What better time to dive into some juicy details about Flipkart, one of the biggest online platforms in India, than now. As you wrap up at home with a cup of coffee for a good read, here’s a tale of ambition, success, turbulence and the downhill ride of this giant. The Flipkart story and everything about their growth journey are right here.
Flipkart or more appropriately Flipkart Private Limited, is one of India’s leading e-commerce big boys. It’s the online shopping app we have used, loved and are still proud patrons of. It is the brainchild of Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal. The duo were graduates of IIT Delhi. They started their venture in 2007 after resigning from Amazon.
With a bare minimum investment of Rs 4,00,000, they began their e-commerce store from their home in Bengaluru. Their story reminds us a bit of Steve Jobs and his initial days building Apple from his garage.
Flipkart started initially by getting into the sale of books online. As the site picked up, it expanded to a number of product categories. This included consumer electronics, fashion, home essentials, groceries, and even lifestyle products.
The e-commerce platform stands out in being a tough competition to Amazon, the global e-commerce giant. Many companies have been swept under the rugs by such international players, but Flipkart stuck on.
A good share of Flipkart’s sale comes from the apparel category. It had expanded its wings in this category by acquiring Myntra and Jabong.com. For a long time, Flipkart was also at par with Amazon in the sale of electronics and mobile phones.
Get to know the Flipkart Founder
The duo Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal founded Flipkart as young graduates. Although they are not related, they made the perfect team. It was Sachin Bansal who put forth big and bold decisions. Binny Bansal was the thoughtful and practical head of the company.
Sachin Bansal’s career with Flipkart spanned 11 years. He held the position of Chief Executive Officer and Executive Chairman. Bansal exited his association with the company in 2018. This was the time when the Walmart deal was through.
Binny Bansal served as Chief Operating Officer of Flipkart till 2016. He further served as Chief Executive Officer. In 2017, he became the Group CEO. The man later resigned in November 2018 due to personal misconduct allegations against him.
They had been known as the duo that made entrepreneurship cool. They had risen to fame after building the company that generated a revenue of $7.6 billion. But as the years passed, their relationship deteriorated.
Besides being an online shopping platform, Flipkart also has a number of subsidiary brands. They include the fashion icons, Myntra and Jabong.com. Ekart, Jeeves, and 2GUD are also part of the Flipkart giant.
Payment Apps that made a hit
In 2016, Flipkart acquired FxMart and released PhonePe. It is the payments service we are all too familiar with. PhonePe is a UPI-based payments app. It also supports billing, recharges, ecommerce and other online services.
Hybrid experience stores by Flipkart
After the acquisitions by Walmart, Flipkart had also turned to a hybrid or sales model. This initiated FurniSure. It was an experience store for customers to touch and feel the furniture before making their purchase.
Flipkart also runs its fresh, locally-produced food retail business called the FarmerMart. It also sells groceries online through Flipkart SuperMart. The service is available in selected cities.
What is the Flipkart business model?
The Flipkart story, with all its twists and turns is an inspiration to all young entrepreneurs. It is positively one of India’s most celebrated startup success stories. The platform has over 160 million users. Its product range crosses 150 million products, stretched across 80 and counting categories.
How does the Flipkart economy function?
Flipkart operates in two main ways. It charges commissions from sellers, and it also sells products under its own private labels.
The company changed the Indian shopping scene with the B2C (business to consumer) model. Initially, it used a direct-to-consumer sales model with books and a few other products. But in time, they turned to a marketplace model with surging popularity. Here, it connects sellers and buyers, thus expanding its catalogue of products.
Selling books to literally selling everything
The company, today, sell literally, everything. Smartphones, clothing, everyday essentials, ACs, refrigerators, you name it, they will get them home.
The platform plays middleman, and the seller or buyer don’t have to know each other. The seller’s products are displayed on the platform. The buyers can select their pick, and Flipkart will get it to you. It charges a varying percentage of commission fee from the seller for the transaction.
The company’s revenue though has seen a few ups and downs through the years.
“The Big Billion Day” sale
One of the biggest drivers of Flipkart’s annual revenue has been its “The Big Billion Day”. This hyper sale brings huge customer footfall with unparalleled discounts on products. “The Big Billion Day” also strategically happens on days leading to a major festival. This brings in even more people to the shopping scene.
