A match made in heaven? Styl co-founder reflects on first acqui-hire anniversary

Sainul Abudheen
Styl Co-founder Anup Mohan (L) and Srikanth Ch (R) with Voonik Co-founder Sujayath Ali

Lessons learned: Say “no” to vanity metrics, be down-to-earth, be nice to people, be transparent, and don’t chase a fancy entrepreneurial life

Styl Co-founder Anup Mohan (L) and Srikanth Ch (R) with Voonik Co-founder Sujayath Ali (C)

Mergers, or acquisitions for that matter, are very much like a typical arranged marriage. It takes months — sometimes years — before the couple ‘gets hooked’ after their first meeting. The deal often falls through midway, if one or both parties fail to fulfil certain conditions. Sometimes, the deal begins to break after the honeymoon period is over.

But this particular marriage was not so sensational. It was a very low-key affair. And it did not take more than eight hours for them to sign the deal after their fist meeting. And both parties have greatly benefitted from each other.

Also Read: Why Kunal Shah believes founders should not fall in love with their own ideas

Anup Mohan, Co-founder of wellness and beauty marketplace app Styl, reflects on the startup’s successful ‘marriage’ with Sequoia-funded women fashion portal Voonik, sharing his thoughts with e27 on the first anniversary of the deal-signing.

Voonik was looking for a strong team, and they approached us through a common friend,” said Mohan. “Voonik liked what we were doing at Styl. And the entire deal was closed in just eight hours.”

“In fact, we could not believe our eyes. Just after coming out of Voonik’s office after signing the deal, we (co-founders) looked at each other and asked ‘Is this real?’ Without taking too long to find the answer, we decided to celebrate the moment — mostly, for the fear of waking up the next day to only realise it was a dream,” Mohan laughed.

Styl was launched by Mohan and Srikanth Ch in mid-2015. The startup nabbed over US$110,000 in funding from four angel investors toward the end of the year. However, the going was tough, as India slipped into an investment crunch towards the end of that year. They failed to raise follow-on funding.

“There were many startups in the wellness and beauty segment at that time, and the competition was tough. So, we were thinking of pivoting our model. Meanwhile, we kept receiving offers from various companies. This was when Voonik came to us with the best possible offer. The entire deal took just eight hours to sign after our first meeting with Voonik,” Mohan says.

According to Mohan, it was the product and a great team that drew Voonik’s attention towards Styl. “Voonik was on the hunt for a great team to develop its new product, Villara, which would compete with the likes of Myntra. Villara required a branded approach, a flawless design, and superior look. We had a terrific product with great design. Most importantly, they liked our team. All the founders of Styl have been sticking together for many years since our first startup. When our investors nodded in the affirmative, we proceeded with the deal with Voonik.”

The deal was inked in January last year. Post-acquisition, the Styl team moved to build products at Voonik and halted the operations of Styl.

Mohan says that working with the founders of Voonik has been a great learning curve for the team at Styl. The team basically learnt three important lessons:

#1: Say no to vanity metrics

“Startups are not about fancy offices and vanity metrics. We have seen many entrepreneurs who chase a fancy and glamorous life. They burn VC money on decorating offices and countless other unnecessary things. They chase vanity metrics and often exaggerate their figures. Not chasing the vanity metrics helps in not only focussing on the right ones but also tying them to the team’s goals. Almost all of the teams at Voonik are measured by numbers.”

#2: Be nice and build a business

“Be empathetic towards employees for the risks they are taking along with yourself to build the startup. Be wary of their careers and family. Nurture and safeguard the careers of the employees for the trust they’ve put in the founder’s vision. Be frugal and nice with investors’ money — spend wisely, and correct the mistakes early on. Do update them on the progress or the lack of it. This is especially more important and true with angel investors.”

#3: Be transparent

“One of the first things, I’ve noticed when I entered Voonik’s office is a set of TVs displaying the daily metrics. This displays transparency and earns trust. Sharing the daily metrics with the whole of the company and (visitors) needs courage. It also sends an underlying message that the team isn’t timid of the bad days but shall acknowledge and work on it. Be it metrics or be it the route the company is taking for the future — It always helps to be transparent.”

Mohan concludes: “Normally, what happens is that when an acquisition or acqui-hire deal is signed, the team at the acquiree will move to the acquiring company, stays there for a few months, and leaves it after the integration of the product. In our case, we stayed longer. We want to build more products and acquire more learning and knowledge.”

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