Follow your dream. Go places.

Want to know how to build a startup? Here is a tip.

Stop ideating and start building. Don’t just build an idea, build solutions for a problem.
Don’t invent problems. Instead, focus on real-world problems. Solve problems you see in every-day life and there is no reason why your startup can’t succeed.

Here is an interview with the founder of one such startup. The founders saw an unfilled need which formed the basis of their idea and did what true entrepreneurs do – got into action and executed on it.

Want to know about the startup and how they did it?

The startup is which lets you shop in your favorite city (from the comfort of your browser). Learn about the journey in this interview with its founder, Zuhaib Khan.

1. What is your startup about? An elevator pitch, please.

Shopatplaces delivers Authentic Products from Places Famous for them to the customer’s doorstep. Thus, our tagline – ‘Famous Products. Best Buys‘. Currently, our active categories include Accessories, Apparel, Bags and Fragrances. By the time we turn one (1 year from the date of our launch), we will have products from all states of India on our portal.

2. What is its value proposition and how is it different from competitors?

We have been true to our motto of ‘Shop At Places’. We have on our site those and only those products which are famous from a particular place. Be it Filigree jewelry from Orissa, Brass jewelry from Uttar Pradesh, Tussar silk stoles from Jharkhand, Chikankari apparel from Lucknow and so on and so forth. We make these difficult to find products available to our customers and provide assurance of quality with a promise of best buy. Our idea of best buy is pretty simple, say, we have Chikankari apparel from Lucknow, we will sell them at a price which is lower than the retail price in Lucknow itself. If we beat those markets where these products are manufactured, we automatically beat retail markets in all other cities.

This idea has never been executed in India ever. The closest peer that we have is FabIndia. However, we do not limit ourselves to handcrafted products only.

3. What got you started? How did you get the idea?

It was in September 2011 that we got the idea for Shopatplaces. I was working in JP Morgan’s London IB office while Sherfur (the other founder) was working in the Procurement department of Cadbury. Traveling was a part and parcel of our jobs and every time we visited a new place, there were regular requests from our loved ones to ‘get something unique from that place’.

And then, we got the idea for Shopatplaces!

We knew that exquisite hand-embroidered Chikankari apparel came from Lucknow or that Pearl jewelry from Hyderabad was very famous. And such authentic products are always in demand. The problem is of availability, quality assurance and authenticity verification, coupled with the fact that when these products were made available in other parts of the country, the good quality ones are exorbitantly priced. Too much leakage in the supply chain is the culprit.

We had our task well defined: Deliver Authentic Products from Places Famous for them to our customer’s doorstep, and thereby, add value as a retailer.

4. How did you go about pursuing your idea?

Once we had debated the idea amongst ourselves extensively, we started testing it amongst our friends, peers and family. We got an amazing response. Still, the sample set was too skewed. To validate it further, we did an exhaustive market research and the idea still came out tops. Our gut feeling was now being supported by analysis.

Both of us are crazy about financial models and hence we created one, as detailed as possible. It wasn’t easy and we had to do a lot of research so that the numbers we ran were as close to reality as humanly possible. Running all sensitivities supported the wave. We registered the company and completed all legal and operational tasks.

Finally, we left our jobs and travelled the length and breadth of the country to setup our vendor base and supply chain network. Those 5 months of travel where we actually met the artisans and workers in SMEs who create all this amazing stuff taught us a LOT! The site was being developed in parallel and we are in Beta phase already.

5. What were your experiences starting up? Problems encountered etc. What worked well and what didn’t?

We had already created a detailed activity map before we left our jobs and we progressed according to it. Still, there were delays in getting legal and regulatory approvals. The main challenges that we faced related to Supply Chain. The challenges that our vendors face, for instance, of the less availability of organic dyes used in painting of Tussar silk stoles from Jharkhand during monsoons, are very unique and we work with our vendors to overcome these challenges.

6. How has your startup been received so far?

To say that the response has been excellent would be an understatement. We had not expected that we would be delivering across the country in our Beta stage. Particularly, we had not expected huge traction down south, which we are witnessing right now and this is without any marketing expenditure at all. Just proves that there is a huge demand for authentic products from places famous for those products – Hope we are able to satiate this need. We are getting rave reviews from our customers and you will see them on our site soon.

We plan to reach 100 sales a day within 6 months with an average ticket size of Rs.1,000-1,200 and we are on track to achieve it. After that we should enter a phase of exponential growth.

We are not running after revenue, but after ‘satisfied customers’. If we have a specific number of ‘satisfied customers’ in the first 6 months of our operation, they will automatically be our brand ambassadors on the ground and you can imagine the impact.

7. What are the future plans for your startup?

Our short term plan is to have authentic products from all states of India within the first 12 months of our launch. We also want to increase the number of categories we offer to our customers.

Our long term plan will be to provide internationally known products like Italian leather jackets or Indonesian batik print apparel to our users. In 5 years, we hope to be the most trusted retailer in the minds of our customers.

8. Who are the people behind this startup and what were their previous stints?

The core founding team is comprised of two, Sherfur and myself, Zuhaib. Sherfur has worked in the Procurement and Supply Chain division of erstwhile Cadburys after getting his MBA from NITIE, Mumbai. I worked in various firms like JP Morgan, Mape Advisory and Casa Capital during my career in finance after finishing my MBA from FMS, Delhi. Both of us were classmates during our engineering days in Jamia, Delhi.

9. Are you looking for help in any areas?

We are looking for honest feedback on our startup first of all.

Secondly, we are open to being contacted by individuals for working with Shopatplaces on the marketing front.

As for funding, we are bootstrapping this business from our own funds and will not go out in the market for fund raising till the time we need a significant infusion.

Last but the most important, we are actively scouting for mentors as we believe that advice of experienced mentors is worth much more than funds at disposal. Mentors’ guidance can save us from committing many mistakes while making sure that we do not lose focus of the goal we want to achieve.

10. What advice you have for entrepreneurs?

We are too young to give advice to other startups. All we can say is that we followed our heart. So, if you believe in your concept, keep working on it and always seek advice of experienced mentors.

11. Anything else you want to share.

We are the first ones in India to execute the idea of ‘Shop At Places’ and to offer many other services like Free Customization for all our apparel. We are an enthusiastic team and we want the members of to help us by their good words in their friend circles.

Will ShopAtPlaces go places? We think so.

(If you are an Indian startup and would like to be interviewed or featured on then we’d be happy to talk to you. Contact us right away.)
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Bootstrapper at Startups
Being away from India for several years, I'm always excited about anything Indian. I'm particularly crazy (read passionate) about start-ups in India and administer the portal for Indian Startups which started off as a platform to write about startups around the world and India in particular. Do startups interest you? Then join startups. Let's build startups in India together. If you need to talk to me in real-time, I'll be available on IRC channel #startuphub. Click to connect.

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  1. i like this for few reasons, it is unlike the monotonous and useless web2.0 crap we see mostly and then the potential is great.

  2. I think the website is just amazing and has a superb collection. One could have never thought that a day will come when i could get authentic and difficult to get stuff at my doorsteps at prices cheaper than the place where they are made itself but with the same quality and touch. I loved the site and am one of the very satisfied customers, although am among those who always are scared doing online shopping. But thank you shopatplaces for changing my apprehensions to a large extent.

    I congratulate Zuhaib and Sherfur for this and am gonna sure spread the word about this site.

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