Pankaj Garg, founder and CEO of the design-led lifestyle and tech accessory brand DailyObjects, on learning through the dotcom, e-commerce booms, and the future-proof beauty of their name
A nondescript building in the Information Technology Park in Gurugram, Haryana, is home to one of India’s most popular design and accessory startups. Only an immensely missable, standard nameplate-sized black-on-white “DailyObjects” sign on the building wall confirms this. Similarly minimalistic and utilitarian, the ground floor of this four-floor 50,000 sq. ft space is a large open office with a line of long wooden tables with chairs, a few big-windowed glass cabins along its sides, and a corner with a coffee machine and snacks.
This seems unexpected for a design startup catering to an urban clientele looking for sleek, yet imaginatively crafted personal accessories for functional, everyday needs: laptop sleeves and phone covers, and, lately, in keeping with the times, cable managers as well as wireless chargers for multiple gadgets, smartwatch straps and desk-mats that can accommodate gadgets with personal stationery in compact and cool ways.
The company says it has not only remained profitable but has doubled in scale and revenue to ₹85 crore from FY22 to FY23. In the months since, it says it is set to cross ₹130 crore gross for FY24.
“Yeah, I don’t like filling the walls with cheerful or motivational clutter,” says Pankaj Garg, the founder and CEO. His cabin, too, is consistent with the minimalism—there’s only a skinny whiteboard near the window, a Macbook on a desk-mat on the table. I am intrigued by the only apparent clutter: white, moulded and 3D printed mock-ups of work-in-progress products lining the windowsill. Garg, 42, dressed in a dark blue, linen mandarin-collar shirt and boxy dark blue denims cuffed at the ankle, catches me eyeing them and jumps to his feet: “Come, let me show you around,” he says. “They must also be printing phone covers now.”
The tour takes about 25 minutes: There are karigars (craftsmen) who stitch and stamp, teams for quality control, and spaces for packing orders, display experiments, photo shoots and phone case printers. Garg tells me they can print 2,000 cases every day (about 60,000 every month), and as we walk by rooms with stocks stacked to the brim, he adds they have gone up from having just 15-20 karigars in 2020 to 400 in-house and over 1,000 more on project-basis now. Other than this, DailyObjects employs 160 staffers and has 400 others on contract.
This space is a big step up from the 6,000 sq. ft facility in Sultanpur, Delhi, from where DailyObjects worked three years ago. Quick thinking during a dip in real estate prices during covid-19 made this possible: “All businesses were cost-cutting then…we were so confident that we decided to move without any capital,” Garg says, adding that DailyObjects never fired any employees then.
Back in his cabin, Garg recalls his upbringing in Mubarikpur, in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. He talks about how he and his siblings, Sanjay Garg of the label Raw Mango, and Prerna Garg, a social entrepreneur, were given free rein by their parents, who ran a “khaad beej ki dukaan (fertiliser, seed shop)”, to follow their purpose and passions. The siblings attended the government school there, and “we were very ambitious right from our childhood”, he says. The trio always loved wearing good clothes and have had an eye for design and colour, he recalls. Sanjay, for instance, went on to establish a luxury handloom brand; Garg too has also always loved to shop for good things—incidentally, this is how his foray into entrepreneurship started.
But not before a bachelor’s degree in commerce from a Hindi-medium college in Alwar, a move to Delhi during the dotcom boom of the early 2000s to study at a computer coaching institute, teaching himself better English to keep up with continuing higher education in the language and completing his master’s in computer applications at Kurukshetra University. The moment of change came when he started working in software in Mumbai and later, Pune, even getting an H-1 visa to move to the US. “It was just not for me,” he recalls. He quit the job.
In 2009, visiting a friend working at the CIIE.CO, a startup incubator at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, he was inspired to ask: What if they started an aggregator for sales and discounts? “There was a clear gap there,” he recalls about starting SaleDekho.com. A little before launch in August that year, however, his co-founder decided to quit. Garg quickly took stock and moved from Maharashtra to the National Capital Region (NCR), mobilising a team of four-five to work on the site full time.
The same year, looking for a co-founder with zeal rather than a fancy degree, Garg met Saurav Adlakha, now the co-founder of DailyObjects. He recalls Adlakha, then just out of the Indus World School of Business in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, as being “a fresh graduate with burning passion”.
