ONE BIG THING
Dukaan has stayed focused on product features that move the needle for their customers – from speed despite patchy Internet, to easily-understood UX copy and social-media marketing templates
Dukaan’s origin is really a #PeakBengaluru story.
Two engineers were stuck in an apartment during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. They placed an order from a neighbourhood eatery and the restaurant Whatsapped them a PDF of their menu. Unsurprisingly, the browsing and ordering experience was clunky. This got them thinking: Lakhs of small businesses and kirana stores were using Whatsapp to run their business. Could there be a better way? And the idea for Dukaan was born.
Founded by Suumit Shah and Subhash Choudhary, Dukaan is a DIY platform that lets anyone launch an online store using their smartphone, no programming or design skills needed. Approximately 50% of registered merchants on Dukaan are micro and small businesses with annual turnovers under ₹10Cr.
Dukaan is now focusing on the enterprise market and has onboarded D2C brands such as StyleUp, Lemonade, Truke, VU, Vector X, and Uppercase. They came into the spotlight when WOW Skin Science, one of India’s fastest-growing D2C brands and Shopify India’s top customers, switched to Dukaan in May 2023 citing its ability to offer customers an ‘enhanced shopping experience’.
According to the founders, Dukaan’s ARR is $1.5 million and they are growing at 10% MoM. So far, they’ve raised $17 million in Series A led by Lightspeed India, Matrix Partners and 640 Oxford Ventures.
Finding the White Space
Shah and Choudhary realised early on that Whatsapp is not a platform designed to conduct business. But for lack of a better alternative, lakhs of MSMEs in India were using it to share their catalogue, take orders, and handle customer communication.
They tested out Shopify but realised that even with their tech savviness, setting up a basic ecommerce store using a phone took 4+ hours. “We hired a Shopify expert from Fiverr who charged $40/hour and struggled to understand the concept of Cash on Delivery, which is still a preferred mode of payment in India. There was a clear need for a simple, intuitive, mobile-first solution designed for Indian sellers and buyers.” says Shah.
Learning from Real Customers
The first version of Dukaan was built during a 24-hour hackathon. “Our goal was to make a simple app that lets sellers create a storefront, list products, and share it via a link to customers. Customers can browse and place orders. All orders would be cash on delivery.” says Shah.
They named the app Dukaan (“This was supposed to be a placeholder until we figured out something better. In retrospect, we consider it a stroke of luck to be able to own and trademark the generic word for shop.”) and listed it on the Google Play store. Within a couple of days, they began to see thousands of downloads and had to field 70-80 calls each day from sellers who had downloaded the app.
From mobile phone shops to kirana stores, textile merchants and livestock traders, these initial customers were a diverse group of sellers from all over India. “Talking to them helped us understand their category-specific needs and we began building features that would be of most use to everyone. For instance, listing product variants, supporting multiple warehouses, and payment gateway integration.” says Shah.
The team also learned that vocabulary must suit the users. One merchant asked Shah what the term ‘Revenue’ meant on the seller dashboard. The moment it was explained to him, he said, “Ah, total sales.” The team replaced ‘Revenue’ with ‘Total sales’ on the dashboard. Shah shares that replacing the phrase “Add to Cart” with “Add to Bag” in the early days led to a 30% increase in add to cart numbers.
An early Dukaan store Shah recalls with fondness is Vichar Vidhan, run by a Hindu pundit who offers religious services and puja items for sale. “If a 63 year old man from the Indian heartland is able to set up an online store on Dukaan using his phone, then we were getting something right.” This was early customer validation.
Even today, the team seeks product feedback and feature suggestions from its merchants through the Dukaan VIP community that has over 54,000 members. “It is important to know which features to build when. Product bundling, for example, is an essential feature for our sellers today. But it would have been the wrong feature to focus on two years ago.” Shah points out.
Today, Dukaan’s features include multiple store themes, design support, and 20+ third-party plugins for marketing, reviews, etc. They have also plugged into ONDC and partnered with Moj and ShareChat to help SMBs promote products through videos and live content from regional creators. The team says the intent is to give SMBs a new customer acquisition avenue at a time when Facebook and Google ads get more expensive.
Right features, Right time
When it comes to audience understanding, it is important to go beyond the obvious and find what directly and significantly impacts user experience.
“D2C brands spend so much money on digital ads to get people to their website. But if the store takes even a few additional seconds to load, they lose 50% of potential conversion. Amazon has said back in 2006 that every 100ms delay in page load time costs them 1% in revenue. Cut to today when the average attention span of users is decreasing. That is why we focus on store load time.” Shah says.
In June 2022, Dukaan co-founder Subhash Choudhary called out “serious speed and performance issues” on Shopify stores in a viral tweet and proceeded to run tests comparing the performance of four stores on Dukaan vs. Shopify. Taking a sample of 22 million D2C shoppers from India from Dukaan’s data, he highlighted certain factors:
- 92% shopping on mobile phones, often low-end models
- Top browser is Android Webview, not Google Chrome on which the ‘Close’ button is the most prominent CTA
- Browsing from remote locations
- Short attention spans
- Slow internet speed
By minimising latency and delivering faster page loads even on poor bandwidth connections and low-end smartphones, Shah and Choudhary promise merchants better conversion rates and revenues. In December 2022, Choudhary shared a Twitter update that merchants who migrated from Shopify to Dukaan saw a 50% reduction in page load time, leading to a 13% increase in average order value and an improvement in conversion rate from 1.56% to 2.64%.
The THC Take
India is a strange market. On one hand, global platforms flourish, unlike in China. On the other hand, MSMEs are a hard market to crack and Intuit’s QuickBooks bowed out in January 2023 because it couldn’t break Tally’s stranglehold in the accounting software market.
|Yearly pricing||From ₹1,499/month||From ₹500/month|
WOW’s move is evidence that Dukaan has its ambitions set, not just on small, WhatsApp-centric merchants, but on mainstream e-commerce brands, which have hitherto been Shopify’s preserve. Will it succeed? Only time will tell, but it‘s made a good start.
Suumit Shah’s advice to founders
First invest in ASO/SEO if you’re a new brand
Invest in App Store Optimization (ASO) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) early on to get discovered and turn to ads and paid social media later.
Get the team right—this is where raising money helps
Don’t try to do everything yourself even if you think you can. At Dukaan, each of us has a different area of expertise: mine in digital marketing and Subhash Choudhary in tech and product. To figure out revenue strategy, we hired an expert, Sandeep Mina, who has previously done this for Hotstar and Swiggy.
Build a strong founder brand
Because of our previous experience building digital marketing agencies Risemetric and Rankz, Subhash and I have a strong presence in our areas of expertise. We were able to leverage this when launching Dukaan, not only in knowing how to get the app ranking high in the Business section of the Play Store but also to get the word out. Our posts in industry-specific groups led to 2000+ app downloads overnight.
Focus on finding your first big enterprise customer
We faced the cold start problem when aiming to get enterprise clients, especially fast-growing D2C brands. It’s harder to get momentum when you have no existing big users. Focus on finding that first big client to trust you. Demonstrate a clear value-add compared to existing alternatives and build trust by showing them you have enough runway left. No one will take the trouble to migrate to your platform if you are likely to wind down in a year.
Don’t fix something that’s not broken
We have been criticised for not doing anything new but we believe in doing something new only where it matters. A lot of startups spend so much time deciding their name and domain and brand colours that they don’t get off the ground. What matters is the core product and how well it solves the problem for your customers. If something is not broken, don’t fix it until it’s the right time to focus on it.