A couple of months back, I hosted a fire side chat with Mukesh Bansal, Co-Founder, Myntra and CureFit about brief history of Myntra, CureFit and his insights from building an iconic indian startup as part of The Red Bricks Summit by IIM Ahmedabad.
Mukesh is a technology entrepreneur with almost two decades of experience working with high tech consumer internet companies. After B.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Kanpur and working across engineering, product management, and leadership roles for four different early-stage tech startups in the Bay Area, he founded Myntra in 2007 which became India's largest online fashion retailer.
Mukesh co-founded Cure.fit in April 2016. Since then, the company has raised a total of $400 million of funding and acquired Cult, 1000Yoga, and Fitness First. Bansal, through Cure.fit, has been instrumental in changing the landscape of India's health and fitness industry.
You can check out the live recording of our conversation or read the transcript below.
Jatin Chaudhary: Thank you so much Mukesh for joining. Always read about you, always fascinated with the brand that Myntra has become and you were able to do it again with CureFit!
First thing first, what was your Eureka moment to start Myntra?
Mukesh Bansal: For Myntra, I think it was actually a series of eureka moments and not a particular Eureka moment, per see.
Even before starting Myntra, I was working for a bunch of these startups in the Bay area. And even back then I was searching for eventually starting on my own. I had few failed attempts in between where I tried to do some things sometimes part-time, sometimes short-term but it wasn't really ready.
Even with Myntra, as some of you may know, we initially started as an online personalized play. In fact, IIM Ahmedabad was one of our customers in those days.
In the personalized space itself, we tried various business models. We tried B2C. Internet was very small back then. We tried B2B, which was very difficult. We tried offline retail as well.
I think in, 2010, through a kind of chance meeting with Reebok who were looking to do personalized IPL team jerseys, that was the first brush with the fashion industry for Myntra.
I think that went really well.
That led to a contract with Nike for the Cricket world cup in 2011, which was also a big breakthrough for us. And through those engagements around the cricket world cup, IPL teams, we became aware of the enormous possibility for retailing online fashion.
So I would say that series of discoveries along the way and the willingness to change and pivot, which eventually in 2011, four years after we started Myntra landed up as becoming an online fashion retailer.
Jatin Chaudhary: How did you find the co-founders for Myntra? How did you convince them to believe in you? And what would be your advice to aspiring founders on how should they go about it?
Mukesh Bansal: I think in the early years of a startup in many ways it is all about hustle, right?
So I think hustle also means hustling about initial team members etc. when you're just starting out and all you have is a vague idea and obviously very little capital and so on.
An idea itself may undergo change as we have seen in the case of Myntra as well.
So I think, the whole question of forming team, it's, a very important as well as tough.
Ideally, if there are people you've worked with in the past, you have some shared history, so you understand each other's respective strengths and weaknesses, you know whether you get along well or not, And, if you have conflicts, you know how to resolve those conflicts. You have some sense of working together.
I think that starting with someone familiar is great, but again, you can't always be in the driver's seat.
Also, you may not have colleagues who are willing to start up, so in that case, you should approach things with an open mind and explore your extended networks.
For me, I ended up finding initial Co-Founders of Myntra - Ashutosh and Vineet - from the IIT Kanpur alumni list. I found them on the alumni list. They were two years my junior from college, but I didn't know them when I was at college.
There is also an interesting story before that. This was after my first two co-founders backed out. So we were all in the US and in the year 2006, we agreed that we'll start something in six months and move back to India. And when it was time to move back to India, for some reason, both of them decided not to move back.
And I ended up moving here alone, with no co-founder but I was talking with a lot of people and, started working with Ashutosh and Vinit to develop an initial prototype version of the Myntra website.
And a few months into it I felt that we are working well and we had a similar value system etc. So I ended up asking them if they will join me as Co-founders.
And sometimes things don't work out. So even if you start, with a co-founder, if in six months or a year into it, if things are not going well, you should be open to having a difficult conversation and if needed even part ways.
So if you're lucky you end up with great co-founders on day one, but sometimes it may take a few years as well, and that's equally fine.
Jatin Chaudhary: You mentioned that you had worked with startups in the Bay area before starting up Myntra. So how has that experience helped you in building Myntra?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah. That experience was enormously beneficial to me.
