Mr T.A. Krishnan - Our Focus Remains on Building Next Levels of Capabilities via Automations (CEO & Co-Founder, Ecom Express)

We are also looking at a robust development led impact which includes strengthening our sustainability initiatives, job creation in the hinterland, and diversity by prioritizing women employment at our delivery centres, fulfilment centres and warehouses across the nation.

While we are continuously working on the present, we are also keeping a keen eye in the future to ensure seamless supply chain deliverables and driving customer delight.

As for me, I have no plans on slowing down.

Tell us about Ecom Express and 
its inception to journey.

We incorporated Ecom Express, a dedicated e-commerce focused logistics solutions provider, in 2012 when I along with my three friends and colleagues - Manju Dhawan, K. Satyanarayana and Late. Sanjeev Saxena, who had similar professional opportunities and exposures in the Indian logistics and distribution industry, left our corporate jobs to take a shot at building our own company.

All four of us were in our late 40s and we knew it would not be an easy road for us to start afresh and build an organization from scratch, but we were confident that with our experience, similar thought processes and vision, we could work it out.

The initial period was tough and for almost three months, we spent many sleepless nights, crunching numbers, debating and deliberating on a solid business plan. Our first big moment came in early 2013 when we picked up a load of 46 parcels from two anchor customers. Later that year, we had expanded our services to 42 Delivery Centres in 35 cities, and a team size of 300+. In the same year we launched operations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and in the Western and Southern regions of India. By the end of 2013, we had expanded to over 100 Delivery Centres.

Today, Ecom Express is one of the leading end-to-end technology enabled logistics solutions provider to the Indian e-commerce industry. With footprints in all 29 states and covering 27,000+ PIN-codes, the largest by any private player in India, we deliver more than a million shipments daily. Our full-state coverage strategy, i.e., to cover every city/town/village of a state enables us to deliver to 95% of Indian households.

After establishing a solid foothold in India, we marked our maiden venture outside the country in early 2021 with our investment in Paperfly, Bangladesh’s largest third-party e-commerce logistics (3PL) firm.

Over the years, deployment of technology, automation, advanced analytics, and data sciences has enabled Ecom Express to meet the fast-growing demand for a reliable and efficient e-commerce logistics solutions required by large firms, MSMEs and SMEs.

When & how did you get clarity on what you wanted to do and how did this idea come to you?

Being in the express and courier industry, we had closely observed the growth of e-commerce in India almost a decade ago and the vast potential that lay ahead for allied industries, such as logistics. We knew a time would come when e-commerce industry would need specialized players rather than traditional courier service providers to cater to the bolstering market. The fast-paced e-commerce industry would need partners who could match their requirements and fulfil consumer expectations for speed order delivery. That prompted us to set up a new-age tech-driven e-commerce logistics solutions providing company.

What have been your biggest challenges as a Founder CEO & what advice would you give to others to avoid them?

After eight years of incredible work (and countless challenges) alongside my team at Ecom Express, I am glad that I, along with my co-founders, stepped into that journey. Every single day was faced with new, unexpected ups and downs, and we chose to stay on this path.

I remember the first few weeks of running our own business like it was yesterday. When you are suddenly all in, there’s no turning back. And that thought eventually spurs the realization that the onus of making tough decisions lie with the CEO. Ultimately, one person has to own the tough decision, but seeking out information and feedback from others before making a decision is always recommended.

When you are running a business, you cannot avoid challenges. The biggest challenge will be making money. It can take years of pouring your heart and soul into a business before you see any profit. My co-founders and I had no more than our personal savings but we are grateful to our angel investor who supported us in the times of our need. One must do a forecast to see how long you can hold before revenue starts to come in. It is better to have a sense of this ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

Founders need to be comfortable with owning everything about their businesses. The good, the worst — it’s all on them. My advice will be to have faith, believe in yourself and set out. There will be challenges but at the same time, there will be key learnings that would help you in future.

What is your view on implementing ESOP buybacks and liquidity programs in startups?

