Nothing to Wherewolf

the wherewolf trioThere are two Cass alumni in the trio behind Wherewolf, a shopping assistant app for searching items you can buy nearby. Uniting with your new must-have has never been so easy! They have just made it to the final of the Institute of Directors’ YDF Den, one of only five businesses reaching this stage. We caught up with MBA alumni (2016) Dhruv Bonnerjee (DB) and Ryan D’Souza (RS) and their co-founder Manavdeep Singh (MS) to find out more.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

RS) I was a lawyer and I wanted to do an MBA to broaden my knowledge base. Cass crucially offered a one-year course, which was really important from an opportunity cost point of view.

DB) My background is in media and entrepreneurship and I had been an entrepreneur in India for the last eight years. I wanted to see the world and learn about the wider market and I came to Cass because of the one-year format and the finance-leaning specialism.

RS) The year itself was fantastic. The cohort was really international with 73 of us from 38 nationalities. It was fantastic to learn alongside people with such breadth of experience. Not many of us had come from similar jobs so the cohort learning was very important. Also, Cass gave me a fantastic opportunity to travel and learn – a really entrepreneurial MBA.

RS) We were the first business school to go to Cuba, and we also went to Israel and Palestine, which was very unique. Dhruv went to China. We all spent a week in the army barracks at Sandhurst, which was a fantastic unique experience, and we also went to Iceland to try to climb up a glacier. The opportunity to travel and experience other cultures was really important to me.

DB) From the staff I spoke to before coming to Cass I got the sense that the Business School is very serious about building a start-up ecosystem. I wanted to get exposure to how UK businesses and starts ups work and Cass more than lived up to this. The finance course was great, the cohort was a fantastic mix and the staff were excellent. From the day of arrival there were events for start-ups and access to the incubator space here [at City Starters]. That led to this opportunity to form a start-up in London, which would not possible from Delhi. When I graduated I was able to get an entrepreneurial visa straight away thanks to the support from Cass and the Uni.

DB) I enjoyed fantastic support from the Cass cohort, for example with my business plan, evaluating the business model and bouncing ideas around with people from all over the world. I started to talk with Ryan about setting up a business in London and here we are – it’s a dream come true.

What did you do next?

DB) We handed our dissertation in on the last day of August and moved in to the incubator here at City Launch Lab on the 1st September! The market is here in London but the back end is in India and I’ve been developing it since the first day of my MBA.

RS) When I applied to do an MBA I planned to become an in–house lawyer or something, but the course has given me so many more opportunities. I ended up doing something completely different. I had no set ideas of what I wanted and now I’m an entrepreneur.

DB) Looking back, we’re all outsiders, we’re not from retail or fashion. MS) I’ve come from media, DB) I’ve come from digital and marketing. The MBA taught us to look at the market and be objective and how to quickly feel comfortable in a sector you’ve not been part of before through consumer trend data and numbers. RS) Looking at the data really gives you the confidence that you’re on the right path. Success is not guaranteed but we’ve had good progress so far, and raised plenty of funding.

What is WhereWolf?

DB) We call it a hyperlocal shopping assistant. It uses a shopper’s geolocation to help them discover fashion at stores around them. It’s the opposite of e-commerce, because you get to see what’s actually in a store. You can also save items to your wish list and next time you walk past the store and they have a deal on you get an alert.

What does the data say?

RS) There are four ways to shop – online only, offline only, offline to online, which is where you see something in a store but buy it online, and online to offline, which is how 84% of people buy things in fashion. You research it, then you go and find it – so you can see the quality and the fit. We tap in to that trend. With e-commerce sales the data shows that 51% sent back, either for being the wrong size or they don’t like it.

DB) Google research and Deloitte data shows that 70-75% of people who search online have the intent to buy instore, but there is no platform for visibility. And on the other side, at the end of the fashion season, around 20% of the stock is unsold yet all these items are in store and could be a match with shoppers who are in the area. The second big trend is this example graph I have which that shows a huge rise in searches for “shoes near me” for men and women. The rise has been especially large in the premium category where the price means you really want to be checking fabric, form and fit.

MS) Wherewolf focusses on fashion in the premium category. In the London market the revenue is 2% luxury, 40-42% premium and the rest value brands. Value brands are easy to buy online but a premium customer’s average basket is $500 and that’s difficult to buy online.