So my first foray into entrepreneurship was in 1999 when I was 23 years old.
I tried to do something, but I was totally out of my wits. I really had no idea how to go about and we shut down in Three months.
So after that, I ended up working with four different startups. They all were very early stage. So I managed to see a lot of the startup life cycle and all the good stuff as well as bad stuff, the founder dynamic and investor dynamic, business model pivots, and so on.
So by that time, I feel I had gone through a lot of things, although not as a co-founder, but from the sidelines.
So in our early years of Myntra, there were many things that I was able to look back to, into my experience, particularly working with startups. And apply those learnings into how we are shaping our journey of Myntra.
Other things that, I benefited enormously from, my bay area experiences was, the emphasis on building a unique company culture based around the values of equality, meritocracy, transparency and empowering everyone in the team. It was very deeply prevalent in the Bay area. I will say, that was not always the case in Indian companies who tended to be very hierarchical.
So from day one at Myntra, we've tried to build the Bay area like company culture, I would say. But now, fortunately, now a lot of companies have adopted similar values and at CureFit, I think we're able to take one level beyond that with a lot more experimentation around the cultural side.
But yeah, I think, there are obviously a lot of people who are able to make the startup journey work as a first-time entrepreneur. But in my case, the hindsight of having worked with startups for eight years was quite helpful in shaping my journey.
Jatin Chaudhary: You mentioned about Myntra scaling up really well in 2011 and after that. So were there any specific choices that you made that made you more successful at that time or what happened that suddenly you were in a growth trajectory?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah, the growth phase came over a period of time, but, as I mentioned that in 2010 this one IPL team had reached out to us. Then we recognized that if one IPL team can do it, why not all eight IPL teams. So we systematically started going after, all eight IPL teams, and then by next year, we had contacted basically all the IPL teams and we also pursued Nike relentlessly because we knew the Cricket world cup is also coming.
And once they agree to do something with us, we went all out to make sure that the contract was a success. That really gave us a lot of a boost.
And I think the big leap of faith for us was, we were still a personalization company with IPL teams and Nike, we were retailing team jerseys with your personalized name and number at the back of Jersey, which was a good product.
But I think somewhere we recognized that people who are buying these jerseys are potentially a buyer for the overall apparel catalog from these brands - apparel, footwear, et cetera. So sometime in the middle of 2011, we decided to go from personalization to retailing, a full catalog of all these sports brands to begin with.
And once that realization, sank in, we thought about it for a few months, started making small changes, but we also realized that we can't have feet into both models simultaneously and in 2011, finally we took the call to completely shut down personalization.
That was a pretty significant call in many ways. It was an acknowledgment of the fact that in whatever we worked for the last four years has not worked out and it was a very small niche business.
So we wiped all that clean. In fact, the last of our two rounds of funding have happened based on the previous business model, et cetera.
Jatin Chaudhary: Was it difficult to communicate to the investors about that?
Mukesh Bansal: Yes, and No. I think, when I tell the story it sounds like it happened overnight. But it happened through a lot of dialogue over many months, And investors can also see the potential, the success of you've seen IPL jerseys and Nike Jerseys
There were some big fashion retailers around the world which were taking off like Zappos and Zalando and so on. So investors had the backdrop. I think they had the confidence on our team that whatever we were doing, were executing well. So it was the prolonged dialogue, I would say, but, but in the end, all investors were very supportive.
In fact, they put in a lot more money after we decided to make the change. And then, after basically four years of learning and bouncing around. And so on eventually we were at the right place, the right time.
We talk a lot about it being at the right place at the right time, but it's not necessary you end up in right place at right time on day one, sometimes it may take two years, sometimes much longer.
We finally were in the right category at the right time and the e-commerce was taking off in India and Myntra immensely benefited from that.
Jatin Chaudhary: And a lot of people believe for the Startup Ecosystem to grow we need successful startup exits and on the other side startups are like your baby and you are very protective about it. So what was the thought process behind selling Myntra to Flipkart? What was your thought process?
Mukesh Bansal: Yes, my perspective is exactly that. See, if you think about what does exit means, see, first of all, that the day you start taking money from investors you always need to give them an exit in whatever your timeframe maybe five years or 10 years.
