Blue Bulb: A Rs 30 lakh business built from gifting experiences

Most people spend a precious amount of time planning for their weekends, but seldom go beyond the movie-mallmeal routine. Now, you can hope to think different, thanks to Mumbai-based company, Blue Bulb, set up by Regan Rodricks and Nelson Fernandes.

"Around 2007, I discovered a few companies in Dubai that did experience gifting, say, buying a sky diving experience for loved ones. I began looking around Mumbai for such options, but couldn't find anything," says co-founder Rodricks. At that time, the duo worked at iB&W, one of the largest Indian-owned advertising agencies. "We loved the idea and since no one was doing it, we decided to do it ourselves," he adds.

There was, however, a long gap between ideation and execution. Till 2009, the duo did nothing except dream of a venture on micro-vacations, and while brainstorming, they considered starting something on the side. "However, advertising is not a 10-to-6 job," admit the founders. So they decided to quit their jobs as soon as they had saved enough as start-up money.

In October 2010, Rodricks put in his papers—Fernandes followed suit in April 2011—to devote time exclusively to the venture. "Everybody tried to talk me out of it, but every time someone found a hole in our plan, we fixed it and made it stronger," says the 35-year-old Rodricks. Finally, in February 2011, 
Blue Bulb was born with a seed capital of Rs 10 lakh, which was entirely bootstrapped. As for the name, the founders say they wanted one with a visual mnemonic.

"Blue is the perfect outdoor colour and 'bulb' is the classic icon for an idea," says the duo, which is what they offer.

Their business model is simple. Blue Bulb is an online retailer targeting 24-34-year olds. It ties up with 'experience partners' to create activities that are sold on their website in lieu of a commission. "We started with activities that we would have loved to do ourselves. Then we searched for people who handle such activities professionally, and cajoled them into joining hands with us," he explains. Being a complete cloud operation—all Blue Bulb employees work from home—the company also saves on realty costs.

In order to streamline costs from the outset, the co-founders tried not to outsource their requirements. "For instance, our website alone would have cost Rs 2 lakh if we had outsourced it. So we learnt the basics and built BlueBulb.in on our own. This also meant we could keep changing and improving it without being dependent on a third party. Our website design is a huge hit since people find it unconventional," claims Rodricks. The team also handles PR and social media in-house. "Outsourcing all these activities would have cost us over Rs 8 lakh," he adds. So, it was only in July 2012 that the company started hiring.

Of course, there have been challenges galore. "One of our biggest problems is the lack of professionalism. We had a few service partners who suddenly wanted out. Since we spend a lot of time and money to build an experience and market it, we've had to use legal contracts to ensure this doesn't happen," says Rodricks. Another big challenge is Internet connectivity, particularly for a cloud-based operation.

Nonetheless, the company has managed to post a strong growth rate. In 2012, they saw a 40% growth in sales and the figure jumped to 102% in 2013. This, despite a slow start. "We did not really see any traction till April 2011. Even then, we would get about 60 queries a month. Now, we get over 380 queries a month on an average," says Rodricks. 
Blue Bulbposted a turnover of Rs 30 lakh last year. The seven-strong team is confidently eyeing a turnover of Rs 55-60 lakh in the next fiscal year. Next on the cards is expanding their footprint beyond Mumbai. "We are exploring a franchise option for Delhi and Bangalore. By 2015, we also plan to expand Blue Bulb to Dubai and Australia," he says.