Stalked, by a start-up

How a start-up managed to get a lot of attention through an innovative PR strategy

Mumbai: A few weeks ago, I got a parcel with a chocolate bar and a note that said, “Something sweet for something new", from a “start-up in Mumbai". The parcel had no address, no name and no number. At first, I genuinely thought of it as an admirer and didn’t pay much heed to it.

But then, the next day, I got another parcel of the same kind. This time, it had a card from a popular coffee shop in it, saying, “Good ideas start with brainstorming and with a cup of coffee", but there were no names.

I was a bit puzzled about the gifts sent with no names, particularly from a start-up (start-ups make it a point to market themselves to users and reach out to the media).

The third day I got a diary. I was expecting a note as that’s something a stalker ensures. The first page read, “Make a note of everything, like we do".

By this time, I had duly informed my boss. As the gifts continued, my colleagues started calling the sender the ‘stalker start-up’. Family and friends, too, came to know about the gifts too.

My patience was giving way when the mystery got solved finally. On the fourth day my inbox had an email which read “Hi, Remember us ‘New start-up in Mumbai’. We are here. We began an introduction with a cup of coffee and now, we thought, it’s time to strike up a real conversation. So, we wrote you a little note: We’re the new start-up in Mumbai. We’re UrbanClap."

It all turned out to be an innovative PR strategy at the end of the day. But the moment the company’s name was revealed, everyone in my office googled it. So did my family and friends who knew about the stalker start-up. There were discussions around it, and through its distinct PR exercise the company managed to get itself a lot of attention, including the editor’s. Garnering so much attention is usually difficult for a start-up, unless it has raised a significant amount of funding or has been in business for long.

The start-up spent roughly 600 on the three gift packets it sent me (chocolate, coffee shop card, diary and courier charges). But through word of mouth, the news reached at least 50 people, which means it raised customer awareness at a cost of 12 in a city it just launched services in.

“Of the people that use our services, 50-60% are referred. Our customer acquisition costs are 50-150. The industry average would fall between 800-1,000," said the co-founder of the company over the phone.

So who is the stalker start-up? A New Delhi-based services listing company called UrbanClap that was founded by three engineers—Abhiraj Bahl, Varun Khaitan and Raghav Chandra. The company, which was founded in 2014, recently raised $10 million in funding from Saif and Accel Partners. UrbanClap seems to know how to get attention, no wonder it managed to also get investments from the Snapdeal founders.

“We believe in innovation, we have not spent money on marketing. When Delhi municipal workers went on strike, we cleaned a part of the city, we got noticed," said Bahl, co-founder of the company that has expanded services to Bengaluru and Mumbai.

The company has around 5,000 service providers listed under five major verticals—weddings, events, home services, health and wellness, music and personal services. “We take a certain commission on the revenue that the service providers earn," Bahl added. The company plans to expand its offering to 10 cities and even hopes to have a global presence at some point.

Start-ups are young companies, with young founders, and innovate at every level. For example, wearing sports shoes, jeans and a T-shirt to a board meeting is acceptable here (even if the investors involved are Softbank or Tiger Global) as is starting an email with “hey". Advertisements and marketing strategies are some other areas they are getting innovative with.