It’s an absolute pleasure to bring a StartupStud.com interview today with one of my closest friends, Andrew Pour, who along with co-founders Manish Chauhan and Kiran Raghunathan, has started an exciting new shopping portal, Bargained.com.
This new website aggregates hundreds of thousands of products from manufacturers and wholesalers around the world, passing steep savings directly to the consumer. This leads to discounts ranging anywhere from 40 – 90% off what someone would expect on a traditional website or brick and mortar store.
But, as we all know, nothing worth having comes easy. Read the below interview to find out more about this team’s struggles, epic problem solving, and grand plans for the future!
SS: Congratulations on the launch of Bargained.com and thanks again for taking the time to do a StartupStud.com interview! To begin with a little background on your company, what was the inspiration (or chance encounter) that led your entry into the space?
Bargained.com: It’s pleasure to be with you Jack. It’s exciting for us at Bargained.com. It’s just been a month since we have officially gone live and we already have over 6,000 Facebook. The traffic to the site is also very encouraging, we have already crossed 9,000 users so far.
The idea of Bargained.com was not just a chance encounter. It was a result of strenuous market research over the last two years. The promoters have been in E-commerce industry for over 15 years and have experienced all the facets of the industry, from Technical, business to marketing. Only after countless meetings, we decided to step into the B2B2C marketplace.
The company was officially formed in May 2016 and our site was launched on the Thanksgiving day.
SS: What is the background of your primary team members? (*Please include names..)
Bargained.com: Our CEO Manish Chauhan, even though a financial professional by qualification (Chartered Accountant, a CPA equivalent), has been associated with IT industry since last 30 years. During this period, he has held many positions such as Director of IT, Director of operations, Director of Finance, CEO, and CFO of IT consulting companies. His first entry into Ecommerce was way back in 1995 when he was a founder member of a marketplace www.e4ya.com. Last 5.5 years he was a CFO of one of the leading Ecommerce system integrator, solutions company before he resigned to focus on Bargained.com.
Our CTO, Kiran Raghunathan is a very well-respected name in the Ecommerce Industry, especially large scale B2B and B2C implementations. Last 7-8 years, Kiran, as a CTO of Ecommerce solution consulting companies, has helped many Fortune 500 companies in designing, developing, implementing and support Ecommerce initiatives across 4 continents.
I (Andrew Pour), as the CMO of the company, have traveled North America and Canada as a marketing, social media, and business consultant for an entrepreneur academy founded by Daymond John of Shark Tank. I have also successfully started several business from the ground up including MediaBandit.com, a digital media and marketing firm in Los Angeles. I am a partner in several businesses which include a restaurant, a high end lounge in downtown Los Angeles, and a few startups which have yet to launch.
SS: How long did it take to go from your original concept to product launch?
Bargained.com: It took us roughly 6 months to launch the site from day we started working on it but we have been throwing around variations of the idea for almost couple of years. With our rich Ecommerce experience, Manish and I came up with this concept of bringing manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and suppliers directly in front of the customers so that we can reduce the overheads of middlemen and offer quality products directly to the customers. It sounds like a very simple concept but was not easy to implement.
SS: Was this faster, or slower, than you expected it would be?
Bargained.com: It seemed like years but as it typically goes, it took longer than expected.
Though we would have loved to launch the site in the month of August 2016, we are very happy with what we have now.
SS: What were your biggest challenges leading into the launch and how did you overcome them?
Bargained.com: Our biggest challenge was (and still remains to a large extent) definitely working with manufacturers and distributors half way across the world. Between the time zone difference, language barriers, scheduling, shipping optimization, currency conversion, and overall business structure, the biggest change we all made was our sleep schedule. We’re all still working well into the early mornings when needed to make sure we don’t miss days in between communication.
Another big challenge was working with the technology. Since we have to adopt a particular technology as the most suitable one, we had to work with the limitations of that technology. Like any startup, we had to compromise on some of the features when we launched the site but are determined to introduce them soon.
SS: On a scale of 0 – 100%, how close would you say your first version of the site is to what you initially pictured it being?
Bargained.com: Like most startups, we always want more out of our business and have not decided this is a finished first version. We worked hard to keep the idea as close to our initial plan as possible but were also under pressure to launch the site around the peak shopping season. I would say we were at 60% when the site was launched and since then we have taken the site to 75% where we would love to see it. There are few more important features that we would like to introduce and we are working hard on getting that to 100%. Ask us this again next month!
SS: What changed the end product so dramatically?
