Rajiv Srivatsa co-founded Urban Ladder, a top online furniture brand, in 2012. Urban Ladder was established as an online-first brand with over 5000 designs across 35 categories such as living, dining, bedroom, study, and decor. The company became one of the most loved brands in India and was sold to Reliance in November 2020.
Srivatsa now leads global venture capital firm Antler in India. The firm has plans to invest in over 150 early-stage startups over four years.
The entrepreneur turned venture capitalist talks to us about the biggest learnings of his journey, how he approaches building products, the framework he uses to develop products and the problems he is looking to solve with Antler VC.
Q. How do you approach product building?
Rajiv: I use a simple framework to figure out what to work on. It has three parts. The first one is that the addressable market should be significant.
The second is there needs to be a real consumer need. Don’t architect the need. Understand what the consumer problem statement is. Do they have a problem? Is it about the quality of the product? Is it about a service? Is it about pricing? Be clear that there is a need.
The third is what is called founder-market-fit. This is when the founder has a particular background or is passionate about solving a specific problem space.
Q. What framework do you use to build a product?
Rajiv: I like Simon Sinek’s why, how and what model the best. There has to be a clear founder-market-fit first. At the end of the day, if you want to make your startup big, you have to have the passion first to solve a big enough problem. When we started Urban Ladder we were clear on our vision statement from the start. We noticed that the urban Indian was eating better, dressing better and the exterior of their home’s had improved. But the interior of people’s homes still was the same. We had a clear mission statement that we wanted to make people’s homes beautiful. That was our ‘why’.
The ‘how’ is about the strategic calls you can make. Do you want to go after price, customer satisfaction? We picked two things “great furniture, made easy”. It wasn’t just a statement because we went deep when it came to designing our furniture and our Net Promoter Scores were the highest in India at that time. ‘How’ also includes your company values. We drafted our value statement right at the start. It was customer obsession, honesty and transparency, excellence and having fun.
The ‘what’ is what you’re putting out there in terms of product. With Urban Ladder, we picked premium modular furniture. We didn’t want to play the price game. We wanted to attract an evolved, premium buyer as our user base and grow from there.
Q. What are some of the things that you’ve learnt on your journey?
Rajiv: One is that if a company is not doing well, investors will not want to spend time with you. Investors are there to provide capital, direction and some help. They usually don’t want to intervene. It is up to the founder to manage the process of alignment and communication with the investors.
The second thing is that for a founder, it is critical to grow professionally along with your company. The moment you raise a large amount of capital, you take on a bigger mandate in terms of designing to expand faster. You have to be ready with your team and organisational structure. You must evolve yourself from being a product manager to becoming a CPO to running a business entirely. Your evolution will take you away from your core strengths. I had this evolution myself. At the beginning of Urban Ladder, I used to take care of product technology and marketing. Three years later, we got a CMO, and most of my time was spent on human resources. You make the company more efficient and spread values while the functional experts took over the day-to-day work.