Shinichi Yamazaki

Chief Strategic Officer

I joined Naaptol in December 2015. As chief strategic officer, my remit is fairly straightforward: I analyze the business to discover what its strengths and weaknesses are, then figure out ways to reinforce those areas that need to be strengthened.

TV shopping is a more complex business than you might think. It’s made up of multiple layers: you have to find products to sell; make and schedule the programs; then run the whole logistics side with call centers and warehouses.

With a shopping channel, getting the scheduling right is important. In India, the hour and a half between 9:00 and 10:30 is the crucial time slot. That’s when housewives who’ve packed their husbands off to work and their children off to school finally get a little time for themselves.

We vary the products we sell in this slot to keep consumer interest high. It might be sarees one day, a sewing machine the next, and Tupperware the day after. Our core price range is between 2,000 and 3,000 rupees—roughly $30 to $45.

Targeting products to customers isn’t easy. Naaptol has a 24- hour Hindi channel and a further five channels dubbed into less widely spoken languages like Telugu and Tamil. Of the three market leaders, Naaptol is the only firm that offers broadcasting in multiple languages. We also place around 100 hours of infomercials on other TV channels showing movies or cartoons, again in different languages. All these different groups often respond differently to different products.

In my previous experience, I always worked with a single channel and a single language. That meant you could fit all the purchasing-pattern data onto a single sheet of Excel. Naaptol’s business is way too complicated for that.

Naaptol’s founder and CEO Manu Agarwal comes from an IT background. As a result, he was able to create a database that crunches the data to show what customer group is buying what product at what time of day. That data enables us to make strategic decisions about product targeting. Having that capacity in house is a big advantage; getting a third party to develop a database is an expensive and time-consuming business.

I first met Manu in October 2013, about a year and a half before we invested in Naaptol. The company was still a fledgling business at that point with the capacity to make only five-minute infomercials. Manu, though, already had ambitions to expand into 24-hour broadcasting. He had a deep understanding of TV shopping in addition to being bold. That’s why I believed in him.

You’ve got to have 24-hour programming to succeed in the TV shopping business. I assumed it would take a while for Naaptol to evolve that far, but the company began planning 24-hour broadcasting in September 2014, when Mitsui was getting serious about making its investment, and launched its first two 24-hour channels in March 2015, the month we bought our initial 5% stake.

With TV shopping, higher viewership obviously translates into more shoppers. After Mitsui’s investment, Naaptol was able to up the number of 24-hour channels from two to six and increase viewing numbers. Our Hindi channel alone reaches 80 million households! We’re also investing in improving program quality.

One innovation that I introduced was the idea of limited-time special events. India has a public holiday called Republic Day in January, and we organized a special fashion day for it this year. It’s a standard way to generate buzz and engage the audience abroad, but it’s still a novelty in India, so the Naaptol people were a little skeptical. When the event set a new daily-sales record that was a multiple of anything achieved before, everyone’s motivation skyrocketed. I couldn’t have been happier.

Naaptol is now best of class for both sales and brand recognition. For Mitsui, the TV shopping business represents an opportunity to provide good service and a better quality of life to a broad demographic.

Going forward, we plan to increase the amount of live programming we offer in different languages. We’re really looking forward to leveraging our know-how to help drive the growth of Naaptol, and the overall Indian TV shopping market.

Posted in March 2016