And exit can happen in, variety of ways - one investor can sell their share to some other investors through the secondary sale, You can go public. So they have the option to sell shares in the public market, or you can get acquired.
So I think the day anyone starts taking money from an angel or VC, you have to be clear that one day you will need an exit for at least your investors, and that's the whole reason why they're investing in you.
So for Myntra eventually there'll be some exit was never the question. I think our default plan would have been to become, a profitable company and go public someday.
But then, you also look at the landscape and it's like a chessboard, how it is evolving and in 2014, the way things were shaping up, Flipkart was obviously by that time enormously successful company as a horizontal retailer, we were doing very well in fashion. Amazon was getting very serious about entering e-commerce in India.
And, Flipkart and Myntra had a lot of common investors as well. So I think that thought came up that, if we joined forces, can we, together be a much larger and much stronger player in the Indian e-commerce.
So once that realization, became clear, it just made a lot of sense, right?
So it was not exit driven decision, when Flipkart acquired Myntra, we had just closed our Series D round at the time for $50 million with Premji Invest. So there was no, financial pressure per se to go ahead with the exit. But, I think all of us at the table recognized that combined Myntra and Flipkart can be very strong player in the Indian e-commerce market.
With Myntra, actually. there was an exit of the paper in some ways, but most of our investors decided not to cash out and swap their Myntra shares for Flipkart shares, which eventually worked out very well for them, with Walmart's acquisition of Flipkart.
I think the whole exit discussion was driven by the spirit of can we create much larger value for all the shareholders involved.
Jatin Chaudhary: And you remained with Flipkart for a couple of years.
Mukesh Bansal: Yes. In fact, I got pretty deeply involved in Flipkart. It was an enormous learning experience for me as at that time Flipkart was the fastest scaling company in the country, a much bigger scale than Myntra.
So I got exposure to all of that. I totally enjoyed those two years. And at some point, I felt ready to move on and start something.
Jatin Chaudhary: And then there was an itch to start again. What was the trigger to start CureFit?
Mukesh Bansal: I didn't approach entrepreneurship as one hit or miss career choice. I feel like in any other professions if you're a banker you are typically a banker for life or you are a consultant for life. You Grow through the ranks. You learn tricks of the trade. We get better over a period of time.
I think entrepreneurship is no different for me. I recognized from early on that. For me entrepreneurship is the career choice I'm making, which means in one way or another either I start or join an early-stage company. I would want to be around an entrepreneurial setup.
And when one journey comes to an end I'll join next. So that's why during my Bay area days, when two of the startups I worked failed in a row, I didn't even think much about whether I should apply to a large company or not. I joined the third startup. And so for Myntra also it was very clear to me that whenever Myntra journey comes to an end, I will start on my own.
I think the same is true for cure fit. My intention is definitely to work here for the next 10 years and try to make CureFit, a large digital health player, but for whatever reason if this journey comes to an end, and if still, I have energy left. Then I'm pretty sure I'll be exploring doing something else again.
Jatin Chaudhary: You have different founders this time. How did you convince them or what was it like you together came up with the idea of CureFit? What was that story?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah. Ankit and I worked very closely at Flipkart. In fact, for most of my two years, we worked quite closely. He was the chief business officer there.
We collaborated on a number of things on a day-to-day basis. Got to know each other quite well over those two years. And he also had been at Flipkart for a very long time. So around the same time, when I was thinking of moving on and doing something, he was in a similar space also thinking about starting on his own.
He had enormous passion for sports and fitness. I have personally always been into health and fitness. So we had a common interest as well. So we first moved on from Flipkart.
We didn't know at that time that we'll go on to start together, but, we just started hanging out together, brainstorming ideas, and discussing things.
And within a few months, at least the initial idea of CureFit evolved, and we agreed to join hands and give us a shot. And here we are!
Jatin Chaudhary: CureFit has a very diverse set of products. So how do you go about picking which domain to go after and how do you go about scaling that up?
Mukesh Bansal: I think picking domains for us is easy as it stems from our vision. We have defined CureFit vision as making health easy for people.
And the reason we have that vision is that our core insight about the company even from day one was the fact that there are a lot of people interested in healthy lifestyle, but people struggle with a healthy lifestyle because health is not about doing one thing. It's not like you would just go to the gym and then eat anything or you can ignore your sleep.
