big basket is India’s first comprehensive online megastore that has under its umbrella a gargantuan portfolio of more than 20000 products spread across more than 1000 brands, all of which cater to a burgeoning number of 4 million customers. In their book, “Saying No to Jugaad”, authors Hari and Subramanian, both of whom are also employees at big basket, dissect in a succinct manner, the growth, hits as well as misses experienced by the company during the course of its spectacular rise. The key victories and vicissitudes that charted the trajectory of big basket’s growth are captured in a refreshingly candid manner that is totally devoid of either chest thumping or finger pointing.
As the authors reveal in a matter of fact vein, big basket in its nascent phase was given the cold shoulder by the much vaunted venture capital behemoth Tiger Global Management. Lee Fixel, the highly rated and touted partner in Tiger, subsequent to an interview with the founders of big basket decided to concentrate his investments in a rival grocery outlet Grofers instead. Softbank and Sequoia Capital also choose to place their bets with Grofers. But, yet in spite of the monetary backing and the reputational glitz, Grofers could not succeed, courtesy unsatisfactory customer experience.
The authors distill in a lucid manner the key principles that form the uncompromising edifice behind the functioning of big basket. The overarching values that underpin each such principle is customer satisfaction. In every key meeting that is held at the organisation, a pair of shoes epitomizing a standing customer is placed in the room. Decision makers place themselves in the shoes of the customer prior to arriving at any choice, conclusion, or verdict. It is this maniacal focus on the customer that has driven big basket to promulgate three seemingly incredulous principles, that are innovative in their conception but at the same time risky in their outcomes considering the nature of the business. A “no questions asked” policy for granting customer refunds in all cases of quality dissatisfaction; a 10% cash back on the entire value of the customer order in the event the delivery is delayed even by a minute; and instructions to the delivery personnel not to contact the customer for last mile navigation or for any other reason. The delivery person has to seek assistance from either the operations controller at the transshipment hub or an agent at customer service. The fact that big basket is not just successfully functioning but also thriving in an intensely competitive low margin battleground bears monument not just to their principles but also their processes.
As the authors painstakingly illustrate, the process aspect of business is accorded a lodestone status within the company. Whether it be the use of third party technology for optimizing the delivery routes so as to minimize the time taken for deliveries (big basket has a tie up with a Bangalore based technology firm Locus for route optimisation), or spawning a state-of-the art Data Analytics ecosystem that brings niche analytical expertise which can then be swiftly deployed to address pressing problems at scale, big basket is a continuously evolving, experimenting and experiential hub of ingenuity that always strives to add value to its customers.
As is the explicit commitment to serve the customer better, so is the preternaturally reclusive nature of the founders. As the authors inform the reader, only one of the founders is active on social media, and greatly reluctant to position themselves in the arch lights of fame. Their substantial contribution to the company emanates from their shadows. But as the authors articulate in the book, the founders always stick to the basics and there is absolutely no splurging of monetary resources in a flamboyant manner. Every acquisition is a well thought out outcome and every new policy a bedrock of long term solutions thinking. For example, the company had realised that in India a bulk of the grocery purchases (70–75 per cent) was planned at the beginning of the month. Around 20 per cent represented “top-up” purchases mid-month or mid-week. And 5 per cent of the purchases were from local specialty stores. Bigbasket had been servicing the planned monthly purchase and had been contemplating catering to the top-up requirements through an express service. And that is how the company ended up acquiring Delyver, a firm specializing in catering to the top up and exigency purchase requirements of the customers.
Another aspect of big basket that has endeared the grocery chain to its customers, is the attention bestowed on maintaining and enhancing quality. When big basket decided to deliver freshly cut vegetables to the customer, not only was the pricing kept very reasonable, there was also substantial back end research as big basket tied up with the Central Food Technology and Research Institute (CFTRI) at Mysuru and signed license agreements with them for usage of relevant technology. As a result, big basket now has over 100 SKUs for just cut vegetables now. Similarly, when big basket made their foray into climacteric fruits (a stage of fruit ripening associated with increased ethylene production and a rise in cellular respiration), it introduced mechanised grading and BRIX—sugar acid ratio testing—for most of the fruits to ensure a consistent size and taste experience. The company also established an integrated packing house at Ananthapur, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in September 2017 to aggregate the fruits and ship them across the country.
At the beginning of the book, the authors warn the readers that the book is “not a panegyric about the founders or the company”. True to their assertion, little to no effort is spent on waxing eloquent over either the achievements or expertise of Hari Menon, V S Sudhakar, Vipul Parekh, Abhinay Choudhari, and V S Ramesh, the founders. Instead the book concentrates on the milestones, management and measures that have made big basket the organisation this it is today.
Saying No to Jugaad – a rousing read.