Back in the early 2000s, Pranay Chulet was working in New York when he discovered Craigslist, the American classifieds website that has everything from jobs and housing to personals and legal services. He felt India could do with a similar platform.
In 2008, the IIT-Delhi and IIM-Calcutta graduate launched Quikr (originally called Kijiji India) as an online ad-listing service. Today, Quikr is the country’s largest online classifieds platform operating across several verticals like consumer goods, automobiles, real estate, and jobs.
Unlike most other Indian unicorns (private companies valued at over $1 billion), Quikr has grown using a string-of-pearls acquisition strategy, buying out startups to become a sector leader. The list of purchases includes Babajob and Hiree in the jobs space; Zimmber, Salosa, Zapluk, and Stayglad in home-services; Indian Realty Exchange, Realty Compass, Grabhouse, and CommonFloor for its realty business, and Stepni for car-related services.
These acquisitions have worked out well for the Tiger Global-backed company as its various verticals now upsell each other. Currently, Quikr has a monthly user base of around 30 million, and one of its five verticals is profitable.
Chulet, who co-founded Quikr with fellow IIM-Calcutta graduate Jiby Thomas and has been its CEO for nine years, spoke to Quartz about how the company has sustained so many different businesses together. Edited excerpts:
It can be hard to establish a business that has a single focus. Why did you spread your company across many different offerings?
We started as what would conventionally be called a horizontal classifieds platform. We tried to keep it simple for all consumers to buy, sell, and rent a variety of things. About three years ago, we began building out verticals for each of these categories.
In the Indian market, we had opportunities that platforms like Craigslist didn’t have in their home market. Single specialists like car sales site Auto Trader already exist in the West. But in India, most categories and verticals were still developing when we started our verticals.
In hindsight, I’ve tried to put some logic to it. It’s not all madness…but we are flexible about going where the opportunities are. The power of a diversified platform is that it attracts consumers in one area, but they end up using Quikr in multiple areas.
Has having multiple verticals helped the business in any way?
There has been a fundamental and very positive change. The growth is happening in every vertical at different levels, but just for a sense of scale in terms of our revenue, 30% comes from Quikr Homes, the real estate arm; Quikr Cars, the motorcycles and cars vertical, contributes 20%; the others—Bazaar, Easy (services), and Jobs—generate 15% each, and 5% is the rest of it.
Quikr Jobs became profitable at the end of last year, which is a milestone for internet companies. At least one, if not two more verticals, will be profitable by March. Over the next six quarters, all of Quikr will be profitable.
How do you connect customers of one vertical to offerings in another?
We start with the end goal. For instance, if we’re trying to grow transactions of used phones and there are enough sellers but not enough buyers, we could find buyers from Quikr Jobs’ blue-collar and entry-level applicants, who will likely buy used phones.
Also, if someone is looking for an apartment, we use artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to look at their behaviour patterns and we’ll know if they purchase the apartment on Quikr, and will push other services accordingly. Even if they find an apartment elsewhere, it would be a good time to reach out in two weeks via email or app notifications to see if they want to avail of any of Quikr’s services—packers, movers, plumbers.
How does your recent string of acquisitions fit into your strategy?
Acquisitions have played an important role. They were not meant to add any new business, but to further our verticals either by quickly increasing the scale, boosting revenues, growing the leadership teams, or improving the market share. Now, over half of our revenue comes from companies acquired while (the other) half comes from original platforms. Going forward, we still remain open to bartering with like-minded small teams.
How has the company culture evolved as the business grows?
We like to think of our culture in simple words and phrases: speed, flexibility, the humility that we don’t know all the answers, transparency, informality, and willingness to take risks and experiment. We’ve worked very hard to stay a small company at heart as we grow.