We have hired celebrities as we are new to many markets: Kartikeya Bhandari

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NEW DELHI : Home interiors platform Livspace recently raised $180 million at a valuation of over $1 billion to join the unicorn club. So far, he has raised nearly $450 million from KKR, Ingka Group Investments, TPG Growth, Goldman Sachs and Kharis Capital, among others. As it expanded into smaller towns, the company launched a brand campaign with Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma for instant consumer connection, Kartikeya Bhandari, Livspace’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. The company is simultaneously entering overseas markets, he added. Edited excerpts:

How do you define Livspace? Is it a service mark or a product mark?

It is a brand of solutions. There is a product component and a service component. We connect homeowners with salespeople and interior designers, and provide them with a platform to do end-to-end home interior and renovation work. We are present online, but we also have experience centers in all the cities where we operate. We have approximately 4 million SKUs (stock keeping units) and over 5,000 brands on the platform. It’s huge, but there’s still a lot we don’t have because it’s a long line when it comes to this category.

Was it difficult to build a brand in this space?

Before we get into brand building, I think it’s important to understand the category – a high value, unorganized, low frequency and unstructured category which means people are still largely dependent on carpenters or traditional entrepreneurs for many things, thinking they have their best interests in mind, which isn’t always the case. But you have no way of knowing because it’s (the service) not standardized. When we arrived, the first thing we did was make sure people could better understand this whole process. We have made investments in the content site. We weren’t doing a lot of brand marketing. Part of the reason I came in three years ago was to try to figure out what the strategy would be. It was probably the right time for us to start building a brand that extends beyond, say, the six cities of India, which was what it was then.

Today, we are present in almost 40 cities and also present in Singapore for more than two years. We have a strategic partnership with IKEA in Malaysia where we started our operations, and in Saudi Arabia where we will launch soon.

The Livspace advertisements were original. Did they work?

We work with Tilt Brand Solutions and it has been a successful partnership. We started by better understanding the consumer. We realized that the attributes they look at before making a decision are quality and design. By quality, I mean the quality of manufacture, the materials used and the fittings. By design, I mean both form and function, because it not only has to look good, but it also has to do the job it’s intended for. If you look at the previous campaign, we’re just trying to establish that narrative.

Do you have Virat and Anushka because you have money to burn or are they good for something?

I think they serve a purpose. The decision to use them was made long before we were in the unicorn club. We did this for two reasons. We’re rapidly expanding into Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets. It’s a new brand and people haven’t really seen or heard of us because we’ve never really used AV media in a lot of these geographical areas. Many of them will see us for the first time. It was a. Second, we wanted to create ads that were a little more memorable, more grippy. I think the celebrities did it well. Finally, we wanted to obtain celebrities representative of our target audience, recognized for their reliability and professionalism and at the top of their game. This is the association we wanted to build.

Is the demand from small towns sufficient?

One of the benefits of having a digital business is that you sort of see where the traffic is coming from. When I say small towns, it’s actually tier two and tier three cities…like Ahmedabad, Indore and Lucknow. And the reason is that we’re downstream of the real estate market, like anywhere there’s a real estate boom, and as people buy houses, that’s where they will feel the need to make the interiors. That’s why you have your usual suspects at the top of the list for us along with the top 15-20 markets that are doing a lot of business. The top 15 markets in India will be an addressable market of around $10 billion per year for renovation of old houses and new house interiors.

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