Bargained.com: Since it’s a B2B2C marketplace model, we not only had to think about what is in the best interest of customers but also about the ease of use for suppliers. As we started working with various suppliers, we had to modify our plans and designs which dramatically changed our initial picture. And once the first prototype was ready, we carried out surveys, checking with strangers what they liked and disliked about the design, layout and usability which again changed the end product.
SS: How many products does your team have cataloged so far? And what was the biggest technical hurdle in getting them to interact properly with your format?
Bargained.com: We currently have over 400,00 products cataloged and have many more coming soon. The biggest technical hurdle was to educate suppliers on defining the attributes, features and other details of the products. Creating a common infrastructure that will accommodate all the attributes was a challenge in itself. Creating a platform where all the suppliers can submit their catalogs, images, creating SEO tags for them posed a big technical challenge but eventually we overcame it.
SS: So, tell us a bit how Bargained.com works. Your site allows the everyday Joe and Jane to purchase products directly from the manufacturers and early distribution channels – leading to big savings. How does that play out? How long does it take to get the product? What about returns?
Bargained.com: Bargained.com is a B2B2C marketplace and was concepted as a way to further discounts to consumers, cutting out the middlemen and their hefty profit margins. We source products from manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers all over the world from highly rated suppliers, work out the best bargained pricing, and set up each supplier on our platform. The only difference is the typical wait time for a product is increased when purchasing from our suppliers. A product that costs $39.99 in stores can be on our site for as low as 2.99 but shipping can take from 10 – 21 days. Our customers can view shipping times per product before purchasing.
SS: If you were to pinpoint the advantages and skill sets from your life thus far that have significantly helped you in this new venture, what would they be?
Bargained.com: This question would have a different answer from each of us as with any partnership, but Manish being involved in strategy, finance, planning and operations with over half a dozen companies in last 30 years played a big role in coming up with the concept, idea, negotiations with suppliers and preparing the business plan. He also helped us in pricing structure, finance, accounts and operations.
Kiran being involved in Technology and sales since past 15 years, has helped in selecting the right technology, selection of hosting platform, hardware and software choices and selecting vendors for front-end as well as back-end. Without him Bargained.com wouldn’t have been where it is today.
Andrew being responsible for marketing and customer acquisition, was heavily involved in business strategy, user-flow on the website, choosing the right product mix and shaping the social media and online marketing strategy. With his previous rich experience, he is also managing the brand, social media properties, and overall reputation of the company.
SS: Conversely, what areas have you had to expand your knowledge, ask for help and / or lean on the expertise of others?
Bargained.com: We all came together because our unique differences in our skillsets, that being said we all had to expand our knowledge one way or another to properly communicate together. We have all become more fluent in the understanding of our sites technology and can now provide enough input on new possible functionality beyond surface level ideas. ??
Even though we all had lot of experience in our areas, no one is an expert in everything and like any start-up promoters, we had to seek for help. We had to reach out to our friends that are an authority in UI, front-end and marketing analysis to shape up the look and feel, how the products should be presented to the customers etc. We also had to tap to the expertise of our friends into the technology we chose for our marketplace to resolve many complex issues. We had to reach out to our network to reach out to the suppliers and get them signed up for Bargained.com. We couldn’t have achieved it without help from experts from our network.
SS: Generally speaking — and obviously without giving away any secrets, what are the most important aspects of marketing and getting the word out about Bargained.com in the coming months?
Bargained.com: It’s no secret that any startup needs a solid foundation. As of now we are not focused on rapid growth but more towards building a following that will support our site in the months to come and give us valuable input as we continue to grow. The most important aspects of marketing, however this may be, is reviewing the response you receive. Whether it is through analytics, reviews, or your eagerness to get input from every person you meet, understanding their simplest of challenges can help you from an influx of frustrated users and poor conversions.
SS: What is the single biggest benchmark of success that you’d like to have in a year from now?
Bargained.com: Bargained.com’s foremost goal is to make sure that our customers like the products. Our first benchmark is to get at least 1 million products on the site without affecting the performance of the site. Our next benchmark is to get 100,000 happy customers. Knowing the competition, we might take another year to achieve it. Our next benchmark is to have 1 million page views which we want to achieve within the same time frame.
A year from now we are projecting…
SS: What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs looking to start their own website? Similarly, what about the best ways to work with new partners and developers?
Bargained.com: Our advice would be to learn everything you can about the business you’re getting into before you begin. The biggest hurdles in business will be caused by a lack of preparation.
There is no perfect way to work with new partners but shared technologies and constant communication are very important.
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