The duo worked through a timely transition from discount aggregating to identifying and hopping on to the e-commerce boom—for six months, they procured gadgets like smartphones and cameras from wholesalers and sold them on platforms like Mydala and Snapdeal. They “made some money” but, more importantly, learnt what they should not be selling. “These were easily available, high capital, high competition, but low margin, and if damaged, paisa bhi chala gaya (you also lose money),” Garg says. “Not the right category.”
It was at this point that an early version of DailyObjects came to be—and it is yet another example of Garg’s knack for sniffing out market gaps when out shopping. In 2012, despite living in a busy south Delhi residential area, he noticed that while neighbourhood markets would sell consumer durables like fridges, TVs or smartphones, many didn’t have accessories like cases and mouse-pads. Studying an Apple reseller’s store in Delhi’s Saket, Garg noted that while most of the revenue was coming from Apple’s star products, “they were surviving on accessories”. This was perfect. “There is no breakage problem, and accessories are directly related to growth of the main products,” Garg notes, recalling the aha moment that led to the launch of DailyObjects in June 2012.
The company we know today, though, only came to be in 2015, when Amazon and Flipkart became big players in e-commerce, forcing Garg and Adlakha to remodel DailyObjects from a mere online marketplace into an independent D2C (direct to consumer) brand that designed and manufactured accessories in-house.
In 2016, DailyObjects raised funding from the likes of Lenskart’s Peyush Bansal, Unilazer Ventures and Phanindra Sama of redBus. Still, it was a struggle, and the company came close to shutting down within two years of revamp. “We ran out of money, had a lot of liabilities, no profits, only ₹50 lakh in monthly sales,” Garg recalls. “Then we figured, let’s get back to the basics of the business.”
When I ask him what this meant, Garg pauses, picks up a pen and paper and starts doodling his explanation: “A focus on survival and unit economics, and a focus on building a brand.” A flow chart emerges as he speaks: First, they laid out clear expense targets; next, they stopped taking cash-on-delivery (CoD) orders and selling on other marketplaces.
“We corrected for a longer-term plan,” he says. If they wanted their own brand, they had to focus on building identity. From 2017-20, without raking in any capital, he claims sales went up from ₹50 lakh to ₹2 crore monthly, and the EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) from -50% to 8%. It was only after this, in late 2021, that they resumed selling on other e-commerce platforms and taking CoD orders. In 2022, the company raised $2 million (around ₹16.6 crore) from the venture capital firm Roots Ventures.
Today, Garg believes they have no competitor in the space of lifestyle and tech accessories. He says making in India is important to him because “building process and capability opens up a huge opportunity for the future”. While DailyObjects does not indulge in block prints or ikat trimmings to prove Indianness, they do a few collections with independent artists drawing on desi kitsch and liberally using desi nostalgia in ad campaigns for their more minimal, global designs—the recent Postcard phone cover collection’s video, for example, has a postman in khaki bringing mail on a bicycle.
They have to get this right, especially because their target group (TG) is young, aspirational, and does not lack exposure. “This is the mass premium category, 22- to 35-year-olds with phones costing more than ₹20,000,” Garg says. The $16.6 billion mass premium market is estimated to grow by 7% by FY 2028 to $24 billion, he adds, showing a report in the Economic Times which notes that among other consumer durables, sales of laptops costing over ₹50,000 increased from 47% in 2019 to 69%, and sales of smartphones over ₹15,000, from 25% in 2019 to 48% now.
“When (they have quality) options, they are ready to spend…so they are a perfect TG for us and our products are perfect for them,” he says. Their basket size, or products sold per order, has grown from 1.2 three years ago to 2.5 now, translating to an increase in order value, from ₹1,000 to ₹2,400. Bags, a category DailyObjects added only in 2020, already contribute to over 50% of daily sales, even as they ship more than 100,000 products every month, he adds. Though over 65% of these sales come from their own website and their app, which has more than two million downloads, DailyObjects is now also beginning to see new opportunities offline: They want to be in “100 Apple resellers across the country by the next year”.
Their run post-pandemic has Garg confident of an ARR (annualised revenue run-rate) of ₹500 crore by 2025. He also wants to capitalise on the “low-hanging opportunities” of brand partnerships, like the one with Smartsters, a children’s furniture brand, earlier this year. “We are still evolving,” he smiles. “Also, we have a beautiful name…anything can become a daily object. Our story is just starting.”