Alexander Souter and Saptarshi Nath set up Overcart in 2012. The platform originally bought back electronics from the end consumer, but has now evolved into one of the most innovative e-commerce platforms in India by liquidating unwanted stock from manufacturers, retailers, and distributors. This creates a win-win situation where consumers get cheaper goods and manufacturers make more money on their products. We chat with the founders about the venture.
An excerpt from the interview:
- What made you start your venture?
Saptarshi: Alex and I used to work for the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), an advisory firm based out of Washington DC. We got together working closely when he came on a rotation to the India office. Since our job involved advising clients on how to run their large firms efficiently, we realized that it was the time to listen to our own advice and start our own venture.
We discussed various other ideas before we finally settled on what is now Overcart. We made several business plans, then rejected them. Eventually, we decided to scrap the research and dive into a problem we felt passionate about ourselves: we saw the potential of technology in a developing economy like India, except the high cost of technology was a massive deterrant. As we talked to people and did our research, we found that there were a lot of inefficiencies in the supply chain that led to perfectly functional products being discarded or trashed. Our aim is to bring these products back into the market.
- What has been the key to your business’s success?
Alex: Our consulting background tuned us to always look for better ways to work. A constant focus on improving and automating processes, ensuring transparency, and a readiness to innovate helps us keep moving ahead. As entrepreneurs, we’ve learned to experiment and pivot quickly in anticipation of market and client needs.
Saptarshi: When we started out, there were only a couple of companies focused on this segment. There was a no recognition of such products online. The initial effort we put into building a brand for “unboxed” products helped us create a market for these products. Building customer confidence is essential to any business’s success and we’ve done this through a focus on quality.
- What are the major challenges in your line of business and how did/do you overcome them?
Saptarshi: The lack of awareness has been a key challenge in our business: but that isn’t surprising given that unboxed and refurbished devices are still a new concept. We spend a lot of time on consumer education to ensure users knew what they were buying and what they should expect from them. Setting expectations around the product multiple times across the checkout process also helps reinforce this with customers. Further, after-sales support for such devices is critical to build customer loyalty: our product experts will help our customers through troubleshooting should they face any issues. We also have a liberal returns policy to ensure customers aren’t inconvenienced.
Alex: Another challenge we face is ensuring a steady stream of supply: for every customer that buys a product, there are 5 customers that have signed up to be notified when the product comes back in stock. We are working with our clients to streamline the returns management processes and ensuring a faster speed to market for such products. An important perception challenge that we are working to dispel is that refurbished products are somehow inferior. But, in reality, if a new product has a documented issue (say, a slow processor), so will the refurbished product. Our quality check process ensures that all functional issues are identified and fixed: but we don’t make any material changes to the product—a mobile phone that lags on running 5 simultaneous apps will lag regardless if it is a new or a refurbished product.
- Do you have a mentor who guides/advices you on matters of the business?
Saptarshi: Quite a lot of our investors are entrepreneurs themselves, which makes them ideal mentors for us since they’ve already been through a lot of the issues we face. We reach out to different people for advice on marketing, technology, and fund-raising.
- Have you benefited from the use of any specific technology for your regular operations?
Saptarshi: We are a technology driven company with a strong focus on delivering quality products to our consumers. We have invested significant time and resources to set up our quality infrastructure that ensures our customers get the best products for the best price, without compromising on quality.
Our software diagnostic app acts as a CT scan for all Android devices, testing the numerous sensors that smartphones carry these days. Only after a device passes all the tests will it be approved for sale on the portal. The exhaustive quality report for every product we have ever sold is available on our servers for troubleshooting and issue resolution, should the need arise. Such automation leaves very little room for human error and helps us maintain error rates under 3%.
We also have a client-facing portal that provides complete transparency on the product check and liquidation process for our sellers.
- What strategy do you follow for Customer Satisfaction & Expansion?
Alex: Customers are key to success in any business venture. We have a 30%+ repeat rate in customer orders, this can only be achieved by delighting customers. We’re also the highest ranked company in the eletronics category on TrustedCompany. High quality products and seamless after-sales support are our core areas of focus to ensure that customers keep coming back. We recently launched our warranty brand—Overtrust—to help customers avail hassle-free after-sales support. Saptarshi: Our plan is to expand our selection of products and categories in the coming months. We’re looking at expanding our base of operations as well. We’re also introducing value-added services for our clients/sellers—including QC-on-demand and warehousing services for returns, and will continue to expand its service offering based on client needs.
- What according to you, are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Resilience: More often than not, battles are won by staying in the game. There will always be innumerable reasons why your venture may not work out—if you stay in the game long enough, you will find a way to overcome each of those reasons. Start-ups are emotional roller coasters that test the mental fortitude of founders and each day brings new and unexpected challenges that can be overcome only with the right attitude. Flexibility: You must have the ability to come up with innovative solutions to problems, and to see hurdles as the opportunity to build a barrier to entry, and not a challenge that cannot be overcome. Passion: You need to be passionate about what you’re doing, as that will ingrain itself in everything you do and the culture you build. Without passion – you risk mediocrity.