Typically, ESOPs liquidate at the time of IPO or an acquisition however, ESOP buyback can be a way to reward employees as a wealth-creation opportunity. Such an interim buyback allows employees to not have to wait for milestones, such as IPOs, and gauge the market value of the shares in a tangible way. It also underlines organization’s commitment to sharing the growth and success of the company with its employees.

Qapita helps founders, CFOs and CHROs to organize their equity ownership record at one place making it the single source of truth. You can use Qapita to run scenarios, issue ESOPs and communicate their value to employees, run buyback or liquidity programs and engage with your employees effectively. Do click here for a demo

When should one consider raising funds, what according to you is the right time?

When running a business, one often needs to raise capital to expand their businesses into new markets or locations, to invest in technology, R&D, or to gain market share. As entrepreneurs, one should not be afraid to seek the money they need if they are ready to grow their businesses. However, investors also need to be convinced and will want to know that there is a market fit and that the product/service is experiencing actual growth.

When we started-up in 2012, investors were uncertain about e-commerce focused logistics as e-commerce was just picking up in India. However, looking at the pace at which the company was growing, and the domain experience that we had by then helped us raise funds and keep our growth trajectory upwards.

Therefore, if one has figured out the market opportunity and who the customer is, and when they have or delivered a product/service that matches the needs of the customers, and is being accepted at an interestingly rapid rate, one should seek external capital, so that they can scale up and give their business a good push.

What does your typical day look like and how do you handle setbacks?

My day starts with a list of things that I want to accomplish that day before meeting my team members on strategy and planning - virtually these days due to ongoing pandemic. The rest of the day varies. Sometimes I will be thinking through future projects and at other times I will be in series of calls/meetings with customers, teams and investors to ensure we are moving in the right direction.

The best way to handle setbacks to allow it to fuel you and help you come back stronger.

Which is your favourite book and why?

A book that has had a lasting impact on me is Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’. It shows how the rules of battlefield can also be utilized in corporate boardroom. I believe every business leader must read this book as it has something for everyone.

What are your future plans for yourself and your company?

After having set-up network and reach spanning the length and breadth of the country, best-in- class products, swift and reliable services, our focus remains on building next levels of capabilities via automations, IoT, AI/Machine Learning, data sciences, cloud computing, blockchain, and many other new age tech-solutions to stay ahead of the curve.

We are also looking at a robust development led impact which includes strengthening our sustainability initiatives, job creation in the hinterland, and diversity by prioritizing women employment at our delivery centres, fulfilment centres and warehouses across the nation.

While we are continuously working on the present, we are also keeping a keen eye in the future to ensure seamless supply chain deliverables and driving customer delight.

As for me, I have no plans on slowing down.

T.A. Krishnan is a recognized leader in the Indian express and logistics industry. As CEO and Co-founder of Ecom Express Private Limited, Krishnan is a key contributor to the company’s strategic vision and growth and has been steering the company up the growth ladder since its inception in 2012. Being a veteran in the courier and express delivery services sector, he brings enormous knowledge and vast expertise to the organization. He has been instrumental in drawing the vision and business plan that seeks to differentiate Ecom Express from the rest of the industry players.

Krishnan is a visionary and an entrepreneur with a focus on ecommerce logistics excellence. He has over three decades of enriching experience in the courier and express delivery services industry and has held various leadership roles. His professional career spans across diverse industries and companies such as Blue Dart, Clarion Advertising, The Times of India Group and Airtech Schorling. 

Before moving on to start Ecom Express, Krishnan was with Blue Dart since 1986. While at Blue Dart, he introduced the Cash on Delivery (COD) model which was the first instance, at a pan-India level, of a field executive handling cash at the time of product delivery. He started his career in Sales, became a Territory Manager and eventually, he was Head of two profit centers in Delhi. Krishnan has the distinction of growing the business by over 100% for three years in succession. He rose to become the Senior Vice President in the company and was a part of the working Board that conceptualized, designed and executed the company’s strategy for e-commerce business. Within one and half year of Krishnan leading the ecommerce division, it started contributing to about 10 percent of the company’s turnover.

Krishnan speaks at numerous industry events and often appears in the media as an authority on the express and ecommerce logistics industry.

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