Ruchi, Ankur Warikoo's wife has access to his calendar. She is not allowed to delete anything, but she can add a personal meeting to it if she wants to pull him out of work. Warikoo, who heads the world's largest deal buying website Groupon's India operations, says he has an obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to managing his calendar. "I can't think of a day when I will have an assistant who will do that. I freak out at the thought."
Warikoo was one of the first people Groupon hired to start and run its India business in 2011. Deal buying was the biggest phenomenon in cyberspace then. India saw more than 50 players set up shop, but within two years they faded away. Even the better known ones, Snapdeal and Koovs changed their business models to become merchants.
Groupon survived, and currently has more than half of the total deal seekers' traffic according to ComScore. It does 15,000 to 20,000 deals annually, has more than 6,500 merchants and sells more than 550,000 vouchers. But it was not easy to sell a spa voucher worth Rs 8000 for Rs 2500. And the discounts were not the only hurdle. Getting the right merchants and doing the right deals was important. Groupon sells a host of products and services - restaurants, health care, vacations, toys, sports products and more. But the journey has not been easy.
Warikoo's breakthrough moment came when he worked out a deal with the Taj Hotels (known for not getting into deal partnerships) in August last year. Groupon did a seven day dinner deal with Varq, the well known restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi. It later did two more deals in different cities with the Taj Group.
Another noteworthy deal was with Vasan Eye Care - a laser eye surgery operation deal which normally cost Rs 45,000 was made available at Rs 25,000. Groupon sold 168 of those vouchers in a month.
When Groupon acquired So Sasta to enter India, Warikoo had to change the perception of the company in the market. Groupon wasn't a site where you get the cheapest product. Sasta means cheap in Hindi.
Warikoo realised he had to solve problems for merchants and act as a consultant. Hotels were a lucrative segment to target. The morning buffet was mainly consumed by people who stayed in the hotel. Warikoo convinced five-star hotels to offer deals on breakfast buffets, and it worked. "We single handedly turned breakfast into a revenue generator for hotels," says Warikoo. Again, the period after lunch and up to dinner time was a dull one for restaurants, so Groupon started coffee deals to fill it.
"This is a merchant first and not a customer first business," he says. He was being a consultant for the merchants, something he had learnt from his three year stint at consultancy firm AT Kearney.
But Warikoo did not ignore the customer either. The receipt of every deal carries the email-id firstname.lastname@example.org. All consumer grievances and feedback mails go directly to Warikoo, which he personally handles. He takes out two hours every day to do that.
His efforts have led to Groupon getting 48 per cent of repeat customers, while the industry average is only 20 per cent. But Warikoo doesn't take credit for that. The only thing that he thinks he has contributed is a list called the "10 Commandments", and one of them is "We will do deals which we would buy ourselves."
While working out a deal with the Delhi Gourmet Club Warikoo sat with chefs of 11 restaurants to curate a special menu, calling it Delhicious Week, which was sold as a deal. Warikoo himself bought a deal for four people. The deal started at Rs 999 per person, - normally it would have cost Rs 2,400.
The next wave of growth for Groupon will come from mobile. Globally, 35 per cent of Groupon's traffic already lands through mobile. In India it is much lower at 18 per cent, but is growing fast. In 2014, investments in mobile will be the key.
On an average day, Warikoo spends 15 hours on the internet, and all his meetings he meticulously adds to his calendar in advance. When his meeting with Business Today
ends at 8.30 pm, he finds he has overshot the time he'd allotted to it by half an hour. Thankfully there are no more calendar entries for later that day. Or else it would have got Warikoo all worked up.
*An earlier version of the story had the email id of the Groupon India CEO wrong. It also misspelt the name of Varq restaurant.