It is about bringing all elements of a healthy lifestyle together and pursuing actively on a day-to-day basis. And that's a problem we are trying to solve. So for CureFit to live up to its vision of making health easy, we need to get everything you need for healthy lifestyle.
It means we need to get into all these categories but it's also difficult to get into all the categories simultaneously because you'll need different domain knowledge, different skill sets, different investment profile, and so on.
Every year we have been adding newer categories to our category portfolio. But most of our effort goes into few categories while we're incubating some other categories.
If I take a 10 year picture of CureFit, our vision is of whatever you need for healthy lifestyle and wherever you need it and if some solution you need to acquire at-home digitally, or the solution you need offline, all of it, we are available. And we'll intelligently integrate all of it.
So CureFit app behaves like your personal health coach which can guide you on your journey every step of the way, create a personalized plan for you, take care of motivating you.
And health is huge problem. Withought motivation people drop off. So how do we solve for that? And hence, we have really no choice but we need to sooner or later get into all the relevant categories.
Some of these categories were built from scratch. Some we acquired from very early-stage companies. We continue to look for more acquisition as well. but yeah, it's, it's also not easy.
It is important that we also stay very focused that even if we are working on five, six products simultaneously only one or two are getting most of our attention and rest, we are developing with a long-term timeframe.
Jatin Chaudhary: And Cult has become a kind of brand. So how do you go about building that?
Mukesh Bansal: I don't know if there's any template or formula for that. I think probably the answer lies in how do you go about doing it and also why you are doing it.
I have always believed that great brands can only be built around great product. So the necessary ingredient to building a good brand is to first have an outstanding product. And, we have operated Cult with that mindset in the early years.
We paid lot of attention to the experience we were able to deliver in Cult centers.
If we compare an experience in Cult center to a typical gym, we felt that typical gyms leave a lot of things to be desired, there's really no one helping you, you don't know what to do and what workouts to follow, you have your cell phone with you. You're continuously distracted.
If you want a good experience, you have to buy personal training, which may be very expensive and so on.
So from day one, we focused on, how do we create an outstanding experience. So once you walk in the class, in the 15 mins you have great experience and even, before you joined the class, the class booking experience would be great.
After the class, we have a very rigorous, rating system where we get a huge amount of data about what happens in a particular class.
Over a period of time, we have developed a lot of automation and backend systems to manage the entire cult experience and over a period of time, because the experience is so consistent and it either meets or exceeds customer expectations, people start telling, each other about the experience.
If someone has a great class, the next day in the office and on their home, they will tell other people, and then that's how the brand gets built.
We have been actively measuring the NPS (Net Promoter Score), which, gives you feedback about how likely people are able to recommend your product to their friends and family. And, we have done a lot of things over a period of time to make sure we have high NPS.
And I think the important thing for being a good brand is to be authentic. So with Cult, we were very clear that the objective is to make fitness fun and easy.
And we have worked relentlessly to deliver on the value proposition, whether it meant introducing new formats, evolving our formats, and keeping things fresh and interesting for people.
So as a brand if you stand for something, you are able to deliver that consistently and, your product experience really stands out. I think more often than not, it'll add up to an outstanding brand.
Jatin Chaudhary: And just in that, you have very vocal consumers who will go all out on social media talking about their experiences. Sometimes what happens in a case where their experience is not good. So how do you go about tackling that situation?
Mukesh Bansal: I think it's a massive asset to have vocal consumers, which means if you're doing something right, you'll hear about it and If you're not doing something right, you hear about it.
As a brand knowing what customers might be struggling from is infinitely better than not knowing. And so we have, a pretty solid customer experience team, social media team, we track all these conversations of what customers say about us.
And whenever they flag something, we just act on it right away. So in some ways, customers are working with us to make the product better and a big reason of why Cult is working is because of this active voice from consumers. And we also almost collaborate with customers to figure out what's working and what's not working and how to fine-tune our products.
What may be working today may not be working one year down the line and customers are the first set of audience who will let us know that as long as we are listening.
And customers also realize that this brand is listening to them and if they have any grievance, we, take that into cognizance and, take corrective action. So yeah we are very fortunate that our customers are so vocal and willing to engage with us.
