Flipkart has lost its Chief Product Officer Punit Soni who was roped in from Internet giant Google in February 2015 to help transform the marketplace into a mobile-first platform. While the company has not commented on his exit, it is believed that Soni’s failed push to make Myntra and Flipkart app-only platforms is a leading cause.
Prior to taking up the job at India’s largest e-commerce marketplace, Soni was Vice President at Motorola, which back then was a subsidiary of Google. Motorola’s comeback as a large device manufacturer is credited to Soni’s software strategy, which included shipping phones with lightly customised versions of Android and providing frequent updates.
For Flipkart, there was no one better to lead its product strategy, especially in a country where majority of users come on to the Internet via mobile. After quitting Google in October 2014 and helping transition Motorola from being owned by Google to Lenovo, Soni took up the role as CPO of Flipkart in February 2015 which kicked off a trend in high-level hires across Indian e-commerce firms.
Soni, famously was offered a $1 million pay package by Flipkart.
Immediately diving into the task at hand, Soni pushed for Myntra, the fashion subsidiary of Flipkart, to shut down its website on both desktop and mobile and function as an app-only platform in May 2015. While the move drew flak from users and the industry, the company said it didn’t mind pocketing the slight drop in revenues because it was building for the future.
Sachin Bansal, the then CEO of Flipkart, had said that the parent platform intended to do the same, however, given the complexity of serving multiple categories it would take time for Flipkart’s app-only strategy.
Skipping forward to November 2015, that transition never happened and Flipkart relaunched its mobile website followed by Myntra in February 2016, putting an end to the company’s app-only dream. While Flipkart has largely shied away from answering why it scrapped the strategy, Soni seemed to be paying the price for it.
Punit Soni’s role in the new Flipkart – with Binny Bansal at the helm of the company – wasn’t clear. While the company setup a roadmap of what divisions each of the top management such as Mukesh Bansal, Binny Bansal and others would handle, it failed to clarify what portfolio Soni would control. This also kicked off rumours of his exit.
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However, it should be noted that Flipkart is the first Indian app to cross the 50 million mark on the Android platform. While the app-only strategy might not have worked how it was intended to, the company is still miles ahead of the competition, with investor Naspers estimating that Flipkart had over 50 million monthly active users, over three times that of rival Amazon and Snapdeal.
Roughly three months down the line, Soni is just the latest in the line of top management exits from Flipkart. Mukesh Bansal stepped down just a month after the restructuring alongside Ankit Nagori, the company’s chief business officer who had joined it as a young engineer in 2010. Earlier this month, Manish Maheshwari who headed Flipkart’s seller ecosystem quit to take up the position as CEO of Network 18’s web division.
While Flipkart won’t spell it out, it seems that the company has given up on its app-only dream, and Punit Soni who was brought in to build for it is now out of the door. Friday will be Soni’s last day at the company, but there’s no indication of what he has planned next.