Pankaj Vermani wears many hats: CEO, angel investor, Reiki Raj yoga practitioner, and theater performer. However, no single role defines him. According to the startup founder, each has been integral to his success.
Vermani co-founded Clovia, a lingerie and personal care brand, in 2013. Today the company has more than 3 million customers both online and offline in more than 2,500 cities worldwide. Earlier this year, Indian retail company Reliance Retail acquired a majority stake of 89 percent in the direct-to-consumer brand for $125 million.
“When we started this business, we as founders faced a lot of nay-sayers,” Vermani says. “The unit economics and scale eventually spoke for itself to make Clovia the biggest startup success in the category.”
On September 21, 2022 Vermani provided Clovia’s journey from underdog to industry leader at a Founders Network global keynote. As part of the event he also provided how to build a brand that stands the test of time along with lessons learned from Clovia’s success.
Here’s a sneak peak of the event.
Beating the Odds
While Vermani and his fellow co-founders faced skepticism, they focused their efforts on two pillars that utilized technology in innovative ways. The first was a planning approach that used tech-enabled feedback to build optimal inventory for customers. The second was a super fast mind to market strategy that allowed the company to continue seeding products for multiple body types.
“There was a history of failure of lingerie brands in India. No one believed the category for women’s innerwear was a sizable opportunity to generate substantial business returns,” Vermani says. “We were backed by our 9 month long research on the ground and knew exactly where the gaps were and what had led traditional brands to fail in the past.”
Making it All Add Up
Vermani and his team were able to beat the odds because they understood the untapped potential of the lingerie market in India. The market was valued at $3 billion in 2017 and is expected to more than double to reach $6.5 billion by next year. Clovia’s gamble paid off because the team understood the impact technology and shifting socio-cultural factors would have on the lingerie market and they had the numbers to back it up.
“Make friends with maths and physics – they never lie,” Vermani says. “If the math is not adding up at a fundamental level, whatever you do, the business will never be something to put your life behind, unless you steer/pivot to make the math work eventually at some point. Also, the simple laws of gravity work when you are planning escape velocity. Remember that while fueling your rocket ship.”
Harnessing Insights from the Ecosystem
Vermani’s thorough understanding of the lingerie market in India came from a combination of customer feedback and mentors in the industry. He used these insights to build a brand that resonates with consumers. According to Clovia, 50 percent of sales from their mobile website and app are generated by repeat customers.
“We met a lot of people. As a fundamental, we questioned everything and always validated our gut instincts to be backed by the customer, and ecosystem feedback,” Vermani says. “Also we knocked on a lot of industry experts’ doors to help us understand the market deeper – what worked and more so, what didn’t. This helped us avoid a lot of costly mistakes others had already made and learned from. This continues to be our rule, even today – learn from folks in multiple domains and see what’s relevant for yours.”
Vermani’s global keynote covered:
- Do’s and don’ts of building businesses in domains with high failure rate
- How data-driven technology can disrupt “traditionally offline” brand businesses
- The importance of alternate meditative practices and hobbies in building your startup