Podcasts have been one of the ways we try to bring out untold stories of startup founders. Continuing with this tradition, we at Accel are excited to introduce our new podcast mini-series: Untold Seed Stories. This new show aims to unravel the first 500 days of our founders’ startup journey — ranging from how they first conceived the idea and met their co-founders, to details of how they secured their first funding and challenges along the way.
For the third podcast of our Untold Seed Stories, we chat with Sri Harsha Majety, Co-founder and CEO of Swiggy. (Bengaluru-based hyperlocal food delivery platform. Founded in 2014 by Harsha, Nandan Reddy and Rahul Jaimini, the startup now operates in more than 600 cities in India.
“Taking a chance and not worrying too much about things is something that leads to minimising your regrets as much as possible in life. I guess I would recommend that to any potential founder when it comes to making critical choices and decisions.”
2:30 : Learnings from the days at BITS Pilani
5:00 : Impact of the cycling trip on your life
10:23: How did you find a co-founder
14:05: Start of Food Tech Platform
19:24: Bootstrapping Supply & Demand of Swiggy
22:00: How did you get the delivery partners
29:30: Building the learning mindset in early days
33:00: If you started today, Would you startup while in college
47:43: Culture in the first 500 days of swiggy
52:26: Words to younger harsha
The co-founders of Swiggy Harsha Majety and Nandan Reddy met at BITS Pilani where the former was 2 years senior to the latter. The two of them already worked together at the photography club in BITS Pilani campus and happened to become close friends. Nandan was already meddling with his second startup at the time and Harsha was just returning from a backpacking trip in Europe. They were jamming with ideas and opportunities in ecommerce. With a little naivety, they happened to agree that consumer commerce was already a taken opportunity with players with Amazon and Flipkart. Hence, alternatively, they came up with the idea for Bundl Technologies, which was about helping small and medium businesses and sellers with logistics services. Bundl was aggregating various courier partners across India and was providing a one-stop solution for them. They had come to understand the actual size of the market for this product, which was supposedly not very large. Nandan and Harsha then came back to the drawing board to identify a rather larger market opportunity.
“It was the best call to shut down Bundl, after seeing the opportunity costs and smaller market opportunity. Thereafter, we looked for other bigger opportunities in logistics and came across some solutions in Urban logistics. There were no such epiphanies around food delivery being broken but the North Star was about solving for Urban logistics.”
Rahul Jaimini, a senior software engineer at Myntra at the time, met with Harsha and Nandan through a close common friend. Rahul was excited enough to leave his job at Myntra, and now there were three co-founders trying to build what would end up being Swiggy today.
Good olden days
At Bundl, since there was not a lot of action in terms of operations, Harsha and Nandan outsourced all the technology to an agency. The only expenses were confined to cost-of-living. In the August of 2013, Bundl took its shape and form but winded up in June 2014. This was also a period when Swiggy was in its early stages.
Bundl was a B2B business that gave a bitter experience and it was an entirely different way of life for the founders’ liking. Realising that they would be bad at it, the founders wanted to focus on the consumer. Nandan and Harsha were living the bachelor life at the time and they had to order food often from outside. There were enough players in the market to deliver food, groceries and medicines on the premises of hyperlocal delivery with fast turnarounds. A few select restaurants would deliver but charge a lot for the same or not deliver unless the order size was Rs 500. Besides, the packaging was never up to the mark.
“We wondered why this was such a big problem because Domino’s cracked it really well. After peeling the onion, we found out that food delivery was a relatively easy problem to solve. Perhaps we were also naive enough to believe that there was no real competition.”
The founding team was diligently taking a logistics-first approach and hacking away at the problem.
“India was new to the first-party logistics trend, compared to merchants relying on their own logistics delivery models, and the need was very acute. But we stuck to its customer-first approach irrespective of the market challenges.”
Swiggy started off with 5-6 delivery partners and 15-20 restaurants within Koramangala, Bengaluru.
At this point, it was natural to not be able to differentiate between a good restaurant and a bad one. So the team picked only the good restaurants that did not have their in-house delivery services.
Until December of 2014, the team was only Nandan, Harsha and Rahul and a few delivery partners. The job was split between the three. Nandan would do Sales, Customer Success, Firefighting and also help the delivery partners navigate through the Koramangala streets.
Harsha would carry out the deliveries himself, which is more than a 100 deliveries. The team would convert physical menus from the restaurants into excel sheets. At the time when things weren’t so data-heavy, the reliable metric was seeing a few dozen people continuing to visit Swiggy and eat out often. This was considered to be a proven thesis that the product was working and had attained a market fit.
Swiggy was able to get a really good set of key hires in the first few phases, who still continue to work with the company now. Being a critical part of any business, Harsha says they managed to get the part just right, which otherwise would have been a crumbling journey.
Most of these hires were first and second order connections from BITS Pilani and IIM-C.
“I think Nandan and I were at a place where we allowed people to do their jobs and not be keen on managing them. It also meant that we were able to move faster and respond to the market immediately.”
At one point, Swiggy went to employ a few hundreds of employees from 30-40 of them in a matter of only 6-7 months. The version of culture was very unstructured and not very well articulated in this time. The key hires and the concerned vertical heads went on to hire more people, and the startup took ample amount of time to hire a Head of Finance and a Head of HR. There was a phase of expanding from a single neighborhood to seven cities rapidly with a lot of hustle and good intentions. But several things were overlooked and neglected in the process, in terms of finances and budget allocation. z
A large part of core values at Swiggy is to be consistently curious and constantly learn. Most of the founders’ learning at Swiggy was through insightful books and from the people that would join the startup. At every stage of Swiggy’s growth, there were hires solid enough to teach the founders how-to around a certain aspect.
“Whenever there was a specific theme that I wanted to get better at, which was not possible through any other means, I often buy half a dozen books that sum up that part of learning and just read them all. I wish I did more of that earlier but it’s something I picked up along with Swiggy which only turned out to be a constant. They are the biggest source of my learning.”
The music used in the podcast is Ragabop - composed by Prasanna. We thank Prasanna and team for providing the necessary permissions to use their track.
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