Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): Successes and Challenges in the Indian Startup Landscape

In the vibrant Indian startup ecosystem, Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) has emerged as a vital metric for gauging advertising effectiveness. It is A part of performance marketing.

In the vibrant Indian startup ecosystem, Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) has emerged as a vital metric for gauging advertising effectiveness. It is A part of performance marketing. While some startups have harnessed ROAS to achieve impressive growth, others have faltered due to high Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and inadequate brand building. This article delves into real-world examples from India, shedding light on the triumphs and tribulations associated with ROAS.

What is Performance Marketing?

Performance marketing refers to online marketing and advertising programs where advertisers pay marketing companies when a specific action is completed, such as a sale, lead, or click. Unlike traditional marketing, where expenses are incurred upfront, performance marketing is entirely ROI-driven.

Why Startups are Prioritizing Performance Marketing Over Brand Building:

  1. Cost-Effectiveness: Startups can pay only for the desired action, ensuring a return on every penny spent.
  2. Measurable ROI: Metrics from click-through rates to conversion rates can be tracked, allowing for clear insights.
  3. Flexibility: The ability to tweak campaigns in real-time is invaluable in the volatile startup environment.
  4. Targeted Approach: Hyper-targeted campaigns ensure that startups reach their desired audience, especially in niche markets.

The Importance of Return on Ad Spend (ROAS):

ROAS is a critical metric in performance marketing, providing insights into the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. A positive ROAS indicates a successful campaign, while a negative ROAS calls for adjustments.

Expert Opinions:

Performance marketing offers unparalleled growth opportunities but must align with the brand's long-term vision. Industry experts emphasize the importance of a balanced approach, integrating performance marketing with overall brand strategy.

Success Stories: Indian Startups That Utilized ROAS Effectively

  1. Zerodha: Online brokerage firm Zerodha leveraged targeted advertising to achieve a 4:1 ROAS. By focusing on a niche audience of young investors, they were able to maximize their advertising returns.
  2. Byju's: Ed-tech giant Byju's utilized performance marketing to expand its user base, achieving a 20% growth rate in new subscriptions. Careful monitoring of ROAS allowed them to allocate resources wisely and attain substantial returns.
  3. Swiggy: Food delivery service Swiggy's referral program led to a 15% increase in user acquisition, reflecting a high ROAS. Their strategy of offering discounts to existing users for referring new ones proved highly successful.

Cautionary Tales: Indian Startups That Struggled with High CAC and Less Brand Building

  1. Real estate portal faced challenges with high CAC, leading to a negative ROAS. Despite significant investment in advertising, they struggled to convert leads into sales.
  2. Snapdeal: E-commerce platform Snapdeal experienced diminishing returns due to an imbalance between performance marketing and brand building. The high CAC and lack of brand loyalty contributed to a low ROAS.
  3. Ola: Ride-hailing service Ola overspent on customer acquisition without considering the lifetime value of users. The result was a high CAC, low ROAS, and difficulty in establishing a solid brand foundation.

Lessons Learned

  • Balancing Act: Achieving a positive ROAS requires a balance between performance marketing and brand building.'s focus on immediate returns led to high CAC and unsustainable growth.
  • Strategic Approach: Successful startups like Zerodha, Byju's, and Swiggy demonstrate the importance of a strategic approach to advertising. Monitoring ROAS and adjusting campaigns in real-time can lead to significant growth.
  • Long-term Vision: Building a strong brand should be part of the overall strategy. Snapdeal and Ola's failure to generate revenue due to high CAC underscores the importance of long-term vision for brand building.


ROAS is a powerful metric that can guide Indian startups in their advertising endeavors. The success stories of Zerodha, Byju's, and Swiggy highlight the importance of a strategic, balanced approach. In contrast, the challenges faced by, Snapdeal, and Ola underscore the risks of focusing solely on immediate returns without considering brand building and long-term sustainability.

By understanding both the potential and the pitfalls of ROAS, Indian startups can craft advertising strategies that not only drive immediate results but also lay the foundation for lasting success. The key is to recognize that ROAS is a tool, not a goal in itself, and to use it wisely in the context of a broader, brand-focused strategy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Performance marketing is ROI-driven, measurable, and flexible.
  • Strategies include affiliate marketing, SEM, content marketing, social media advertising, and email marketing.
  • Case studies like Unacademy, Revolut, and D2C brands demonstrate the effectiveness of performance marketing.
  • ROAS is a vital metric, with examples like Grammarly and Airbnb showcasing successful implementation.
  • A balanced approach, integrating performance marketing with overall brand strategy, is essential for long-term success.
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