Jatin Chaudhary: I have one more question, then we'll take some of the audience questions.
There is this thing going on of made in India products built for global audiences. We have lots of examples in B2B SaaS space. You recently launched an international app for your business. How has been the response? What is your long-shot goal from that?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah. See, our vision from day one was to build a global digital health company.
One of our initial thesis was that in the decade of 2020s digital health will play a very big role in people's life. If you see, the wearable devices continue to grow, there's a lot of digitization of health that's happening.
A lot of stuff is happening on gene sequencing and microbiome sequencing. We're just learning a lot more about how human health works and what are all the data around it. So using that a lot of interesting solutions will be possible.
So we always aspire to get to that point where eventually we are among global digital health player. We started from India. We felt India market is somewhat, protected, not many big global players are there. It's a huge market. We can innovate here, establish a product, but the intention was always to go global.
I think, this year we are seeing our initial traction for our digital health play. Last year we started with the offline model in Dubai, but now this year, with the pandemic, our focus shifted to a lot more digital first in nature.
So we launched our beta app in US. We have about 50,000 users there. It's very early days. We are still learning and figuring out how do we make our solution relevant for US audiences. It is a different market, different expectations. A product is also a work in progress. So the idea is over the next, 12 to 18 months, we'll just continue to learn, keep refining, and fine-tuning the product.
But hopefully a couple of years from now, we should be a significant, player in the global digital health space as well.
Jatin Chaudhary: Thank you so much Mukesh. We'll take some audience questions and I'll come back with my series of questions towards the end of the session.
Q1: A lot of startup founders are Flipkart alumnis. What is the major factor for this trait?
Mukesh Bansal: We've seen a lot of first time startups come out from the alumnis of many companies, definitely from Myntra and Flipkart and InMobi.
I think it's similar to what I was saying earlier when you spend time in a start up, you get a first hand view of what startup life is, what kind of ups and downs you go through, you get an opportunity to work closely with the founders or sometimes the investors in early-stage of a company.
So I think it's a huge learning experience and it's not like startups are only built by founders. I think a lot of early-stage employees play a very big role. People get empowered, they get a lot of autonomy.
Some people may like it. Some people may not like it. When people get their breaks within a startup environment and you are able to make the most of it, it can also boost your confidence. So when you are go to start on your own. You are ready, you know what to expect, and you have some past success under the belt.
I think some of these startups in India who have gone through massive scale-up, I think they created this platform and environment for a large majority of people who are there on the front lines, who experienced it firsthand, who were able to contribute in a very big way in a fostering environment. And it's very heartening to see a lot of them have gone on and built very exciting companies.
And I followed that path, myself that, to prepare for a career in entrepreneurship, if you are ready to start on your own, that's great, more power to you, but if you want to take some time to learn and prepare, then it's not a bad idea to work at a startup for a while and until you feel you're ready to start on your own.
Q2: In the initial years of Myntra, the economy was going through the crisis of 2008 and also during Myntra's rise we went through a challenging year in 2013 in terms of the Indian economy. So what do you feel enabled you to deal with this crisis effectively?
Mukesh Bansal: Building a startup with a long-term journey it easily take 10 plus years. And what that means is that in long period you are going to encounter all the macro economic ups and downs as well. And as an entrepreneur you obviously do not control macro things.
There was a 2008 financial crisis, 2013 was very slow for Indian economy, then you know, if you look at 2016, also, there were lot of headwinds. And then again, in 2020, it's just lot of, challenges that startups are facing.
So I think as a startup founder, first of all, you need to almost anticipate that if you look at next five years then there may be one or two very bad years and those one or two bad years, maybe it may happen because of macro economic situation or it can also happen because maybe you just made some wrong calls and by the time you undo and come back, that kind of time will go.
So it's very important that you figure out how can you survive and play the long-term game so you can ride out these ups and downs.
One of the key things for that is sufficient funding. If you raise money sometimes startups get carried away by spending too much money. I think if you can be conservative about how you spend cash and create yourself two or 3 years runway at least so that when a bad year hits, you are able to ride it out. If the bad year hits, like 2008 or 2013, it may even be better to cut down your cost significantly so your further your runway.
