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This CA-turned-entrepreneur helps create memories with experiential gifts

by Marshall Childs


Posted on Thursday Apr 20, 2017 at 10:00PM in Finance


This post was orginally published on this blog

India Santa is a Mumbai-based startup that works as a gift registry and experiential gifting platform.

Meenu Singhal, a chartered accountant who has worked for each of the Big Four, faced a dilemma that every married woman with children is likely to face–family versus career. Whenever she went out for a corporate job, she couldn’t help feeling that she neglected her kids. And if she went on a sabbatical, she would often wonder how to make effective use of her time and experience.

“The fact that there are limited part-time or flexi-time options available in corporate India made it difficult for me to find the right balance between being a career woman and a mom,” says Meenu.

Multiple options like opening a book café, taking up writing, or joining an NGO flitted about in Meenu’s mind, until the time her niece was getting married. Meenu had a paragliding experience in Switzerland, and she felt that everyone could experience it. Thinking about what could possibly come close to the experience, Meenu finally zeroed in on a hot air balloon ride, and gifted her niece a holiday package in Jaipur with one included.

“They came back and said that it was a wonderful experience. The smiles on their faces were something to die for. This, coupled with the memories of paragliding, got me thinking about the idea of curating experiences and experiential gifting,” says Meenu. She was still toying with the idea of experiential gifting when another idea, that of a ‘gift registry’, cropped up from a casual conversation with her daughter while she was unwrapping her birthday gifts.

On unwrapping a monopoly game, her daughter bemoaned the fact that she now had two identical gifts, and asked Meenu to keep the extra game for ‘recycling’. This, Meenu says, got her thinking of the pointlessness of getting gifts that one may not want.

The concept of a registry is fairly popular in the West, but is still at a nascent stage in India. Meenu tested the idea with some family and friends and got a mixed response, ranging from “We need something like this” to “No, I wouldn’t ask anyone for a gift” and “Telling what you want is like asking for a gift. This is strict no-no in our Indian context.”

While she was evaluating both concepts, experiential gifting and gift registries, one of her dinner table conversations led to a merging of the two, and India Santa was born. After researching and getting more information, Meenu launched the beta version in December 2015, and a production version about seven months back.

The size of the Indian corporate and personal gifting space put together stands at Rs 3,000 crore, and e-commerce, despite its trend currently, is still growing.

Looking at these numbers, Meenu felt that there was a big opportunity in the gifting space. She also found that personal gifting as a culture is on the rise, with the number of gifting occasions increasing, from anniversaries, weddings, and birthdays to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Youngsters are moving away from gifting linked to occasions to casual gifting, particularly of experiences. Also, consumers now want to buy gifts from stores that are unique, stylish, personalised, and reflect their thoughtfulness and status.

She soon realised that in the corporate world too, gifts are moving from “promotional’ to “emotional”. Companies are looking for gifts that strike a more personal and emotional chord with the recipient, be they employees, customers, or business associates. So, India Santa as an experiential gifting and gift registry portal seemed lucrative.

India Santa is an exclusive e-commerce portal, one that is leveraging the changing behaviour of consumers in the field of experiences and gifting. Says Meenu,

“We enable customers to create memories for life through our wide array of specially curated experiences as well as multiple gifting options. We specialise in curating customised experiences, team outings, and reward and recognition programmes.”

The team at India Santa claims to have curated more than 1,000 experiences and quirky products, and are adding more experiences on an almost daily basis. The experiences can be broadly classified into Adventure (like paragliding, sky diving, hot air balloons, camping, desert adventures, water rafting, and scuba diving), Leisure (like city walks and tours, amusement parks, musical nights, food walks, holidays, and getaways), Health and wellness treatments (like spa, yoga, meditation, healing therapies, and life coaching) as well as tarot reading sessions, hobbies, self-discovery, and luxury experiences.

The platform also offers experience boxes, which give the recipient the option of selecting from a wide variety of experiences. The experience boxes are in the denominations of Rs 1,500, Rs 2,500, Rs 3,500, Rs 5,000, and Rs 7,000. They are divided into category-specific boxes, which have multiple experiences from a single category, and multi-category boxes, where they have various categories combined together.

“We also have gift vouchers of more than 100 leading brands available with us in multiple denominations and categories, to provide spending options to our customers. Among the leading brands are Shoppers Stop, Croma, Fabindia, Nike, Amazon, and Lifestyle,” says Meenu. They also have quirky products specially crafted by artisans and other small vendors.

On the other side of the business, a member can create and manage a gift registry for different occasions. Members can also select from pre-defined templates, and they can add gifts from any store in the world – this could be both online and offline. They can also create personalised websites, send invitations, and create a scrap book. Guests can then either pick up gifts from the India Santa store or from other stores.

However, the ride hasn’t been easy for Meenu. Over the past year, she has realised that it is very important to find the right technology partner. She says that while she had met a lot of people who could help her put the portal as well as backend together, some were too expensive while others needed proof of the concept.  “It is important to put in place a timeline for going live. This helps in cutting iterations and prioritisation of the show stoppers,” explains Meenu. She also realised that vendor tie-ups were essential.

In the initial stages, the team found some good people who went out of their way to help, while others had to be persuaded with multiple follow-ups. For every one acceptance the team saw, they met with five rejections. Another one of the big challenges was in getting the right people onboard. Meenu points out that they didn’t have the kind of money to pump in and get people. They were looking for people who believed in the concept and were willing to throw in their expertise to get things going.

Meenu says that it was important to have team members who had complementary skills and compatibility. After speaking to family and friends, she was able to select a few people through references. The core team of India Santa comprises of Shailendra Kadulkar, who has more than 12 years’ experience in IT project management and database design, Meetu A. Srikanth, who has over 14 years of experience in market research and consumer insights, having worked with leading global consumer brands, and Jayesh Soni, an award winning commercial artist, illustrator, and creative art director with more than 15 years of experience with leading global consumer brands and services. India Santa is also supported by a team of advisors, who bring in expertise in their respective fields.

The space of experiential gifting, deals for experiences, and gift registry is growing in India. Internationally, the market is big, with dominant social gifting players like Wrapp and Chicago-based Boomberg seeing considerable investment. There are also other Indian gifting platforms in the space like Wedtree, which is primarily focused on weddings. Another Indian player is Giftzenie, another gift registry platform, and there is also One Day Millionaire, which focuses on experiences and provides great deals for them.

Meenu says that India Santa is solving a unique customer problem in the gifting space and aims to create memories for life. She explains,

“We specialise in curating bespoke experiences based on the individual’s profile, relationship, occasion, and budget. We customise experiences and can also combine one or more experiences based on the requirement of our customers. We once curated an anniversary special for the parents of an NRI client. We picked up the parents in a limousine from their house and took them to a restaurant, where there was a special table reserved for them along with champagne and a video clipping from the son and his family, coupled with special dishes made by the chef. After the dinner, we dropped the parents back to their house. Our true reward was seeing the joy in the eyes of the couple and their son.”

Currently bootstrapped, the team is looking at venturing deeper into experience curation, focusing on better customer experience each and every time, and working more on customer acquisition. “We want to expand in the B2B, B2C as well as B2B2C segments. Our next phase of growth will come from corporate customers for R&R as well as young employees of the corporates who are willing to experience new things and create memories for life,” says Meenu.

Sindhu believes that everyone has a story to tell, all you have to do is listen. She likes learning new things and believes that there can never be an end to learning. You can reach Sindhu at sindhu@yourstory.com

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