How did Wherewolf come about?

DB) I started it in India just before I left for my MBA. Manavdeep and I have known each other in India at CNBC and we started the concept by looking at how to let consumers know where sale is. After that we fleshed it out through speaking with consumers and brands. We learned that people want to step in to store but have no time for research. Then we did a very small experiment in India to find out if the brands would support it. In 15 days we had some big Indian designers sign up.

DB) As part of the MBA we covered consumer trends and then we spotted this opportunity. Click and collect isn’t growing anymore and London was the perfect market for our product because the retail offering is scattered all over the city.

How is Wherewolf going?

MS) The platform is available on iOs, android and mobile site and we have 50 brands live now. Recently we partnered with Harrow Council as part of the Mayor of London’s initiative to save the high street. We’re working with the team offline to support this, and Harrow Council supports us with advertising in shops and local trade magazines so that we can reach more people together.

RS) Harrow is in a business improvement district and that’s great in terms of business support. That we got in is a big deal. A quasi-government body takes a percentage of the rates from retailers and uses it for marketing and business support. It’s a really good place to be and we can scale quickly if we are successful.

DB) We now have over 2,500 users and growing by 30 new users every day. Our main growth drivers are upwardly mobile Men and Women between the ages of 25 – 35 with a 60:40 gender split. The time on site is an average of four minutes and that’s a great indicator compared to the UK e-commerce benchmark of one minute 52 seconds. We looking to scale up in the next couple of months. Our Campaign on Instagram went live two weeks ago, so we’re starting to see the pick-up now.

MS) In the course of one week we signed four brands. We were chasing this one brand and we’d met the store manager a while ago who was really excited to introduce us to the retail head. The next thing we know, the retail head was looking for a black dress to just understand the platform. She searched for one, got great results, went to the store, bought it and had already told 10 of her friends! When we went to meet her she was sold!

MS) Another time, we had this brand on the platform, so we did a demo in their store and searched for a yellow dress, and it returned the dress exactly that we were standing next to!

MS) From the meetings we’ve had with brands, retail is having a rough time, with footfall going down and rents going up. Getting by is difficult but brands don’t want to lose their physical presence. Wherewolf will increase footfall and get shoppers who are close by get to see your products and brand.

DB) It’s a big story for independent designers who can’t afford central locations. There’s market research around why people don’t shop independent and the results are usually that consumers don’t know where to go to differentiate between all the stores. In this case location becomes less important

What’s been the biggest challenge?

DB) I would say getting used to working across London and India has been very difficult. We have four staff here and eight in Delhi and a four-and-a-half hour gap with remote working is difficult to juggle. But it was surprisingly easy to get people on the board. We’ve got Valerie Dias from Visa Europe and Joe Middleton from Levi Europe, which has made the board very strong. This start up incubator really helped us from day one get up and running – one day we were in the MBA the next day we were free and doing this.

RS) One thing that sticks out for me is how hard it was to open a company bank account! We had the investment and just wanted to put it in to an account but banks were reluctant to offer an account to a start-up despite us having around £250,000, and despite being in London and having cash.

DB) I think the amount of due diligence needed was a lot because the money came from India and London. You hear so much about the different countries coming together and globalisation, but the banking system really has to catch up!

Do you have any advice to share?

RS) Talk to as many people as possible. From day one we met as many people as possible and wanted them to introduce us to two other people each. Not all our meetings were particularly helpful or relevant but it’s about who you know and this was a great way to grow that.

MS) We are really happy about our independent board advisors – people who can tell you when you’re not right and they don’t just say yes to you. Valerie and Joe mean a lot for us. RS) They are big players, very special and their back-up is very helpful.

DB) There are two things for me to really look out for: the proof of concept, and the proof of potential. Get both going ASAP! It’s a very simple framework but it also really helps that you have only these two things to work on.

Finally it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Launch lab! Regents Park All the canals and independent coffee shops, especially St Katherine’s Docks
Favourite holiday destination: Gold coast Goa, it’s where my family is from Himalayas
Must check every-day website: gowherewolf BBC news My news aggregator Flipboard
Dream travel destination: Phi phi islands Brazil (but I’m going later this year!) Venice
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese Chocolate Cheese

Find Wherewolf at the App Store, Google Play and on their website. The final of the Institute of Directors’ YDF Den takes place on 11th September 2017.