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The bittersweet relevance of Snapdeal 2.0

No comeback story can gloss over Snapdeal’s failure. But as human beings and entrepreneurs, we must learn from the mistakes of others.

Who doesn’t like a good comeback? There is an almost magical quality to it, captivating audiences, cheering for the down-and-out underdog, thus briefly inverting the survival of the fittest world. The recent Ashes Test victory of England over Australia qualifies as a once-in-a-generation comeback, unfolding in a matter of days. Some, like the boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s three world heavyweight titles, come with multiple highs and lows stretched over decades.

However, there is a reason that comebacks are usually restricted to the sporting arena—in businesses, a “comeback” betrays an unwanted and maybe an unwarranted failure.
Also, a comeback of what? Of your good old self? Or of your present shrivelled existence, mixed with the fondness for what used to be? “Comeback” is a term transposed from sports by management and promoters to signal barely surviving. Not a surprise then that Snapdeal is being sold as a comeback story. With the validation seemingly coming from the recent “Comeback Kid” award from The Economic Times to its co-founders, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal.

Snapdeal’s early investor Vani Kola (managing director at Kalaari Capital) won the “Midas Touch” award from the same publication just four years ago. Snapdeal was flying high at the time—snapping at the heels of its larger rival, Flipkart, and comfortably ahead of Amazon’s Indian arm in sales. Its leadership and business model seemingly validated by becoming the beneficiary and poster child of Softbank’s first significant investment in India, raising $627 million.

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Saif Iqbal worked at Snapdeal from 2014 to 2016.

Illustrations by Swati Addanki.

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