters most to your audience to have price over convenience, for example?
Kirti: Yes, it’s a great question and I think one of the reasons why we’ve been able to do this well is also built into how the company itself operates in the culture we have. So, one of the rituals within the company is actually called Listen or Die. I know it sounds extreme! So the idea here is how can you have a very direct connect with the consumers you’re serving? Instead of using methods like surveys etc, which we do deploy when needed, but a lot of our consumer insights are by actually talking to consumers, right?
So, right from the senior-most people in the company to people who are at junior levels and who’ve just joined the company, almost everybody follows this ritual and in this ritual what we do is, every few months, we pick a set of consumers and actually talk to them and try to understand their preferences, try to understand if they’re already Meesho, we try to understand why they’re using it, what are their pain points, what will it take for us to improve their experience.
We also talk to consumers who don’t shop on Meesho and try to understand why have they not explored yet, right?
So, through a series of these very deep conversations, I think we’ve figured out almost all of the insights that have helped build Meesho, and it’s a very counter-intuitive approach to consumer insights compared to what I think many other companies would do which is floating surveys, commissioning market research projects and so on.
So, we do some of those when needed but a lot of our insights come from just talking to consumers and also what we’ve realised is when you talk to consumers enough, frequently, and you cover the length and breadth of the country, you have different pockets in India – when you do that consistently, I think you get enough insights which are very deep which can actually help you build a very disruptive proposition.
So, that’s actually been one of our secret sauces which has helped us understand the segments.
Peggy: I love that it’s so simple but yet so profound, it’s listening which is what we talk about all the time – know your audience, listen to your audience. It’s exciting to see how you put these insights into practice, one is of course your value proposition but another is how you’re using different tactics that work in different app verticals and we were talking in prep about how you’re making ecommerce more engaging and what you’re using to make that, well, make retail, the whole entire retail journey sticky. Give me an example of what you’re learning from other verticals and how you’re applying that.
Kirti: One of the insights we’ve had actually from some of those Listen or Die conversations is that a lot of the consumers who use Meesho actually have a lot of time on their hands and these are not like millionaires or people working in hectic jobs, it’s people in semi-urban rural parts of the country. And for them, shopping in some ways also is like entertainment, right? And once we figured this insight out, what we did is we started making the app more engaging and fun in addition to just enabling people to shop, right?
And that led us to many different social features on the app which are quite unique which you wouldn’t find on a regular ecommerce app. For example, one of the things that we launched about a year and a half back is what we call Journeys, right, so this is actually a milestone-based rewards programme for consumers as they cross different shopping milestones.
So, if you’re a consumer, initially we call you a beginner, then you make some purchases, then you accumulate some points, then we call you a learner and then, so on, you accumulate more points, you become a legend at the end, right? And as you cross these stages, you don’t just get rewards which you can redeem as discounts but you also get badges etc which increase your sort of social recognition as well and other consumers can see that. So, I think we invested in this which I think has been very, very impactful.
We also have something called Community on our app which is actually a social feed which means that if you as a consumer have bought something, you can actually share the picture of that item and other consumers can see that and they can respond to it, they can get inspired by it and buy that same item. So that is basically like a social feed within an ecommerce app, right?
So, we’ve sort of done that over the last few years, even the livestreaming commerce point I mentioned earlier is also blending content and commerce together, so again it’s a very engaging way of shopping on the app, right, which we are going to scale up now.
So, our attempt has been to make shopping more fun and engaging as opposed to very transactional sort of boring activity, right, which is you have something in mind, you just want to buy it and get out. What we’ve realised is a lot of consumers want to spend time on Meesho almost as if it was an Instagram or a Facebook, right, so that insight actually helped us build all of these things and we see very high engagement on Meesho.
One of the metrics that all consumer internet apps look at is the DAU by MAU ratio, so that indicates the depth of engagement, so daily active users by monthly active users. So, in ecommerce apps, Meesho has the highest DAU by MAU of any other app and that again is a reflection of the fact that the time that people spend here is much, much higher than on any other shopping app, so a lot of these different things have also helped us build this approach and I think it’s really created a lot of impact for us.
Peggy: Indeed, and I couldn’t hope for a better segue because time, time – that is a question right now, I want to hear more about your story and when we come back, we’ll be talking about how you have become a consumer-focused company and how you personalise that experience.
So, Kirti has shared his journey and to help marketers and organisations drive customer connection, conversion, results for their business, CleverTap has curated the latest presentations from CleverTap Quarterly for you on YouTube. It’s the company’s flagship event, it offers insights around the state of the industry as well as best practices you don’t want to miss, so if you want to learn from the best, it’s all over at the CleverTap Quarterly Playlist on YouTube.
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