In an exclusive interview with DKODING Media, Arun Thomas, Founder, Bikes4Sale talks about how the leading classifieds portal’s lean operational mechanism helped navigate through the crisis while sharing his enthusiasm for a future where the dynamics of car and bike ownership are set to change.
Bikes4Sale comes across as the dark horse of the Online Bike Market segment. In the game for the last 13 years Founder Arun Thomas has seen many ups and downs which taught him to stay lean and braced for calamity. That warrior ideology enabled Bikes4Sale to come out of the crisis relatively unscathed even when the auto sector saw its worst days. Now, as things gradually get back on track, Thomas and the Bikes4Sale team have kickstarted the expansion that was due before the pandemic forced India to fold activity. Excerpts from the conversation:
How have you been able to create a niche position for yourself in the market?
Right from the beginning we were very clear about what to do and that was to create a bike classifieds portal that works. Online bike portals didn’t exist when we started in 2007. So we had an early mover advantage too. When other auto portals and generic classifieds websites saw the opportunity and entered the lucrative two-wheeler segment in India, we already had a firm positioning in the online used bike market.
Right from the beginning we were very clear about what to do and that was to create a bike classifieds portal that works.Arun Thomas, Founder, Bikes4Sale
We were never eager to implement fancy features. Instead, we focused on the very essential ones that made business sense. In 2017, we pivoted to a fully paid portal and that proved to be a huge success for us. Right now, there aren’t many paid classifieds websites in India. Paid listings means only serious users and very less frauds and fake listings. I think all these factors helped us in building a niche position among the online two-wheeler marketplaces in India.
With the recent uptick and growth witnessed, how have you seen the customer behavior changing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak?
In the last 3 months, we witnessed the following types of customer trends:
- Customers who are desperately looking for an affordable two-wheeler (used & new).
- Customers who want to desperately sell their bike to get some money in hand.
- Customers who are in urgent need of money and ready to pledge their two-wheeler’s RC book to get a loan against their bike.
- More people selling their high end bikes.
- Less demand for high end bikes – both new and used.
However, these patterns are also changing. We expect the demand for high end bikes to come back to pre-COVID level even though at a much slower rate.
What kind of challenges have you encountered in the recent months?
Our revenue was growing at a steady rate before the pandemic. We had huge plans from April 2020 onwards but the lockdown forced us to postpone those.
Our revenue was hit in April and May. Operations wise, we were already lean and were not spending much on anything other than marketing. So, we cut short on marketing expenses, implemented salary cuts for the full team and decided to adopt a wait and watch approach. By May end, when the lockdown was eased, we knew the worst is over for us and we re-started working on all the plans that were postponed. Salaries were reinstated and we hired a few people too.
How do you foresee the pandemic impacting the segment in the long-term?
It is not easy to predict what is going to happen in the next 5 years because things are changing at a much faster pace now. But for the next 2 years, the market sentiment will be favorable for affordable personal mobility and two-wheelers are definitely going to benefit. The same goes for small cars as well. Owning a car or bike is not a status symbol anymore; they are the need of the hour.
For the next 2 years, the market sentiment will be favorable for affordable personal mobility.
Do you see the current environment as an opportunity to alter the status quo in the market?
Definitely. Being bootstrapped, we are obsessed with process optimization and the lean business model that enables us to save every penny. All these years we were working on automating all trivial tasks to keep the headcount to a minimum so that we can survive whatever crisis comes our way. Even our marketing campaigns are highly optimized.
These factors have helped us in overcoming the sudden jerk caused due to the pandemic. Most of our competitors (highly funded startups) had to fire employees to survive, whereas we are trying to expand our team. Furthermore, our focus on the used bike market proved to be a big boon for us. The current environment is highly favorable for our business model and we are foreseeing a huge growth in the coming months.