When should you make the move?
What makes you want to give up your comfortable, high paying job to venture out on your own? If you ask Padam Chhabra, founder Clip the Deal, he’ll say, “Always get your corporate experience before you start out as an entrepreneur else you will be like a bull in a China shop.” And he would know having graduated from IIM, Bangalore, and then working with Citi Bank, moving across 6 countries, for over 10 years, before he started Clip the Deal this year. Did he always know that he would be an entrepreneur? Yes. Did he always know he would be in the corporate sector? Actually no. “I was probably the first person in my family to take up a job, which also happened by chance because of the MBA.” He goes on to add, “My family has always been in business so the spirit of entrepreneurship has always been there, and frankly, when I did my engineering, I always thought I would get a job, work for a few years, and then move back into my father’s business, then the MBA happened, it was a good school so I thought let’s give the corporate world a 2 year shot and then move back into the family business, that 2 years became 10 years, and now here I am.”
His advice for those wanting to become entrepreneurs is mostly to follow his path, “My time with Citi Bank helped smoothen the edges, making me more ready to take my company to the next level, make it a global company, which thinks big, and not a small company with small ideas.” Without the corporate experience, he believes that you might be quite lost at first, “you are just running around, you don’t know how processes work, how corporate life works, so I would say get your 4-5 years of experience, which will help smoothen out the edges, and later on the corporate experience will help you deal with VCs and investors better and will give a different flavor to how you present yourself.”
Clip the Deal.
He says that the entrepreneurial urge took over after 10 years in the corporate world but the eureka moment happened quite out of the blue, “I was on a trip to the US, when I picked up a Sunday newspaper and suddenly two sheets of Sunday coupons fell out. They were grocery coupons, which are usually like 5 dollars or 7 dollars off, and even half a dollar off at times. Then when I visited a relative, they said that if you are going to Wal-Mart, you print out the coupons and you’ll get a discount, and the whole printing out the coupons, then carrying so many sheets of paper seemed like a very cumbersome process. I compared it to what we have in the UAE, which is these booklets in supermarkets, that also come in newspapers, but I didn’t see why it had to be so cumbersome, I wanted to bring it all together and streamline the process, that was my eureka moment.” So what is Clip the Deal all about? “A digital grocery platform”, in three words, but Chhabra further explains, “the original idea for Clip the Deal, I would say was conceived in the US, where there are digital coupons, but we have brought it into the UAE and the Middle East in a more sophisticated manner, where it’s end to end digital, it’s on your mobile, and it engages customers.”. As for numbers currently he says, “We started on May 1st 2016, and as of August 2016 we have 15,000 downloads, which is the key for us to have a base to start working on, and how we work with our customers, brand partners, retail partners, is important now for them to realize the value of the information we can provide, which is not just connecting them to the customers, but also the customer data that we can generate.” For the end of 2016, he says, “We hope to have around 50,000 downloads and also hope to expand to other GCC countries.”
Middle East vis a vis other regions.
But why choose Middle East to begin with, and not say a larger market like India, to which he responds, “Because the exact market that we are addressing, the grocery and supermarket system is a lot more organized here, if we talk about India, it’s more of a mom and pop shop, they don’t even use a point of sale system, and if we want to go digital, and run end to end digital, the Middle East is more system driven, especially Dubai and the UAE which provides great infrastructure, organized retail, modern retail, plus good connectivity like Wi-Fi in malls and public spaces which is a major plus for digital businesses.” Size of the market is also a reason why they chose the Middle East over other regions, adding, “As an example, a customer issue here will be magnified by over 1000 times in India, and you want to have a controlled environment, so this is a good controlled environment, and it gives you the leeway to expand further into the Middle East.” As for challenges in the Middle East versus other markets, he says. “The biggest challenge here was getting people to understand the concept, because you have always had retailers and manufacturers but someone actually coming in and organizing the coupons and the discount process for them was unique, and then explaining how we would run it digitally was also a challenge. I have been asked everywhere in the UAE how do we integrate technology, but never in investor meetings in India.” As for other challengers that startups can and do face in the UAE, he says, “Dubai provides you the infrastructure to grow, but fundraising is not easy, as there are very few professional investors here, but things are changing.” And as for advice, he says, “be sure that you get your corporate experience, then get a solid plan running before you think of moving into entrepreneurship, because if you don’t have a plan, it will take you 2 to 3 years to figure it out and Dubai will not give you that much time.” Someone with that much experience would know.