Feature

Beauty myth?

Urban Company, formerly UrbanClap, has found a growth engine in the on-demand salon services. But can it afford the cash burn?

Vishal Koul

Beauty is but skin deep. Such an innocuous-to-the-point-of-banal axiom, but the line has a dangerous history. It is from a 17th century poem, written by a man trying to warn his friend of a duplicitous lover. It caused a scandal and even led to the poet’s execution. There are more details in that story, of royals and loyalists and romance, but you get the broad idea — that beauty cuts deeper. Centuries apart, Gurugram-based Urban Company (formerly UrbanClap) can vouch for this.

The start-up was founded six years ago as an aggregator of varied services. Through the companies listed on its platform, it sent home plumbers and electricians to fitness experts and masseurs. But, over the past few years, Urban Company has realised that its most profitable vertical is the Salon at Home service, which sends trained beauticians over. Beauty (or the promise of it) was and is a compelling hook. This vertical contributed 40% of Urban Company’s Rs.1.16-billion revenue in FY19, when orders had increased to 250,000, 2x what it was a year before (See: Groomed for growth).

A few years ago, Varun Khaitan may have never imagined that he would need to know the nitty-gritty of waxing. He and Abhiraj Bhal were working at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the US in 2013, when they began discussing ‘starting up’ in India. Their families were concerned. Why leave a good job at a management consultancy firm and to open what business? But the two did come down and launch Cinemabox, building entertainment units for buses and trains, and also happened to meet Raghav Chandra. Chandra had by then built Buggi.in, a mobile app to call autorickshaws. The three decided to start a company that would become large in the next 10-15 years and be used by millions of customers. They didn’t dream small.

To figure out what they should sell, the three spoke to “hundreds of potential customers” in the 25-50 age group, across cities. These conversations revealed that reliable and personal homecare services were nearly impossible to find in India, and slowly the idea of Urban Company began to take shape. “Every couple of weeks, one needs a service, either for oneself or for the home. In this country, almost every time, you are likely to be shortchanged on quality or cost or p

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