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2020 has been a year of many challenges for businesses in general with many pivoting or cost-cutting to survive. Yet during this difficult period, Boxaroo started operations and is looking to continue their growth long term. After realizing the supply chain for corporate merchandise had remained unchanged for many years, they set out to improve the buyer experience especially as many teams started working from home leading to brands wanting to send out company swag and care packages to employees.
KrASIA recently spoke with serial entrepreneurs co-founders Nikhil Charan and Robert Rajeswaran about their experience starting Boxaroo. They started Boxaroo with two goals in mind: firstly, to automate the design customisation and buying process with a self-serve platform, complete with curated, high-quality products, and transparent pricing. And secondly, to offer additional services that customers wanted like distribution and warehousing.
KrASIA (KR): You started Boxaroo in the middle of lockdown in Singapore. What was the motivation and how did you find the experience compared to founding your previous startups under more stable conditions?
Nikhil Charan (NC): Rob and I were housemates during lockdown. He moved to Singapore in February and two weeks later, we all went into lockdown. He was a great roommate and we had similar backgrounds. We spent many evenings talking about opportunities and ideas. Boxaroo was one such idea. I think the main driver for Boxaroo was realizing that 2020 was a catalyst for many business processes to change. As for starting it up during a pandemic, it was not as difficult as we thought it would be. I think this was because we were solving a real problem for customers, and a lot of them were embracing the change that was happening. One thing we are really grateful for is being able to do this in Singapore, where even in the middle of lockdown, setting up a business was extremely smooth.
Robert Rajeswaran (RR): With endless global lockdowns and a lot of negative posts on social media it was difficult to not get affected. However, I kept telling myself that the pandemic would eventually come to an end, so I could either be upset about the life I could have been living, or I can direct all that energy into something useful. So from a mental strength point of view, starting a business during the pandemic compared to a more stable environment is very different. Being positive and staying focused helped us get through.
KR: How has it been starting a company that works to provide company merchandise as a two-person team? How do you manage the day-to-day as well as other strategic tasks?
NC: As the idea started taking shape, we realized we both had pretty much the same skill set: namely business, product, and operations. When it comes to founding teams, it can be important to have complementary skill sets, but we quickly realized that it didn’t matter for what we were trying to do. The nature of the business made it an exception. We both play an active role in every part of the business – negotiating deals with suppliers and production partners, getting the tech up and running, getting our first customers on board, sales, marketing, etc. Broadly speaking, Rob focuses more on supplier and customer relationships, and I focus more on product development, product roadmap, and customer experience. We constantly look to each other for feedback, and we make all decisions together.
KR: Boxaroo is completely bootstrapped and so far, has no intention of getting funding for the short term. Why have you taken this particular approach?
NC: The simple answer is that we want to focus on building out our product offering and roadmap first. We are trying to change or reimagine how many processes within this industry work. So there’s a fair bit of trial-and-error. Getting that right, and building what customers want is what we want to dedicate the first chapter to. Then, once we’re ready to grow the business, we will certainly look at the possibility of raising funds.
RR: I agree, we will raise funds for the right reason and at the right time. There’s no doubt we will be investing further in technologies that can make our operations efficient and challenge the norm in our industry. It’s an exciting part of our journey that we look forward to.
KR: Compared to your previous companies where you did get investor funding, what are some of the main differences in how you operate?
NC: My previous startup experience was a platform play; we worked with investors from day one. But having investments requires you to be very disciplined. It’s very easy for your attention to start drifting to aspects of the business that aren’t as important as making a profit. With Boxaroo, it’s different.
From the beginning, we forced ourselves to question every dollar we spent. I guess it’s also different when you run a service selling tangible products. You can look at your sales pipeline, set clear revenue targets, and then control your spending and operational costs based on that. This also narrows your attention to aspects of the business that are important.
KR: What advice would you give to prospective founders looking to launch a startup with no investor backing?
NC: Capital backing is something you’re going to need if you want to build industry-changing businesses. But think of it as money to grow your business, not money to test your idea. So before you go out to raise funds, become obsessed with validating your idea or business, and building something that customers are willing to pay for – either with their money or their time.
RR: Set clear milestones and take your runway into account. This ensures that you’re doing everything within your power to hit those goals within a specified time-frame. Be clever and efficient with your cash and time, don’t try to do everything, and don’t overspend. Be resourceful, try to look for open source or off the shelf products that you can use to get you started.