How Sulekha.com lost its market leader position with the emergence of new movers in the segment like Olx and Quikr and how they plan a comeback?
Sulekha.com is one of India’s biggest and rapidly growing digital platform for local service businesses. It caters to the local service needs of India by connecting users with expert services in more than 40 cities. It has a massive user strength of 10 million people with businesses listed in 800+ categories. For instance, computer training, serviced apartments, wooden flooring, party catering, babysitting, elder care, yoga lessons, kitchen renovation, wedding photography, moving-packing, pest control, event planning, auto repair etc. It primarily targets expert services covering Home, Life and Self. It seamlessly integrates technology and digital intelligence to gain an insight into user needs and requirements for local services. Equipped with this knowledge, this digital platform matches users with verified service professionals. In short, it smartly blends local searches, classifieds, and e-commerce in the digital domain.
- Founded In: 2007
- Founder: Satya Prabhakar and Sangeeta Kshettry
- Headquarters: Chennai, Tamil Nadu. India
- Offices: 15 cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Austin.
- Services In: 50 Indian cities
- Users: 30 million +
- Business Categories: 800+
- Employees Strength: 8,000
- Revenue: Rs 120 crore
- SME Customers: 75,000 +
- Paid Listings: 50,000
Experimenting New Ideas
Satya Prabhakar is a qualified engineer, published writer and a seasoned entrepreneur with Indian/ American identity.
Born in a small town of Andhra Pradesh. After completing engineering in Electronics and Communications from the National Institute of Technology, he started his career as Acoustical Engineer. It followed with a job as a Technical Advisor in TCS. Later, he moved to the USA and pursued a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Florida. After completing his masters, he worked for various companies for 11 years. In the year 2000, he started a digital platform in the USA as local services classifieds Internet marketing. This later transformed into a platform for Indian users, named as Sulekha.com in 2007.
Satya Prabhakar founded Sulekha.com in partnership with his wife Sangeeta Kshettry. It started as a user-centric classifieds portal targeting buying/ selling and rentals of used-products. However, over the years they found it hard to sustain. This was primarily due to the reluctance of both sides to pay for such generalized services Internet marketing. Henceforth, it re-structured itself to serve curated local service business listings across India. As a result, it grew quickly in its reach and revenue Internet marketing.
In the meantime, numerous platforms emerged providing local service business listings. Therefore, the year 2015 witnessed a complete transformation for Sulekha.com from a listings service to a “services match-making technology platform”. In incorporated innovative techniques like domain intelligence, self-learning algorithms and big data to beat the competition. Consequently, it evolved as a specialist connecting verified professional service providers to qualified users with absolute customization. In short, user needs are matched exactly to the service providers based on the category-location-attribute combination. Consequently, it has emerged as the biggest digital platform for services. It has more than 60000 “Small and Medium Enterprise” customers with 50,000 paid listings. In the financial year 2019, it managed to generate a revenue of Rs 120 crore making it a trend-setting leader.
Experimenting New Ideas
Businesses, particularly, those providing service Internet marketing of local nature are always in search of platforms to reach out to genuine users. On the other hand, users search the internet a lot for reputed and professional local services. Sulekha.com simply encashed this opportunity by providing a holistic and reliable platform to connect these two. It used an extremely simple yet innovative business wherein businesses list their services on the website for end-users. Sulekha.com provides customized search results to users based on their requirements and redirect their details to the Internet marketing service provider. In this process, everyone gets the benefit. Users get professional services at a highly competitive price without much hassle. While businesses get genuine and relevant leads for Internet marketing. As such, the website generates revenue from registered service providers by providing them leads.
Sulekha.com has built a reputation among users and service providers alike. Service providers are assured of getting genuine and relevant leads as it matches them with the right users by means of latest and innovative technology. At the same time, users get the most accurate and trustworthy service. This is ensured by listing businesses after gaining an in-depth understanding of them. Hence, instead of simply listing classifieds, it matches Internet marketing services with users by employing technology.
From Ideas To Success
Sulekha.com added new life to many Indian SMEs by connecting them with the life-giving local audience. In its initial phase, it depended largely on advertisements as its services were free. But, as such, it was difficult to sustain in the long-run. Hence, it started charging service providers to list their services from 2009. This boosted its growth with much-needed revenue.
It was the first to explore the digital platform for classified services. Hence, it gained immediate popularity and user base. However, its superior position was soon challenged by fast-emerging platforms like Olx, Quikr, Zomato, etc. It battled its way through hard times to completely transform itself showcasing the immense potential for growth.
Sulekha.com has evolved as a leader redefining the entire industry. Its success story is truly reflected by the statistics displayed below.
- 20 million unique visitors each month
- 100 million page views
- Serves to more than 75000 SMB/SME who pays Sulekha.com
- Over 4 million Business Listings and over 2 million active businesses
- Expanded to 15 offices in major Indian cities with a headcount of more than 8000 employees.
- Serves in more than 40 Indian cities
- Lists services under 800+ categories including computer training, serviced apartments, wooden flooring, party catering, babysitting, elder care, yoga lessons, kitchen renovation, wedding photography, moving-packing, pest control, event planning, auto repair etc.
