Sometimes losing something can be a stroke of luck, just like what 36-year-old Ashutosh Agrawal experienced when he lost his favourite wallet gifted by his wife.
The Lifestyle Portal in a tête-à-tête with Ashutosh, an alumnus of the IIT Chennai and MS USA and an ex-banker from Deutsche Bank about his entrepreneurial journey and founding Urby – a Luxury Travel Essentials Company.
How did it all begin?
On a trip to India when Ashutosh lost his wallet in a cab, he dropped by at the nearest brand’s store at the mall and recalls, “I got a sticker shock when I saw that the price was almost more than double of what my wife paid over there. I did look at other options in the mall, but in terms of the quality, nothing was as close to the wallet I had lost.”
Left with no other option, he bought the same wallet but surely felt ripped off. In fact, this episode gave Ashutosh an insight of how product markups work. “Definitely not entirely, “he says, “but surely it was one of the reasons for what Urby is today.”
“Luckily Wall Street paid me enough to bootstrap Urby from the beginning itself. Regarding the need for investments over time, fortunately, the response was good enough to fuel the growth of the company. I am proud that we never had to take a single penny from an outsider. Knock on wood!” quips Ashutosh.
Having lived in New York all his early professional life, Ashutosh has always been hooked on to the urban lifestyle over there.
He further adds, “I am not sure if you ever got a chance to experience that in person, but the Wall Street crowd dresses really really well, and I learnt a thing or two from them. I always wanted to start something that was sort of related to an urban lifestyle and the name Urby sort of caught on during the brainstorming process. In fact, we liked it so much that even though the dot-com wasn’t available, we went with a dot-in itself. So far, I think the customers are relating to it quite well. Our entire product portfolio is based on an urban lifestyle setting.”
Ashutosh shares that as in any business, the challenges are in plenty, but you learn to deal with them over time. Given the competitive market scenario, and a prevailing mindset of “expensive is better”, Urby is constantly dealing with the challenge of telling the customer that better doesn’t need to cost more.
We get a lot of queries about how come our prices are low for the product quality offered. Whenever possible, we try to tell them about our no middlemen approach. As we design and manufacture our own products, and sell them to the customers directly, we are able to offer a great product at an amazing value,” explains Ashutosh.
Major clients at Urby
Urby has clients both B2B and B2C customers. B2B customers are mostly MNC companies that are looking for quality gifts. B2C customers are mostly from Tier A and Tier B cities in India.
Current product portfolio at Urby has offerings in travel and lifestyle accessories space. Price wise, products start from INR 300 and go up to INR 25,000 for some of their bespoke products.
“We are proud to be an online-only brand and are available exclusively on our e-store. I am sure you have questions about our direct to consumer approach and I will explain this in detail along with that question,” smiles Ashutosh.
What makes Urby unique?
“I would rather hear that from the customers as to what they like the most from Urby. But as a founder all my energies go into making Urby known as a brand for quality products at amazing price points,” says Ashutosh.
One thing that makes Urby so unique from other similar brands is their resolution about being direct to the customers. While Ashutosh feels that they can get a lot more orders if they start putting their products on online marketplaces and in the big stores in malls. However, by being direct is amazing, as they get to interact with their customers directly, and get such amazing feedback on the products and so many other things.
Additionally, their customers get benefited from it too, as there is no price mark up that Urby puts on their products to cover up for the unnecessary commissions those places charge.
How Urby challenges the traditional model?
“To give you more details on it, let me give you an example of how things work in a traditional model. Let’s assume that the company’s name is XYZ. This company XYZ produces a really premium quality product P. Once the product is ready, let’s seal it in a box. What you do with this box is what differentiates Urby’s model from the traditional one.
In a traditional model, this company XYZ sets up a distribution network across the country. They partner with a whole lot of wholesalers and distributors all across the country and ship these boxes from their factory space to all these locations all across the country. They then get distributed amongst the wholesalers and go to the respective retailers. Additionally, as they also get sold online at the marketplaces, they are also sent to the warehouses that charge by the hour to store these products.
If you come to think of it, all of the things that I mentioned just now are adding zero value to the product. The product is still the same as what was put in that sealed box. Each and every movement in the above retail model does nothing but keeps increasing the price (every middleman in this chain has their own commission set out). Additionally, the retail stores that these products are kept in also incur lots of expenses, like rent, staffing, maintenance and a ton of other unavoidable expenses. All of these things need to be built into the price of the product. Thus, in the end, a customer actually ends up paying for the same product to change hands.
We saw this as an opportunity to rethink the way retail was working. What we do at Urby is quite simple. Cut the middlemen. We don’t have any network of wholesalers or distributors. We make our own products and sell them directly to the customers. By avoiding the unnecessary (and non-value add) middlemen costs, we are able to offer the same quality as a designer good at truly amazing value price points,” explains Ashutosh.
Urby Handcrafted in India
That was one of the things that took the most time and was sort of the biggest challenge. Thankfully, India has an amazing pool of craftsmen who are so full of talent. Ashutosh feels lucky to have built a team of very experienced people who have been crafting beautiful leather goods ever since. As a result, their designs are modern, but the craft remains the same. “I guess, the time has trained them enough and our designers just need to communicate our design expectations to them and rest is the magic of their hands,” adds Ashutosh.
Vision, inspirations & aim for Urby
He further adds, “We are a startup and not sure if we have reached a point of writing a vision statement on the board. Regarding the inspiration, I would say every passing day spent on building Urby is an inspiration. The biggest benefit of being direct to a customer is that we get interact with them a lot. To be very honest, on an average, more than 50% of our new product offerings are inspired by the feedback and requirements from the lovely customers. They are our muse and only inspiration.”
The journey so far…
Ashutosh signs off by saying, “The journey has been amazing and it’s so much fun to actually work on this beautiful platform we are building. We’re lucky to be a part of it and looking forward to lots of wonderful things on the list. Mostly working on scaling the company and going global, once the timing is right.”
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