In 2007, when friends Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal approached nearly two dozen book distributors and vendors to sell their books online in the Indian city of Bangalore, only two agreed.
It was a modest start, but the former Amazon staff have since built up not just India's largest online bookstore, but also expanded into selling cellphones, clothes, cosmetics and large household appliances on their website Flipkart.
With poor Internet connectivity and logistics infrastructure, the duo had to set up their own logistics service to reach parts of India where online shopping and even organised retail are still primitive.
They introduced cash on delivery in 2010 to counter low credit- card usage, as well as a 30-day replacement and return policy in a country where returns are not encouraged. They also launched Flipkart Lite, a pared-down version of their mobile app that can be loaded easily in areas with patchy Internet services.
"You need to keep innovating and driving things forward. As long as we can have that, we continue to gain market share and grow the market," said Binny, 33, co-founder and chief executive of Flipkart.
He and Sachin, 35, now executive chairman, put in US$8,000 together and registered Flipkart Limited, the holding firm, in Singapore, though it remains headquartered in Bangalore.
The e-commerce firm is now valued at US$15.5 billion (S$22 billion) and has worked with phone companies Motorola and Xiaomi to create smartphones priced at between 10,000 rupees (S$210) and 12,000 rupees; good smartphones cost upward of 20,000 rupees.
While revenues have grown, all e-commerce firms in India have also registered losses, including Amazon and Flipkart, which reported a loss of 23.06 billion rupees for the financial year that ended in March this year, said Indian media.
Binny contends that Flipkart will survive as long as it continues to innovate. The company is expanding into courier services next year and is offering its logistics services to other companies.