Flipkart’s other sources of revenue
Flipkart also makes its income from a variety of sources as well. These include:
- Convenience Charge: The fee you pay for faster delivery is a huge revenue earner.
- Logistics: E-Kart is Flipkart’s logistics arm. It facilitates fast and trusted order delivery from sellers to buyers. The seller pays the fee for the same. The fee charged depends on the geographical location of both buyer and seller.
- Advertisement: This is another revenue machine for Flipkart. Prime real estate always has takers for advertising. What better place to get your ads to the Indian crowd than their favourite online platform! Advertising space on the Flipkart website can be used by companies(at a very dear price, of course). This is a huge platform for companies to get to millions of customers visiting Flipkart on the daily. So, it’s worth every penny.
- Media Buying: You have seen them. Flipkart’s brand familiarity makes it a trustworthy source for brand endorsement. You can see Flipkart released ads for particular brands in newspapers, radios, televisions, etc. Thus Flipkart earns additional from the brands that it advertises for.
What is Kalyan Krishnamurthy’s role in the story?
Current Flipkart CEO, Kalyan Krishnamurthy is a familiar name when talking about Flipkart in the recent past. He had quite the journey from being the Financial Head to CEO in a perplexing turn of events.
Krishnamurthy’s stints with Flipkart
Mr.Krishnamurthy started on Flipkart in 2013 and his first position was as interim sales chief and finance head. In 2014, Sachin Bansal and Krishnamurthy fell out of favour with each other. This led to the latter leaving the firm for a brief period. He was back at Flipkart in 2016 for his 2nd stint which was a pretty rewarding one. In January 2017, he went on to succeed Binny Bansal(after his ouster) as the Chief Executive Officer.
Krishnamurthy was with Flipkart when they were sailing through troubled waters. He developed quite the reputation as being one to fix things that were going downhill.
The big turn of events
Things headed south with the ouster of Binny Bansal. Then, the e-commerce giant fell completely into the hands of Kalyan Krishnamurthy. It was a dramatic turn of events for the man. The man who was initially ousted by one of the co-founders, was instrumental in orchestrating the biggest ever e-commerce exit later on. Kalyan Krishnamurthy’s overnight rise to the top is counted as one of the most unusual career elevations in the India corporate circle.
But his lack of hiring leadership for Flipkart left him excessively in charge of the burning ship. But he was quite the transformer for the brand in troubled times. In his second stint with Flipkart, Krishnamurthy forced out 12 senior leaders, many of them C-level executives, including the much baffling ouster of chief operating officer Nitin Seth.
Many employees said that Krishnamurthy preferred to work directly with managers and many others, instead of senior vice presidents in most functions.
A former executive at Flipkart remarked, “Kalyan may not have a traditional approach to running the company, but his style has worked for Flipkart and helped it to improve its performance and gain market share.”
The investors who supported Flipkart’s journey
Flipkart, the Indian startup market, from 2007, has quite the story to tell through the years. It has seen a great rise and stood up to one of its biggest competitors. It is now at a crucial juncture in its lifetime. Flipkart, even thru its rollercoaster ride, did make a few significant landmarks that can’t be missed. The company has set the stage for many other startups. it remains to be a great source of inspiration.
It was Flipkart’s investor who held her up high in times of turmoil. This is especially true during its competition with Amazon when Flipkart managed to sail smooth. This was even when Amazon entered the Indian market and started swallowing up big and small companies. Flipkart’s noteworthy investors include Tiger Global Management, Naspers, Accel Partners, Dragoneer Investment Group and Sofina. Some other major investors include ICONIQ Capital, DST Global, GIC and Morgan Stanley Investment Management.
Flipkart’s valuation through the years
The company has been raising funds that score in the ballpark of $1billion till 2017. The funding by investors has revived Flipkart even in the face of internal problems. The company has also faced a gradually dry capital raising ground. Let us look at the financial funding and valuations that have driven the Flipkart story:
The early years
- 2007: As we saw earlier, the company was started with the personal funds of Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal. The initial investment was 4 lakh or $6,000.
- 2008: Next year, Ashish Gupta, who is the founder of Junglee and Helion Venture Partners funds Flipkart.
- 2009: The venture capital firm Accel India was the next to pitch in. The funds went into the institutionalisation of the company. Their funds were valued at $1 million. Further, Flipkart received $10 million from Tiger Global Management. At this point, the company’s valuation was reported to be just lower than $50 million.
