The Asian Institute of International Financial Law (AIIFL) Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2022 has just dropped, with Zepto cofounder Kailvalya Vohra becoming the youngest in the list at just nineteen years of age.
According to the list, which was led by industrial tycoon Gautam Adani and featured a host of big-name startups, Vohra’s current net worth as Zepto’s CTO sits at Rs. 1,000 crore. His slightly-older teammate, cofounder, and childhood friend Aadit Palicha, who is the CEO of Zepto, was valued a bit higher at Rs. 1,200 crore.
Vohra and Palicha started their own business after dropping out from Stanford, named Kiranakart. Working on a smaller scale, this business would eventually morph into Zepto — a popular new grocery delivery app that has made waves across many of India’s biggest cities.
The pair aims to revolutionise the Indian grocery delivery market with 10-minute deliveries and a host of unique operational systems — all aiming to knock similar platforms off their perch.
As the technical edge to Zepto’s success, we had a recent chat with Vohra, exploring his journey, partnership with Palicha, thoughts on becoming such a prodigal success, and more.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
“Let me walk you through a typical day of what life was like back then.
At the time we were busy setting up the supply side of our marketplace, so onboarding kirana stores onto a network. In the morning, we would pick some part of Bombay, say Bandra or Andheri, and literally just morning to evening, work it out. Speak to as many stores as possible and convince them to use our software and become a seller on our marketplace.
It was a very interesting challenge because I’ve never had any sort of experience — formal or informal — in sales… but that was probably the fastest crash course I could have taken. *laughs*
These were people who were running pure cash businesses, and we were telling them, ‘hey, we’re going to try and do a Zomato-Swiggy style model and connect you to some customers online, and they’ll pay. We take a small commission and you get your cash.’
We would wake up, speak to 10-20 stores, and out of all of them, just two or three would agree to download our apps. After that, there was a 50% chance that they’d just delete it as soon as we left the store.
We did this for a couple of months, and continued to take feedback from the stores on how we could improve inventory management, prices, all that stuff — I then worked on coding that feedback back into the app during evenings and nights.
It was really hectic when we launched — at the time, it was just Aadit, me, and a couple of friends who were helping us out. Everything from customer support to managing our delivery partners, all of it was done by a small handful of people. We even tried to push for 24×7 delivery, and since we couldn’t find delivery partners after 10:00 PM, all those deliveries until the morning were done by us.
If I had to summarise all of that in one word… it would probably be ‘chaotic’. It was a lot of fun as well — it was the first time we built something that was scaling, and every time we made a delivery, we would sit and chat with a customer and ask them about what they liked, and what they didn’t. It was quite a fulfilling experience.
We’ve known each other for a long time, about since we were nine or ten years old. Both of us had studied computer science to some extent, but between the two of us, I was always the more technical one.
I’m sure that Aadit has learned a lot about tech over the last couple of years, but in terms of what I’ve learned — Aadit is a very good storyteller, and that’s a big part of his job as well.
Hiring executives, fundraising, all of that stuff is fundamentally telling a story and telling a vision. That’s something I’ve come to learn more about, and it ties into a whole bunch of things — how well you can articulate to not just potential hires or investors, but also internally within our team.
“I’ve never been the best designer, I think *laughs* but, the fundamentals of good design depend less on the UI or how nice something looks. Of course that’s important — an app can’t really be ugly — but it’s a lot more about the user experience, UX or interaction design element.
This asks the question, ‘what is the intent?’ Your user, or customer wants to get a particular job done, right. They want to, say, get an order placed. How frictionless can you make that journey, how can you minimise the number of interactions, and make those interactions delightful?
A lot of apps in India do a pretty good job with this, so we have a wide source of inspiration within India, outside of India as well — and it’s these ‘delightful interactions’ that define good design to me.
“I think it’s just one thing, which is the team that we’ve put together — the operation side, on finance, on engineering, and all across the board.
Our team is fantastic. And because, look, going into this, what do I really know? What do I know about running a supply chain or logistics business? Practically nothing. And so, I think this is the reason we’ve been able to get here.
It’s completely an execution and priority game — the supply chain, how well can you execute on the customer facing side, on marketing, and how can you acquire customers consistently at an affordable price?
The early team that we put together then went on to sort of build out their own teams to a very high standard. That’s probably like 99% of it. Also, sort of taking a step back from the business side of things helped us immensely.”
“Oh sure. I think sacrifice… definitely. I feel like if you want to build any business that hopes to become successful and more complicated, that requires some amount of sacrifice regardless of what age you’re at.
It’s definitely not easy, right? The amount of time you have to put into it to make this, and especially the struggling early on…
But, there’s no feeling I have where- I wouldn’t trade this for anything, basically. You know, I could be at college, partying and stuff like that, and I do have a bunch of close friends from school that I catch up with every couple of months.
The frequency of partying I’d be doing with them is definitely lower, *laughs* but it’s worth the sacrifice.”
“Yeah, for sure. Even today, we’ve got a world-class management team with us — people with years and years of experience in running large supply-chain businesses, such as Amazon or Flipkart. At the same time, the experience can come with some amount of baggage.
We didn’t really have the time for ourselves to go through multiple-year long learning curves, so when they tell us, ‘at XYZ place, we used to do things this we, and let’s do things the same way here’, they’re probably right in most cases. There are some fundamental truths about supply-chain management that don’t change regardless of the business.
However, our model is fairly unique, and there would be frequent instances of us approaching these suggestions from our first principles. Since we don’t have any ‘baggage’ per se, we can think about those same problems from a different perspective.
So… lifting, weightlifting is something I’ve done for many years… I think probably since the eighth or ninth grade of school.
It’s something I used to spend a lot of time on, six to seven days a week, an hour a day. Since starting this, however, I think it’s been impossible to find that much time. Across the last two years, I’ve not been as regular, obviously, but it’s still something that I find pretty important — it’s like a semi-meditative exercise for me.
One particular gripe I have with Bangalore, for instance, is that gyms here close very early, they shut by like, 9:00 to 10:00 PM! I always would prefer heading to gyms late at night, around 10:00 to 11:00 PM, you know… with the time constraints I had, I could never go out during mornings.
I try now to go at least two or three times a week. Something else that I picked up from my school days were sports, so I’ve been trying to figure out substitutes such as badminton.
“Sort of, but also not really. *laughs*
Dubai is not that different demographically, I would say. We also would spend summer vacations in Bombay, so it wasn’t so new to us.
I think, even over there, most of the people we interacted with were Indians, and so, I think atleast on the Indian consumer side, the behavioural traits are sort-of universal.
You can take people out of India, but you can’t take their [consumer] traits away.
“The first thing to handle is just purely geographical growth — how many areas, neighbourhoods, cities, et cetera are we going to be able to service, this year and beyond. There’s also category growth — such as the upcoming Zepto Cafe feature we’re looking to scale into.
If we’ve got this delivery and logistics network that can facilitate fast deliveries, what other use case scenarios can we use the same infrastructure to fulfil? That kind of category growth seems fun.
This is what I’m excited for in the next couple of months and beyond as well.”
Lead Image: Zepto