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This or That strives to become the next Amazon, but for startup brands

Rohit Mohan Pugalia followed in the footsteps of his family members who were all traders. A few years working in the finance industry as a broker, then as a department head set him on a comfortable, life-long course for a great career in the field — but that didn’t cut it for him. He wanted more.

And so, when a life of entrepreneurship came calling for him as he settled into a finance-related position at Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, he decided to take the plunge.

In 2014, he quit his job, and moved to Mumbai, along with his wife, Purvi Pugalia, to undertake the perilous, uncertain journey that is building a company from the ground up. The duo set up an umbrella company called Soch Group, aiming to launch several startups under it. Their first endeavour — a homemade, healthy snack startup called Munchalicious Granola — met with considerable success when it launched in 2018. Today, it is present in over 450 retail outlets across 21 cities in India.

Life was good for the duo — after being put through the paces of entrepreneurship, sales were finally strong, they’d been seeing a good amount of traction, and it could’ve been easy for them to hang up their boots and call it a day. But not ones for resting on their laurels, Purvi and Rohit decided to take a second stab at entrepreneurship, and, just over a month ago, launched their second venture, This or That, under the Soch Group umbrella.

This or That is essentially an eCommerce website, but for startups. Think of it as an for products made by startups.

The hypothesis Rohit and Soch Group’s general manager, Kaushal Kansara — who came up with the idea — set out with was that startups in the country didn’t have enough avenues to advertise, showcase, and sell their products or services. Enlisting on ecommerce majors such as Amazon and Flipkart didn’t move the needle on sales for them because big brands thwarted their visibility with their large advertising and marketing spends, which startups cannot afford in the earlier stages of business development.

“This prevalent market dynamic not only deprives startups of the visibility they deserve but also deprives customers of the new and unique products startup brands offered,” Rohit tells YourStory.

Some of the brands enlisted on This or That (Image credit: This or That)

“We started This or That with the mission to break away from the clutter and create visibility and greater awareness for startups across India in today’s cluttered and competitive market,” he says.

The startup launched in July 2021 and has seen over 10,000 unique visits on its website so far. The company is self-funded at the moment.

Building an ecosystem

This or That currently hosts over 50 startup brands, across categories including lifestyle and fashion, beauty and wellness, and food and beverage. Prominent Indian brands such as Meraki Essentials, Naagin Sauces, Misfit Panda, Boheco, The Coconut People, and Mommy Made It, among others, are currently listed on the platform, with more to come soon.

But beyond just aggregating consumer brands and their products on a single platform, Soch Group-owned This or That hopes to position itself as a strategic counsellor to the startups it hosts.

Having invested in over 15 startups, as well as founding and growing a company, Rohit says he can use his expertise to help other startups scale, manage their inventory, undertake marketing and advertising endeavours, and raise funding.

“Being an entrepreneur and angel investor myself, I understand the fundamentals of sustainably scaling up a startup venture… This Or That is not only an e-commerce platform, but a partner for the brand in its journey and throughout its life cycle,” he says.

He added he will also invest up to Rs 1 crore in startup brands listed on This or That to help them along in their growth journey.

To ensure only quality products reach customers who shop on ToT, the startup follows an inventory-based model where it manages the end-to-end delivery execution, checking each product for quality before it is packed and couriered out.

In the coming months, the Mumbai-based startup hopes to merge digital commerce with physical shopping and offer options such as virtual trial rooms to shoppers on the platform.

It earns its revenue in the form of a margin on sales from partner brands, based on the value of total products sold.

“We are also working on launching specialised and affordable advertising models for partner brands to cater to their unique needs,” Rohit says.

Future plans

While it is still early days for the startup, the company hopes to hit around 500 orders a day in the first year of its launch. In terms of monetary investment, Rohit says Soch will invest around Rs 10 crore in the first year, and will not raise external funding for at least the next six months.

In the next five years, This or That is aiming to host at least 1,000 startup brands and help local businesses thrive. In the future, it plans to move beyond digital stores and set up brick-and-mortar outlets that will host startup products consumers will be able to interact with and experience before making purchases.

“India is the third-largest ecosystem for startups today, and is showing immense potential for the expansion of the start-up industry over the next five years,” says Rohit.

“Not only does our platform create a dedicated and sustainable ecosystem for startups to thrive in but also provides customers access to the country’s freshest brands under one roof, thus helping the Indian economy grow each time they make a purchase on This Or That,” he adds.

This or That’s closest competitors include Amazon Launchpad, startups’ own direct-to-consumer models, and ecommerce websites such as Flipkart, Myntra, Nature’s Basket, and Amazon.

With more and more businesses digitising, and consumers increasingly moving online for their shopping needs, This or That has the potential to truly make a dent when it comes to providing startup brands visibility.

Despite depressed consumer spending due to COVID-19, ecommerce platforms have seen strong sales in 2021. Ecommerce in India is expected to grow to $200 billion by 2026, from $38.5 billion in 2017. The growth is expected across consumer verticals such as groceries, ready to eat/drink, lifestyle, home decor, fashion, and beauty and wellness.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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