How Neeru Sharma built one of the only few profitable e-commerce ventures in India
It’s difficult to spot the 37-year-old Neeru Sharma, founder and director of platform business service at Infibeam, the first Indian online retailer to go public and one of the few e-commerce start-ups that are profitable, without a smile.
She may have scaled Infibeam to clock Rs.440 crore in revenue with a profit of Rs.44 crore in FY17, but her beginnings were truly humble. With a computer science degree from Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University, and she had the opportunity of working directly with Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Seeing that e-commerce in India was still at a nascent stage, she returned to India and promptly founded Infibeam in 2009.
“I remember having to use my Amazon and CMU connections to secure meetings with publishers, because nobody knew Infibeam then,” she says. Snide comments on how young she was, often accompanied that skepticism, but Sharma stamped out prejudices with her company’s clear strategy to scale.
After starting with books, Infibeam slowly moved on to electronics and other categories. “We understood that everybody was looking for a partner in the e-commerce space who could later build an online channel for them,” Sharma notes.
So, she and her team created a B2B platform, which enabled brands to have an online presence. Their first client, Crossword still runs on the platform hosted by Infibeam. Airtel was the first telecom platform partner, and clients from sectors such as travel and ticketing and theme parks soon followed thereafter. The company inked a joint venture with Sony for Jive, their digital music application that was being pre-installed in devices such as Sony Xperia mobiles and Sony Vaio laptops. The platform piece then went international. It opened its offices in Dubai and received clients from across the world. Its latest clientele includes Amul and GeM (Government e-market), Orient Electric, Daikin, Panasonic, Spykar, Saudi Telecom Company and GVK Mumbai Airport. The company also launched Pi, the first Indian e-book reader before Kindle reached India, and was also one of the first players to sell iPhones in India.
In 2016, Infibeam became profitable and registered for an IPO from which it garnered Rs.450 crore. Today, Infibeam has around 1,000 employees. “Challenges excite me,” smiles Sharma. “And I want to build things. Ten to twenty years down the line, you will still see me building something.”