Major Turning Points
Sulekha.com entered the market when users were still discovering this whole new concept of searching for local Internet marketing services online. As such, it gained the immediate attention of users and soon became an industry leader. However, its competitors were not far behind. The emergence of other players like Olx(2006) and Quikr(2008) set the stage for its downfall. This was the first turning point for Sulekha.com. These start-ups stormed the market and competed through aggressive marketing strategies. With increasing competition, outdated listings and lack of funding, it was heading for a silent death.
However, before it was too late, Sulekha.com received a fresh breath of life in the form of funding of around 175crores in 2015. This came from Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC and venture capital Norwest Venture Partners (NVP). These funds helped it to re-enter the competition with an upgraded look. It completely transformed itself and invested in inventive marketing strategies. This turned out as a second turning point paving way for its success.
Marketing That Defined Success
Initially, Sulekha.com focussed only on its services and left out any structured marketing strategy. As a result, it survived a setback as soon as it encountered competition. But, it made a promising comeback in 2015 with renewed strategies, refreshing look and a captivating tagline “Delightful Discoveries. Everyday”. It has been present on Social Media Sites like Facebook with more than 158,772 fans. Besides, it even launched its mobile app in 2013 to capture mobile users which proved very fruitful. In fact, it gets 40% of its leads solely through the mobile app.
But, the substantial impact was experienced only when it used creative, tailor-made video campaigns to its advantage. Since 2015, it has launched numerous multi-lingual campaigns to communicate with its audience. These campaigns used customized, and intuitive storytelling to engage users. Some of the most popular ones are:
- Sulekha: Aaj Ka Arjun
- Sulekha: Fast, Free way to get Experts
- Sulekha: Go #AntiJugaad
- Sulekha: “Everything You Need In Your City. At Your Fingertips”
Sulekha: Aaj Ka Arjun
Sulekha.com started an integrated marketing campaign, named “Aaj Ka Arjun”. It was globally appreciated for its refreshing approach and creative ingenuity. It created a 2-minute animation video using the art of Patta Chitra Katha (traditional folk art of storytelling).
According to B. Sridhar, Director (Global Branding and Marketing), Sulekha.com, “We have always grappled with the conventional thought process which tags classifieds and yellow pages as humdrum; we wanted to challenge that very notion. The new TVC puts the focus on content and disrupts the traditional orientation. The animation clearly reflects Sulekha.com’s brand promise while showcasing our pioneering position of reinventing the category.”
The film uses the mythological character Arjuna who fulfills his wishes by shooting arrows towards the sky. “The arrow represents the cursor of the mouse – as soon as you click on the mouse, you get an instant response. Thus, the arrow in the ad indicates that you are reaching the right target for quick delivery or response when you click on Sulekha.com,” Sridhar adds. As such, a visually spectacular and vividly narrated story did the magic.
Sulekha: Fast, Free Way To Get Experts
This campaign amusingly highlighted the site’s bouquet of expert services, particularly targeting mobile users. Sulekha.com reiterated its pillars of strength through this campaign. Here, ‘Fast’ denotes Easy to Use, ‘Free’ indicates No Cost to User, and ‘Experts’ suggests subject matter expertise and high quality. It was extensively promoted on video platforms like Facebook, Google Display, YouTube and Instagram.
This campaign illustrated the site’s expertise in extending a fast and easy way to reach out expert service providers catering to specific service needs.
Satya Prabhakar, Sulekha’s Founder/ CEO explained, “The services industry is lucrative market worth of approximately $110B. With this new digital ad campaign, we wish to highlight the expert services offered by Sulekha. Sulekha is the largest expert services platform in India and connects 20 million consumers with service professionals each year. Sulekha enables 3 million connections between consumers & service professionals each month. All of this happens within minutes of consumers posting their need on Sulekha.”
Sulekha: Go #AntiJugaad
Yet another video campaign that humorously recommends users to give up the age-old practice of “jugaad”. It subtly advises them to take up professional service for their daily needs. The video shows the disappointment of a shocked bride who discovers her husband’s “jugaad” that goes horribly wrong. In addition to the video, it encouraged users to participate in online games and quizzes to win interesting gifts. Moreover, users were asked to share their “jugaad” experiences on Twitter. The campaign focused on increasing brand awareness and enabled the brand to return back with new energy.
Satya Prabhakar comments, “In the past, the word jugaad had a positive connotation because we as a country, society and people were enormously resource-constrained. Therefore, we admired actions or solutions that helped save a lot of money. Today, we (consumers) hanker for quality. We don’t mind spending additional money to get the best services and get problems resolved in a competent and professional manner.”
Consequently, Sulekha.com experienced a tremendous boost in its growth which clearly reflects in its statistics.
- Reached out 3000 users.
- Micro-blogging site helped it reach 1.05 million people.
Sulekha: “Everything You Need In Your City.
At Your Fingertips”
This campaign with “fingertips” motif is the latest addition in the brand’s plan that facilitated its grand comeback. This campaign aims to assure users of its accessibility and versatility. It uses the tagline, “Everything you need in your city. At Your Fingertips.” Through this campaign, it seeks to establish the notion that its numerous offerings are conveniently accessible through multiple channels. For eg. PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, smartphones, landlines.
According to Param Parameswaran, Chairman of Sulekha.com, “Sulekha.com is at an inflection point, having just metamorphosed into an e-commerce company. We have aggressive growth targets for FY13 and are investing heavily in enriching our database and expanding our offerings across multiple platforms. The new brand identity is designed to highlight our customer-centric approach. We want to become synonymous with local information needs in every city.”