So in a good year, you think about how do I make the most of it by growing really fast, growing the market share and so on, but in a bad year, your frame of reference may shift. You can think, how do I ride out this year by spending the least amount of money possible, but making significant progress on that product.
So by the time when the economy turns around and people are ready, your product would have progressed significantly. You might not have grown. You might've grown also, but it doesn't matter in the long-term timeframe while most people might be struggling during the lean year, you are relentlessly making a product better.
And I think in 2013, exactly same thing happened with Myntra. We made a lot of progress with our product. We struggled throughout the year financially fundraising and so on, but our product kept getting better. And by the time, 2014 came around, we were so much differentiated than, anyone else in the marketplace.
People use this saying a lot these days never let a crisis go to waste. I think, when a bad year hits you, that's the right time, the right frame of mind to be in. So now that crisis is here, let me embrace it and let me see how I can make the most of it.
Q3: With the pandemic bringing mental health to the fore, CureFit is also creating awareness campaigns for the same. What do you feel needs to change about our approach towards these issues?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah, I think it's a very important question.
In India we are living through an epidemic of mental health. I's a very widespread and a lot of people suffer from various kind of stress, anxiety, depression, panic, and so on. A lot of it goes unaddressed and these cases have only worsened during pandemic times where people have a lot of genuine fears and social isolation and so on.
The entire category needs a huge amount of innovation and even before that awareness, removal of social stigma. I don't think anyone company alone can do anything about it, but I think, fortunately, if you look all around us, more and more people are talking about this, from celebrity onwards, also we are seeing more and more solutions come up.
I think there is a big acknowledgment that far milder form of mental health issue just some form of meditation, yoga, sleeping better, a healthy social environment, et cetera, can play a big role and then beyond that, I think people are a lot more open to now seeing a therapist or psychiatrist,
At CureFit we are trying to address the same through our MindFit offering. We have a whole bouquet of offerings from meditation, yoga, online therapy services, et cetera. And we are seeing good uptake, but I think as a country we are is still a long way overall.
On one hand, the prevalence of mental health issue is massive. But the market is very small, a very small number of people ever get formal solution. I think so as you made progress with the awareness, remove the stigma, availability of world-class solutions, hopefully, we'll be able to address a much larger segment of the population, which is very much the need in the country.
Q4: Early stage entrepreneurs face lot of challenges in convincing people of the validity and authenticity of their ideas. How did you go about convincing others of your novel ideas?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah, first of all, that's not a surprise, right? Let's put yourself in the shoes of a, let's a VC or even a potential co-founder, if you start saying yes to every first person who comes to you, you will be both out of money and you would have backed lot of bad ideas.
The person, on the other end, really need to do their diligence and need to understand.
So as a founder, one is to assume that, whatever you are able to convince these people of - whether to join your company as a founder, a join as an employee or a customer to buy a product or an investor to invest money, you will be getting a lot of nos and you should definitely not get into entrepreneurship ff you can't take no, or it affects your ego or pride because the journey will be full of lots of Nos.
Till date most of the investors I talk to ,despite my entire journey, most of them say no that they will not invest in CureFit. And they say no. Many of them said no multiple times for series a and series B and C word, but every new round, I go back to them and try to explain to them, look, we have now made progress and you've got these traction.
And so on. Someone may get convinced. Someone may not get convinced. So one is you need to first have enough of your own conviction and integrated rent list.
I think I learned very early days in my entrepreneur career that No means not now. It does not mean no forever. So it doesn't mean when someone is saying no to you today. There's also feedback hiding in that if you probe a layer below people will be more than happy to tell you what their fears, our concerns are, what validation we would like to see And that's phenomenal feedback.
And what they're also saying. If you address these things, then I may be interested and you so every time someone says, no, if you can take that as what is the real feedback behind it, and then, decide whether you want to work on that feedback or not.
So you may have, people, of course, have different opinions. The feedback may also be all over the place. You also don't want to be reactive and work on everyone's feedback. So that's where your vision and your own conviction comes into place. If you are clear about what you want to do, You should just acknowledge that, people may not understand for a while and every time you receive, no, you just process it and see, is there a feedback that, that you want to act upon?
