afaqs!

Profile: Pearl Uppal - Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug

By Kapil Ohri , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | January 08, 2010
Uppal opts out of race for the top position at prominent internet firms to become an entrepreneur and starts an online shopping venture as co-founder and chief executive officer

It takes much courage to dissociate oneself from an established setting, move beyond one's core competency and opt out of the top position at prominent internet firm, to become an entrepreneur. But Pearl Uppal, Yahoo! India's former director of sales, appears to be managing quite well after spending seven years at Yahoo!

The entrepreneur-in-the-making has partnered with Harish Bahl, co-founder of Smile Interactive Technology Group (SITG) to launch an online shopping company called FashionandYou.com.

& #BANNER1 & #

FashionandYou.com is a private shopping club. Its business model is based on the concept of sample or private sales, in which a shopping portal organises online sales to sell luxury brands and high-end fashion products at discounted rates. Private sales sites are targeted at high net worth individuals and only members of the site are allowed to purchase the products.

But, first questions first. How did the entrepreneurial bug bite? Uppal reveals that she had decided in 2008 that she would not continue in the advertising revenue-led business for long. Her original plan was to take up a top-level general management role in an internet company led by non-advertising revenue business model and continue there for another two-three years, before venturing out on her own.

"I was exploring and reading up everything that is outside of the advertising-led model. In July 2009, although I was not searching for entrepreneurial ideas at that time, I read about online private sales model in an international fashion magazine and found the concept convincing and interesting," says Uppal. She also examined ways of monetising the social media space.

Then, in September 2009, in a casual chat with Bahl, she got to know that he was in talks with some international investors, who wanted to execute and invest in the online private sales venture in India. He invited her on board.

"What do you look out for when you want to become an entrepreneur? You figure out, whether you have a convincing idea, business model, partners and investment," says Uppal. Within hours, after her chat with Bahl, she decided to take up the opportunity.

"I have not run any start-up before, but my initial three years at Yahoo! were very much like a start-up experience, except that I had the Yahoo! brand behind me," says Uppal. She points out the biggest challenge is that e-commerce - except in the travel sector - has not really taken off well and there are very few success stories in the e-commerce industry in the country.

Ad sales is what Uppal has done most in her 10-year-long career - seven at Yahoo! India and two at Rediff.com. Going back in time, how did an internet career begin? In 1999, after completing her production engineering from Delhi College of Engineering and an MBA in technology management and finance from IIT (Delhi), Uppal joined GE in the corporate finance management role. "In early 2000, I had realised that finance is not my cup of tea. I wanted a front-line role," explains Uppal.

It was her husband who introduced Uppal to the internet. To get further guidance, she arranged an interaction with Nitin Gupta, an ex-GE employee, who was chief operating officer of Rediff.com at that time. He convinced Uppal that the internet was the place to be and even offered her a job in Rediff.com.

"I thought, if top-level executives from big companies can move into the internet space, then this field must have something solid to offer," she recalls. Uppal accepted the offer and joined Rediff in Mumbai. A year into the job, Uppal got the opportunity to take up ad sales role in the Delhi office. She grabbed the opportunity.

At Rediff.com, as key account manager, she worked with big advertisers such as LG, Samsung, Nestle, Pepsi and Maruti Suzuki. In 2002, she moved to Yahoo! She says, "It was a conscious decision. I wanted to get a global exposure, which Yahoo! could offer."