Ameen Khwaja is the founder and CEO of pTron, a rising mobile accessories brand from India.
With mobile phones becoming an integral part of our lives, their accessories too are instrumental, in driving the craze of owning a smartphone. Competing with e-commerce giants and overcoming Facebook privacy issues, this is how Ameen Khwaja built pTron in five years and is growing at a rate of 50% QoQ. Here’s Ameen Khwaja in an exclusive conversation with The Electronics.
What was your inspiration behind starting pTron? Is there a personal story?
Like the 90s when demand for computer accessories surged, similarly post 2010, the demand for the smartphone accessories increased. Earlier, people accepted whatever quality they were getting in the market, but soon the bigger brands stepped in, creating a huge market, and people then started to have options to choose.
Alongside these big brands, some cheap and sub-standard grey market products started dominating the market, not only in India but globally. However, there was a gradual shift in consumer preference. Customers began showing some maturity and became more careful in their purchasing decisions. For a marginally higher price, if one gets a product with a warranty, a product that is safe to use, then consumers gravitate towards such a brand.
This is when we saw the potential for that category and launched pTron in 2015 to bridge this unaddressed gap in the market. Today pTron is poised as a ‘Challenger Brand’ making waves in the Mobile Phone accessories segment across categories.
The mobile accessories market is dominated by products from companies like Apple and Samsung. How has pTron positioned itself in such a competitive market space?
pTron has had a major impact on customers & society. Firstly, the OEM companies in China targeted the wholesale markets in Delhi & Mumbai, making India a dumping ground for cheap OEM products. Most of them had a high failure rate, low life span and the customers regretted their poor decision of jumping at the offer of a well-packed cheap product. Some of these products and brands were replaced by pTron over the last one year on Amazon from the list of top 25 bestsellers. This has also created a much larger and somewhat happier customer base, who get value for money, the comfort of warranty & support, and of course, high-quality products with a longer life span.
Consumers see pTron as a “Value for money” brand, and it sells more by word of mouth than through large branding & advertising spends. So, we provide the product with comparable features & quality as the competitor at 25 to 30% lower price, in most of the cases.
Majority of the demands which have been witnessed are from consumers moving up the ladder from unbranded to branded products with warranty, which as we foresee, would be around 40 percent of the total mobile accessories market by volume. We are looking at a 10 percent market share of this chunk. pTron clocked Rs. 25 crores in the quarter ending March 2020 and we were growing at 50% QoQ in 2020-21.
From which market is the maximum demand coming for pTron products in India?
pTron products have been selling online since the last 4-5 years. We have noticed an increasing demand for our products coming from all parts of India. In the recent past, there has been a positive shift in tier-2 and tier-3 cities due to the penetration of budget smartphones and the improvement of telecom networks. We expect the demand for pTron products to rise in those cities due to our strength – affordable products with good quality, backed by warranty. We are also working on strengthening a wholesale distribution channel for our products.
Online or offline – which platform is better for pTron?
Initially, pTron products were only available to online consumers, but since the last two years, we are strategically working on creating a wholesale distribution network across India. Our objective is to create a brand which is available in all market types. Online or offline both have their own merits and demerits. Like some consumers might like to get a touch and feel of the product, while others might prefer to order from anywhere at ease. From the revenue point of view, the online platform is relatively better as we save the cost otherwise incurred in the brick and mortar format of sales.
What are your short-term and long-term plans?
We have reached a milestone of selling 1.5 lac pieces per month across the product range and are working towards selling 6 million pieces per year, in the next two to three years. We also plan to increase the SKUs to about 225.
Along with that, we aim to upgrade our R&D with a focus on manufacturing more products in India.
Please tell us something about R&D and innovation at pTron.
Our R&D is driven by consumer delight and Research & Innovation is what drives our company. Two things that we always ask ourselves and our consumers are: How do we better our product and what new product would our consumers love to buy? As a result, we have been introducing a new product almost every second month which is either new or an improved version of our current products.
What is your opinion on a completely Indian component ecosystem?
India can become the next hub of consumer electronics manufacturing through the “Make in India” initiative. The manufacturing base of certain products like PCBs and molds can be brought back to India, provided the manufacturers are given subsidies and infrastructure support for the manufacturing. Through these steps, India can have better control of the product quality and its pricing. This will also generate enormous job opportunities in the country. However, we need to organize and strengthen local infrastructure, availability of raw material & machinery, and skilled human resources.
How has COVID 19 impacted the company and how do you plan to deal with it?
With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting businesses hard, our sales went to zero for a period of two months. Though we were already working on setting up our manufacturing unit in Kurnool, this was the time when we decided to switch partial manufacturing to India to become self-sustainable. We are working to manufacture our fastest selling Bassbuds series of True Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds in India. We are aiming to have most of our products ‘Made In India’ by 2021 and have been working in a focused manner towards it.
What is that one piece of advice you would share with new-age entrepreneurs?
I would advise anyone who wants to enter this business to ensure they have 3 things in place. Firstly, the product design & manufacturing capabilities, secondly adequate capital to survive until the brand is built and thirdly, a strong supply chain management team.