I like what Jeff Bezos says here, he says, an entrepreneur career it requires a willingness to be misunderstood for a long period of time. And many vision Amazon's journey has been like that for many, long years of their journey. People have been writing off. And it must have been difficult to be an Amazon insider, but I think, Bezos and his team, they were uncomfortable with that.
I think in many ways, start up journeys are like that. people may not understand you. You need to be, feel comfortable in your skin and have conviction for what you're trying to do. And if you are relentless and eventually you will see people start joining hands and supporting you.
Jatin Chaudhary: So one of the things everybody had great plans. in early 20, 20, and then the pandemic happened. mucosa in your case, like in March, what was your initial thought?
you know how to come out from this situation, and this is October 20, 20, what is the situation now?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah. I say, in my case, fortunately, as you mentioned earlier, I've been around startup for nearly 20 years now. So gone through a lot of cycles, have seen lots of ups and downs.
So I would say obviously no one is ever prepared for a crisis of this magnitude, but some are ready. I think very early on, we decided that this isn't a once in a lifetime kind of crisis, it requires a decisive action. we were in a, one of the first companies that in the ecosystem to have significant cost reduction measures.
We also got a lot of flack for that. but I think, it was the right thing to do. Allowed us to, very closely look at business model and also the same question. How do we make the most of this crisis? I think two things have emerged for us from that. one is that digital has emerged as a huge opportunity for cure fit.
We launched our digital offering in April itself no less than one month after the pandemic started. And it has grown significantly and it has, that was give us confidence to even try in us market. Second thing, we recognize that even though offline fitness centers studying for now, it's a great opportunity for us to consolidate and expand our footprint.
And we are now pursuing that opportunity significantly. So I think it's, first and foremost, when a crisis hits. Just acknowledging that there is a real crisis. You can stay in denial for a while. You can wait for things to turn around and you're losing our operations team. once you acknowledge like very impartial assessment of the situation, there are things you might have in the past might have worked really well.
You might feel very emotionally connected. But when the world has changed, the rules of engagement has also changed and being able to take in. Also, we shut down many of our businesses as a result, we restarted new businesses. So we took those board calls and there is always heartburn involved. board calls are on board because they not, they're never easy and not everyone is always happy with those calls, but, to be willing to that.
And as a result of that now, I think, we have signifi expander runway. We've created some new opportunities that didn't exist as for post pandemic. And we are now, rating to go. And we feel really much as a much, stronger company after the pending pandemic than we were winded.
Jatin Chaudhary: Awesome. people find very difficult, to find time to read a book. You've written a book while running a business, which has multiple divisions. So what was the idea we had starting writing a book.
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah, I think it's, probably no, I've always loved reading books. it's my way of winding down and absorbing new ideas.
a lot of these authors, take, many, years to research a topic, write about it. Something you can read in five, six hours. I think that's a, enormous luxury to be able to benefit, from someone's many years of life experience. And I have been at the receiving end. And of that benefit for last 20 years, many books have had a lot of profound impact on my outlook in life and things, some, a lot of practical implications.
So I think, I would say it's a kind of level of reading eventually led to trying my hand in writing. one topic I have been interested in for a while is a topic of how do we make high-performance happen, right? both for me personally, as well as, a, leader of a team, you also asking this question about your team members.
So I've been studying this whole area of performance optimization. the science or the science has to say about this. What does the ancient wisdom has to say about it? Liberal my own practical experience and observations. And after studying it for a long period of time, when I felt that, At least I understand, some parts of it.
I thought it'd be nice to be able to share that with larger group of people. And that was the Genesis. I think when the book is done, it's almost like a lot of work. And in some ways it is, but for me, just boiled down to be able to write for half an hour to an hour a day, if you are serious about a project, finding half hour, one hour is never.
That difficult. and if you do it for, in a one or two year, you can end up with a book, which is what I did.
Jatin Chaudhary: Awesome. I have questions, but, this is one question that I keep on asking everybody. so ups and downs. You've seen more ups and downs, but what was the lowest time in your entrepreneurial journey and what did, you do to come out from it?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah, I think lowest point for us for some time in 2013, we were basically in mental journey, we ran out of cash or nearly no, we, I think it still remains October. we made the payroll November. We were not sure we really didn't have money in the bank. And it was a set of frantic activities. we are, trying to convince, last ditch efforts among various investors, et cetera.