- 2010-11: By 2010, It had raised yet another $20 million from Tiger Global and had also begun negotiations with private equity funds like General Atlantic. The valuation of the company had by then climbed to $1 billion.
- 2012: By this time, Flipkart announced its 4th round of funding. This was valued at US$150 million and came from MIH of Naspers(South African tech major) Group and ICONIQ Capital. Flipkart, in 2012 became a unicorn startup.
- 2013: By mid-2013, Flipkart got $200 million in funding from existing investors. The company went to to get $160 million more. These were sponsored by Morgan Stanley, Sofina, Vulcan Capital and Dragoneer. Now the Flipkart valuation was reported to be $1.6 billion.
Flipkart reaches the top of the curve
- 2014: This was a big year for Flipkart with multiple fundings and investments pouring in. First, it acquired Myntra in 2014. Flipkart then raised $210 million from DST Global. This got the giant at a valuation that stood at $2.6 billion.
- This event also led to Flipkart acquiring a ginormous $1B funding. This was from GIC Singapore along with existing investors like Naspers, DST Global and Tiger Global. As expected, the company’s valuation jumped a sizeable 1.5 times. Now the numbers are at $7 billion. All this was incorporated within a short span of less than a quarter of a year. Quite an achievement!
- They weren’t done for the year yet. Flipkart further raised a $700 million fund. This was from hedge funds that included Greenoaks and Steadview Capital. They were supported by sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority and mutual fund T. Rowe Price.
- As the year closed, Flipkart’s valuation had been spiked to more than $11 billion.
- 2015: Like the previous year, with a stroke of luck and great investments, by 2015, Flipkart reached its highest valuation ever. The figure stood at a whopping $15.5 billion. Flipkart had also raised $700 million from all its existing investors now.
A downhill journey
- 2016: As with all things high up on the curve, a fall is imminent. 2016 was the year that saw the numbers run down. The first markdown the company received was by a Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund. It was a big one and its valuation took a good fall to $11billion.
- The markdowns kept coming. This time it was by the various mutual fund investors. These include Vanguard, T. Rowe Price and Fidelity.
- Valic, a US fund, had marked up the valuation of its shares with Flipkart by 10 per cent. This gave a sight upping and saved the valuation of Flipkart at $11.5 billion.
- Yet again, Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund stabbed with a considerable cut to its value of the Flipkart shares. This cost Flipkart dearly and dropped the valuation to a mere $5.6 billion.
- 2018: The Flipkart Marketplace Singapore gives a US$4.5 billion to its Indian entity, Flipkart Internet.
Walmart acquires Flipkart makes headlines
In a piece of news that shocked the world but had it coming, Walmart acquired Flipkart. Amazon and Walmart had a bidding war to acquire a majority stake in Flipkart. On 4 May 2018, Walmart acquired Flipkart shares for US$15 billion. By 9 May 2018, Walmart announced that it would get a 77% controlling stake in Flipkart. This was for US$16 billion and was subject to regulatory approval.
Sachin Bansal leaves and other controversies
The purchase didn’t fare well with one of the founding partners and Sachin Bansal left the company. Flipkart is now being managed by Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart eCommerce US.
Commenting on the purchase, Walmart president Doug McMillon said that their move is aimed at partnering with a company that is transforming the eCommerce space in a growing economy.
There was a bit of resistance from the Indian sellers too to the deal. Some considered the deal to be a threat to domestic businesses.
The full proceedings of the acquisition were completed on 18 August 2018. Walmart also put in a US$2 billion in equity funding to revive the company.
Another controversy rocked the Flipkart platforms in November 2018. Flipkart CEO and co-founder Binny Bansal faced allegations of “serious personal misconduct”. He went on to resign soon after although the investigations were still in progress. They did not find evidence for the claim. But it did reveal serious lapses in judgment and a lack of transparency from his side.
Flipkart’s story is one of a kind. It shows the growth of a well-directed startup that stood the test of time. Flipkart has a lot to thank its investors. They were the ones who supported and nurtured the company all through its journey. We see a pattern of well thought out and ambitious investments in its journey. These investments by some of the leading names are what kept Flipkart climbing high steadily. Of course, changing markets, towering competition, policy lapses and internal power struggles did cost the company dearly. Even as Flipkart is set to revive itself in the second run with Walmart, the company stands as a testament of perseverance and brilliance of the homegrown brand that still woes us with its user-friendly interface and deals.