24 Sep 2021

Take V: Q&A with Ace Turtle

Innovation Ecosystem

Leadership & Management

Take V is a Vertex Holdings spotlight series that dives into the inspiring stories of Vertex’s portfolio founders. In this first episode, we chat with Nitin Chhabra, CEO at Ace Turtle. Ace Turtle is a portfolio company of Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India.

Can you share your background with us and what inspired you to start up?

I spent most of my career in leadership roles within the retail industry. When I was working in a corporate company, my role was to execute joint ventures with international brands. I would travel to other countries and meet the leadership teams, which is where some leaders would share their views on how eCommerce was impacting their businesses. While some had concerns, a few saw eCommerce as an opportunity and were starting to look at making their existing network of stores suitable for conducting eCommerce business. However, they were struggling because there was no technology to help them then.

I thought that it would just be a matter of time before these two worlds would converge and work in unison, and that’s where the idea came from to create a startup. We had no idea as to how long it would take for eCommerce to become meaningful for the market. However, we were confident that it would eventually happen. So, finally in 2014, my co-founder Barry and I set up Ace Turtle to enable brands to fulfil omni-channel capabilities.

What was the most challenging task you experienced or decision made when starting up? And how do you advance when there’s no one single right answer?

The main challenge we faced was getting the right talent. Initially, our hiring strategy was focussed on attracting talent from large corporates and technology giants, but we quickly realized that a startup mindset is extremely critical in order to succeed in a fast-paced organization like ours. As your startup grows beyond the founding team, every new addition to your team will fundamentally change your company's DNA. New hires impact everything: product development, company culture, team morale, work quality team capabilities and many more. We ensure we’re hiring talent with realistic expectations.

What do you think is the secret sauce in building an enduring company?

People and Culture are the secret sauce to building a healthy, enduring company. Caring about the clients is essential for the company but caring for their employees comes first. Ace Turtle is doing well in terms of revenue, people and expansion. We have a learning culture that fosters curiosity, innovation and encourages risk-taking. Attracting and retaining the best talent is critical for us in our growth journey, along with having a powerful culture.

What is the one thing you do in business that most may not agree with you on?

At Ace Turtle, we often give exposure to employees in areas where they are not experts in. We believe that exposure to a different field not only drives an individual to learn something new, which helps in their personal growth, but also helps the organisation to look at the business from a different perspective. Being exposed to a different field of business enables our employees to develop new skillsets as well as a higher level of innovation and creativity, which boosts our company.

Do you think the issues with the highly fragmented retail industry has been addressed? If not, what else is still missing and can be done to elevate this industry?

The Indian retail sector is still highly fragmented and unorganised. However, the organised sector has been on a growth path owing to globalisation, high economic growth, and changing lifestyles. High consumer spending by the young population and a sharp rise in disposable income are driving the growth of organised retail. Even small towns and cities are witnessing a major shift in consumer lifestyle and preferences, and they have emerged as attractive markets for retailers to expand their presences.

The omnichannel penetration is still low. As an example, India is geographically vast and customers are spread across the length and breadth of the country. Larger cities have enough customers to support the opening of brick-and-mortar stores, but there are many smaller towns with small pockets of customers that are not large enough to sustain such an opening. However, these towns can always be reached online. In fact, many of them are closer to the larger cities and can be serviced from the existing stores in these cities through omnichannel fulfilment. COVID-19 has accelerated the blurring of the lines between online and offline purchasing, so stores now need to be omnichannel-ready to support customers on all fronts.

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