Atomberg has recently received an undisclosed amount of funding from Hero Group’s Suman Kant Munjal, and is heading towards a turnover of ₹ 100 crores this year. Mukul Yudhveer Singh from the EFY Group spoke to Sibabrata Das, co-founder, Atomberg Technologies, about what went right for the firm and what the ideal approach ought to be for someone entering the consumer electronics domain as a startup.
Over the past few years, a lot of startups have come up in the consumer electronics space, covering accessories like Bluetooth speakers, earphones, etc. However, the number of startups in product segments like ceiling fans has been quite low. Interestingly, Atomberg Technologies, a startup launched by IIT-Bombay alumni, Manoj Kumar Meena and Sibabrata Das, is currently not only doing well in the smart ceiling fans market, but is also planning to enter more consumer electronics segments in India.
According to one of its founders, the company is looking to foray into the smart appliances market. Atomberg was set up in 2012, and started its commercial operations about two years ago.
Sibabrata Das, co-founder, Atomberg, says, “In 2015, three years after setting up Atomberg Technologies, we were exploring the home automation domain—consumer electronics to be precise. We wanted to focus on IoT and started doing research around it. Soon, we realised that most of our peers in India are integrators, and the smart home market is fragmented, yet bullish. So we decided to launch energy-saving ceiling fans in India, to begin with.”
Since then, Atomberg has not only become reputed for its ceiling fans but has also made news with its unique marketing and customer acquisition strategies.
The focus should never be on marketing buzzwords
Das explains that, based on the hype around IoT, Atomberg initially wanted to start out as a company that made home appliances with smart features, but the team realised that the adoption of smart appliances was still low. Das and Meena then reworked their startup’s strategy, and apart from IoT and smart home appliances, decided that their firm would also launch energy-saving fans across India.
Das says, “One should not blindly follow the marketing buzzwords. For example, home automation was a buzzword some three to four years back, and then came IoT. Instead of focusing on these buzzwords, we aimed to use IoT and home automation as problem solving technologies. Our focus was also on making these affordable for consumers. Now, IoT has finally started picking up, but even then, adoption is not that high, which may be because of the costs involved. So Atomberg is working on making smart appliances affordable for the consumer. The message is–as a startup, every team needs to understand that eventually it will have to solve problems, even if the problems are not flexible. So, instead of focusing on the buzzwords, a startup’s aim should be to solve problems using the latest technologies.
Das adds, “If you are able to solve consumers’ problems at the right cost, your product will inevitably become one of the best sellers in the market. Instead of falling into the trap of marketing hype, focus on solving problems. Solving problems is what makes a startup get recognised and enables it to continue its journey. There are more than enough problems to solve in the consumer electronics domain.”
Investors should not be financial partners only
Atomberg started receiving a host of offers from individuals and institutions interested in investing in the company, right from its early days. The team, however, was focused on finding the right match of investors, instead of focusing only on the money.
Das recounts that every offer Atomberg got was exceptional, but finding the right one was very difficult. What makes this more interesting is that a lot of startups rarely get a chance to choose between investors.
Das explains, “If you follow the first step sincerely, you will see a lot of people and companies getting interested in investing in your startup. The second most critical thing is to choose the right investors.”
And in response to the question of how one does that, Das answers, “Carefully evaluate the goals of your startup and those of the investor. These should be the same, in terms of the long term vision.”
He continues, “You need to have the right investor with you. During the initial two to three years, investments will be for increasing reach, creating a supply chain, and setting quality standards before finally hitting the market. You will have to go through that cycle no matter what. A startup needs to have a long-term investor in the initial days—one that believes in you and whom you can believe in, like Atomberg got Parampara and Hero Group’s Munjal.”
Let flexibility and innovation be your USP
Atomberg’s co-founder considers being flexible as the third most important piece of advice he would give to startups. He says that as a consumer electronics startup, it is almost impossible to compete against the established companies, except on one front.
Das points out, “You can file patents, invest more money and do lots of other things to make your product work, but the only advantage you have against the large companies is your flexibility and approach towards innovation. If you stop being flexible and innovative, you will lose in the long run.”
So, what were Atomberg’s defining innovations? Das answers, “Atomberg didn’t just innovate in terms of ceiling fans that save power and help reduce electricity bills, but we actually innovated the ways in which we reached end customers.”
Interestingly, Atomberg has created a distribution channel through Tata Power. Das explains, “It took us around 10 months to crack this distribution channel strategy with Tata Power. We used to visit all the senior people in that company and answered loads of questions. We explained that Atomberg has never made a compromise on service, even if that costs more. I must also add that our service cost was initially higher than of other brands, even the established ones.”
After creating a successful distribution channel with Tata Power, Atomberg entered the online sales channel as well. As a matter of fact, Atomberg’s ceiling fans are now available on India’s leading e-commerce platforms and on the traditional offline channels too.
Das adds, “We did not decide on a separate distribution network prior to signing the deal with Tata Power. Instead, we looked at this approach more as a marketing expense than a sales expense. We decided to take a hit and give our customers fans through subsidised prices. We then used online channels and Tata Power’s distribution network to scale up, before entering the offline consumer market.”
The three factors that make a consumer electronics startup a success, as per Das, are the right focus, the right investor, and the ability to be flexible and innovative. Reading between the lines, it will also not be wrong to say that Atomberg succeeded because it was able to identify a problem, and present a solution quickly and efficiently.
Additionally, the company was also quick in finding ways to educate end customers about all the USPs of its ceiling fans.