Unfortunately, one of, investors agreed to bail us out through some bridge financing that gave us a six months of cushion. And then a lot of, in those six months, then eventually you are able to raise a financing round with BMG, et cetera. So that was a. Pretty nerve wracking. it would have been, if, that didn't happen, I'm pretty sure most of you might not have heard about winter or definitely would not have remembered, by now.
And I think, I think only thing that, I, in some ways helpless is one is, just, in some ways, we were relentless, we were, even though, we had our backs to the wall. We are executing, as best as we possibly could. I think we are also developed enough for credibility and trust with the investors and the why.
Some of us, some of them who are willing to bail us out despite pain of facing a difficult situation. all the good car must be investors in a track record of delivering our past promises, in some ways. help us at that time. But again, there's a big stroke of luck as well.
I will certainly not take full credit for this. The luck draws it. Could've easily gone another way. And that's fine too. that's part and parcel of an entrepreneur journey. I think risks are very high. Mortality rates are very high startups die sometime because of your mistakes. Sometime you've done everything right, but just stars may not align for you.
And, as long as you understand that as an entrepreneur, then know whether things were caught or not, you will be at peace.
Jatin Chaudhary: One great positive trend that is happening is that successful founders investing in startups. You also invest in the startups, so how do you invest in startups and what is your thought process about that?
Mukesh Bansal: I'm not a very active engine investor. I do very few deals of a larger amount and with deep commitment.
I think what I look for is again, I think this is a quite cliche, but, I think the founding team, their vision and passion, is, paramount, especially in early-stage because ideas will keep changing and you can't really bet too much in idea. but domain, I look for domains where I am personally interested in, where something real. I just enjoy it. I think that's, I think it's important to me as an angel investor, but also for entrepreneurs to get into field that they can have fun, on a daily basis, learning about it, doing stuff in that.
Because you can't find energy every day only focused on an outcome, which may take many, years. So that actual act of working in that domain should give you a lot of joy.
So I look for that. And then I look for if there is a unique angle, that our initial startup team has come up with in early days, Each startup your ambition and you can be in a world we think of in 15, 20 years, but in first year or two, just to find a photo world.
And it doesn't matter how small or big that footfall is. So I look for that. Do they know how will these people find their first a hundred customers, first thousand customers? Will they be able to, make the differentiation count for the initial set of customers? these are some of the, two or three things that at least, are, A guiding force for me to say, yep.
Jatin Chaudhary: What would be your advise for startups who are trying to build mental wellness startup?
Mukesh Bansal: Yeah. mental wellness, I think very long-term. And I try to find a product that is scalable today, therapies they're my go-to product, but doesn't really scale because you have to, one therapy can do only few sessions our day.
It's also very involved process. So if you can innovate, figure out a light freight away for, for you to offer a solution, trial solution for first, 10, 15 minutes of investments or month Casey, at least initial benefit.
I think it will draw in a lot more people and we are trying to solve the same thing. I don't have all the answers, but, but it requires, a lot of innovations from people like you.
Jatin Chaudhary: Which is your favorite book?
Mukesh Bansal: I love this book. it's called, gun jumps and steel. it's a history and anthropology book and it helps you understand the overall, how the kind of modern world came to be through various quirks and, accidents of history over the last a thousand years.
Jatin Chaudhary: You inspire us, we look up to you as a founder. Who inspires you?
Mukesh Bansal: Someone who's working on something with a deep passion. I find it very inspiring.
Jatin Chaudhary: which activity you enjoy doing the most?
Jatin Chaudhary: Ff you're not building CureFit, what as you would have been doing?
Mukesh Bansal: In a university in an academic position. I think I would enjoy that the most.
Jatin Chaudhary: If you are to get a superpower, to be able to do whatever stuff you are doing really well, then what would that one thing you would look forward to?
Mukesh Bansal: I think I have found a superpower. I think superpower is, just a lifestyle, investing into fitness. I think it gives you enormous energy focus, longevity for doing things. So I think, yeah, I can't do what I do without fitness being an integral part of my life.
Jatin Chaudhary: If you were to describe your entrepreneurial journey in one word then what would that word be?
Mukesh Bansal: Long-term. I just think very long-term, it's been 20 years for me and I'm thinking of the next 20 years.